Sunday, 16 October 2016

Lake Padden

Padden Clouds
Continuing my short series of favourite walks in the Bellingham area we simply had to make a trip to Lake Padden.  In fact this is the one park that I have never failed to visit on any of my trips to Washington State.  Lake Padden was once the water source for Bellingham until the city grew much larger and the bigger Lake Whatcom was used instead.  The area was incorporated as a park in 1972 and is something of a playground for local residents, with picnic areas and sporting facilities available as well.  There is also a lengthy trail network, particularly in the surprisingly wild part of the park on the south shore.

This walk is restricted to the 2.6 mile shore path rather than straying into the wider network of paths, but to be fair you will get a sense of what the park is about by following this trail.  Adding extra mileage will do more for your health but you won't see anything more than extra forest.  We started our walk at the main car park off Samish Way.  If you are feeling really energetic it is also possible to walk here from Fairhaven via Padden Gorge.

Lighting the Leaves
It was a glorious Monday morning - in fact I cannot think of a better activity for a Monday morning!  It sure beat the normal routine of getting ourselves to school and work :)  We walked anti-clockwise around the shore trail.  I'm not sure why but we tend to walk in that direction, for no other reason than it just feels right.

Forest Section
Almost immediately we could see some of the leisure uses of the lake.  Some youngsters were lolling around on the bank and I hope were taking turns in the hammock they had strung up between two trees a little further on.  A couple of fishermen were trying their luck on the banks and plenty of other people were also out walking and running the shoreline trail.  The beauty of walking in this direction was that we were soon in the shade of the forest.  While the north shore is dedicated to sports and leisure activities the south shore has largely been left alone and the path walks through some beautiful old growth forest.

Softball Pitch
We first stopped at the dock so that we could admire the reflections of the puffy clouds appearing in the surface of the lake.  We tried not to disturb the fisherman at the end who was trying his luck.  Given the amount of effort he was putting in and the amount of equipment he had I'm not altogether sure that he was really there to catch fish - more to enjoy his surroundings with the fishing rod as his excuse.

From the dock the path takes an undulating walk through the forest.  At times the walk can be quite dark and the shade was very welcome on this very hot day.  Every now and again the light penetrated through as a fallen tree had provided a gap in the canopy.  The forest was alive with moss, insects and even the odd fungi but strangely no sign of any wildlife or even birds.  Mind you, the incessant chatter from my girls didn't help on that front!

Lake View From the East
The forested section of the walk is approximately a mile and at the far end of the lake where you expect to continue around the shore the path continues straight on a bit further to dog leg around the lowest bridging point of the inlet creek.  I have always thought this part of the trail a bit of a nuisance especially as you have to double back along the opposite bank (this isn't necessary if you emerge from the lengthier extra walk through the forest.

On the right hand side of the path the first of the sports piches can be seen and today there was a small group of youngsters testing their softball skills.  Further beyond this and rather out of sight is a golf course (safely away from prying eyes!).  On the shore of the lake we could see other families getting ready for barbecues and picnics.  It was pretty obviously school holidays judging by the activity in the park.  Rather surprisingly though it was confined to a pretty small area around the play area and the sports pitches.  We were soon back in a quiet part of the park and heading through more woodland although this time more managed.  We also passed by what looked like an old building that I iamgine was something to do with the water extraction that took place here.  Funny thing is I've been up here dozens of times and never noticed it before.  How weird is that?

Car Park View
We were soon back at the car and ready for a spot of lunch.  I could easily have done another lap it was that nice of a day :)

Monday, 10 October 2016

South Bay Trail

Boulevard Park
We spent our summer in what I consider to be my second home of Bellingham in Washington State.  It has been far too long since I managed to make the trip across to the city where my wife was born and grew up.  We arrived to something of a heatwave and so despite our best intentions of some lengthy hikes while we were there it actually proved not to be possible due to time contraints and weather conditions.  We focused instead on the old favourite short walks around the city and surrounding area.
Autumn tints

Bellingham is a city situated approximately 90 miles north of Seattle and 50 miles south of Vancouver.  It is blessed with a fine network of walking and cycling trails, many of which follow former transport routes.  This particular walk follows the former interurban railway route between Fairhaven on the south side of the present city and the downtown area of Bellingham.  Once these were two distinct places and the railway was a valuable connection between the two.  There is a present day railway but there is no longer a passenger service that connects Bellingham with Fairhaven.  The next stop north on the Amtrak service is Vancouver on a service that runs only twice per day.
Downtown View

The interurban railway connected Bellingham with Mount Vernon and was opened in 1912 during the boom time for these railways.  By 1915 there were over 15000 miles of interurban railways in the USA and they were primarily used for passenger travel between neighbouring cities, often linked to streetcar networks and usually electrically powered using 500-600 volt DC systems.  Most were short-lived and this particular route was shut in 1930 after a couple of accidents further down the line.  The first involved one of the cars derailing on a curve and tumbling down an embankment while the next only a few months later happened when a train smashed into a rock that had fallen on to the track.  The result was pretty much the same although it was a miracle that no-one died in either incident.  As far as the future of the line was concerned these two accidents pretty much cooked its goose.
South Bay Trail

A lengthy stretch of the trackbed between Fairhaven and Larrabee State Park is preserved as a foot and cycle path and although I have walked it a few times in the past I am going to focus this time on the short stretch that ran between Fairhaven and Bellingham for this trail is remarkable in its reconstruction of the former line for this two mile stretch.  When I lived in these parts in 1995-96 I was only vaguely aware that there was a second railway built on trestles out in Bellingham Bay but in 2007 the City rebuilt a lengthy portion of it, not in wood this time but in concrete.  The use of material was probably a smart move as the original trestles suffered from saltwater worms having a liking for it and constantly attacking it.

The trail starts in an alley leading off from Chestnut Street close to a Wood Fired Pizza outlet.  I suspect that the original route followed the line of Railroad Avenue although this doesn't quite connect with the beginning of the trail on a trestle just behind the Bellingham Farmer's Market.  This section is the oldest part of the route - I remember walking this section in the mid 1990s.  What I don't remember though is the line of condos that have appeared alongside the trail - it certainly has a different feel with the buildings cheek by jowl with the path.  Soon a road is reached and the path crosses Wharf Street obliquely before continuing its SW course.

This section of the path is fairly closed in feeling a little isolated from the wider environment.  It follows a green line that runs below the coastal road of State Street and above the route of the Burlington Northern Sante Fe railway that runs along the shore below.  Eventually I would meet the present day railway as the trail runs steadily downhill to shore level.  Signs of autumn were already showing even though I completed the route in early August.

Alaska Ferry
I have walked this route a number of times and have never had to wait for a train at the bottom.  Today was no exception and I wandered across the track at the pedestrian crossing.  I do remember that it was almost accepted that people wandered along the track in the old days - signage now suggests that this practice is no longer tolerated.

Boundary Stone
On the other side is Boulevard Park - one of the gems of Bellingham and with wide ranging views out across Bellingham Bay and Lummi Island beyond, what is not to like?  Certainly the locals flock to this place - it is always heaving with people at the weekends and on summer evenings as locals come down here to have their barbecues.  With magical sunsets over the water it is easy to see why so many people come.  I walked around the park people watching as I went.  It is a fascinating place - people playing sports, doing Tai Chi or generally sitting around and nattering.

Fairhaven Mural
At the far end I passed by the small coffee shop (worth a halfway stop if you get thirsty). and I passed over the first section of boardwalk - this straight section was in place when I first visited and lived in Bellingham in the mid 1990s.  On the other side though walkers had to cross the railroad tracks diagonally to continue walking on into Fairhaven.  Since the onward trestle was completed in 2007 the way forward is a lot more pleasing.  The arc of the trestle follows roughly the line of the former interurban railroad but it suddenly stops.  I suspect that the money ran out at this point, or perhaps reaching landfall at the more logical end of the route was too difficult because of the proximity of the BNSF railroad?  Anyhow the route suddenly heads back to shore via a ramp up and over the railroad and the route continues through some backroads to Fairhaven.  On the day I walked this section the ferry to Alaska was in - quite an adventure to travel on this up the Inside Passage to Ketchikan and Skagway.
Fairhaven Village

Fairhaven is a pretty good place to wander around with a lot of interesting independent shops and a smattering of restaurants.  It is worth wandering around enjoying the ambience of the place before either heading back downtown via one of the frequent buses.  If you are feeling particularly energetic you can complete the whole of the former Interurban Trail by continuing along the trail that runs up Padden Creek to join the onward route to Larrabee State Park.  Just be aware there is no public transport that can bring you back and it is a 12 mile round trip (not a problem on a bike!).  It is also possible to link this walk with an exploration of Lake Padden.  It is there that we shall be headed next.


Monday, 3 October 2016

Devil's Dyke

Dyke View
The feeling of late summer had already arrived when I did this walk.  The change from early to late summmer is imperceptible but definitely occurs sometime during July.  The fields had changed colour and the landscape was starting to look a bit drier as the warmer temperatures finally kicked in.  With a gloriously clear and warm day I yearned for a Downland view and where better than one of the most famous ones of them all, Devil's Dyke, just to the north of Brighton?  This walk is number 7 in volume 66 of the Pathfinder Guides West Sussex and the South Downs.

This walk can be accessed by bus from the centre of Brighton but unfortunately I wasn't blessed with the amount of time needed to get up here by that method (the open top bus is a glorious way to travel though!).  The car park was pretty busy and the pub was churning out some appetising smells (I can't give you the lowdown on whether it is any good - it's always been too busy to try it out).  Devil's Dyke was alive with people flying kites, playing ball games or merely here to admire the view.  It is a fantastic view - the line of the Downs immediately to the west of the car park is one of the iconic Downland views.  I could also see across to Leith Hill, where we had walked a couple of weeks earlier.  I have of course featured Devil's Dyke a couple of previous times on my walks, exploring the old railway line that used to bring tourists up here, and also walking by on the South Downs Way.

I took neither route today.  I walked from the car park due east dropping slowly off the crest of the hill at first and then more steeply into some woodland that flanks the scarp slope of the Downs.  This was a rather steeper path than I expected and it took some concentration to ensure that I didn't end up like a rolling stone!  The path through the woods was still surprisingly sticky underfoot considering the lateness of the season.

Across the Clay Vale
Soon I reached the village of Poynings.  This is a most attractive village although a lot more gentrified these days than the one I remember as a boy.  I suspect most of the people living here are either wealthy commuters to Brighton or elderly people that have been here most of their lives.  House prices are probably high enough to prevent children growing up here to buy a property of their own in the village.  It was good to see the pub in rude health though so perhaps community spirit remains strong?
Spinning Top Clouds
I walked a little way along the main street and then took a path between houses to the fields on the north side of the village.  The difference between the South Downs and the area immediately to the north is quite startling.  The underlying geology here is clay and the villages were originally built to take advantage of the springs that emanate from the boundary between the permeable chalk of the Downs and the impermeable gault clay.  Groundwater has no place to go underground and a line of springs result.  The villages took advantage of this fresh clean water supply.

Fulking Cottage
During the winter months the clay vale can be very difficult to walk on but today conditions were pretty dry and a lot more pleasurable.  The path took me across a succession of fields, mostly rough pasture.  I was accompanied by a large number of rooks that I imagine roosted in the trees nearby.  Looking along the line of the Downs from this angle was a rather different prospect than it was high on the viewpoint at Devil's Dyke.  Despite their modest height the Downs seem to look a lot more impressive from below.  I could also now see the full extent of the old funicular that carried passengers up the side of the Downs near Poynings.  You can read more about this on an earlier blog entry at Devils Dyke - A Victorian Theme Park.

Village Pump
After crossing a line of fields I wandered into the last one which contained some horses very keen to make my acquaintance.  Unfortunately for them I didn't have any food to give them and so they soon lost interest. I turned right at a lane and then left just around the corner back into open countryside.  The path followed the edge of a field just away from the shade under some large trees.  More horses were here sheltering from the increasingly warm sunshine.  I continued for a little further before taking a sharp left turn and heading due south towards the Downs once again.  The path headed along some large hedgerow boundaries skipping from field to field for a bit.  The flowers along the hedgerow were plentiful and added a good deal of colour to proceedings.  Perhaps what caught my eye most of all though were the clouds - they looked like spinning tops drifting over the countryside - I'm not sure I have ever seen anything quite like them.
Shepherd and Dog

Just before I got to the village of Fulking the path took an abrupt turn to the right and I then had to negotiate a ploughed field - definitely a sign of changing seasons ahead.  At the top end of the field I passed through a lovely little village play area and then out on to the main street.  This is a road I have driven along many times but walked very rarely.  I soon realised why - the traffic through the picturesque village of Fulking is surprisingly heavy and walking through wasn't an especially pleasant experience.

Just around the corner is one of the most famous Downland pubs of them all; the Shepherd and Dog.  This extremely popular inn features in many books and calendars.  Surprisingly I have never been inside - it always looks too busy for my liking and even today it was heaving despite being quite early in the lunch hour.  I took the path up the side of the beer garden to begin the re-ascent of the scarp slope of the Downs.  Initially I passed through some cool shaded woodland but soon I was out in the open after passing a woman that warned me about her anti-social dog.  I was thankful I wasn't walking one of my own.

Which Way?

The path to the top of the scarp slope was a slog - in spite of the modest height of the Downs the slope is surprisingly steep and presents a pretty decent work out.  I stopped half way up to enjoy the wild flowers and in particular the spread of orchids that were still in full bloom.  As I sat and enjoyed my surroundings a group of young people came charging down the hill playing loud music from a sound system.  They really did their best to ruin the ambience and I couldn't help but wish we were back in the 80s when such a system would have been a Brixton briefcase held on a shoulder and surely too big to have entertained the idea of bringing it into the countryside.  I reckon my inner grumpy old man is becoming well-developed as I get older...
Climbing Out of Fulking

Soon I was back at the top of the hill and admiring the wide open views from the top of the Downs once again.  It was certainly a treat to do this walk on a fine summer's day and despite its fairly modest length (three and three quarter miles) it packs a lot in - fine views and two of the prettiest Downland villages you are ever likely to see.  Refreshments in the Shepherd and Dog look more tempting than the Devils Dyke Inn, but the only pub en route I can vouch for is The Royal Oak at Poynings - well worth a visit.

Almost at the Top

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.