Ouse Valley Viaduct near the village of Balcombe in West Sussex is one of those places you have to see to believe. I had heard of its existence through a friend and decided I had to pay a visit to check out this amazing structure, completed in 1842 to carry the London-Brighton line over the River Ouse (pronounced “ooze”).
I secretly wondered why I hadn’t heard of this hidden gem before, if it was so spectacular. After all, I only live a car ride away.
It’s not often that you get to see a viaduct, and after learning that this one had earned the title of “the most elegant viaduct in Britain,” I felt compelled to check it out for myself.
As it turns out, I was seriously blown away when I saw this architectural masterpiece.
When you have read about the facts about its construction and seen the photos, you will agree it is well worth a visit.
- Be mindful that the road by the viaduct can get busy in peak seasons. An alternative is to drive to Ardingly Reservoir, RH17 6SQ, park there and then walk back to the viaduct. It will take 30 minutes and is a pleasant walk through the Sussex countryside.
- I have detailed the walking route from Ouse Valley Viaduct to Ardingly Reservoir in this post. Just reverse it if you are parking at Ardingly Reservoir.
The facts surrounding the Ouse Valley Viaduct are astounding:
Eleven million bricks went into its construction.
Bricks were shipped from the Netherlands via Lewes and Newhaven and boated up the River Ouse to this point.
Building costs were £38,500 – equivalent to approximately £3.5 million in 2020.
The length of the viaduct is 450m, and its height is 29m.
It has 37 semi-circle arches, each one measuring 9m high.
It has eight piers, four at each end, serving no purpose other than decorative.
Over 100 trains pass over the Ouse viaduct each day on the Brighton Main Line.
In May 1983, the viaduct was listed as a Grade II structure.
Between 1996-1999 extensive repairs were made to the viaduct at the cost of £6.5 million.
And not forgetting it is a top spot for photographers due to the hypnotic symmetry of its arches.
I think you will agree that it is pretty spectacular, and once you have taken lots of arty photographs, there are plenty of other things to see and do in the area near the Ouse Valley Viaduct.
Walk to Ardingly Reservoir from Ouse Valley Viaduct and return – 30 mins each way.
Cross the road, head to the small bridge over the River Ouse and go through the turnstile into the field.
Follow alongside the river and keep walking until you come to another small wooden bridge and cross over.
Continue walking to yet another wooden bridge. It looks like you aren’t meant to cross it as it has wooden bars across it. You will need to climb over the bars (it’s only low), but this is part of the route.
Once across the bridge, walk up the steep hill until you come to a tree with a pathway on your right-hand side. You will get a great view back to the Ouse Valley Viaduct. Be vigilant in this field, as we discovered later that a bull lives there!
Go through the gap by the tree into another field and follow the pathway until you reach a metal turnstile.
Proceed through this, and voila, you have arrived at the Ardingly Reservoir.
Ardingly Activity Centre offers many watersports: kayaking, paddle boarding and windsurfing. There is also a small kiosk serving hot drinks and snacks. Toilets and the main cafe are shut due to Covid-19.
To return to the Ouse Valley Viaduct, retrace your steps.
Places of Interest to Visit in the Area
Borde Hill Gardens – beautiful historical gardens located just along the road from the viaduct.
Wakehurst Place – 500 Acres of gardens with a Millenium Seed Bank.
Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens – seven lakes and a colony of free-roaming wallabies!
Need to Know
The viaduct is a short walk from the road, where you can park on the verge.
Ouse Valley Viaduct Bridge
Borde Hill Lane
- Wear appropriate footwear as the ground can be muddy after rainfall.
- Keep to the designated footpaths. This land is privately owned, and crops are grown in the fields.
- Ouse Valley Viaduct is difficult to reach without a car.