Rock and Rail
Before 1860, Groombridge was a tiny village around a green by the entrance to Groombridge Park. Just 40 years later, its residents could travel to Tunbridge Wells, East Grinstead, London, Brighton and Eastbourne along five rail routes radiating out from the village which now boasted an impressive station and a Victorian “new town”.
LENGTH – 11.5 miles
TIME – 3 hours
START – Groombridge car park, Station Road, Groombridge, TN3 9QX.
PARKING – Groombridge car park, Station Road, Groombridge, TN3 9QX.
TOILETS – Harrison’s Rocks car park.
REFRESHMENTS – Pubs at Groombridge and Eridge Green. Village shops at Groombridge.
CAUTION – Level crossing over railway at Forge Farm.
This walk contains stiles.
Ahead of you is the former Groombridge station now used as the parish council office. The first station was opened in 1866 on a new line from Three Bridges and East Grinstead to Tunbridge Wells. Two years later a line was opened from Lewes via Uckfield to Tunbridge Wells and in 1880 a direct line from Eastbourne to Eridge also came into use. Reflecting its new status, Groombridge station was rebuilt in 1897, as “the exact counterpart in miniature of Tunbridge Wells”, constructed of red brick with string courses of blue and white brick, including coloured brick reveals to the doors and windows and a miniature tower. The stationmaster’s original residence was on the western side of the building adjacent to a booking hall, while at the same time a new goods and parcels office was added to the eastern end of the building.
The route passes over the railway on a bridge. To the left is the third Groombridge station constructed by the Spa Valley tourist railway to replace the second station which is now isolated within a housing estate. On the right a disused section of track can just be seen leading westwards in the distance under the second bridge. This was opened in 1888 to allow trains to run directly from Tunbridge Wells via Groombridge to London. At the same time, a new line running south-north was constructed to link the Lewes and Uckfield line to the newly built London line, thus completing a triangle of lines to the south of the developing settlement of “New Groombridge”.
The route now passes between the railway and a low cliff formed of huge lumps of sandstone. These are the 135 million year old Ardingly Sandstone rock formation. Although older than the surrounding rocks they are also harder, so they have remained “sticking out” as the surrounding clays and siltstones have been worn away through the millennia. This erosion, mostly by rivers flowing into the Grom and then the Medway, in turn formed the valleys through which the railway were then built. The rocks at Harrisons are well-used by climbers, whilst those at High Rocks a little further up the line towards Tunbridge Wells developed as a Victorian tourist attraction with a maze, a bowling green, gambling rooms, cold baths, a pub and an aerial walk – a series of bridges linking the tops of the crags. It even had its own station.
Ploughing in pre-Roman Sussex was a tiring activity. The primitive ploughs had to be used twice – up and down then across and back over the same piece of land to break the soil. The resulting square fields gradually became terraced into the hillside separated by banks of soil called lynchetts. On the steeper parts of the Downs these have been preserved by the absence of later ploughing, with a very fine example clearly visible on the descent to Jevington and other examples appearing throughout this walk as seasonal soil marks after modern ploughing.
In contrast to Groombridge station, the four platform junction station at Eridge built in 1868 remains surrounded by open countryside with only the former station inn nearby. This reflects the land ownership in this part of Sussex with the Abergavenny/Neville family tightly controlling development within their estates. The estate village of Eridge Green is over a mile from the station purporting to serve it and the family was not prepared to allow a “New Eridge” to grow around this station. Instead it remained a point where passengers and freight transferred between trains rather than a generator of traffic in its own right. It still performs this role today as the meeting point of the Spa Valley Railway and the national rail network.
The walk now moves into a tributary valley of the Grom and a small hamlet now called Motts Mill. Originally this was part of an estate called Sherlocks on the west side of the valley, owned by the Sherlock family for many years. However, by 1595 they had died out and the 150 acres of land plus a watermill passed to Thomas Twine, a doctor of physic. He in turn sublet and then sold the watermill to the Mott family owners of Motts Farm on the eastern side of the valley and this name has endured to the present day despite the demise of the watermill before 1800. In the mid-Victorian period, despite its proximity to the excellent rail links only a mile away, this tiny settlement boasted its own market gardener, blacksmith, beer retailer, four carpenters, shoemaker, tanner and, somewhat implausibly a “dealer in marine stores”. By 1881, the presence of a gas stoker, a brickmaker and a coal merchant reflect the new rail links and their ability to move bulk loads economically.
Standing at this location gives a good overview of the uses to which the former railway lines have been put since their closure in the 1860s. Behind is the bridge under the line from Uckfield to London which is still operational, but with no station for the villagers of Groombridge to join the trains. Ahead is the Spa Valley Railway now providing a tourist steam railway at weekends and during the summer months (www.spavalleyrailway.co.uk), whilst to the west a footpath runs parallel to the northern junction line to link to former line to East Grinstead which is now a foot and cycle path known as the Forest Way. The route re-enters the village through the remains of a bridge on this now disused line.
On the return to the start, the walk passes through “New Groombridge”, the settlement which developed around the railway station. As well as the rows of terraced house leading off Corseley Road, there was also a church, initially in the form of a mission hall built in 1872, which was also used as the school. This was later replaced by the existing church building in 1884 and a new school building in 1875. A Methodist chapel and two pubs were also added to the developing village, with one of the pubs being aptly named “the Victoria”.
Whilst we have taken reasonable endeavours to ensure the information is up to date and correct, you will be using the information strictly at your own risk. If you come across any inaccuracies whilst you are on your walk, please contact Wealden District Council’s Community and Regeneration team.
The self-guided walk descriptions are provided to help you navigate your way, however we recommend that you plan your route prior to walking the route and that you carry an Ordnance Survey map of the area being walked and follow your position on the map as you proceed.
Please note, we cannot be responsible for the conditions of the footpaths and land and you are responsible for your own safety.