A walk of mysteries
Tiny flint tools, thousand of years old, a 150 year old railway which has never carried a train, a skeleton of our very earliest ancestor – the “missing link” between man and ape – dated to the twentieth century. This walk around Uckfield and Fletching takes in many mysteries.
LENGTH – 4.5 miles
TIME – 3 hours
START – West Park Nature Reserve, Princes Close, Batchelor Way, Uckfield, TN22 2BT (NGR 463 211)
PARKING – Street parking in Princes Close, Ellis Way and Batchelor Way.
TOILETS – No public toilets available.
REFRESHMENTS – Pubs at Shortbridge, Piltdown and Uckfield (1 mile off route). Restaurants and cafes at Uckfield (1 mile off route).
CAUTION – This walk includes a couple of crossings of the A22. Beware of golf balls on the Piltdown Course.
OTHER INFO – Optional walk around lake wood
This walk contains stiles.
Rock Tunnel. On taking over Rock House in 1789, the Streatfeild family began to landscape their new estate. At Lake Wood, a three acre pond was created surrounded by massive sandstone outcrops and planted with many exotic specimen trees and shrubs. To complete a walk around the lake, tunnels were driven through the rocks and they remain in use to this day. The land is now owned by the Woodland Trust and is open to the public and can be viewed as a slight diversion from this walk.
Tiny Flint Tools. The Mesolithic period 10,000 to 5,000 BC saw the Sussex climate warming after the last Ice Age and small groups of hunter-gatherers moving around the area. The settlement pattern saw an extended family or clan living in each main river catchment, with a main base just below the Downs and summer hunting camps spread along the tributaries of the river. The “Ouse Group” had one such shelter under the rock outcrops alongside the stream in Butcher’s Wood, where they camped and waited for game to come down to the stream to drink. Sone of their tiny, beautifully knapped flint tools can occasionally be picked up on the site.
Piltdown Man. In 1913 Charles Dawson discovered bones and flint tools in a gravel pit in Piltdown, near Sharpsbridge Road. On further study they were proclaimed to be of great age. British science was triumphant and crowds flocked to see the “missing link” in evolutionary terms between apes and man. However, further investigation in 1953 revealed that they were composed of a modern ape’s jaw and a prehistoric man’s skull, stained to look older than they were. The whole affair was a hoax, probably perpetrated by Dawson (who was dead by then) on the British Archaeological Establishment but why he did this will never be known.
Missing village of Barkham. Today a private drive serves the single house of Barkham Manor. However, at the time of the Norman conquest this area was occupied by a village of about 45 people in 10 families living on a spur above another tributary of the Ouse, providing drinking water and transport. It appears from the records (or lack of them) that the village disappeared fairly quickly after this time with the inhabitants moving on elsewhere.
Ouse Navigation. A navigation is a form of cheap canal where an existing river is improved by cutting off meanders and installing weirs and locks to manage water flow to produce a viable transport route. An engineer of national repute, William Jessop, was asked by local landowners to survey the river in 1787, with a view to providing a navigable route as far as Slaugham. Three years later the Upper Ouse Navigation Act was passed and work began. Progress was painfully slow and costs quickly exceeded initial estimates. In 1812, when work finally ground to a halt, the river was navigable for 22 miles and 19 locks to Balcombe, a construction rate of 1 mile and 1 lock per year.
Sharpsbridge Paper Mill. In a bid to exploit the transport route of the Ouse Navigation and the timber resources of the Weald, paper mills grew up alongside the River Ouse. In 1813, James Pimm constructed a mill and wharf on a 7 acre site at Sharpsbridge, powered by a steam engine. 8 cottage were provided for the workforce. It was not a huge success and was offered for sale in 1853 without any takers and was demolished shortly afterwards.
Navigation trade consisted of the carriage of lime, chalk and manure for soil improvement, timber and coal. There were only 21 barges working on the system which was never a huge success. The small ditch to the west of the footpath is the decayed route of a branch of the Ouse Navigation to Shortbridge where there was a wharf to serve Uckfield. However, in keeping with the rest of the undertaking, management became lax, essential structures were not maintained properly and tolls were not collected effectively. The arrival of the faster railways in Sussex from 1840 onwards marked the end of the Navigation and it shut in 1868 since when it has deteriorated to the state seen today.
Roman road. Coming up the slope towards Buckham Hill, a slight kink in the hedgeline alongside the path marks the crossing point of the London to Barcombe Mills Roman road. This route was built early in the second century to link the grainfields of the South Downs and the ironworks of the Weald to Londinium. The southern end of the road, for long unknown, was at a Roman town and port on the Ouse at Barcombe Mills, which has only recently been discovered. Slag 15 inches (0.4 metres) thick from the ironworks was recycled as the top surface of the 15 feet (4.5 metres) wide road where it rusted into a solid layer over time.
Half a bridge. In 1864 a new railway was to be built from the main Brighton to London line, down the Ouse valley, to provide a new, fast route to Eastbourne and Hastings. Works had already started when the money ran out in 1866. An immediate halt was made to the works, leaving isolated lengths of embankments and cuttings and half-finished structures, such as this bridge, along the route which has the abutments and an embankment on the west side but nothing on the east and no arch. Work was never restarted leaving a ghost railway which never actually carried a train.
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.