HISTORY OF THE LINE
The Downs are an imposing natural barrier to the south of the Western Weald. So, it is no surprise that for centuries, local people have preferred to travel and trade along the flat, sandy soils of the Rother, between Petersfield in the west and Pulborough to the east, rather than up and over the steep, scarp slope.Much of the history of this vital communications corridor is still visible today,providing a vivid picture of centuries gone by. There are the pubs that were once railway stations and coaching inns; the remains of toll houses and turnpike gates, constructed to gather revenue; a plaque on a river bridge warning drivers of steam engines against seeking water; as well as the many bridges and cuttings of the former railway that once ran through the valley. Described as “among the most beautiful lines in England” the Rother Valley Railway was opened to much fanfare in 1860.
The Story Continued..........
The railway was opened to much fanfare in 1860. For residents, the coming of the railway meant they finally had a faster link to the outside world and were more easily able to do their shopping in Petersfield and Midhurst. Fast forward to today and the ease of doing the weekly shop is still just as important for many people, it is simply that they no longer take the train.
Closed in 1955, the railway gave way to the internal combustion engine, which is now blamed for “the baleful presence of traffic” along the A272. Finding a solution to the Rother valley’s traffic problem has proved challenging, but it is thanks to COVID that we now have a light at the end of the tunnel.
During the pandemic we got to enjoy safe bike rides and walks along unusually quiet roads. With so many car journeys either short school runs or quick shopping trips, the seed of an idea, now known nationally as Active Travel, was planted. This envisages finding safe, traffic-free routes for short, local journeys, so people leave their cars at home.
Keen to find such a route along the Rother Valley, the eyes of a group of keen cyclists, walkers and riders naturally fell on the course of the former railway….and so the idea of the Rother Valley ‘Access for All’ Way was born.
FRIENDS OF ROTHER VALLEY WAY
The Friends of Rother Valley Way (FoRVW) is a community group of local individuals and organisations who have come together to work alongside Shortcut (Sussex Hampshire Off-Road Track - reg. charity established 2012) to establish a multi-user pathway between Petersfield and Midhurst, following, as much as possible, the route of the former railway. The FoRVW Steering Committee was formed in 2017, bringing together statutory authorities such as South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA), West Sussex County Council (WSCC) and Hampshire County Council (HCC) together with groups including Sustrans & Midhurst Area Cycling (MAC).
THE JOURNEY SO FAR
Access routes such as the Rother Valley Way are the product of many years of negotiation and are often delivered in several short sections, as and when agreement is reached with landowners and delivery funding found.
In recent years the SDNPA has been focussed on extending the Centurion Way from Chichester to Midhurst, predominantly on the alignment of that former railway line. Our long term vision would see the Rother Valley Way link to the Centurion Way Midhurst. This would connect Petersfield and Chichester, two gateway settlements for the South Downs National Park. Also picking up on the king Alfred's way via Petersfield.
At present we are working on securing landowner permissions for the section Petersfield to Nyewood. Although the old track bed is now protected in planning law, existing development along the route and landowner consultations may give rise to deviations along Rights of Way.
THE BENEFITS TO THE COMMUNITY
The Rother Valley Way will:-
Provide residents and visitors with a dedicated and safe alternative to cycling, walking and horse-riding on busy roads;
Reduce congestion and accidents along the Rother valley/A272;
Reduce air pollution/carbon emissions - less car-driven journeys and more walking, wheeling, riding and cycling are important in tackling air pollution and its negative health impacts. It will also help meet our local area net-zero carbon emissions;
Be better for our physical, mental and social health – active travel has clear health benefits as physical activity increases, social connections are made and mental health is boosted by activity and time spent outdoors. Active travel positively helps prevent ill health;
Be inclusive. The disabled and able bodied will both be able to use the Rother Valley Way. Accessible walking, wheeling and cycling helps reduce inequalities;
Encourage economic growth and vibrant communities – investing in a safe, multi-user pathway will be a boost for tourism, both in terms of attracting people to the area from outside and by encouraging more connectivity between the people of Petersfield and Midhurst, and villages in between.