Did you know that UK communications regulator OFCOM maintains a list and ranking of swear words? With billions having been misspent on a highspeed line to nowhere, frequent strikes, talk of ticket office closures and perpetual engineering work requiring replacement buses, the word ‘railway’ could become a contender for this list. However, an ambitious plan being hatched by a dedicated group of local volunteers might help rehabilitate the word ‘railway’ in our local lexicon.

Find out more, including how you can volunteer to help, below.

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Almost 70 years ago the Rother Valley Way (Petersfield to Midhurst railway line) closed. A newspaper headline at the time read “Branch rail line to be torn up. No future plans, says railway authority, but open to ‘bright ideas’.” Unfortunately, none were put forward, but fast forward to today and there is news of an exciting plan to turn this 9-mile stretch of line into an accessible, shared-use, traffic-free path connecting the two market towns.

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Turning old railways into multi-user paths is nothing new, many superb examples can be found around the country. Not only are they a safe, green, sustainable method of local travel, but they are a tremendous tourism asset too. I for one love getting to know an area through a gentle cycle along a flat, safe, well-maintained path, possibly with a café or pub along the way. Motorists also benefit, as these pathways remove excess local traffic and slow cyclists from our windy, hilly roads. The health benefits to the community, young and old are also not to be under-estimated.

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Within the South Downs National Park there are already a couple of well-progressed cycle paths. After 10 years of hard work, by local volunteers, the 7 mile Egrets Way, between Lewes and Newhaven is almost complete. Meanwhile, the Centurion Way from Chichester to Midhurst is gradually creeping northwards. The next section between West Dean and Singleton is due to open in early 2024 and plans have already been approved for the onward section to Cocking.

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While still on the drawing board, the Rother Valley Way project has been brewing for a while. As far back as 1999 it was earmarked as a possible National Cycle route, but in 2017 the National Park identified the Petersfield to Midhurst line as an aspirational pathway and protected the route from further development. Thankfully, the project received new impetus from Covid, which ignited interest in active travel. The Friends of  Rother Valley Way (FoRVW) are now focussed on making this path a reality.

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FoRVW is a community group of local individuals and organisations who have come together to deliver the project alongside Shortcut (Sussex Hampshire Off-Road Track charity). The FoRVW Steering Committee brings together statutory authorities such as South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA), West Sussex County Council (WSCC) and Hampshire County Council (HCC) together with local groups including Sustrans and Midhurst Area Cycling (MAC).

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Schemes like this take years to develop and are often done in stages. At present FoRVW is talking to stakeholders on the section between Petersfield and Nyewood. Where possible the aim is to follow the existing track bed, but the group appreciates that this might not always be feasible because of homes and businesses having been built along the route of the former line.  Securing the Midhurst end of the pathway will also likely be a priority because of the proposed housing development on the site of the old railway yard.

If you would like to learn more about the Rother Valley Way you can visit the project’s website here, and sign up to receive updates. The cycle path is very much a community initiative, so the group welcomes support from interested individuals who would like to help make the plans a reality.

Article written by Malinka Van Der Gaauw