Recapture the golden age of steam on this glorious walk beside the Bluebell Railway.
Distance 5 miles (8km)
Minimum time 2hrs
Ascent/gradient 230ft (70m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Field and woodland paths and tracks, stretches of quiet road, 14 stiles
Landscape Peaceful woodland and farmland with glorious views
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 135 Ashdown Forest
Start/finish TQ 372293
Dog friendliness Suitable off lead on parts of Sussex Border Path. Under control in vicinity of Horsted Keynes and railway station
Parking Horsted Keynes station car park. Free and open all year
Public toilets Horsted Keynes station (seasonal opening) and village
1 From the car park walk up the track away from the station building, keeping the railway line on your left. Pass a footpath sign and cross the footbridge, turning right on the opposite side of the track. Follow the path as it heads away from the Bluebell Railway and crosses two stiles before quickly returning to the line. Turn left and walk alongside it to a footpath sign. Cross the track to a stile and keep the railway on your left now. Go over two stiles, either side of a minor lane, and keep alongside the right-hand hedge boundary. Cross a stile and continue to a kissing gate. Follow the path across the pasture to the next stile and turn left by some holly trees to a footpath sign. Bear right here to the road.
2 Turn left for about 60yds (54m) to a stile on the right and join the Sussex Border Path. Follow the path down the field and into some woodland, crossing the rim of a pond and stream. Head up through the trees to a field, turn left and follow the path down to a gap in the vegetation and trees. Descend some steps to a footbridge and go up the slope to a field. Bear left and skirt the pasture to a stile and gate. Exit to the road, turn right, then left into Broadhurst Manor Road and follow the lane to the Sussex Border Path sign.
3 Bear right here and walk along to the entrance to Broadhurst Manor. Veer right, still on the waymarked trail, and follow the track to Broadhurst Lake, fringed by trees and covered in water lillies. Continue into Church Lane to reach the Church of St Giles.
4 When the lane veers right into Leighton Road, go straight on to Horsted Keynes village centre and the green. Retrace your steps down Church Lane and turn left immediately beyond a tile-hung cottage called Timbers. Cross several stiles and follow a fenced path into the trees. Climb over a stile, cross a track and continue on the footpath.
5 Go straight over at the next track, pass alongside a lake and keep left at the fork. Turn left over a footbridge at the next public footpath sign, avoid a right turning and cross two stiles to reach the road. Bear left and then turn right into Station Approach, veering right for the car park.
Many of us become instantly nostalgic when we think about the great days of the steam railways. There is something wonderfully evocative about the sound of an approaching steam train. Even standing on the platform of an authentically restored station and gazing fondly at the livery, the bookstalls and the adverts for seaside holidays can rekindle a host of cherished memories.
Horsted Keynes station is just such a place, a railway enthusiast's dream come true. The station lies on the famous Bluebell Railway, a popular attraction since it came in to private ownership in the early 1960s. Volunteers and dedicated members of its preservation society have played a crucial role in establishing, restoring and maintaining the railway, which dates back to the early 1880s, and today Horsted Keynes station is one of the finest preserved railway stations in the country.
The restorers' intention is to recreate a sleepy Sussex junction in the years before World War II. Although it's essentially just a museum recalling the heyday of steam travel, the station really does have the feel of that period. It's like stepping into a time warp, where the calendar has forever been stopped at 1935.
Over the years the railway has featured in many television adverts, dramas and films. Most recently, it played a prominent role in the television version of Edith Nesbit's The Railway Children, with Horsted Keynes station changing its name to Mortonhurst.
There is a picnic area at Horsted Keynes station and two pubs in the village. The Crown offers Harveys Sussex Best and a range of toasted sandwiches, filled baguettes and ploughmans. Nearby is the Green Man with a varied menu which might include vegetarian quiche, sausages, egg and chips and freshly carved Sussex gammon.
Make a day of it by taking a trip on the Bluebell Railway before the walk or after it. One of the most popular destinations on the line is Sheffield Park, famous for its beautiful 120-acre (49ha) garden which is situated close to the station. The garden was created with the help of 'Capability' Brown and is noted for its spring flowering rhododendrons and dazzling autumn colours.
The lovely old Church of St Giles at Horsted Keynes is worth a look. To the right of the entrance lie the graves of former Conservative prime minister Harold Macmillan, his wife Dorothy and their son Maurice. The Macmillans lived at nearby Birch Grove.