(Refer to Ordanance Survey Map: OS Explorer 135 Ashdown Forest)
This is the second of 2 circular walks from Ardingly Reservoir that link together the 2 glorious garden gems of Wakehurst and Borde Hill Garden. This walks, which is approximately 6 miles and takes about 3 hours, starts at the Ardingly Reservoir and heads to the Ouse Valley Viaduct, has an optional detour to Cuckfield and then across to Borde Hill Garden and then back to your starting point.
The walk starts at the Car Park for the Ardingly Reservoir. From the car park, head up the steep bank on the path towards the Sailing Club building. Just before the building, turn left up a Tarmac track and then immediately take the grassy footpath straight ahead on the left hand side. If you reach the picnic area and disabled parking you have gone too far on the tarmac track! Also, make sure you take the left hand path that bears left and passes through a metal gate into a field. Keeping left following the hedgerow, head across the field towards the trees and in the far corner enter another field. Turn left and follow the clear path down the hill keeping the trees and hedge on your left. You will catch your first glimpse of the Ouse Valley Viaduct in the distance. Pass over a wooden bridge and bear right to cross over another bridge. Head right following the line of bushes on your right, ignoring the path that heads into the trees. Keep following the well-trodden path by the river and into another field. Follow the line of the river until you reach a metal gate with the viaduct directly in front of you. Turn right at the road and pass over a bridge before crossing the road at Wharf Cottage to join the path that heads diagonally across the field towards the viaduct.
Pass under the viaduct and go through 2 metal gates and then make your way across the field towards the buildings and through a further gate. Head towards the cottage and turn right in front of it following a track and then entering a field via a metal gate. Keep right and head downhill through some trees, crossing over 2 stiles and entering another field. Cross diagonally and negotiate another stile. Keep right round the field and then bear left, ignoring the way through a metal gate that goes straight ahead. Cross the wooden bridge into another field, once you reach the farm on your left, take the steps through the hedge and pass through a metal gate, turning right and following the track from the farm all the way to the road. Cross the road, taking the lane signposted ‘Sussex Ouse Way’ and follow the lane uphill turning left onto a track to Sidnye Farm. Pass the cottages on your right and keep going once you enter an area of farm buildings. Turn left in front of the barns before you reach the main farm and head downhill on the wide farm track. At the bottom of the hill at a finger sign, leave the main track and follow the path left into the field. Once across the field, take another finger post right, passing through a metal gate and crossing some wooden boards. Head left going through another metal gate and passing through another field before a further metal gate. Head uphill towards the barn conversion in the distance. Exit the field in the top left-hand corner via a stile and join a track at Collins Farm.
At the end of the track you will see a wooden finger post. Here you can take a path across some wooden boards straight ahead to head into Cuckfield village. This loop would add a further hour to this 3 hour walk. Alternatively, for the shorter route, turn left onto Sparks Lane and head downhill to the end of the lane. Once you reach the road, turn right and cross the road to pick up the route signposted ‘public footpath’ next to the Chapel Gallery. Head down the path with the house on your right and eventually climb over a style on your right and head uphill crossing another stile and follow the fingerpost straight ahead. Take the path into the woods and follow the track straight ahead passing 2 ponds on your right. Cross over the stile and a bridge over a stream. Head across the field, keeping right and then heading towards some trees and then climbing over 2 stiles and into a further field, keeping the brambles on your right. Head towards a metal gate and a stile and then exit the next field via a wooden gate to join a track. This is where you would re-join the walk after a detour to Cuckfield.
Turn left and take the right-hand track ignoring one to the left. Keep straight till you see the Mansion House and the entrance to Borde Hill Garden on your left. The Garden is open to explore from the middle of March to the beginning of November. Cross across the car park ahead and leave via the entrance bounded by stone pillars. Turn left at the road. Take care keeping to the side. At the junction sign, cross the road and join a path that follows the line of the road and then drops steeply down into the lane. Turn right, continuing down the lane and crossing over the railway, passing several cottages and going through a wooded area, eventually leaving the road and turning left down a signed footpath that passes a metal gate and a cottage on the right. Exit the trees via a bridge and a metal gate into a field and cross straight over leaving the field via a track. Pass through the metal gate with the farm on your left, cross the railway via the bridge. Head straight on going through a metal gate and making your way into the trees. Keep making your way straight, ignoring any paths off to your right or left. Eventually, you will exit the wood via a metal gate to join the route you took earlier in the walk, crossing the 2 bridges and retracing your steps back up the hill towards Ardingly Reservoir and the end of the walk.
Optional Loop to Cuckfield (Approximately 1 hr)
Upon leaving the main walk just South of Collins Farm, continue to follow the High Weald Landscape Trail through a series of fields before following the trail left into the outskirts of Whitemans Green. Follow the route to the main Whitemans Green road (B2114) from Cuckfield to Staplefield. Turn left and cross the road to pick up the signed footpath again opposite. Head to the end of the lane and join the footpath through fields eventually crossing a footbridge and joining a track with the recreation ground on your left, curving right to join a lane just outside the Ockendon Manor Hotel. Make your way straight ahead to the High Street, turn left and walk up the hill until you see a footpath about half-way up on the right between houses and opposite Queens Hall. Join the path, crossing Mytten Close and at the main London Lane, turning right and then taking Glebe Twitten and Glebe Road until you join a path that crosses and follows Scrase Stream, pass Cuckfield Baptist Church eventually joining up with the Ardingly Road. Follow the pavement round, bearing sharply right into Hanlye Lane and then walking a short distance before joining a track into the Borde Hill Estate, signed Lullings Farm. Keep on the track and pick up the original walk as it approaches the entrance to Borde Hill Garden.
Point of Interest
The reservoir, which feeds the River Ouse, was created in 1978 by damming Shell Brook, a tributary that flows into the Ouse about 500m south of the reservoir. When full the reservoir holds 5,000 million gallons of water. The Ardingly Activity Centre, which has a small café, provides a range of watersports on the reservoir, including wind surfing, canoeing, powerboating and dinghy sailing.
Ouse Valley Viaduct
Construction of the viaduct started in 1839 and it is 96 feet (29 m) high and carried on 37 semi-circular arches, spanning a total length of 1,480 feet (450 m). It is estimated that 11 million bricks were required for its construction, mostly shipped up the River Ouse (via Newhaven and Lewes) from the Netherlands with the stones for the ornate balustrades and Italianate pavilions coming from Caen in Normandy, France.
Borde Hill Garden
This renowned Sussex garden has been lovingly tended by 4 generations of the Stephenson-Clarke family and now boasts an astonishing collection of rare shrubs, plants and champion trees, many brought back as seeds by the great plant collectors from Asia and South America over 100 years ago.
The Garden takes you on a fascinating horticultural world tour through intimate ‘garden rooms’ with an impressive Elizabethan Mansion House nestled at its heart and set within 200 acres of parkland with spectacular views across the Sussex High Weald. From the quintessential Englishness of the Rose Garden, to the serene Mediterranean charm of the Italian Garden and the Subtropical dells with towering palms and banana trees, it is a delight to visit.
The Garden offers colour and interest throughout the season with magnificent displays of spring flowers, giant magnolias and azaleas, giving way to fragrant roses and exuberant summer borders and finally a blaze of Autumnal reds and golds.
Beyond the 35-acre Garden, visitors can enjoy beautiful woodland walks and lakeside strolls. Children can let off steam in the adventure playground and take part in activities in the school holidays, whilst dogs on leads are welcome. The formal gardens offer good accessibility with gentle sloping pathways. The Gardener’s Retreat Café offers drinks, cakes, snacks and light lunches.
Cuckfield & Ockenden Manor Hotel
Cuckfield is worthy of the optional detour on this walk as it has an interesting history with some noteworthy buildings and selection of independent shops, pubs and cafes. The origin of the name,Cuckfieldis debated but it is generally associated with the cuckoo, which is the village emblem.
The village grew as a market town and was originally an important coaching stop between London and Brighton with 50 coaches a day recorded as passing through in 1820. However, when the railway to Brighton was built through neighbouring Haywards Heath in the 1840s, the village’s importance diminished as a result.
In 1822, Mary Ann Mantell, wife of Dr. Gideon Mantell, found the first known iguanodon fossils close to Cuckfield at Whiteman’s Green and Cuckfield Park, to the west of the village, is reputedly haunted by its former resident Anne Pritchard Sergison, who was known to the locals as ‘Wicked Dame Sergison’, and who died in 1748.
Ockenden Manor Hotel is a fine Elizabethan manor house in the heart of the village with 28 lavishly decorated rooms, an outstanding spa with in-and-outdoor pool and an award-winning restaurant set in eight acres of beautiful grounds overlooking Cuckfield Park.
Steeped in history, the first recorded owners of Ockenden were the Michel family in the mid-1500s and John Michel lived there and survived when the house burnt down on 8 September 1608. In 1658, John Burrell who had grown rich on the Sussex iron industry, bought the manor, extending it and adding what is now the oak-panelled Burrell Room.The property remained in the Burrell family until the early 20th century and was for a time in the 1760s owned by the 4th Duke of Marlborough, whose mother had married the 3rd Duke.
In the early 1900s Ockenden was home to a Jewish Boys School and at the start of the Second World War it housed Canadian troops. After the war Mr and Mrs Eggars opened it as a restaurant and guest house, starting another chapter in the long history of what is now Ockenden Manor Hotel. And in 2017, the hotel celebrated 30 years of ownership by the same family. It is the perfect place to relax and unwind and you can have lunch in the restaurant or take afternoon tea in the lounge or on the terrace.