Almost 70 years ago the Petersfield to Midhurst railway line closed. A newspaper headline at the time read “Branch rail line to be torn up. No future plans, says railway authority, but open to ‘bright ideas’.” Unfortunately, none were put forward at the time, but fast forward to today and there is news of an exciting plan to turn this nine-mile stretch of former railway line into The Rother Valley Way – an accessible, shared-use, traffic-free path connecting the two market towns on either side of the Hampshire Sussex border.

Rother Valley Way Steam Train
The Rother Way Branch Line Closure

Turning old railways into multi-user paths is nothing new (see this article on walking on old railway lines). Many superb examples can be found around the country. Not only are they a safe, green, sustainable method of local travel, but they are a tremendous tourism asset too. There is no better way of getting to know an area than a gentle walk or cycle along a flat, safe, well-maintained path, possibly with a café or pub along the way too. Motorists also benefit, as these pathways remove excess local traffic and dawdling cyclists from our windy, oft hilly roads. The health benefits to the community, for young and old are also not to be under-estimated.

Within the South Downs national park there are already a couple of well-progressed walking and cycle paths. After 10 years of hard work, by local volunteers, the 7 mile Egrets Way, between Lewes and Newhaven is almost complete. Meanwhile, the Centurion Way from Chichester to Midhurst is gradually creeping northwards. The next section between West Dean and Singleton is underway and plans have already been approved for the onward section to Cocking.

Map of the railways in the Midhurst area

While still on the drawing board, the Rother Valley Way project has been brewing for a while. As far back as 1999 it was earmarked as a possible National Cycle route, but in 2017 the National Park identified the Petersfield to Midhurst line as an aspirational pathway and protected the route from further development. Thankfully, the project received new impetus from Covid, which ignited interest in Active Travel. The Friends of  Rother Valley Way (FoRVW) are now focussed on making this path a reality.

FoRVW is a community group of local individuals and organisations who have come together to deliver the project alongside Shortcut (Sussex Hampshire Off-Road Track – reg. charity established 2012). The FoRVW Steering Committee brings together statutory authorities such as South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA), West Sussex County Council (WSCC) and Hampshire County Council (HCC) together with local groups including Sustrans and Midhurst Area Cycling (MAC).

Schemes like this take years to develop and are often done in stages. At present FoRVW is talking to stakeholders on the section between Petersfield and Nyewood. Where possible the aim is to follow the existing track bed, but the group appreciates that this might not always be feasible because of homes and businesses having been built along the route of the former line.  Securing the Midhurst end of the pathway will also likely be a priority because of the proposed housing development on the site of the old railway yard.

Petersfield station Midhurst sign

If you would like to learn more about the Rother Valley Way you can visit the project’s website and sign up to receive updates. The walking and cycle path is very much a community initiative, so the group welcomes support from interested individuals who would like to help make the plans a reality.

Guest blog by Malinka van der Gaauw

Malinka van der Gaauw

Malinka is the founder of Rural Strides who provide private and scheduled walks, as well as outdoor courses in the Western Weald. Malinka is an avid walker and lover of the outdoors. Dartmoor is her spiritual home, however, having lived & worked overseas for seventeen years, the mountains & deserts of the Middle East have also left an indelible imprint. In 2020 Malinka came home to Petersfield, Hampshire. With little else to do during lockdown Malinka set herself a challenge to walk all the footpaths and byways within a 10-mile radius of her home, and hasn’t stopped walking since.

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