You can see thousands of breathtaking photos of Ouse Valley Viaduct in your Instagram feed, but nothing can replace the experience of seeing it with your own eyes. Is it awe-inspiring?! It sure is! It is also one of the most photogenic locations in England I had a chance to photograph.
The viaduct is located to the south of Balcombe in West Sussex, just around 40 miles from London, making it a perfect destination for a day trip from the city.
One day, I packed my camera gear, put my trainers on, and hopped on a train from London Bridge to Balcombe. My friend was happy to join me, and we both got very excited about the new adventure ahead. We didn’t do much planning (what’s better than spontaneous travel?). Still, with some help from google maps, we managed to reach our final destination pretty easily, following beautiful waterside walking paths.
I highly recommend walking to the viaduct through the lovely Ardingly Reservoir rather than driving. It will take you longer, but the views will be worth it! Here is the link to the route we followed. It took us about 4 hours, but we often paused for photos or to sit on a bench and soak up the sun.
Once we left the Balcombe station, we turned left and walked towards the centre of the village. It was a bank holiday morning, and all cafes and bars were unfortunately closed (including popular Balcombe Tea Rooms, where we wanted to stop by for breakfast). However, we managed to get our morning coffees and some snacks at the Balcombe Stores just next to the Half Moon Inn.
From the Half Moon Inn, we walked down the Haywards Heath Road and then Mill Lane until we got to the Ardingly Reservoir Walking Path.
The Reservoir is very picturesque. Many people visit it for walking, bird watching, fishing, picnicking (there are many nice picnic areas there) or water sport activities. I bet it draws in many photographers as well!
We read in a guide that the Reservoir is home to many animals and interesting bird species like kingfishers or great crested grebes. Hopefully, you will be luckier than us during your visit and will catch a glimpse of more wildlife species than just ducks and spiders :).
At least colourful wildflowers were easy to spot, and we saw plenty of bluebells, primroses, wood anemones, orchids, and many other plants.
It was very relaxing to experience the great outdoors, walk along country lanes and through beautiful woodland. I would recommend a good pair of boots, though, as it was very muddy at times (my trainers were definitely not the best choice).
At some point, we got to the Ardingly Activity Centre located at the southern end of the Reservoir, and next to a large parking lot.
After treating ourselves to an ice cream (a nice reward for nearly ten thousand steps tracked by my StepsApp :)), we continued our walk along the footpath heading south. At this point, we were just about 1 mile away from the viaduct. Again, Google maps was very helpful for looking up directions.
You cannot avoid passing through the field with free-roaming cattle. Once you see the cows, keep calm and carry on :). We didn’t see any agitated bulls but you can never be too careful.
It was exciting enough to see the Viaduct from a distance, but it really gave us the chills once we got closer.
The Viaduct was built in the 19th century to serve the London to Brighton rail mainline (there are still trains passing over the Ouse viaduct each day!). It consists of 11 million red bricks and limestone; hence its rustic and rich colour and texture. The elegant proportions of this structure are mind-boggling. It’s 29 m high and 450 m long (one of the longest Victorian viaducts in England!). It’s probably the simplicity of its repetitive (37) arches that attracts the eye so much.
We got to the viaduct at around 2 pm, and there were quite a few visitors around. Some people were sitting or picnicking in the curve between the arches; some were doing photoshoots. We patiently waited for others to leave so we could take photos of the viaduct with no people in the background.
The best time to get there if you want this place just to yourself is probably early morning or late afternoon.
If your acrobatic skills are better than mine, climbing onto the base of the arches for the best view (even at the highest point) shouldn’t be a problem. I struggled with that but with some help from a stranger who formed a step with his hands to help me climb, I managed to do it. The view was worth it!
We ended a day with a nice dinner in the centre of a lovely town Haywards Heath (3 miles away from the viaduct and 5 min by taxi), and took a train back to London from the Haywards Heath station.
Have you ever visited the Ouse Valley Viaduct or walked through Ardingly Reservoir? If so, what’s your experience?