Growing up in Littlehampton my nan's house faced a bus stop where some buses carried intriguing detination board for 'Devil's Dyke'. It seemed an impossibly romantic place but sadly well beyond our financial resources in the 1960s to visit! So I never made that bus trip which in the summer would have been on an open topped bus.
Later I discovered that Devil's Dyke also once had a railway running to it. This was even more tantalising. In the 70s I finally got to visit the Dyke, following the old railway up into the Downs after alighting at Aldrington Halt.
There were remains of the route throughout, once I got out of the suburban part. The Dyke itself was a bleak place, even on a summer's day, devoid of people or anything else apart from the farm that barred entry to the still existing Dyke station platform.
Delving into the history of the railway and the Dyke gave a fascinating insight into just how different Edwardian Sussex had been! For the Dyke Railway brought visitors up from Brighton and beyond to a whole range of attractions set hundreds of feet above the glittering coastline to the south.
The railway was opened on 1 September 1887' leaving the Portsmouth-Brighton line at what later became Aldrington Halt, climbing through the suburbs and on to the Downs. This was the only railway to climb the South Downs properly, other routes to the west tunneling through them instead. The route was approximately 3.5 miles long with an average gradient of 1 in 45.
The line's glory years were in Edwardian times (1901 to 1910), the First World War followed by an increase in motoring (no doubt including the precursor to that 31 bus that went past my nan's!) affected railway numbers, with the line closing completely on 31 December 1938.
As well as the railway there were two other unusual transport attractions at the top. There was a funicular railway down to Poynings which was 840 feet long with a gauge of 3 feet. It was called the Steep Grade Railway. This line opened on 24 July 1897. This was the only inland funicular passenger line in Sussex. It didn't last long, closing around ten years later.
There were many attractions at the Dyke including a hotel, amusements and a switchback railway (roller coaster). Many speculate that the Steep Grade Railway was closed because it was siphoning off trade from the Dyke's attractions to shops and pubs down in Poynings.
Another rail-like attraction was the Aerial Cableway, which spanned the Dyke itself. It was designed and built by William Brewer in 1894, it was made from 1,200 feet of cable, suspended 230 feet above the valley floor on cast metal supports.
It had two cars, each carrying just four passengers, which were pulled across the Dyke by a cable worked by an oil engine.
Like the Steep Grade Railway its popularity was short-lived, opening on the 13th October 1894 and carrying its last passengers around 1909.
The Dyke Railway is an unusual example of a railway that depended purely on an ephemeral, once fashionable, desire for entertainment in strange places from our ancestors. The whole set up burned brightly for a few decades before all returning to dust and the normal bleak beauty of the high South Downs.