Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Serpent Trail Section 6 Midhurst to Petersfield

Midhurst Sand Quarry
March really was a glorious month this year and in complete contrast to the cold one of 2013.  As is traditional for my birthday I had the day off work and the rare treat these days of having a day’s walking to myself.  I lined up the completion of The Serpent Trail for my outing, which seemed appropriate as I had done an earlier section on my last birthday.

Midhurst Common
It was a grey start but with the promise of a much better day ahead, a phenomenon that seems to be quite familiar on these Serpent Trail walks.  I drove over to Petersfield and parked by Heath Pond, a largish lake on the edge of town.  This was quite a useful spot to park as it was both free of charge and at the end of my walk.  I got the bus over to Midhurst, getting the public transport part out of the way first as the frequency of service is two hourly and I didn’t fancy trying to race for it later in the day.

Woolmer Bridge
At Midhurst I got off at the southern end of town and retraced my steps back to the old station, which surprisingly still exists even though a train hasn’t called there in over 60 years!  Just past the station I picked up the Serpent Trail once again and headed out over Midhurst Common.  I passed by an old sand quarry, looking rather forlorn now that its working life is over and nature is reclaiming the space.  There was a rather half hearted looking fence supposedly protecting it but it was so tumbledown that I didn’t even need to climb over it to take a closer look at the quarry pond left behind.  I imagine that much of the sand would have been transported away by rail and a little further along I passed the broken remains of that former transport route again.  It wouldn’t be the last time today…

Pussy Willow
As I climbed up through Midhurst Common the pastie that I had bought in Petersfield was calling to me, while the day was also warming up so I killed two birds with one stone and rested for a while at the top of the hill.  As I sat and watched the world for a while I mused on what changes between February and March and decided that it is definitely birdsong.  I think that birds must be sensitive to the amount of daylight and warmth for all around me the trees were alive with the tunes of different woodland birds trying to attract attention over the background noise of all the others.

Peacock Butterfly
The path dog legged around the planted forests of Midhurst Common taking advantage of fire breaks until reaching Woolmer Bridge.  This would once have been crossed by the main A272, but like so many on that route it has been by-passed on account of being too narrow.  Now it seems like a bridge without a cause as the main road takes a course to the north on a rather brutish looking embankment.  For awhile at least the traffic sounds of the road rather bothered me and got in the way of my enjoyment of the normal countryside sounds.

Iping Common
The next couple of miles were possibly the highlight of the day as I crossed Stedham and then Iping Commons.  All around me were signs of spring, although not the same signs that I had seen on the Canal a few days previously.  Now I was seeing pussy willow, lots of blue and great tits but almost no flowers.  I was particularly pleased to see my first peacock butterfly of the season and was able to get really close to take a good look.  Annoyingly though my encounter was cut short by a loud barking behind me as a dog walker and her unruly dog approached.  I cursed as I walked on, trying to stay ahead of her as she was clearly walking a lot more slowly than me.  The dog bothered me for a while and the walker made some half hearted attempts to bring the animal under control.  I so hate these types of dog walker and dogs – they are incredibly annoying.

At the other end of Iping Common I was treated to some vibrant colour as I passed by a garden resplendent with camellias in full bloom.  I had to enjoy it while I could for the walk took a decided turn for the worse as I reached the road junction just beyond.  For some reason the planners of the walk thought it would be a good idea to route the Serpent Trail along a stretch of road more than two miles long through the village of Dumpford and on to Nyewood where I reunited with a path that I had followed on the Sussex Border Path a couple of years ago.  The walk along the road wasn’t all bad though – some of the houses alongside had some lovely gardens to admire and the views out across the Downs were lovely too.

Apple Blossom
Eventually I came into Nyewood village on a very different type of day to the last time I was here.  Then it was a hot and sultry August morning, while today was mid March with little foliage on the trees and a decided nip in the air still.  When I crossed the old railway once again I was able to see far more than I had on my last visit as the cutting in which the old station is sited was almost completely clear of vegetation.  Time hasn’t treated this old line very well though – there is no way that it could realistically be opened again even if there was a political will to do so.  The trackbed has some serious puddles and trees growing along the line of where the track would once have been.  The station is still in good condition though and probably could still fulfil the role if needed.

Spring Colour
It felt strange retracing my steps from that August day a couple of years back although today I was pleased that I could cut off the corner through West Harting.  I soon reached the farm that I remembered with all the old farm equipment and trucks that had been left to rot.  In fact the main truck that had caught my attention that day definitely seemed to be far worse than I remembered it.  I lingered for as long as I dared without drawing attention to myself before heading onward across West Heath Common.  The fragments of heathland were definitely getting further apart now and each one seemed a little smaller than before.

Abandoned Truck
I soon met up with the old railway once again by a removed bridge.  The owners of the land are obviously a bit fed up with people trying to retrace the route as there were an unusual number of signs making it plain that the old trackbed was not the footpath.  In fact my path alongside was possibly more interesting as it followed the normal lay of the land rather than that of the railway and I was soon high above what must have been quite an impressive cutting when it was built.  Oddly the path of the railway was soon completely obliterated as it left the cutting – all traces of the line had been completely absorbed into the agricultural land.  I could make out a rather intriguing looking hangar like building on my left – it looked like some kind of hobbyist shop although I couldn’t get a clear look at it.  On my right the view was dominated by blossom rich orchards.

Durford Bridge
When I reached the road I was disappointed to have to walk some more distance along tarmac.  I did get to walk across a rather stately old bridge though and past a bank that was smothered in newly flowering celandines so I couldn’t complain too much.  Before I reached the A272 the path dived between some houses and back out across fields for the last countryside section before reaching Petersfield.  I got a pleasant surprise passing by Durford Abbey Farm – the remnants of the old Abbey could still be made out, although mostly in the form of a moat rather than anything more substantial.  The abbey itself was finally killed off by Henry VIII during the dissolution but in truth it had been mostly a wreck for some time before that as most of the community had succumbed to Black Death over 150 years earlier and the old place had never really recovered.

Celandine Bank
As I headed in towards Petersfield the air was full of a nasty niff and initially I suspected the sewage works that I had passed.  However it soon became clear that it was in fact a local farmer who was muck spreading the fields.  It was positively foul & I was very glad that I would be heading home later that day and not having to put up with the smell.

Out On The Pull

I made my last rendezvous with the old railway line before entering the built up area of Petersfield.  If I hadn’t known it was there I’m not sure I would have even noticed as all that was left was a fragment of retaining wall from an old bridge.  Onward and into Petersfield the line has been almost completely subsumed by housing developments.  My route took me along a residential road before I finally reached the last fragment of heathland on the edge of town, the appropriately named Heath Common.  By now I was looking forward to a cup of tea and was delighted that the café alongside Heath Pond was open.  I took full advantage and got me a brew and sat and watched the antics of the waterfowl on the pond.  I couldn’t think of a better way to end my day :)

Heath Pond
Heath Pond

If I’m honest this wasn’t the most exciting day’s walking and I can safely say that this was the least exciting section of the Trail.  In some parts it felt as if it should have stopped in Midhurst, but there are a few highlights along the way.  Iping and Stedham Commons are definitely worth a visit in their own right and Heath Pond at the end was absolutely delightful.  I must think about that as a possible picnic spot in the future.  I did enjoy this trail as a whole, although not perhaps as much as I thought I would.  Heathland can get a bit monotonous at times and it is probably wise to consider carefully when you plan to do the walk.  Maybe heather time is best?

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