The flooded valley
A walk to Brambletye, the forerunner of Forest Row with a churchless priest, several manor houses and an impressive ruin by the River Medway. However, the river itself is almost a stream today, due to the huge upstream dam across the valley forming Weirwood Reservoir alongside which the walk briefly passes.
LENGTH – 4 miles
TIME – 2.5 hours
START – Forest Row Village Hall, Lewes Road, Forest Row, RH18 5ES (NGR 425 353).
PARKING – Car parks in Lower Road, RH18 5HE and Hartfield Road RH18 5JZ, Forest Row.
TOILETS – No public toilets available.
REFRESHMENTS – Pubs at Forest Row. Café at Forest Row. Village Shops at Forest Row.
CAUTION – This walk includes two crossings of the A22 road.
This walk contains stiles.
Forest Row began life as the site of a hunting lodge to provide accommodation for nobles hunting in the great Ashdown Forest, immediately to the south. Initially a small settlement grew up around the lodge to provide services to the visitors and the arrival of a turnpike road in the mid 18th century and the railway in 1866, saw the settlement gain in importance whilst the historic site at Brambletye correspondingly declined.
Brambletye began life as a Saxon family cleared a common pasture (or tye) from the surrounding forest and brambles. By the time the Normans arrived, the village had prospered and had around 70 people in 15 families lived there, served by a priest and his servant but strangely without a church. All the available arable land was in use – some 1½ ploughs worth (however, this means sufficient land to be worked by one and a half teams of oxen or horses pulling the plough rather than someone actually cutting up agricultural implements). The route passes through the former village site, with the water mill located on the nearby River Medway.
In the field to the right of the route, a very straight water channel can be seen when vegetation is low. This is a leat taking water from the River Medway and delivering it to a pond formed in the flood plain to serve an ironworks which was constructed at Brambletye in 1562. However, despite this attempt at water management, the works was not very successful and had closed again by 1602 after a very short working lifetime.
A much larger artificial water feature is the Weirwood Reservoir itself which was formed by damming up and flooding the valley of the River Medway. The land was purchased for the construction of the reservoir in 1951 and completed the next year before being filled with water in 1953. An area of 279 acres (113 hectares) contains 1,237,000,000 gallons (4,700,000,000 litres) of water to a maximum depth of 36 feet (11 metres).
Long before the Brambletye ironworks was built, an earlier Roman ironworks was working in the first and second centuries in the area now under the reservoir. The Roman process of ironmaking was not particularly efficient, and generated huge amounts of waste, some of which is still visible on the southern edge of the reservoir at Whalesbeech.
Since the original Saxon cottage, there have been many manor houses at Brambletye. In the Doomsday Book of 1086, the new Norman owner, Ralph, is living at the site in the first manor house. This fell into disrepair so by 1327 the manor was “a house worth nothing without repairs, and a dovecot, worth 40d, a water mill worth 20s after repairs and 220 acres of land enclosed in a park, worth nothing due to the shade of the trees.” Shortly afterwards, the River Medway was diverted and a fashionable moat constructed around the manor house site and a new house constructed. In 1419, this was described as a great hall, the great chamber, a bakehouse, a stable, 2 sheep pens and a building called the Norserye, which are described as timber framed. This moat is still in water and visible today. When the ironworks opened in 1562, another new house was probably constructed, using the same site which was conveniently close to the ironworks.
The original manor site was prone to damp and even flooding, which was recognised in 1631 when an impressive new, stone house was built on a higher spur of land a little to the east of the moated site. This comprised a three storey house standing on a semi-basement (used for storage). The main frontage was to the north and featured three towers, one of which contained the gateway. Above the gate is the date 1631 and the owners’ initials “CHM” for Henry and Mary Compton. The Compton family continued to live at the house until the line died out in 1660. The new owner, Sir James Richards, lived there until 1683 when he abandoned the manor while fleeing to Spain on suspicion of treason; leaving the manor masterless and falling into disrepair. Large portions of the dressed stone were gradually dismantled or stolen for other building projects, including for repairs to the bridge at Edenbridge.
The return to Forest Row is along the “Forest Way”, a foot and cycle path running along the former East Grinstead to Tunbridge Wells Railway. This received its Act of Parliament in 1862, but construction was a protracted affair with one of the workmen blowing himself up and defective works (including “forgetting” to erect the gates at this very crossing) meaning the line failed two government safety inspections before an eventual opening in 1866. The additional costs meant a line that had cost £174,046 made a return to shareholders of only £3,033. Eventually services improved, use of the new line increased and it settled down to give good service until the 1950s when traffic was lost to the roads. Closure was under the “Beeching Axe” (despite Forest Row station being the nearest one to Doctor Beeching’s own house) in January 1967.
The author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Arthur Conan Doyle, lived at nearby Crowborough, so it is not surprising to find many of the cases set in the Sussex countryside. In “The Adventure of Black Peter”, Holmes and Watson investigate the gruesome murder, with his own harpoon, of a former captain who has retired to Forest Row and soon find rooms reserved for them at the Brambletye Hotel. The game’s afoot.
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.