A Weekend around Ashdown Forest

Roebuck Hotel

At the end of August we took a weekend break around Ashdown Forest, East Sussex. Our touring base was the Roebuck Hotel, Wych Cross. Set at the junction of the A22 Eastbourne and A275 Newhaven roads, this pleasant inn has a long history, having been a smugglers' haunt in days gone by. Today it ministers to a more law-abiding clientele (we hope).

A fine Saturday morning had us setting out for the Bluebell Railway, a few miles south at Sheffield Park. This has the distinction of being the first line closed by British Railways (prior to the infamous Beeching Report and the line closures that arose from it) to be restored and reopened as a privately-owned and run railway.

Bluebell Railway tickets

Bluebell Railway Pacific

The line was initially reopened to Horsted Keynes but the intention has always been to re-establish a connection with the main-line rail system at East Grinstead. As a result of the blood, sweat and tears shed by the volunteer labour force the line now extends north as far as Kingscote, a tantalising 2 miles short of the aim.

Bluebell Railway Pullmans

At Sheffield Park there are substantial workshops and sidings, crammed with locomotives and rolling-stock awaiting renovation as soon as funds and labour permit. For more information telephone 01825 723777.

In the afternoon we turned from one passion to another and visited Sheffield Park Gardens. This splendid 100-acre garden was laid out in the 18th century by the famous landscape gardener Lancelot "Capability" Brown. It was designed around a series of 5 lakes, has a fine collection of specimen trees and is now in the care of the National Trust.

Sheffield Park Gardens

There are marked walks to suit all tastes, all with stunning vistas. The telephone number for enquiries is 01825 790231.

Our last visit of the afternoon was to Sheffield Park Nursery and Vineyard. This rather eccentric enterprise is situated on the edge of the Sheffield Park estate but does not form part of it. There is an interesting collection of plants on sale, displayed in a rather take-us-as-you-find-us fashion. The vines within the walled garden produce a dry Loire-like white wine which is on sale, alongside an eclectic selection of wines assembled by the proprietor from around the world.

Heaven Farm

We bade our farewells to the Roebuck Hotel on Sunday morning and went to Heaven (Heaven Farm, actually). The delightful woodland, park and farm trails should not be missed. In the course of our walk we encountered evidence of ironstone-digging, charcoal-burning, many rare and interesting plants and trees and the regeneration of the forest after the damage wreaked by the great storms of 1987 and 1991. If you tread lightly you might come across anything from a vole to a deer, plus a number of interesting birds.

Our final visit of the day and of the weekend was to Standen, a late-Victorian country house designed by the celebrated architect Philip Webb. This house, now in the care of the National Trust, is a shrine for admirers of the Arts and Crafts Movement. The decoration of the house was entrusted by Webb to his friend William Morris. As a result, it contains one of the best collections of Morris and Company wallpapers and fabrics to be found outside London's Victoria and Albert Museum.

Webb built the new house in close proximity to the existing farm buildings on the site. The spirit of craftsmanship so admired by Webb and Morris is much in evidence from the objects and ornaments of the house, following Morris' maxim "Have nothing in your house that you do not believe to be beautiful or useful". The terraced gardens perch on the side of a valley and afford stunning views for the visitor. For more information about Standen telephone 01342 323029


After tea and cakes, taken in one of the converted farm buildings, we reluctantly made our way home, our weekend break over but the journey made bearable by the late-afternoon sunshine.

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