Centurion Way in West Sussex runs from Chichester to West Dean and back. It follows the path of the old Chichester to Midhurst railway. It’s roughly 8.5 km each way. The start point in Chichester is at the entrance to the Bishop Luffa School at Westgate and it is National Cycle Route 288. Most of this railway closed in 1957 but the section between Lavant and Chichester continued to be used for industrial purposes until 1991. Today it’s leafy, arboreal, and a gentle way to travel.
Getting started and a word of warning
I decided to do this cycle in reverse order, starting in West Dean. There is parking at the pub and the tea room (please ask permission) and there is parking on the verge on the little U-bend off the A286. From there, there are two routes (both part of Centurion Way) that you can choose. The first way involves a path that runs alongside the main road before eventually you turn left and join with the other route. Do not follow this route. In the summer it is ridiculously overgrown and you will be fighting nettles, brambles and other plant life. Some sections are impossible to cycle.
Instead, cross the main road at the pub (The Selsey Arms) at West Dean and pass the school on your left. Shortly afterwards you will see a path to your left to the start point. There are steps but they have a little ramp for bikes. If you turn right at the top, you will see the closed-off tunnel of the old railway. But you need to turn left and set off.
The Centurion Way
This is an immensely pleasing cycle route and there’s something very satisfying about the transition from cycling from a very quiet and rural location into the urban arms of a city. You start with views of the South Downs, peace and tranquillity, and a straight flat path that passes under plenty of bridges and past plenty of points of interest.
It must be a fabulous route in autumn because there is an abundance of blackberry bushes as well as sloes. I also saw birds of prey, plenty of butterflies, and as you approach Chichester, the occasional seagull against the backdrop of the Cathedral spire in the distance.
When you come to Lavant, you have to leave the path and cycle through housing. Look out for the blue arrows on the lamposts that sign the way. I didn’t see them at first. Then you pass the rather impressive former railway station building and a bridge with metal animals hanging down. These were made from drawings by local Lavant Primary School children.
The Chichester Road Gang
Your next stop is a ‘Roman Amphitheatre’ created by Justin Marshall on the site of a former quarry. This is where a Roman road crosses your route and it is marked by a wonderful army of spade-wielding Roman workers called the Chichester Road Gang made from empty oxygen gas cylinders. There are benches here and a table, along with an open meadow. This also marks the start of Chichester.
The long downhill to Chichester
From here, the atmosphere of the route changes as you slowly head into the city and there is a long gentle descent to Westgate and your turn-around point. Although of course, if you want to explore Chichester, head into town. I turned around here but felt that for what is the official start point of Centurion Way it was a little underwhelming. There used to be a ‘Roman Archway’ designed and made by Richard Farrington but it was taken down for repairs. I hope they resurrect it.
Brandy Hole Copse
Of course, what goes down must go up and as you head for home, there is a gentle climb out of Chichester. For that reason, I stopped at Brandy Hole Copse on the way back. This is a Local Nature Reserve and an area of woodland and ponds. It’s also got earthworks believed to date from the Late Iron Age which are a Scheduled Ancient Monument. There is a great information board and a trail (with questions) that you can follow.
Once back at the Chichester Road Gang, it’s an easy cycle home. Views open up to your left and right as you leave Lavant behind and the lure of cake at the tea rooms is strong! My cycle covered a total of 18 km and took me 1 hour 15 mins, although I stopped often and did the tricky, brambly section from West Dean.
Centurion Way also connects with the South Coast Cycle Route at Fishbourne, so you can cycle to Fishbourne Roman Palace and Bosham. You can download a map of the route here: Centurion Way
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