Friday, 27 September 2013

The Serpent Trail Section 5 Petworth to Midhurst

Setting Off From Petworth

After all the excitement of the mascots I was keen to get back to some real walking and progress along one of my outstanding projects.  Since September is now fully underway I thought that a good early autumn route might be an exploration of the next stage of the Serpent Trail.  Since it was a Monday I was in a position where it was possible to complete the return leg from Midhurst back to Petworth by bus; something that isn’t possible on a Sunday, which is my normal walking day.

Lost Geese
I parked up in Petworth at the free car park that has become my friend for the Serpent Trail and made my way back along the track that I had used six months earlier on my last outing on the trail.  How times have changed since that outing.  Gone were the early spring buds and the daffodils to be replaced by rosehips and blackberries.  The fields had largely been harvested now and most were left as stubble, the ploughing still a week or two away.  The start of the day was a grey one, although every now and again I got glimpses of sun behind the clouds suggesting that the weather forecast of a fine day might come to pass if I were patient.

Plump and Ripe Blackberries
Everywhere around me were signs of the end of the summer and perhaps the most telling were the large flocks of geese honking as they passed overhead to possibly head for warmer climes.  In fact I did think that one group had a faulty satnav as they wheeled around from field to field, seemingly not knowing where they were going!  I crossed the River Rother and on the lane that led past Kilsham Farm I admired the huge crop of blackberries that were seemingly untouched by foragers.  I’m not even sure that the birds were paying much attention to them.  I was somewhat thankful that I had forgotten my containers for I probably would still be there now, so heavy was the crop.

Birch Woods
I passed by Petworth Station once again, thinking how lovely it would be to stay there one night (it’s a luxury hotel these days).  I walked a short way along the busy A285, disappearing into the woods that would be a feature of the day by a petrol station now turned farm shop.  As I headed along the path I could hear lots of machinery as on the other side of the fence but out of sight is the rather unusual instance of a still working sand quarry at Duncton.  I never did get to see any of the activity but fortunately the sound soon faded as I headed further into the woods.

Early Flowering Gorse
At the first opportunity I stopped and had my sandwiches for lunch and could see that the forest floor was already starting to become peppered with fungi, mostly an orange variety that I’m not expert enough to know, but may have been a common rustgill.  The fungi were perhaps the best feature of this section of the path, for the weather continued to be relentless grey and the woodland through Duncton Common was quite dense, not allowing much in the way of any view to the surrounding countryside.  Nonetheless, being a big fan of this type of countryside I was quite happy to plod along and enjoy the earthy smells of the pine forest.

Belted Galloway
I crossed a small road by a picnic area, passing by the first people I had seen since setting out from Petworth some considerable time earlier.  They looked like they were packing up a large number of dogs in the back of their van and I was rather relieved to have missed them.  On the other side of the road I was pleased that the countryside was a little more open for a time and ahead of me I could see the line of the Downs again, much as I had done on the last outing near Fittleworth.  I was rather surprised to see that gorse was already flowering but disappointed to see that I had largely missed the heather, with only the hardiest flowers still showing.  On the heathland were a small herd of Belted Galloway cattle and I felt for sure that I must be on National Trust land, for I know this to be a breed favoured by the Trust.

Dereliction in the Woods
Strangely for a sandy heathland I had to dodge quite a few puddles on this little stretch and yet the water was clearly permanent enough to have attracted the attention of quite a few dragonflies.  I watched them flit about for awhile, thinking I might be lucky enough to get a picture but sadly it didn’t happen.  I negotiated my way along what was a fairly poor stretch of path and was quite relieved to wind up on the road I had previously crossed.  I got my pace going again when on the road but fortunately it was fairly short lived and I dog legged back around a deserted house and back into the trees once again.

Busy Forest Floor
Graffham Common seemed more artificial in its planting than some of the other commons I had seen earlier in the day and it was criss-crossed with firebreaks, suggesting that this was a plantation and not a heathland left to its own devices.  Yet it was no less enjoyable for all that and the fungi continued to provide the best interest.   I came out by the huge white Millborough House, impressive but I don’t think of any great antiquity (unless anyone can tell me otherwise?).  It was a short trudge along another road before disappearing into the woodland once again.  In fact the pattern of this whole day was one of zig-zagging between stretches of heathland.

Sun Out!
As I heade3d along through the next stretch of heathland though the moment arrived that I had been waiting for all day, the first shaft of sunshine penetrating through the clouds.  Amazingly within half an hour the cloud had completely melted away and I was left with glorious blue skies and warm sunshine, to the point that I had to disrobe for I was far too hot!  The sunshine made all the difference though – it seemed to transform the countryside and woods from a drab dark green landscape into a vibrant one almost immediately!

Ambersham Common
With the sun out I had a spring in my step and my pace quickened considerably.  I skipped from heathland to heathland, enjoying how the berries and leaves were transformed by the late September rays.  I even saw some deer and a lizard that scurried away as I crossed Ambersham Common.  I was by now looking consciously at the time for I wanted to try and avoid a long wait for a bus at Midhurst.  Perhaps luckily for me although the onward countryside was beautiful there was no outstanding things to look at along the way that might have detained me.  I did pause briefly at the former railway bridge that crossed over the railway that had once joined Midhurst and Petworth and would have made a fine way to travel between the two small towns.  Sadly no trains have passed along here for nearly 60 years, so it is perhaps something of a miracle that any of it remains.  My peace was shattered by a young woman riding a horse here who seemed to be telling the whole world about her social life down a mobile phone.  Discretion was clearly not her strong point!

New Pond, Midhurst

I soon left the heathlands and pine forests near Cocking Causeway and had rather more road walking than I would like.  I had decided to go for broke and try and complete the day’s walking without taking a short cut and make the bus, which made for a rather tough couple of miles walking.  In truth I probably should have slowed down a bit, but my quick pace for once paid off, for I did make the bus in Midhurst, just!  The driver got in the vehicle after his cigarette break just as I arrived.  It was a tough slog to get there but I was relieved for once that it worked out.  Did I miss much as a result?  Maybe the journey was a bit more fleeting than I would have liked but it did mean that I got some better exercise & that is probably no bad thing!

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