Some of the most beautiful English countryside lies within a stone’s throw of London. In particular, between London and the Sussex coast there are two striking chalk escarpments: the North Downs and South Downs. Between these two lines of chalk are the wooded hills and valleys of the Weald.
You’ll catch some sense of the beauty of this region on the journey by train from London to Brighton — where the ride south from Gatwick Airport towards Brighton cuts through an outstanding stretch of Wealden landscape.
A day trip to Lingfield
There are Wealden villages aplenty which are very accessible from London by train. One of our favourites is Lingfield. It is so easy to reach that it is a good spot for a summer day or evening excursion from London.
Unless it is a race day, you’ll not find the crowds heading for Lingfield. The village happens to be home to one of southern England’s premier horse racing courses. But, that detail aside (and the oddity of a major Mormon temple about two miles west of the village), Lingfield’s appeal is its unsung ordinariness. It is a spot worth visiting for the manner in which it captures comfortable middle-England.
Lingfield’s vernacular architecture
From the station, it is a seven-minute walk west across meadows to the middle of Lingfield. Don’t expect high drama. The appeal of Lingfield is in the detail of its vernacular architecture.
The village church, dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul, is striking — one of the very few churches in Perpendicular style in the region. That’s a very distinctive type of Late Gothic. The church boasts some extraordinary tombs of locals who were judged important enough to clutter up the nave. The architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner described the brasses in Sts Peter and Paul as the finest anywhere in Surrey.
Tucked away in quiet corners around the church are some of the most photogenic buildings anywhere in the Wealden region. Look out for the 15th-century timber-framed library. Public libraries don’t come any better than this. Just by the church there is a stunning old farmhouse, with a Horsham slate roof. Then track through the churchyard to the buildings at the south end: the Star Inn Cottages, Pollard Cottage and Old Town Stores. This is a gorgeous ensemble of local Wealden building styles — as picture-perfect as any in more celebrated tourist destinations.
There are plenty of direct trains to Lingfield from London Victoria Station. These trains are operated by Southern and they run every 30 minutes Mondays through Saturdays — and hourly on Sundays. The journey takes 40 to 50 minutes. The last train back from Lingfield is not till well after 10 p.m., so there is a chance to linger. The off-peak day-return fare from London to Lingfield is £12.30 for one person. Southern offer some great deals for small groups. For example, a return off-peak GroupSave ticket for four adults is just £27.60. These are not fares that require advance booking. Just roll up at Victoria Station in London, buy your ticket and hop on the train.