Monday, 26 September 2016

Leith Hill and Friday Street

Leith Hill Tower

I've been away for a large part of the summer and only now am I catching up on walks that we have completed during those months.  First up was a rather cloudy day during July when we visited Leith Hill.  The weather forecast was rather better than we actually got but such is the leap of faith required sometimes that we decided to go for it anyway.  This is walk number 17 from volume 65 of the Pathfinder Guide Surrey Walks.

Leith Hill View
Getting to the start was rather interesting for there was a cycle race going on.  Getting around the racers was no mean feat going up the hill to the car park but it didn't seem to matter for one van driver coming hell for leather along the lane, seemingly not prepared to stop for anyone.  How he didn't cause a massive accident that day was amazing to me.  After our near miss it was something of a relief to get parked up safely.

Muddy Paths
Our first task at the car park was to head up the steep climb to the top of Leith Hill.  This is the highest point in the south east of England and the fact that it is just shy of 1000 feet high was enough to persuade Richard Hull, the local landowner, to build a tower at the top in 1766.  The top of the tower is now 1029 feet above sea level.  We took the opportunity to get ourselves a little snack in the snack bar run by the National Trust at the bottom of the tower.  This is worth knowing about if you don't want to have to lug a lunch around with you.  Not sure when it opens though - it might only be available on summer weekends.  There was a large gathering of young people at the bottom of the tower - they looked like they might be on a Duke of Edinburgh walk maybe?
Wotton Common

We climbed the tower and even on a fairly dull day like this the view from the top is truly stunning.  Away in the distance we could see the line of the South Downs and even the gaps where the rivers Ouse, Adur and Arun break through.  Nearer to us was Gatwick, our destination a few weeks later.  The plane activity was quite mesmerising, especially as the planes looked so small from up here.  We lingered for quite awhile before pushing on.

The next section of the walk was a little difficult to follow as there were so many possible paths and I couldn't be sure we were following any of the ones suggested in the guidebook.  Not only that but a dose of wet weather had ensured that many of the paths were pretty puddle strewn and the mud was rather more fearsome than you might expect in the middle of summer.  This section of the walk wasn't a very promising start and we even wondered whether to turn back.  

Abinger Common
Fortunately things looked up as we left the woods.  For a start the underfoot conditions were a lot better and secondly we had a view!  The fields were already showing a late summer look to them; I reckon this happens almost overnight sometime in early July.  We measured the maize that we walked through and my Mrs agreed that it was knee high by the 4th July, just as it should be!  Off in the distance we could see a house being built - the new owners will have a nice spot to call home when it is completed.

We dropped down the side of another wood into a valley bottom.  This looked like an area of woodland that had fairly recently been cleared.  The area cleared was about the size of a normal farmer's field so I guess this whole area is commercially forested.  We turned immediately right at the bottom and continued to the opposite corner where we eventually came across the small hamlet of Abinger Bottom; a very agreeable looking place that was characterised by very Surrey looking houses.  The gardens were neatly kept too, probably because the people that live here just want to be enjoying the peace and quiet of this rather lonely little place.

Stephan Langton
We turned off through some more woods along what looked like an old coaching road that came out in Friday Street.  Here was a very popular looking pub, the Stephan Langton.  When we saw how many people were having Sunday lunch here we thought better of going in for a quick shandy.  Our route took us around an unusually large mill pond that added a degree of serenity to the hamlet.  On the far side we disappeared back into the woods and climbed back up the slope that we had come down a couple of miles further back.

Friday Street Hammer Pond
The walking on this stretch wasn't too easy on account of the deeply rutted path.  It was something of a relief therefore when we left the forest to find another small collection of houses called Broadmoor.  Thankfully not the one with the fearsome reputation but another peaceful spot deep in the woods.  We turned right here and headed along a track that looked like it was well used by motor transport.  We realised why about a half mile later when we came upon an activity centre.  We headed on by and soon turned left to cross a small stream.

Broadmoor House
The onward walk back up towards the top of Leith Hill was perhaps the best section of the walk. The weather had significantly improved by this point too, with plenty of sunshine around and far fewer clouds.  However the wind was still pretty fresh, which was a relief for the climbing was quite steep in places.  The woodland changed from broadleaf to Scots Pine and heather, giving the landscape a much more open feel.

Whiteberry Gate
At the top of Leith Hill we passed by a cricket match in full flow - the competition between the two teams seemed quite intense.  I would have like to stay and watch for a few minutes but the girls were getting a little impatient now - we promised them an ice cream at the end of our walk!  The last stretch along the ridge was most pleasant and every now and again we could see glimpses of the view that we had seen from Leith Hill Tower.  Just shy of the tower we dropped back down the steep slope to meet the car once again.

The Duke's Warren
This is a walk of fairly modest length, mostly through woodland but with a few decent views along the way.  I imagine it would make for a very enjoyable autumn walk when underfoot conditions are still fairly dry.  It wasn't so enjoyable on our afternoon, except for the last stretch when the sun came out.  The muddy parts at the beginning were very tedious - be warned!


Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Exeter Walls Walk

Wall North of South Gate

I have long been fascinated by city walls and an opportunity arose for me to explore the walls surrounding Exeter while my wife was otherwise engaged during our trip to Devon.  The walls around the city of Exeter are surprisingly complete with nearly 70% still standing.  You could be forgiven for missing them though as the modern city has completely enveloped them and the central business district has spilled out beyond the original confines.  Apparently even more of the wall survived into the 20th Century but significant sections were removed to enable modernisation and ring roads to be built.  Now though Exeter seems to have rediscovered its love for the wall and a walk around the remaining sections has been laid out, complete with interpretation boards.  This is the walk that I completed although not in the official order of the boards.

Watch Tower

I started actually at the final board as this was the one that I found first.  I hadn’t actually set out to do the walk but faced with some time to spare and an invitation like this how could I resist?  The final board (number 8) is at the South Gate and I approached this from the Yaroslavl Bridge, which connects two parts of the wall removed to make way for the inner ring road in 1961.  It seems amazing to me that a historical structure that has been around for several hundred years could have been vandalised in this way.  Attitudes were different back in the 1960s and progress and a desire to regenerate the city after the devastation of World War 2.

Decorative Bridge

Just along from the bridge and missing section of wall would have been the South Gate.  By all accounts this was the most impressive of all the gates but now you will need your imagination to ‘see’ it for the whole structure has been obliterated.  This was demolished in 1819, presumably for something as mundane as widening the road into the city.  The only clues as to its appearance are on old drawings and maps pointing to how impressive it must once have been.  For a good many years it acted as the local clink but the authorities moved it during the early 1800s after acknowledging the inhuman conditions in which they were keeping prisoners.


Immediately to the north of the South Gate is a stretch of wall that is pretty complete and the path runs alongside it for some distance.  Unlike walls in other cities it isn’t possible to walk along the top of the wall in Exeter, which is a shame.  However, what it does do is allow the walker to look closely at the structure of the wall and on this lengthy section it has clearly been maintained on many occasions for there are repair patches all the way along.  Apparently some of these repairs were effected as long ago as the English Civil War when the wall took quite a beating.  This is now a quiet section away from the hullaballoo of the city and only ends when a road leading to the cathedral cuts across it.  I don’t think there was a gate at this location.

Cathedral Precinct

I took the opportunity to go and have a closer look at the cathedral while the opportunity arose.  This is surely one of the finest mediaeval cathedrals in the UK and its precinct was thronged with people enjoying picnic lunches on the lawns outside and drinks and lunches in surrounding pubs and cafes.  Given that it was such a beautiful day it wasn’t surprising to see it so popular.  Sadly there wasn’t time to look around inside on this occasion but I shall be sure to when I come for another visit.

I returned to the wall and continued around to what would have once been the East Gate.  Some of the wall is in good shape, other sections are significantly denuded while the modern city looks on.  Fortunately what is left appears to be well looked after along this part but I couldn’t help feeling that it was a bit after the horse had bolted.  Eventually the wall ran out by some of the big modern stores that have been built in this part of the city centre.  I had to walk around them in order to find traces of the walls again.  The official start of the trail is here.
War Memorial

The wall leaves the bustling city shortly after to continue on a course through Northernhay Gardens.  This is a delightful oasis and a very popular place for people to enjoy the sunshine.  The gardens looked resplendent with the planting schemes devised by the Council’s Parks Department and they are to be congratulated for putting on such a colourful show.  The gardens are overseen by Exeter Castle, a stronghold that has its roots in the original Roman Fort built not long after the invasion in 55AD.  This is surely the oldest part of the wall?  In this area is a Norman Gatehouse; not part of the original wall but worth a look nevertheless for it shows that the wall had new relevance when this latest set of invaders took over the country. I also paused to look at the very fine war memorial in the gardens before heading down the slope towards what would have been the North Gate.

It is a great shame that none of the original gates now survive.  I am sure if they could have put in a few more years the preservationists would have got hold of them and maintained at least one for posterity.  The North Gate and the West Gate were a lot less decorative than the first two I passed but what the wall lacked in decoration was perhaps surpassed by the views across the valley outside.  Although some of the walk along the wall was through some parking areas it soon improved as it reached the park and old housing of Bartholomew Street.  This is a delightful corner of the city centre, largely away from the horrific traffic that blights a lot of the county town of Devon. 

Park Lodge

I lingered in the park awhile trying to imagine the views that Parliamentarian Forces would have seen from the now torn down Snayle Tower.  I wonder what they would make of the retail parks and ring roads of today’s scene?  Just beyond here is the site of the West Gate, once a very busy entrance for the woollen trade coming to market but demolished in 1815 to widen the road.  The road is now a rather brutal interloper on the scene, being very wide and busy at this point.

Yaroslavl Bridge

I was almost back to where I began at the car park but there was time for one more gate – the Water Gate (not associated with any scandal that I am aware of!).  This wasn’t part of the original defensive wall structure but was added in the 16th Century to enable further access to textiles from the nearby River Exe.  As with all the others imagination is now needed to get any idea about what the gate would have looked like.

Norman Tower

This marked the end of the walk.  As with many city walls walks it is of modest length and can easily be completed in a couple of hours.  I only just had time to complete it myself and so I didn’t get as much time as I would have liked to inspect all the associated structures.  Despite its 20th Century destruction in places the remains are fascinating and allows the walker to see beyond the glass and metal of the modern buildings to a different time in Exeter.  For that reason this is a walk to be commended.  Leaflets are available at the tourist office or you can obtain an online version.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

South West Coast Path Section 39 Hope Cove to Salcombe

Malborough Church
I couldn't very well let a week in Devon pass without having a go at doing some more coast path, but in truth I was only ever going to be able to complete a short section as it was hot weather and although my wife is a good sport she doesn't really enjoy coastal walking.  As my companion for this section I didn't want to push my luck and she was on a promise of a decent lunch at the end.  Transport is also a real issue in this part of Devon and I wanted therefore to make life as easy as possible.  We parked in the village of Malborough high up above the coast roughly half way between start and finish of our walk.  In total this walk is about 9 miles.
Red Path

Malborough is a very agreeable small village, especially away from the main road.  It also benefits from having an hourly bus service from Salcombe to Kingsbridge as well as free parking.  It therefore makes an excellent staging post where there are few other options in the area.  Parking in Salcombe is an expensive option so be warned!

Hope Cove Chapel
In order to start our walk we had to first get down to the seaside at Hope Cove.  Fortunately there is a fairly direct path down from the village.  We walked through the churchyard initially admiring the old gravestones as we did so.  We also ran into an old lady who passed the time of day with us.  She wanted to show us around the church but we declined as we were anxious to get going before it got too hot.  The church did look interesting though and the tower was particularly tall - maybe a daymark?

Lifeboat Station
The first section out of the village was easily the worst part.  I calculated that walking the quarter of a mile or so along a country lane wouldn't be so bad and we may even not meet any cars at all.  How wrong I was!  The lane was a bit of a race track with lots of surfer traffic heading down to Hope Cove.  We also met a couple of very large tractors with scary looking attachments and we certainly gave them a wide berth!

Hope Cove
As soon as we left the road the walking got instantly better.  Firstly the most obvious thing that caught our eye was the red soil that pervades in this area - it gives the countryside such a wonderful hue.  For my wife it is a piece of nostalgia as it was one of the first things she remembers about coming to this country.  The views across the coast also opened up and we soon realised that we could see way beyond Plymouth into Cornwall.  I had brought my binoculars and a quick look through those revealed that Cawsand was on the horizon with Rame Head just behind.  That is the stretch of coast that we know best of all for that was the one where we started walking along the coast path.

Red Cliffs
Soon enough we came to Hope Cove.  This little place looked to be justifiably popular.  It was possibly one of the first proper summer days we had had and the temperatures had brought out lots of holidaymakers eager to make the most of it.  We dropped down to the coast via some very steep steps alongside a small church.  I imagine the whole village would once have fitted in there at one point - fat chance today!  Hope Cove has two halves - Inner Cove and Outer Cove.  We walked down to Inner Hope and past a very old looking RNLI station.  I imagine the crew here are kept quite busy looking after hapless tourists.  It has been here since 1877 and was originally presented by the Freemasons.

The climbing started as soon as we passed by the Lifeboat Station.  We were climbing up to Bolt Tail although to be fair it wasn't anything like as challenging as some of the other climbs we have done elsewhere.  The headland at Bolt Tail has an ancient fort and we crossed the earthworks to reach the headland.  The view from this point was quite astonishing along the South Hams coast towards Plymouth and beyond.  I could have stayed here for a very long time trying to pick out all the detail.

Red Campion
The walk from Bolt Tail was steadily uphill for some time.  The cliffs below us started to get quite fearsome looking and offshore we could see several ships on the horizon heading who knows where?  They were mostly the slab looking ships that carry huge amounts of cargo in containers.  Romantic they aren't!  The strange thing about the walk initially was that we seemed to make very little progress as the path curved around Bolt Tail and gave us the impression that we hadn't walked anywhere as the settlement lay below us seemingly no further away.  

Beach Henge
This stretch of coast is pretty exposed - there are almost no trees to provide shade.  I imagine that during the winter months there are some pretty strong storms and this might explain why trees don't much like it.  The sun was pretty relentless as a result and a good hat and plenty of sun cream were required.  Keeping the hat one sometimes was a bit of a challenge though as the breeze was pretty strong at times.

Soar Mill Cove
Eventually we got to the top of the slope and this heralded a lengthy section of level walking which was a bit of a relief.  We passed a car park and that brought a flurry of other walkers.  The cafe suggested in the guide book no longer exists though - in fact the building that once hosted it had half the roof missing.  Perhaps that was the reason why it no longer prospered!  The path was increasingly passing through carpets of wild flowers and foxgloves in particular seemed to be thriving on this section.
Soar Mill Cove

Soon we were dropping down alarmingly and that could only mean one thing -  a massive climb ahead!  This was down to Soar Mill Cove, a beautiful spot that a few hardy souls had made their way down to from the car park.  It was so delightful that we felt we had to pause awhile to get our breath back a bit.  We decided not to dip our feet in the sea though - the sand on the beach was the really coarse kind that we would have had in our boots for hours afterwards.  We did take the opportunity to hide out in a sheltered and shaded part of the beach.  The time out of the relentless sun was quite welcome.

Splasho Of Blue
After steeling ourselves for the next section we finally felt ready.  We slowly climbed up and away from the cove, taking the lower of the two paths that leads away.  This has the advantage of a lesser climb although it is more undulating .  The path sort of clings to the edge of the cliff for a while but eventually reaches the top at The Warren.  This was our last opportunity for a view westward as just beyond here the path took a course around Bolt Head and the Starehole Bay.  For me the best part of the whole walk - the coast was quite astonishing with its rocky cliffs and path clinging to the side of the precipitous slopes.

Little Guy
As we rounded Bolt Head the view changed in a flash - gone was the westward view behind us to be replaced by one eastwards across Salcombe Bay and towards Prawle Point where I had been last year.  In fact from Bolt Head it was possible to see pretty much the entire first two thirds of that walk completed in August last year.  The boat traffic down below on the sea had also increased courtesy of the port at Salcombe.  One boat far below us was tugging some youngsters on a rubber tube and it was possible to hear the shrieks of delight above the sound of the engine!

Bolt Head
The path continued around the bay and managed to negotiate a particularly rocky part with a handrail and fenced in section.  Not one for the faint hearted!  I thought it quite exhilarating but I think I might have been alone in that one.  Once round that headland (Sharp Tor) the going got a little easier as the path continued towards Salcombe.  Soon the scrubby hillside gave way to woodland and some welcome shade.  Distances were deceptive here though - we thought that we would soon reach Overbeck's, a National Trust place that we had identified as our lunch stop.  In fact it was getting a bit frustrating as we were both pretty hungry by now.  Eventually we came upon the access road but had a bit of an unpleasant shock as it became clear that we would have to climb quite a lot to reach the entrance.
Keeping You Safe

We headed straight for the cafe when we got there and even after all these years of marriage I managed to surprise my wife by ordering a crab salad.  I don't usually go for seafood but perhaps it was the smell of sea air that tempted me into ordering it.  I have to say it was absolutely delicious and was an excellent choice.  Feeling fortified we headed around the house, which was once owned by a man called Otto Overbeck, who made his fortune as an inventor using something called a Rejuvenator, which used electrotherapy to improve people's health.  He was also something of a collector and the house was stuffed full of some rather strange items, including several model ships and dolls house things.  The Youth Hostel that once operated here sadly closed in 2014, removing another accommodation possibility for walkers.
Overbeck's Entrance

Having looked around the house and fascinating tropical gardens we found that we had finally lost the sun.  The wispy cloud which had been overhead all day had now enveloped the sky and we had a rather overcast walk into Salcombe along the road.  This got quite hairy at times as it is wide enough only for one vehicle at a time.  Often there were traffic jams created as queues of cars had to wait in turn to pass by and this meant even less room for us walkers.  

At South Sands we considered using the rather unusual tractor looking ferry that takes passengers into the town of Salcombe.  Although it would undoubtedly have been fun the queue was quite long and we thought it would be a lot quicker to walk.  The walk wasn't uninteresting although I would have preferred an off road route.  The houses were superb - I cannot imagine any go for much less than a million pounds.  Offshore was the shell of Salcombe Castle, rather like the ones in the Dartmouth Estuary but in considerably worse shape.  Eventually we found ourselves in the town and had a bit of time to look in the shop windows and have an ice cream before finding the bus back to Malborough.

It felt good to be back on the coast path and although the distance was quite modest we felt like we had had a good work out.  The trip to Overbecks was definitely worth the extra time and the crab salad was excellent.  All in all a great day out!
Bringing In The Catch