History of the crossing

Much of the 37 miles of the Downs Link we know today as a bridleway and national cycle route, from Guildford in Surrey to the sea at Shoreham in Sussex, was once a railway. That is why it is mostly flat, with cuttings, embankments and old stations along the way. The name reflects the link it forms between the North and South Downs.

Rudgwick Station in 1904

The Cranleigh and Steyning lines, were created in the 1860s for a lucrative freight market between dockyards at Portsmouth and Southampton to Guildford and beyond. Rival rail companies failed to make good connections, freight moved onto the roads and car ownership soared. Except for munitions and soldier transport in both World Wars, the two railways were little used.

The “Hundred Year Lines“ were both closed by 1966 (the year we won the Football World Cup), a victim of the ”Beeching“ cuts.

Railway bridge over A281 Rudgwick 1930s
The railway bridge over the A281 at Rudgwick in the 1930s

The bridge over the A281 was demolished in 1967.

Over the next 5 years, the track was lifted and the ballast removed. Sections were built on, sold to local farmers, or left unmanaged..

It was only in the 1970s that its use as a recreational facility materialised. Short stretches were cleared by individual councils, and at a later stage, working together, the Downs Link was opened in 1984.

The route is not completely off-road. There still are missing links.

However, the two most recent improvements are the underpass which avoids crossing the busy A283 near Steyning and a reclaimed section Itchingfield to Christs Hospital near Horsham which avoids a twisting stretch of link roads.

The Downs Link crossing of the A281 today.
The Downs Link crossing of the A281 today

The last remaining major break in the continuity of the route lies south of Rudgwick at the point the Downs Link crosses the A281, a busy HGV route.

The embankments were left, and now we need a bridge back again, to enable equestrians, cyclists, walkers and disabled persons to cross the road in safety, as drivers move from a 40mph to 60mph speed limit on the crossing!