The canal weekender

Take a leisurely narrowboat trip along the Wey & Arun canal at Billingshurst.

There are some little known waterways that run through West Sussex – the best way to find them is by narrowboat on a relaxing voyage. Then head to the thriving market town of Horsham to unearth some local food heroes.

Ideal for: Couples, families, friends
Interests: History, heritage, nature, shopping, food & drink
Main areas: Billingshurst, Rudgwick, Horsham

Day one

  1. West Sussex has a little known treasure that is well worth a mention – the Wey and Arun Canal. Running north to south through rural areas of West Sussex, it was built during the Napoleonic wars but over the years it fell into disrepair. Thanks to a huge regeneration project, it is slowly being restored and it’s certainly worth coming here if you want to experience West Sussex from the water.
  2. Starting at Billingshurst, seek out the section of canal closest to Lordings Lock; this has a beautifully restored waterwheel, aqueduct and flood gates and is a real feat of engineering and design. For those travelling by rail there is a railway station at Billingshurst.
  3. Narrow boats cruise along the idyllic section of canal near the Loxwood Link section, a 10-minute drive from Billingshurst. Public trips run every Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday from April to October. Alternatively, book in for one of the special voyages, which include Cream Tea Voyage, Pimms and Picnic, Pirates and Princesses and Dad’s Bacon Butty Brunch (our personal favourite!). Some of the boats have access for people with mobility issues, so check this before you book.
  4. When your cruise is done, hop from the relative calm of the canals and enjoy some good old-fashioned family fun at Fisher’s Farm Park, an award-winning farm five-minutes’ drive from Billingshurst. If travelling by train, get off at Billingshurst station, the farm is three miles away by taxi. There’s indoor and outdoor play, huge jumping pillows, rides for children of all ages, animal shows and handling, pony and tractor rides, Devil’s Dyke Descent and picnic areas for sunny summer days. Do not miss the Barrel Bug Safari ride that whizzes you around a race track at top speed.
  5. After all that excitement, you’ll need some well-earned R and R. And what better place to do it than at Canfield’s Farm in Rudgwick, not far from Fisher’s Farm? Part of the Featherdown Farm glamping campsites, this is the perfect place to get back to nature and stargaze as you sleep under canvas. Kids will love the outdoor water-play area with a waterfall shower and sandpit, adults will love the peace and quiet and lack of wifi signal.

Day two

  1. There’s nothing like the alarm call of birdsong to set you up for the day. You won’t want to leave in a hurry, so stay a while and enjoy a late breakfast in the great outdoors while you huddle around an early morning camp fire. Explore the farm and woods and see if you can spot butterflies, woodpeckers or deer.
  2. Then it’s on to the convivial market town of Horsham, just a 20-minute car ride away. Regular buses also run from Rudgwick if you don’t have a car. Get your bearings and learn about the history of the town at the Horsham Museum. The Carfax area of town with its ornate restored bandstand is a pleasant place for a stroll. If you’re visiting on a Thursday or Saturday, you may stumble across the excellent weekly food market that is a haven for local foodies and outstanding local food producers. It’s also worth seeking out Cocoa Loco, which sells single origin, organic and Fairtrade certified chocolate, all made from its own kitchen in West Sussex.
  3. Just outside Horsham you’ll find Huxley’s Bird of Prey centre, a low-cost attraction for all the family. Book in for an experience day and you’ll get to handle the birds, or simply come along to listen to talks, watch flying displays and learn more about the centre’s work. An important part of it is the rescue and rehabilitation of wild, injured birds of prey.
  4. Huxley’s relies heavily on the kindness of volunteers to keep it going, so this is an incredibly worthwhile place to support and spend some time. Sadly, it’s time to head home, but no doubt you’re already planning your next trip back to West Sussex.