Every time I visit my friend Jill in East Sussex we go walking along part of the Cuckoo Trail, which runs very near where she lives.
This was once a railway line, running from Heathfield in the north to Polegate in the south, but the line was closed on 13 June 1965, a victim of the Beeching cuts. The railway was known as the Cuckoo Line because of an old tradition, dating back to the 1300s, whereby a cuckoo was released at the Heathfield Fair to celebrate the coming of Spring. The fair continues to this day but now, thankfully, the cuckoo bears more than a passing resemblance to a pigeon!
As has happened with many of the railway lines that were scrapped as a result of the Beeching cuts, the tracks were removed and the land converted to a now-very-popular walking and cycling trail. And, though the trains are long gone, the Cuckoo Trail still retains many hints as to its former use. These are some of them.
The dotted line on my map marks the approximate route (hand drawn by me, so not entirely accurate). In Hailsham, the Railway Tavern sits opposite where the station used to be and, just along the appropriately named Station Road, is the former Station House, now a private residence.
As you head north from Hailsham, you pass under some of the sturdy old bridges that carried traffic across the railway line.
Concrete bollards can be seen at various places along the trail, some with numbers on top. I’m not sure of their purpose, though I did find one that was definitely a milepost, marking a distance of 21¾ miles from or to somewhere.
At Hellingly, you can see several reminders of the trail’s railway past. A bench has been cunningly crafted using old carriage wheels, and there’s a post with an intriguing jumble of ironmongery attached – purpose unknown.
Through the scrub and small trees, you can catch glimpses of the former Hellingly Station building, now a private house, and part of the old platform remains.
As far as I’m aware, the old location where the full platform has been retained, at least on one side of the track, is further north at Horam. Here, there is another fine old brickwork bridge and more old paraphernalia – perhaps this post held lights or a signal of some kind.
I haven’t yet walked the full 11 miles of the Cuckoo Trail but, if I do, I’ll certainly be on the lookout for more fascinating paraphernalia and interesting signs of the trail’s past life as a busy railway line.