Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Sussex Border Path Section 15 Charlwood to Copthorne

Providence Chapel, Charlwood
It’s been awhile but I managed an early morning outing on a Saturday and although I toyed with the idea of continuing along the Serpent Trail I decided against it on account of the exceptionally hot weather we have been experiencing.  I decided that a better bet would be the short and tricky section of Sussex Border Path around Gatwick Airport as this has held me up from onward progress for some considerable time.  I have to confess to not being overly-motivated to doing this section, but thought it would be a good idea to finish it while I have only a short timeframe.

Lane Out of Charlwood
Due to the heat (it was later to reach 30 degrees Celsius), I decided also to complete the walk first and get public transport second especially as at least two bus journeys were going to be needed.  I parked in Charlwood, where I had finished up more than a year ago.  I picked up the Sussex Border Path as it led northwards out of the village, passing initially an attractive little school and then a surprisingly old looking church hall before heading out into the countryside along a green lane.

In the relative cool of the morning there were plenty of insects about and a few cows in the field next to the path lazily swishing their tails and grazing happily.  Yet any thoughts that this would be a nice quiet walk were soon dispelled by the roar of jets taking off and landing at nearby Gatwick Airport every couple of minutes.  Yet, the intermittent sound of the jets did not bother me as much as I thought it would as the noise was not as continuous as traffic.

New River Mole
I turned right at the next junction of paths and wandered along a very dusty farm track for half a mile or so.  The underfoot conditions were very different to the last time I did any of the Border Path, when I had to play hopscotch between boggy parts of the path.  The wildflowers grew in profusion and so far at least I was enjoying more countryside than I had dared consider.

At the end of the track I crossed a busy road and headed through a broad hedgerow, coming out into the managed course of the River Mole.  This has been diverted considerably in order to fit the perimeter of Gatwick Airport in.  Yet, despite that it still looks quite authentic as it follows a twisty path in much the same way that you would expect to see in a completely natural setting.  All along the banks were profusions of flowers, all seemingly at their peak now in mid July.  The butterflies were having a great time flitting between flowers trying to sup the nectar from the best ones.

Mole Valley
The warmth of the day was properly getting going now after a surprisingly cool start.  Away on the bank opposite I caught a flash of ginger hair as a fox crashed through the undergrowth, quickly followed by another.  I soon became aware of a pair of eyes upon me and some barking like noises and realised that I was witnessing a family of foxes with the young ones having a great time playing in the bushes while being watched by a vigilant parent looking for signs of danger.  I stood and watched them for some time, transfixed by their antics.

Perfectly Framed
After a few minutes I moved on and had the fright of my life as I turned the next corner when I was confronted by a startled deer that bolted into the bushes as soon as it caught sight of me.  I think I was almost as startled as the deer!  The foxes and the deer were all within a stone’s throw of the built up area to the north of the airport itself and yet this was more animal action than I had seen for a long time on the path.

Brighton Main Line
I crossed the road ahead and to my surprise the path followed a green tree corridor down the side of the dual carriageway of the A23.  Although I was aware of its presence the trees did a remarkable job of screening the road and made this section of path far more bearable than I dreamed would be possible.  Eventually I had to bow to the inevitable though and enter the world of Gatwick Airport.  The path was fairly badly signposted through the complex and it took a good deal of map reading to find the right route across the approach roads.  The noise of the planes was by now joined by the noise of the people mover that takes passengers between North and South Terminals and the traffic heading to the car parks.

Landing in the Fields
Eventually I managed to find my way through the complex and crossed the main London to Brighton railway line into a quiet stretch of countryside once again.  Far from being the hideous stretch of walking that I had expected, the section through the airport area was surprisingly short lived and far from being the horror that other commentators have suggested I found it fairly interesting although I was thankful I didn’t have to walk much further. 

Choked Path
I rounded another field with grazing horses and came out opposite a pub that now serves as an Indian restaurant.  It is surprising how many pubs have found this fate, although it is preferable to see them still functioning at all than be boarded up, as has happened with so many others.  The onward path took a course down the side of the M23 spur with pleasant views to the north even if the southern aspect was dominated by the high motorway embankment.  The path is clearly not very well used for it was very overgrown and I questioned the wisdom of wearing shorts that day.

M23 Crossing
At the end of the path I turned right under the motorway and headed down a rather strange road.  I passed some well-to-do looking houses living cheek-by-jowl with some that had fallen on hard times and were in some cases completely derelict.  On my left hand side was an old nursery but the glass houses had clearly seen better days, with most of the glass smashed and the vegetation inside now running riot.  I did think it might make for a cool photograph but got a sense of life at the other end of the property & hesitated.  I was glad that I did, for in the far corner there were some very furtive looking men that appeared to be dealing in scrap metal or some other such thing.  My watching was clearly not welcomed and so I hurried on, feeling rather uncomfortable about the area as I did so.
Burstow Manor

Further down the road a lorry was reversing in the lane.  This seemed quite a complex manoeuvre and I wasn’t quite sure what the lorry was even doing there.  It was registered in Bulgaria and at first I thought that it had got lost on the satnav but realised that it was in fact connected with the men I had seen back at the ‘scrapyard’.  I was rather relieved when I left them all behind as for some reason I felt a bit vulnerable as I walked past them all.

Burstow Church
Eventually I turned off this road and up another lane towards Burstow, crossing the main M23 as I did so.  After passing some more rather strange looking storage units and being stared at again I finally came upon the lovely little hamlet of Burstow, which seemed like a world away.  I took the opportunity to have a look inside the wonderful old church and its stained glass windows, enjoying the coolness of inside as I did so.  Across the way was an old school house, now turned into a nursery.  It really was a beautiful and unexpected oasis after all the industrial stuff earlier.

Burstow School House

My onward walk was mostly through fields of various crops although I did have an encounter with some fairly fierce looking white geese. I showed them who was boss though and they didn’t push it.  I was by now feeling very hot and when I approached Copthorne I checked the bus timetable and was very pleased to see that I could get one only nine minutes later.  I decided that I would save the onward walk for another day – it was far too hot to push myself too much.
Fierce Geese

It wasn’t the best walk if I’m honest but far better than I had expected, with far more countryside than urban areas. It reminded me of sections of the London LOOP, darting from sections of countryside into urban areas almost at whim.  What did please me most about this modest length of walk though was the fact that I had overcome an obstacle and I now could continue this walk in loops in much the same way as I had previously done.


  1. Stunning pictures.
    Did you finish all the London LOOP walks from Erith to Purfleet, mate?
    My personal favourite is Walk 18 (Einfield Lock to Chingford). :)

  2. Many thanks for your kind comment. Still haven't got around to completing London LOOP. I stopped at Chingford. Have just found it too difficult to get away for that length of time and hence most of my walks these days have been closer to home or with the family. I think the LOOP would be a hard sell for my kids. On the odd day I have had lots of time I have found myself drawn towards the South West Coast Path. Tricky