It’s a long time since I hung out in Forest Row in East Sussex on a regular basis. In that time, it’s become a lot more bohemian. I’m told that’s in part due to the Michael Hall School (found at Kidbrooke Park, Ashdown Forest), which is the oldest and largest Steiner School in the UK. But it’s possibly also in part due to the fact that the town sits just east of East Grinstead which has a history of attracting unusual and non conformist faiths.
Historically on a turnpike road (now the A22), Forest Row is also close to the Greenwich Meridian line (which runs from the North to the South Pole) which is seen by some as having a cultural and symbolic significance.
Whatever the reason for the shift in the personality of Forest Row, I like it. A bit of a walk around the town and you find a strong sense of community with a focused social conscience and a healthy spiritual soul. It balances between alternative and conservative and that’s an interesting combination.
Forest Row Foodie
Forest Row is a great place for those that love good quality produce.
Forest Row Market
Forest Row has a fantastic market with up to 45 fine food and craft stalls and the best of locally produced food and drink. It’s also “Plastic Free, Zero Waste & Dementia Friendly” and you’re encouraged to bring your own containers. Dates for 2023 haven’t been released yet.
Tablehurst Community Farm
Tablehurst Community Farm is a social enterprise and has been a community farm since 1996. It’s a biodynamic farm and they are creating quite a stir in the local community with their supportive and inspiring approach. When I popped into the farm shop, there were exciting plans afoot for a new café. Watch this space.
Seasons is a longstanding part of the Forest Row community and also has a store in Lewes. They have a fantastic range of high-quality organic foods and a separate café. It was my intention to eat in the café … but I forgot my wallet!
Shearer’s Fine Foods
Shearer’s is an independent delicatessen selling artisan produce and lots of lovely treats.
Enjoying the great outdoors
After (or before) eating great produce comes exercise and Forest Row has an absolute abundance of walks and ways to burn some calories.
Forest Way is 10 miles of disused railway line and nature reserve that is suitable for walking, cycling and horse riding. It also includes a section of National Cycle Route 21 and Forest Way joins up with Worth Way which means you can follow it all the way to Three Bridges. It also encompasses a section of the Sussex Border Path. There are apparently a number of circular walks which you can find here: https://www.highweald.org/ although I only found one which was route 44 (5.5km).
Sussex Border Path
Feeling ambitious? Take to the Sussex Border Path which connects Thorney Island near Chichester in West Sussex to Rye in East Sussex. It’s 240 km long and happens to run north of Forest Row as part of Forest Way.
Vanguard Way is a 106.5 km trail from East Croydon to Newhaven. From Forest Row, you can follow it north from next to the pumping station (on Forest Way) and if you head south, it will take you around Ashdown Forest.
The High Weald Landscape Trail
The High Weald Landscape is 145 km and runs from Horsham to Rye. It passes north of Forest Row, and there is a lovely loop that travels north up Vanguard Way, east along the High Weald Landscape Trail and then back to Forest Row via Forest Way.
Just south of Forest Row, Ashdown Forest is the largest public access space in south east England, and the largest area of open countryside. It’s also home to Winnie the Pooh’s Pooh Sticks Bridge!
Weir Wood Reservoir
To the west of Forest Row is Weir Wood Reservoir which covers about 152 hectares and is an important area for wildlife. For bird watchers, there are hides at the Legsheath Lane car park. There is also a sailing club, a fishing syndicate and it is one of Beyond Swim’s open water swimming venues.
To the north of Forest Row, Hammerwood Park dates back to 1792 and was built by the same architect who designed the White House (yes, that White House). It’s in Greek Revival style and was once owned by Led Zeppelin. The house is open to the public for guided tours and teas from the 1st of June to the 30th of September on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and bank holidays. They also hold concerts here in the summer.
Brambletye House ruins
Walk west along Forest Way and a short while after you’ve crossed the A22, turn left down a little lane and you’ll come to the ruins of Brambletye House. It dates back to 1631 and is Grade II listed. Nearby is a moated area that dates back to between 1250 and 1350 and is the site of the original manor which appears in the Domesday Book. This spot won’t take you long to visit as the ruins are on private land and are well-fenced off. It’s believed the house had been abandoned by the late 17th century but the ruins are charismatic and worth a little detour. The owners went on to build a new house nearby which is now Brambletye School. You can read more about the ruins here: Brambletye House
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