‘Great moment’ for Egrets Way network as key section to go ahead
Herons rising out of the reeds, lambs skipping across your path – these are some of the sights people using the Egrets Way can expect to find along the route.
Efforts to connect Lewes and Newhaven with a path for cyclists and walkers, with links spidering out to smaller villages along the way, first began ten years ago.
Five miles of path between the towns has now been created at a cost of around £2m.
And the charity behind the scheme, the Egrets Way project, is now celebrating a significant development after a recent planning decision paved way for a major missing section of the route to be constructed.
Wendy Brewer, deputy chairman, said it was ‘a great moment’ for everyone involved.
The new 2km path will extend the current Southease to Rodmell section path all the way to Ham Lane in Lewes running below the bank of the river Ouse.
The charity hopes technical work can begin soon, with construction on this sixth phase of the route to commence next year.
Chairman Neville Harrison said it was good news.
“One of the lovely things about this route is when it’s complete, it’s just a lovely, wonderful landscape and it’s a joy to be out there,” he said.
He said the Egrets Way was intended as a largely recreational alternative to the C7, which – while being an attractive rural road – is also ‘very busy’ with traffic and is ‘horrible’ for cycling along.
But developing the network has not always been straightforward.
A key aspect has been securing landowners’ permission for the path to cross their land.
Next, funding has had to be sourced, which the team has successfully managed to bring in ‘bit by bit’ along the way.
Mr Harrison said these factors ‘partly explain why we are now in the tenth year – it’s a slow process’.
Developing the path has also involved working closely with partners including South Downs National Park Authority and Sustrans, along with local authorities.
The fifth phase of the project – between Newhaven and Piddinghoe – was held up by the pandemic but is due to begin this summer.
After phase six, Mr Harrison said there were plans for a short section of path at Dean’s Farm.
“There will still be a short section on the C7 to complete and when we have done that, I suppose it will be complete,” he said – though he added that the group was always looking for new ideas and suggestions for further links.
During the lockdown, Mr Harrison said use of the Egret’s Way had ‘definitely’ seen an increase, as people spent more time outdoors exploring their local area.
“We get some nice feedback, generally people are very enthusiastic,” he said.
Some people have credited the Egret’s Way with helping them cut down their car use.
One resident who recently contacted the group described it as ‘the best commute I’ve ever had’.
They said: “Now there’s an alternative to the C7 I much prefer to ride rather than drive to work.
“It’s not unusual for a heron to rise out of the reeds as I pass, lambs skip across my path, there are many ‘good mornings’ to walkers, runners and other cyclists, and of course you’re riding in the most wonderfully uplifting landscape.
“It really is fabulous, and you must be very proud of what’s been achieved.
“The completion of the Egrets Way to Lewes will make biking there for working or shopping viable for everyone for whom the C7 traffic is at present just too intimidating.’
And it’s not just locals who benefit – Mr Harrison said the Egret’s Way can help boost tourism in the area, particularly considering the uncertainty around foreign holidays this year.
People from London could get the train down and use the route, and it will also help efforts to regenerate Newhaven.
Mr Harrison said residents were positive about the scheme – and if anything were frustrated that progress on the route was not happening quickly enough.
“The major criticism has been why is it taking so long, you’re never going to do it,” he said.
“To which we say, yes we will. We know it’s frustrating, but we’re sticking to our guns. We’ve got to be patient, but we will get there.”
Find out more about The Egret’s Way at its website here