The story of the Ouse Valley Viaduct Bridge is a story of numbers: 40 miles south of London and ten stories tall, it is a railroad crossing comprised of 37 arches and over 11 million bricks.
Built in 1841 on the rail line down to Brighton, the Viaduct spans not just a river or a road, but a deep swale of river lowlands. Also known as the Balcombe Viaduct, it is nearly 1,500 linear feet of soaring piers and intricate cornices, balustrades, and parapets. From down below, all day long, you can look up nearly 100 feet in the air and watch four or five trains an hour thundering in a storm of speed overhead.
The valley under the Viaduct was carved by the River Ouse (pronounced “ooze”), a name that can cause a bit of confusion to non-Brits. There are five rivers in England called “Ouse,” derived from an old Celtic word simply for “water.” There is one in Yorkshire, a Great Ouse, a Little Ouse and the Ouse Orkney. This particular Ouse meanders through the Sussex counties, both West and East, and it can make it a little swampy under the Viaduct. So when visiting, strategic choice of footwear is key.
The Viaduct’s construction managed a perfect blending of graceful design and economic restraint. At the time, the entire endeavor cost a mere £38,500, which is only a little over $5 million in today’s dollars. Despite its length, height, and weight-bearing requirements, the builders were able to hollow out the piers between the arches without sacrificing their strength. It saved them tons of bricks, with an added design bonus: looking through the quarter-mile pier tricks the eye into thinking this bridge could go on forever.
Know Before You Go
The Viaduct is about two miles south of the village of Balcombe, out the Haywards Heath Road. Follow onto Stonehall Ln, then Borde Hill Ln. There are a number of walks through the area that includes the Viaduct, and the river lowlands underneath can be pretty wet, so check conditions for appropriate boots or shoes.