Friday, 27 August 2010

Sussex Coast Walk Day 12 Eastbourne - Hastings

Bexhill Promenade
I had looked long and hard at the logistics of this section after the fantastic walk along the cliffs from Exceat and concluded that it might be best achieved on a bike.  After the lengthy section of chalk cliffs between Brighton and Eastbourne it comes as a bit of a shock to find a relatively flat coast once again.  The area of Sussex between Eastbourne and Hastings is the clay part of the Weald where it meets the sea.  Eastbourne is somewhat sheltered from the elements by the proximity of Beachy Head and the coastline is dominated by caravans and holiday homes as a result, giving a very different character to what has gone before.
Bexhill Seafront Houses

One of the reasons I chose to cycle this section of coast is that there are reputedly very good cycle lanes in Eastbourne, Bexhill and Hastings with no obvious footpath along the coast itself.  The section that looked particularly problematic was between Pevensey Bay and Cooden Beach.  Other correspondents have suggested walking along the shingle beach, but after my previous experience in Selsey I thought better of it! I had decided to park in Bexhill rather than Eastbourne or Hastings since I knew that there would be less pressure to find a space.  My original intention was to get the train to Eastbourne from Bexhill, cycle right through to Hastings and get the train back to the car.  Unfortunately it didn’t quite work out that way as due to a miscalculation on my part there wasn’t a train for another forty minutes.  I decided therefore to start my trip by cycling to Hastings and then getting the train to Eastbourne and complete the trip back from there.  It was by now mid afternoon and faced with a deadline of darkness falling by about 8pm waiting around was a luxury I didn’t have.
Grand Prix Coast

It was a sunny and breezy afternoon, perfect conditions for the ride ahead.  I had actually waited for such conditions on an available day as I felt that this stretch of coast deserved it.  The promenade in Bexhill is a short distance from the train station and the central core of the seafront has a relaxed and historic air about it.  Perhaps the fact that Bexhill has been rather overshadowed by its more illustrious neighbours (Eastbourne and Hastings) has been to its benefit.  Many of the seafront buildings have been kept in more or less original condition, rather than being redeveloped into more modern (and perhaps uglier) places to fit in with business needs.  The front is replete with traditional shelters, untouched by vandalism and painted in crimson and white livery.  There were plenty of people walking about enjoying the sea air, meaning that the ice cream kiosks were doing a brisk trade!
Galley Hill

After a short distance I came across a stone commemorating the first motor races in Britain.  Bexhill is very proud of its motoring heritage (seems rather and unlikely place now!) and hosts a gallery devoted to the old history.  Sadly there wasn’t time to visit today (make a mental note to do so soon) but I did pause for a moment to try and imagine the scene over one hundred years ago as an Edwardian Crowd would have turned out to watch the fairly rudimentary cars racing along the short course on Bexhill front.  At this point of course I wasn’t entirely sure how far they would have had to travel, but about a mile on as I climbed the slope of Galley Hill another stone marked the start line.  I couldn’t help but wonder whether the slope of the hill helped with the start – no doubt these fairly fragile cars would have benefited from a little induced momentum!
Coastway Train

Galley Hill is not much of a hill in reality, more of a sandy hillock.  But enough height is gained to make a good viewpoint above the otherwise very flat landscape.  Behind me the eastern edge of Bexhill is dominated by some rather uninspiring blocks of flats, rather disappointing compared with the magnificence of the flats on the seafront closer to the town centre.  At the top of the hill is an unusual looking coastguard station and a popular looking car park that was full of vehicles parked up to admire the view.  Ahead of me was Hastings, my next destination and a short distance away over the low sandstone cliffs that form the coastline between the two towns.  From Galley Hill the section of coast down to Glyne Gap is well-provided with a purpose built segregated cycle path, which was very welcome.  Sadly this does not extend beyond Glyne Gap but heads for the A259, a few hundred metres inland.  In my view this is a missed opportunity – the cycle lane would be so much better if it continued on the seaward side of the main railway line.
St Leonard's

I certainly wasn’t going to proceed along the road when there was a perfectly good footpath initially along the cliff top and then a stretch of shingle past Bulverhythe.  It didn’t make good cycling (and officially I wasn’t supposed to cycle) but at least there was no one around to bother or laugh at my feeble attempts to get the bike through the shingle.  On the landward side of the railway that follows this stretch of coast are the train depots at Bulverhythe, once from competing railways and facing each other.  Since the South Eastern And London Brighton and South Coast Railways fought their turf wars these sheds have been through the joint running of the Southern Railway and then British Rail to find themselves back to the original position of two operators fighting it out for customers.  The trains of Southern and South Eastern are very much kept apart in the two sheds, something I couldn’t help smiling about!
Warrior Square

Getting to the promenade at St Leonards was a relief and before finding my way on to the cycle track I crossed the small stream known as Combe Haven, once a huge inlet to what is now marshland with the former port of Bulverhythe at its entrance.  As I entered St Leonards the first impressions are not great.  The western end is still quite derelict in places and the huge site of what was once the Lido dominates the scene.  It is a sad sight now with only a few remains left of what was once quite an impressive structure (see http://www.seasidehistory.co.uk/hastings_lido.html for a good picture and history).
Marine Court

As I pushed on eastwards towards the centre of Hastings the scene soon changed and I was quite impressed at the facelift that the seafront had had in recent years.  Hastings is a town I have only visited infrequently due to its distance from Worthing (surprisingly its further away than London!).  Although I have always thought that it has a faded charm in my most recent visits it was looking pretty downtrodden in places.  Today though it looked as though many of the seafront properties had been taken on by people willing to invest more money in them.  The promenade looked as if it had also received some investment, with the gardens looking particularly resplendent with the summer bedding out in full bloom.  All the way into central Hastings the cycle lane and pedestrian facilities co-existed side by side, begging the question “why can’t we do this in Worthing?” 
Hastings Pier

As I headed into Hastings I paused to look at two remarkable buildings that have had differing fates in recent years.  First was the phenomenal Art Deco block of flats known as Marine Court.  This was the largest block of flats in Britain when it was opened in 1937 and although it can look quite ugly and slab sided at first viewing, upon closer inspection its inspiration suddenly becomes clear.  The building is said to be modelled on the Queen Mary ocean liner and the view from the eastern end makes it abundantly clear!  Since my last visit the old building has had a lick of paint and looks well cared for, after a few years when it looked decidedly sorry for itself.
Hastings Pier

Sadly the pier in Hastings hasn’t fared so well.  In recent years it has been closed for health and safety reasons as the decking is said to be unsafe.  A campaign has been started to try and save it, with the Council being lobbied to compulsorily purchase it in a bid to save its future.  I wish them well for the current state of it is rather folorn and I can’t help thinking that the problems with the West Pier in Brighton probably started out in a similar way.  At least Hastings Pier still stands; St Leonards Pier was demolished in 1951 after being damaged in a storm.  Histories of both piers can be found at http://www.simplonpc.co.uk/Sussex-Piers.html.
Carpet Gardens

I cycled through town to the station and managed to get a train within a few minutes over to Eastbourne.  I arrived at about 5.30pm and estimated that I had about 2 ½ hours to cycle back to Bexhill before darkness really fell.  I headed straight for my second pier of the day, another Eugenius Birch designed pier happily in rude health.  Personally I think that Eastbourne Pier is the finest in Sussex, although its future is also in doubt after it was put up for sale in 2009.  The seafront in Eastbourne (odd aberration like the TGWU Headquarters excluded) is also by far the best in Sussex and looked particularly good in the early evening sun.
Eastbourne Pier

I headed out of town on the excellent cycleway to Sovereign Harbour, the housing and commercial development that usurped the former gravel works that used to exist in this area of eastern Eastbourne.  As I headed eastwards the seafront and areas inland were a hive of activity with rollerbladers, other cyclists, dog walkers, a circus and people playing various ball games all in evidence.  Offshore my eyes were also drawn to the supply ship coming back from the Royal Sovereign Lighthouse, which is sited about four miles out to sea.  I wasn’t sure what the ship was doing, for the lighthouse is automated just like all the others around the coast of the UK.
The Crumbles

I soon came upon Sovereign Harbour and faced with the harbour entrance I was forced to head inland along the signposted cycle route through the development.  I was slightly annoyed by this, especially as I really wanted to take a closer look at the Martello tower almost within touching distance on the other side of the harbour.  The section through Sovereign Harbour is a bit soul destroying as it passes through a fairly sterile housing estate, with most properties adopting clich├ęd nautical themes for external decoration.  The marina was quite eye catching but as with so many of these types of development, the marina is almost hidden by the housing which all looks a bit samey.  Thankfully, being on a bike meant I could escape quickly.  The cycle lane continued on to Pevensey Bay and I was thankful of being segregated from the busy A259.  Across the marshes inland I could see glimpses of Stone Cross windmill and Pevensey Castle but sadly the sea was out of sight.  I caught a glimpse of another Martello tower but there was no possibility of getting any closer to that one either as it was in the middle of a caravan site.
Sovereign Harbour

At Pevensey Bay I got a rude shock when the cycle lane suddenly ran out.  I tried a few of the roads to the seafront but any possibility of heading along the coast were stopped by all manner of private signs and various fences preventing any access.  Clearly the Government are not going to find it easy to open up this stretch of coastline if they get their way to give access to all.
Pevensey Martello Tower

Stymied, I continued on my way along the road billed as a no through road to Normans Bay.  In reality there is a through route although officially the section through Normans Bay itself is private property and I wasn’t sure whether they would allow me to come this way by bike.  I needn’t have worried.  Normans Bay is a big caravan site and there were hundreds of tourists staying, making my presence almost irrelevant.  After passing through Normans Bay ‘village’ I crossed over the railway line and had a look at the rather desolate looking station.  I caught the attention of the crossing keeper, employed to keep people safe crossing this ungated level crossing.  He obviously thought I wanted to catch a train and knew I must be mad for there are no Sunday trains from here!  Actually I was just having a nose, but if he felt better watching my apparent suffering good for him – it obviously whiled away a few seconds on an otherwise boring day.
Martello Tower Coast

There was still no chance of heading along the coast so I took the road towards Cooden Beach instead.  This wasn’t an especially pleasant experience for despite its size it is actually quite a busy road and there were a few anti-social drivers around determined to ‘buzz’ me as they drove by.  It quickly made me realise why on the whole I don’t much like road cycling.
Bexhill Clock

I pedalled as quickly as I could to Cooden Beach, which marks the start of the built up area of Bexhill.  By now the sun was already starting to get quite low in the sky and I was anxious to get back to the car.  The large Cooden Beach Tavern deserved a look as I passed by and just around the corner the official cycle route along the coast started once again.  I was very disappointed by the effort though if I’m honest as it amounted to little more than a few lines painted on the road.  Inevitably it was almost completely parked up with residents cars, begging the question “what was the point?”
De La Warr Pavilion

The western end of Bexhill was very uninspiring with lots of large houses of various 20th century vintages and lived in by people who appear to value their privacy very highly, such were the high fences and hedges.  There was little in the way of sea views to be had by anyone else!  As I got closer into town I was horrified by the slab sided blocks of flats and felt thankful that this section was at the end of my trip when the light was beginning to fail.  I did end on a high note however, passing by a wonderful old clock tower and then finishing at the De La Warr Pavilion, surely the centrepiece of Bexhill (http://www.dlwp.com/).  This is surely one of the most famous Art Deco buildings of all and has gained a new audience of admirers since it was refurbished and reopened in 2005 after £8million was spent on it.  In the late evening sunlight the old place positively glowed and showed there is plenty of life in the place now it has been showed with love once again.  It was a fitting place to end my journey, albeit not where I had planned!
De La Warr Pavilion

This section of the Sussex Coast is fascinating and full of history but sadly blighted by the lack of footpath following the coast and the number of obstacles placed in the way of anyone daring to explore the coast.  My choice of bicycle to make the journey was fully vindicated though – some of the best cycle lanes in the county are through the three main towns.  Perhaps my only regret was not having a few more hours to do it complete justice.  The De La Warr Pavilion in particular demands a visit to have a look at the art – I think that may well be on the cards in the months to come.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Sett Valley Trail Hayfield - New Mills

Hayfield Church
A few days on from our first family expedition along the Peak Forest Canal, I thought that the time might be right for our first single direction walk, using the bus to return to the other end.  When we booked our holiday to the Peak District I felt that the Sett Valley Trail, the former New Mills – Hayfield railway line would fit the bill perfectly.  This is a trail that I used a number of times when I lived in this part of the world to get me from New Mills station to the moorlands around Kinder Scout.  It is a useful trail that possibly could still be operating as a railway if it had only been given another dozen or so years worth of life.  Rather than walkers and cyclists using it to access the Peak District, weekend trains would probably be full of tourists.  It’s perhaps surprising that a preservation society didn’t take it on either, although I suspect that was due to a lack of access to New Mills Central station without crossing the main ManchesterSheffield line.
Sett Valley Trail Sign
Usage of the Sett Valley Trail may have declined in recent years as the once popular cycle hire that operated at the former Hayfield Station no longer operates.  I suspect that this was because the cycle path is actually a bit short even for family cyclists, weighing in at only 2.5 miles from Hayfield to New Mills.  Still for two small children aged 3 and 6 that is still a considerable distance to walk! 
Sett Valley Cottages
We started our walk at the site of Hayfield Station, where there is a visitor centre, car park and picnic area but no visible remains of a station.  Old pictures of what it once looked like can be found at http://www.hayfield.uk.net/Railway.html.  Soon after closure in 1970 Derbyshire County Council stepped in and purchased the site, but the station buildings became a casualty in 1975 making way for the visitor facilities now occupying the site.  We started this end of the trail principally because it is easy to park here, but also I wanted to end the walk at The Torrs Country Park, an area I consider to be the highlight of the walk.
Seat With a View
Once we left Hayfield station the former railway line is much like any other for the first mile or so with long straight sections enclosed by trees giving very little opportunity for views outwards into the surrounding countryside.  However, this is very good terrain for keeping an eye on kids who want to run as fast as they can ahead.  The line must have been relatively easy to build for there are few engineering features along its route apart from a short viaduct that the line still crosses to the west of Birch Vale, and a short tunnel that is blocked off just before New Mills junction.  However, there are still other reminders of its railway heritage with a crossing keepers cottage at Birch Vale now turned into a very desirable house and out in the fields a redundant wagon (yes another!).
Crossing Keeper's Cottage
The stretch between Hayfield and what was once the only intermediate station at Birch Vale (no trace remaining) is perhaps the most attractive section of the route with odd glimpses outwards of Lantern Pike and the valley of the River Sett (from which the trail takes its name).  Lined up along the route are quite a few raspberry plants and there were plenty of berries ripening on the canes.  We left them for the birds to eat as they still looked a bit green.  We also spotted a frog hopping through the damp grass, a sight that would have been unthinkable in railway days.
Birch Vale Bridge
At Birch Vale the bridge that crossed the road has been removed and the walker/ cyclist has to cross at level, which was a bit disconcerting.  A similar situation exists just before reaching the edge of New Mills although in the second case the road was a lot quieter.  After a relatively pleasant but unexciting mile or so of railway walking from Birch Vale, the edge of New Mills brings a change of pace for the Sett Valley Trail.  This is largely the result of the trail now having to fit in with the development around it squeezing in from all sides.  It had been some years since I have walked this stretch and was rather surprised at how it had changed.  Much of the original trackbed has been lost, replaced instead by a walk that continues along the same corridor but with the profile of the track changed to suit the needs of walkers/ cyclists rather than trains!  Overbridges have been sacrificed and filled in and earthworks have been modified to make way for developments that have encroached onto the former trackbed.  The upshot of all this development is that reinstating the line is probably now virtually impossible from a practical point of view even though its route corridor has been protected.
The Torrs
Just past a doctors surgery that has been built across the trackbed in New Mills, the railway line enters its final throes before disappearing into the short tunnel that led into New Mills Central station.  The tunnel is closed off now but for the walker there is adequate compensation in the shape of The Torrs Country Park.  This strange, almost subterranean world sits for below the town of New Mills, which was built on a rocky plateau above the level of the Rivers Sett and Goyt that meet in a steep sided gorge running through the town.  The Country Park sits in the gorge below the town and was once the setting for the focus of the town’s industrial might; a number of water powered mills manufacturing all manner of goods were sited in the narrow valley.  All that remains are a few ruins and weirs, which made good places for the children to explore (the ruins not the weirs!).  High above were the great bridges carrying the road and rail lines across the valley and making this place almost invisible for the casual visitor to the town.
Millennium Walkway
After exploring the remains of the mills we also took a look at the Millennium Walkway, a spectacular bridge built in 2000 to enable walkers to follow a previously impossible to access part of the Goyt Valley.  It didn’t serve any real purpose for us to cross it, but it seemed rude not to since we were here.  Poignantly the bridge was designed by a local chap who later lost his life in the 7/7 atrocity in London.  The bridge now serves as a memorial to his life, extinguished long before it was supposed to.  Before getting the bus we took the opportunity to have a look around the New Mills Heritage Centre (http://www.newmillsheritage.com/) which has a fascinating set of pictures and a model showing how the town looked in its industrial heyday.
New Mills Model
Buses back to Hayfield are very frequent and we were back with our car within 20 minutes after a very satisfying outing for all concerned.  This was just about the right length of a walk for the children and while most of the trail is pleasant but unexciting, the end at The Torrs Country Park is very interesting and helped spark their imaginations no end.  A very interesting end to the walk, heightened by the exhibition in the Heritage Centre. 

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Peak Forest Canal Whaley Bridge - Bugsworth Basin


Pride of the Peak
A favourite haunt of mine when I lived in this part of the country was the towpath walk along the Peak Forest Canal.  This arm of the canal system reached right into the western edges of the Peak District until it was no longer practical to build a canal any further on account of the terrain.  From here horse drawn tramways would take over, allowing precious limestone and other mined materials to be shipped into Manchester and other industrial cities to be used as building materials and feed various industrial processes.  The canal closed in the 1920s for this use but is largely now used as a leisure canal with plenty of boat traffic still able to use it.  More information can be found at http://www.penninewaterways.co.uk/peak/ along with a nice photo gallery of the remaining part of the canal.
Whaley Bridge
Although I had walked along many different sections of the tow path I had never before walked along the short stretch from Whaley Bridge, or local town for the duration of our stay, to Bugsworth Basin.  These two places on the canal were extremely important for both had canal basins that were used as the transfer points for materials from rail to canal barge.  In the case of the basin at Whaley Bridge the canal basin formed an integral part of the trans-Pennine canal system since it was connected to the East Midlands canal system via the curious Cromford and High Peak Railway Line (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cromford_and_High_Peak_Railway).
Green Bridge
The two canal basins are actually quite close together (only about a mile or so) and I thought that it would be a trail full of interest for my children.  My oldest daughter in particular is lapping up history as well as nature and I was certain that the walk would fulfill both sets of interests.  It’s a walk that’s much shorter than any that I normally include on here, being little more than a stroll, but it was notable for being the first that I have included the whole family on, and eventually I hope to explore the whole transport corridor that crossed the Peaks, including the rest of the canal and the tramway. 
Bugsworth Basin
We started at Whaley Bridge and wandered past the brightly coloured canal boats moored along the short arm of the canal that serves the basin.  The girls were fascinated by their decoration and took the opportunity to shout hello to one or two passing boats.
Bugsworth Basin
Otherwise it was running, running, running to explore what was round the corner.  We soon reached the junction with the main channel of the canal and had to cross via a fairly flimsy looking footbridge.  The left hand turn of the channel continues towards Marple and Ashton-Under-Lyne, meeting with the Macclesfield Canal a few miles away and would have represented the main outlet for goods travelling from Whaley Bridge.  The remaining part of the walk to Bugsworth Canal Basin was a feast of sights and points of interest for the children.  We saw more canal boats that seemed to be lived in on a more or less permanent basis (albeit moored temporarily) with all manner of decoration on them including gardens in some cases.  Sadly not all the boats were in very good condition and although the idea of travelling around by waterway really appeals to me, the hassle and expense of maintaining one of these boats would be a major obstacle for me.  Towpath walking is probably just as enjoyable!  Shortly after turning onto the Bugsworth Arm we passed underneath the A6, which apparently would have subsumed the canal entirely if road planners had got their way when the Chapel-en-le-Frith and Whaley by-pass was built.  It was this threat that finally encouraged local people to preserve Bugsworth Basin for everyone to enjoy.
Domestic Bliss
The next bridge was rather different and fascinated my daughter; it was a pipeline bridge that was covered in clematis, slowly inching its way across the canal and getting bushier and bushier.  I suppose for now it looks quite attractive but eventually someone will have to prune it before it gets out of hand!  Just past here were the canal workers' cottages, which look like very desirable residences these days, with a ready made cycle path outside to Whaley Bridge station if you wanted to commute somewhere else for work.  We also passed a smallholding with a couple of very curious geese intent on making sure we didn’t come any closer.  The pig behind didn’t seem to care too much about us; it was too busy making a lot of noise as it rooted around in the mud.  Eventually we arrived at the gauging station where the boats were checked to ensure they were not overloaded.  This was characterised by a narrowing of the channel, where the water level was measured to work out the toll payable for its journey.  The boat would have a set of plates fitted to it, which would then be measured for their height above the water and compared with previously calibrated measurements from known weights.  In this way the toll-keeper would know how much money to collect the money for using the canal.
Back to Whaley Bridge
We then entered the amazing world of Bugsworth Basin and could immediately see how much work had been done to restore the old place.  Derelict for many decades the whole basin has recently been restored and can now be used by boats again.  Nowadays it forms an attractive place to moor rather than be a loading point for goods so is a lot quieter than it once would have been.  We had a good look around and showed the girls the model of what it would once have looked like when in its heyday.  All that remains of the ongoing tramway from here is the stone sleepers (no wood in those days!).  It is perfectly possibly though to imagine how the place would once have looked, although thankfully now we do not have to endure the smoke of the lime kilns or the din of the crushing plants.  As an industrial complex the set up isn’t so far removed from the loading station at Eurotunnel in Folkestone (on a much smaller scale of course).
Former Wharf
By now the children were getting pretty tired and so we headed back to Whaley Bridge.  It is possible to walk along the trackbed of the Peak Forest tramway, which would have brought the limestone from quarries another 10 miles further into the Peak District.  This would have to wait for another day though as it would have been a further four miles to walk to the end of the available section and back.  I decided that I would take a closer look at Whaley Bridge canal basin instead by walking ahead and arranging to meet the rest of the family at Tesco (right by the end of the canal in Whaley Bridge).
Cromford and High Peak Line

Whaley Bridge basin was a lot smaller and less busy than Bugsworth and acted as the transfer point for goods between the Cromford and High Peak Railway that snaked its way across the limestone plateau of the Peak District and connected the canal systems of the East Midlands and the North West.  I first became interested in this railway when I was a kid and read a book about industrial archaeology, which heavily featured the railway and canal basins because they are remarkably well-preserved.  The wharf building at Whaley Bridge is in great condition and looks like it is used as a canal barge workshop these days (although the doors were completely shut).  Despite being in the town centre the first part of the old railway can also be traced past the car park and across a bridge that spans the River Goyt.  Remarkably the old bridge still has tracks embedded in the paving and the narrowness of the bridge can be appreciated.  The Cromford Railway was characterised by steep inclines to gain height over the limestone plateau and the first of these is just beyond the bridge.  It must have been a fascinating sight watching trucks being hauled up and down these slopes.  Unusually the one at Whaley Bridge was apparently hauled by a horse-powered engine right up until closure in 1952.  From here the railway would once have threaded its way along the Goyt Valley, gaining height on several more inclined planes before getting to the summit of Ladmanlow, about eight miles south of this point.  Some time I will take a look at what remains of the line, which is complete for much of its length.  However, today this teaser for a future visit was all I had time for.
Whaley Bridge Incline

This was definitely an appetiser for a look at what is a fascinating insight into our industrial past that’s even older than most closed railways I have walked along.  The rest of the canal and associated tramways beckon for a future visit!

Monday, 9 August 2010

1066 Country Walk Section 2 Boreham Street - Battle

Boreham Street
After a false start on this walk a couple of weeks earlier (we forgot the map, so had to retrace the first section in reverse!) my wife and I managed to find another spare day without children (both were at school) to undertake the eight miles between Boreham Street and Battle.  As with the last section of the walk public transport would be a bit convoluted so we parked at Bexhill station and took the bus over to Boreham Street.  Being a Tuesday the village was deserted when we got off the bus, the only sign of life being the cars travelling through at great speed.  If I’m honest the road rather spoils the appearance of the village, which would otherwise be a very pleasant and peaceful place.
Which Way?

We wandered along the road to the eastern edge of the village and were quite pleased when we crossed the fence and entered open countryside at last.  Since our last trip on this walk the countryside was beginning to have an end of summer look about it.  Greens were giving way to golds and late summer flowers were coming into season.  The countryside ahead looked rather different from the Pevensey Levels behind us.  Now we would be crossing an undulating landscape of ancient woodland and fields of barley and wheat rather than the fields full of livestock that characterise the marsh country.  Everything seemed less anxious than earlier in the summer, the bumble bees seemed bumblier and the butterflies lingered over each flower.  In a sense the ordinariness of the countryside made us more aware of our immediate surroundings rather than be wowed by the views.
Little Red Tractor

It was a sticky sort of day with a lot of cloud that stubbornly refused to move.  This made progress harder work than it should have been, for any extended effort quickly brought about a raging thirst and sweatiness, part of the reason why I dislike summer walking in the daytime.  We passed by a farm that had diversified by converting outbuildings into holiday lets (and yet kept a building full of redundant machinery – to be turned into a museum?) before meeting a road.  We were to follow this road for some time, from Wilson’s Cross through the hamlet of Bray’s Hill to the wonderfully named Brownbread Street.  The road wasn’t particularly pleasant walking although it was thankfully pretty quiet and we didn’t have to contend with too much traffic.  A postman out on his rounds passed us a couple of times and we mused about how pleasant his job must be, bombing around the country lanes and delivering letters and parcels to the fairly scattered community in this part of The Weald.
Lunch Stop

When we reached Brownbread Street I was surprised to see a windmill though the trees by the side of the road.  I wasn’t able to get a good look at it as it was shielded from the road, but it wasn’t marked on the map which I found a little strange (later I discovered that this windmill is actually a fake and serves only to decorate a pony sanctuary).  Just along from the windmill there was an old fashioned barn with what looked like the children’s TV character, The Little Red Tractor’ poking its nose out of the open doors.  It was left chugging, but there was no-one in evidence ready to take it out for a spin.  By now it was approaching mid-day and the pub next door looked very enticing, especially since the next available stop wouldn’t be until Catsfield, a good hour and a half away.  We had some doubts that the Catsfield pub would be open since I had read a news report earlier in the day that the place had been robbed overnight (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-sussex-10694232). 
Iron Stream

However, the wait at the Ash Tree Inn was worth it.  We had a lovely lunch, proper home cooked fare and a pint of real ale to wash it down.  This is a recommended refreshment stop en route!  Initially we had the garden to ourselves but soon the pub began to fill up with customers and turned out to be quite busy by the time we left at 1pm.  Surprising for a Tuesday lunchtime, but it obviously has a local reputation for good food.

One Tree or Many?

Bellies full, we gingerly continued on our way along the road for about half a mile more before crossing a field.  Any thoughts of leaving roads behind us were short lived though as we resumed the road walking on the other side of the field for almost another mile.  We headed downhill initially, passing an old watermill in the trees and an entrance to Ashburnham Park which looked like a grand landscaped estate.  There followed a short climb, which proved quite difficult with full tummies before crossing a number of fields down to another fast flowing stream.  This was stained red with iron oxide, possibly as a result of former industrial uses.  After crossing the small footbridge we climbed up the appropriately named Tent Hill (it did resemble the shape of a tent).  The summit proved to be a false one, for we kept climbing for some time beyond the supposed crest of the hill.  Away in the distance we could see the almost hidden village of Penhurst among the trees.  For a modestly sized hill it had a surprisingly good view, with Ashburnham Place also quite evident to the southwest of our position.
Latin

As we continued climbing we passed what at first looked like a copse but on closer inspection we soon realised that it was an enormous horse chestnut tree.  Inside its crown was cavernous and would probably afford some pretty good shelter in a rainstorm (so longer as lightning isn’t a factor!).  We continued across what was billed as a deer park on the map, but no deer were in evidence today.  Eventually we reached the hamlet of Steven’s Crouch and a rather nasty road crossing.  On the other side of the road the character of the walk changed once again as we headed through large tracts of woodland for the next couple of miles to Catsfield. 
Catsfield Pond

When we reached Catsfield our thoughts turned towards the horrible ordeal that the landlord of the pub must have suffered the night before.  We availed ourselves of the village shop since the pub was inevitably closed.  As we continued through the village we were very struck by the picture postcardness of some of the individual houses.  As a village though, it too suffers from heavy traffic passing through.
Chocolate Box Cottage

We left the village via a field that enabled us to cut off a road corner before crossing it and heading into open countryside once more.  Within a couple of minutes we were heading through a forest of Christmas trees and weren’t sure whether or not this was a farm.  The remaining part of the walk was along farm tracks and as we got closer towards Battle we speculated about how the scene must have looked when the most famous of all British battles took place in 1066.  Stragglers from the battle would probably have continued skirmishing far beyond the primary battlefield.  We also met the link path coming from Bexhill just before reaching Battle itself, which suddenly snuck up on us.  The path came out just by the entrance to Battle Abbey, said to have been built on the very spot that the hapless King Harold was struck in the eye by the arrow.
Battle Abbey

Even on a midweek day outside the school holidays Battle was rammed with tourists and all the eating and drinking establishments outside the Abbey were full of people refreshing themselves after the exertions of sightseeing.  For us we still had a little way to go as Battle station is not at all convenient for the town and we faced another half mile or so walk out past the church and down to the south east corner of Battle to find the train back to Bexhill.  No direct connection is now possible thanks to Dr Beeching, who closed the direct line to Bexhill West.  By connecting at St Leonards Warrior Square, we were still back in Bexhill a little more than twenty minutes later (courtesy of a very tight connection).
Battle Church

This part of the 1066 Country Walk is not as interesting as the first section, but with the pub lunch stop, it made for a pleasant outing.  Battle serves as a good place to stop and has much to recommend it as a place to look around.  For this reason I would recommend splitting what would be a long first day (15 miles) into two shorter sections so that you still have enough energy to give Battle the attention it deserves.  Boreham Street is probably the most convenient break point if you do decide to split the first section, as we did.