Ardingly Walk

Ardingly Walk

by Robert Veitch

Blow away the festive cobwebs and get set for 2018 with a bracing walk based at Ardingly reservoir.

The entrance to Ardingly Reservoir is on College Road, 1⁄3 of a mile south of the entrance to the adjacent school.

Entry to the car park is half a mile from the road. From College Road, the access gently arcs around to the right, then after a short section of one way it turns sharp left and heads downhill. At the end, turn right and keep going until the car park appears on the right. The car park lies behind the green expanse of the dam.

Be suitably attired for this time of year, with boots being the footwear of choice in preference to trainers.

From the far side of the car park walk north-easterly uphill, following the hedge line. The path snakes past three picnic benches on its way. At the top, the vast body of water that is Ardingly Reservoir will appear.

In 1978 after the Shell Brook that used to run through this valley was dammed. When full the 17 metre high dam holds back 5 million litres of water. The reservoir covers 198 acres and drains into the River Ouse. There are hides for the birders, an activity centre for water sports enthusiasts, and ‘monsters’ lurking beneath the surface for the anglers.

Pass through the kissing gate on the right by the sign for the Kingfisher Trail and follow the path around to the left and through the Fullingmill Wood.

Beyond the wood, the path levels out and it’s reasonably solid underfoot, staying parallel to the waters edge along the way. For walkers with flasks there are places to stop and sup. Those blowing out seasonal cobwebs can keep pumping the legs, retain a good tempo and suck in the festive air.

After a reed lined inlet the path enters Sandhole Wood, where it gets a little steeper as the road approaches. Beyond the kissing gate, turn right onto Balcombe Lane and walk uphill. It’s a quiet road, but even so, walkers should be on the right, looking out for oncoming traffic.

Around 200m later and a fraction beyond a yew tree on the left, there will be an obscured fingerpost on the right. The path heads down a bank so beware of it being slippery underfoot. Follow the path (over the fallen silver birch if it’s still there) through the trees and along to the conjoined sleeper bridges that cross the brook.

The abundance of pine needles on the other side is an obvious sign that there are no deciduous trees above, for the time being. The next section is the steepest climb of any Sussex Living walk this year. It’s 20-25% but only extends for about 100m, so just hook up the oxygen tanks and get on with it. Towards the top, tree roots criss-cross the path, making it something of an organic staircase.

At the top the climb flattens and eases left, out of the pine trees. Beyond a square post on the left, the path turns right and squeezes between the back gardens of Ardingly suburbia. At paths end, turn right on to the tarmac of Church Lane. After 350m the road peters out in a farmyard, with two large barns nearby.

A fingerpost on the left offers three routes south. Take the middle option that enters a field, in which there are remnants of harvested maize. Odd decaying stalks here and there struggle to stand to attention in the breeze. Look straight ahead across the reservoir, and if the boats of the activity centre are visible on the far bank, this is the correct path. Head downhill, with a shimmy left and right here and there, walking between what would have been tall green lines of ripening maize at the end of summer.

At the bottom of the field cross the new stile and turn left and head back through Fullingmill Wood. Indulge in a view of most of the reservoir by following the path across the dam towards the activity centre. There’s a café here, that’s usually open at weekends.

After a last look at the water, wander downhill back to the car. Driving home, hopefully feeling refreshed, maybe its time to contemplate a New Year’s resolution.

  • Distance: 2m
  • Stiles: 0
  • Map: Ordnance Survey Explorer OL135
  • Parking: Parking behind the dam, but be prepared to pay £1-2 if asked
  • Refreshments: Activity centre café usually open at weekends
  • Public Transport: None

Whilst Les Campbell is recuperating from an accident, Robert Veitch has taken on the role of being Les’ legs. We hope that Les will be back out and walking again soon and wish him all the best with his recovery. Robert has tested the route personally, making sure it is suitable for walking. However, even he cannot guarantee the effects of the weather, or roadworks, or any other factors outside of his control. If you would like to send your feedback about a local walk, please email