Following on from last months Hayling Billy Trail I thought it would be good to feature another walk along a disused railway line, that I did just before the UK went into lockdown.
The Centurion Way in Chichester runs for 9km (5.5 miles) and follows the old Chichester to Midhurst railway line that opened in 1881 to improve access to London, it once had eight stations and three tunnels. The decline of the railway started when passengers services were withdrawn in 1935 and the line north of Lavant was closed completely in 1957. The line between Chichester and Lavant was used for the transportation of sugar beet and gravel until 1991.
The Centurion Way can be joined or left at various places along it’s route, however i parked up in West Dean and caught the number 60 bus (runs every 30 mins) to the Cathedral which is the nearest stop and walked from the city centre to the start of the trail as it leaves Westgate between the school and railway.
The first part is very reminiscent of an old railway, straight paths and treelined, with a few remaining telegraph poles that can be seen dotted along the route as well as old brick constructed bridges.
The trail is very easy going under foot which is mainly tarmac leading on to compacted gravel towards the end at West Dean. A couple of kilometres in is Brandy Hole Copse a 6.5 hectare local nature reserve that has three dipping ponds and a diverse range of flora and fauna, it also has a fantastic display of bluebells in the spring. Within the Copse there are two Iron Age boundaries known as the Chichester Entrenchments that contain some examples of WWII defensive structures. The copse also has many smugglers tales as being so close to Chichester Harbour it was a handy place for smugglers to hide their stash. The local stories tell of the secret tunnels, smugglers’ caves and all manner of illicit activity.
Along the route are sculptures which commemorate various aspects of local Chichester history such as ‘The Chichester Road Gang’ situated where the ancient Roman road to Silchester crosses the old railway line, it depicts an army of spade wielding Centurion workers and is made from old gas cylinders and railway fittings. A replica 100m diameter amphitheatre has also been created here on the site of a former quarry.
Further along the line at the edge of Lavant can be seen animal cut-outs hanging from the underside of a bridge. All of the animal shapes were drawn by local school children before being enlarged and reproduced in steel sheet. The route at this point passes the site of the historic Lavant Station which unfortunately is now flats and continues through a residential estate.
On leaving Lavant the trail is very much more rural as it follows the course of the River Lavant, which was in full flow following the recent rains that we have had. Views up to the Trundle are plentiful as you walk towards West Dean. A short way back from West Dean the route splits, the original route of the line continues straight on, but a more accessible route diverts slightly off to avoid steps at the end.
I carried straight on to West Dean and right up to the entrance of the first tunnel which has been blocked off and is the end of the trail. A 100m back from the tunnel are the steps which take you off the line and into West Dean to complete the trek.
Oh and if you are wondering why an old railway line is called the Centurion Way, it was suggested by a local schoolboy who entered a competition to name the route and was inspired by the roman connections in the area.