Thursday, 25 May 2017

Worcstershire and Staffordshire Canal - Kinver to Kidderminster

Kinver Lock
For the first time ever we transferred our attention from canal walking to canal cruising and tried out a section of this canal for a couple of days.  We hired the boat from Worcester and headed up the Severn before transferring on to the canal at Stourport.  It was only by going by boat that we realised how slow this form of transport actually is.  By the time we got to Kidderminster we realised that would have to be the limit of our ambitions.  Yet we also wanted to explore more of the canal than we could by boat and so we hit on the idea of doing our usual thing and walk the section we had originally intended to cruise.

Fortunately for us there are a couple of buses per day from Kidderminster to Kinver and we made sure to get the one on the morning.  Perhaps surprisingly we were the only ones on board and it was a fairly bumpy ride the few miles that we had to go.  We got out in the rather attractive looking village of Kinver and headed away from the centre to find the canal about a quarter of a mile away.  On the way we passed a very grand looking water pumping station.  The Victorian architecture was very eye-catching and I couldn't help thinking that the old place would make for a good looking block of flats someday.
Housing Stock
At the canal bridge we passed by a pub that looked rather inviting.  It was a bit early for lunch though so we turned right along the canal and headed towards Kidderminster.  Almost immediately we plunged into the most delightful countryside and not how you might expect Staffordshire to look. (we crossed the county boundary on the bus).  Large scale maps of this area suggest that it is a lot more built up than it actually is.  Initially the canal bank was nose to tail with moored boats.  I suspect that many of them were here to make the most of the pub and/ or the facilities of the village.  Most looked pretty sleepy although there was the smell of bacon as we passed by some of them. 

Approaching Whittington Lock
Mostly the route was free of boats after this although a couple passed by us in the next couple of miles. We left the first boat that passed us behind when it got stuck in a lock and all was quiet for some time after that.  It wasn't long before we crossed the county boundary between Staffordshire and Worcestershire, handily marked by a proper signpost (never seen one of these on a canal before).  It was about this point we started to see the surrounding countryside and not just the canal corridor.  Beyond were the bright yellow fields of rapeseed and in others merely red/ brown soil reminiscent of Devon.  We were now hitting our stride with the walk and the combination of early spring fragrances and singing birds were enough to gladden the hardest of hearts.

Whittington Lock
Up until Caunsell Bridge (number 26) the route had largely been straight sections with the odd curve.  Now the route changed to a lot more wiggly as we found a small range of hills.  This was a very interesting section as we passed by a pretty good looking building that I suspect is now a conference centre/ hotel.  This overlooked a large field in which a heron stood motionless poised for action, although he seemed quite far away from the water and presumably what he was looking for.

A little further ound the canal and we went past a mobile home site.  This was rather larger than I thought for when it looked like we had passed it some more seemed to reappear around the next corner.  Perhaps I was rather more focused on trying to find out where the woodpecker I could hear was actually hiding out.  I never did see it although it sounded like it was really close.

Starting Out
The next part of the mobile home site sported an unusual sight - a signal gantry that looked like it was of Great Western Railway vintage.  No doubt that the residents of this particular park took the appearance of their site very seriously - most seemed to have well tended small garden plots outside their homes.  I would like to say that my nose was filled with teh fragrance from their flowers but sadly that was not the case - instead I got a sudden waft of death smell and this soon turned into a stench.  It was pretty apparent why when I passed by a dead badger.  It looked like the carrion eaters had been at it already for it wasn't a pretty sight either - looked a bit CSI.

Border Post
After we had passed by the mobile home site we came upon a short tunnel and unusually we had to walk though.  Personally I always like these opportunities, as long as no-one is coming the other way!  There really isn't much room to pass by then...  Just the other side of the tunnel and we passed by a factory that still had its canal connection.  I imagine in days gone by this was a wharf but now any notion of goods coming this way must be a very long time ago!

Guard Duty
Another aspect of this canal which we found very attractive was the rocky outcrops that showed themselves when we went around some of the corners.  These were particularly evident at Debdale Lock, where I stopped to help out some boaters get through. This must have taken some digging out by the navvies and probably wasn't too attractive when first built but now it has blended in it really adds a lot of character to the waterway..  We went around a large loop with a large rocky outcrop in the middle while on the other side the woods were resplendent with bluebells - made for a lovely scene.  Further on and the bluebells were replaced by Ramsens, adding some extra fragrance to the walk.

At the next lock we were briefly tempted by a coffee shop in the garden centre next door to the canal but moved on when we saw how busy it was.  Across the valley we could see the village of Wolverley and the church looked particularly attractive.  The sunny start we had had to the day was disappearing though under a layer of cloud, which was a great shame. 

Cookley Tunnel
The last part of the walk was completed a lot more quickly as I took rather less pictures with the increasing gloom.  It wasn't too long before we came to the outskirts of Kidderminster and although the housing estates were clearly growing out into the surrounding countryside the canal successfully managed to cut a swathe through all of them and retain a rural feel for quite some distance.  Even the estate that did surround the canal towards the end nicely dovetailed with the route.  Having the canal as the centrepiece rather than a nuisance was a nice touch by the developers and the residents appeared to embrace it running through the middle.
Boat Park

Not long past here and we were back to our boat.  It was a good little work out for the morning - although we only walked a modest length (6 miles) we did enough to suggest tht this canal might be worthy of further exploration.  I'll wager it will be by foot rather than boat as it is a lot quicker!

Orange Tip

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Wey Navigation Godalming to Guildford

Godalming Church
Walks this year seem to be more sporadic as the time available seems to be ever more at a premium.  This particular Saturday walk was a welcome one especially as it coincided with one of the first good weather days of the spring.  We had actually completed this walk a year before but dunderhead that I am I managed to delete all the pictures from my camera.  We discovered that not only was the weather remarkably similar to that day, but it was also the corresponding day in the calendar - how spooky!

Park and Bandstand
This is far from a challenging walk - it is only just over four miles long and largely flat as it heads along this branch canal.  Some of the walk was completed during the wander along the Wey-South Path some years ago.  This section is still used and may provide the link from the Wey and Arun to the River Thames in years to come.

End of the Navigation
We started at Godalming; the very end of the canal section.  Godalming is a pleasant place, clearly with some wealth behind it.  In that respect it isn't a lot different to many other towns in Surrey.  We parked at the station, which was fairly inexpensive on a weekend day (beware bank holidays - they are inexplicably more expensive).  The rail service between Guildford and Godalming is roughly half hourly so getting back isn't too much of a problem. 

Boat Hire
From the station it is best to aim for the very large church as the river is almost right next door.  We passed by the Phillips Memorial Cloister.  This curious feature commemorates the life and death of the chief wireless operator on the RMS Titanic, Jack Phillips who was responsible for sending out the distress calls from the ship on that fateful night.  The gardens inside were designed by Gertrude Jekyll, famed designer of the early 20th Century.

Trowers Footbridge
We stopped for a bit of lunch in the park and watched with amusement as the ducks, geese and swans were all engaged in various courtship rituals.  There was no boat traffic here as the river is not navigable past the Town Bridge.  That seemed to help the birds as they were largely undisturbed.  The park was properly waking up from its winter slumber.  Flowers were brightening up the whole scene and the weeping willows overhanging the river were bedecked in their early spring foliage.  Coupled with the powder blue sky the whole scene looked very fresh and young.

Just beyond the park and we emerged onto the main road through the town which was a bit of a shock to the system after the tranquil surroundings that we had come from.  Thankfully it was short lived as we resumed our course along the River Wey on the other side.  Just around the corner and we reached the town basin at end of the navigable section of river.  There were quite a few boats moored along this stretch of river, most of which looked like they were still on their winter break.  In fact we all noted how little activity there was on the river - to be fair the temperatures were still a bit chill.  I suppose it needs to warm up a bit more before people properly get going.

After a lengthy straight stretch of river we came to our first lock at Catteshall.  We coincidentally found a boat coming through it - the only activity we saw for several miles.  The lock had a boathouse just the other side although there was little sign of anyone wanted to hire one of the boats on offer.  The river took a meandering route from here winding through small trees just showing signs of sprouting foliage.  We went under the unusual Trowers Footbridge, which was apparently built to access the nearby Unstead Park.  It was a rather grander affair than would be provided now but probably befits the importance of its destination.

Exclusive Parking Spot
The route was characterised by a number of pillboxes along its length and the first of these was shortly after.  These ones are unusual in that they are perfectly round, unlike the square ones that we see in Sussex.  The River Wey was clearly felt to be an important strategic route for any invaders as they are still pretty prominent even after all these years.  After a meandering route we lost the river over a weir and the navigation became a proper canal, complete with lengthy straight section.  We passed by the picturesque Unstead Lock.  Just off to the left was a picturesque garden with what looked like a berthing basin for boats - indeed there was one in position as we passed by.

Half Pint
Two former railways crossed the canal just north of here - the first is now occupied by the Downs Link footpath that links Guildford with Shoreham using the trackbed of the former lines that crossed Surrey and West Sussex via Horsham.  The bridge across the canal has been replaced with a more modern span that is cycle friendly - I imagine that the original one was removed some time after closeure in the mid 1960s.  Further on is a slightly more dubious railway - certainly the earthworks are all in place but whether it ever carried trains seems to have been lost in history.  Certainly it must have been an early closure for the middle of the trackbed now sports a World War II pillbox.

Mighty Bridges
In between the two erstwhile railways is the stub of the Wey and Arun Canal, walked a few years ago on the Wey South Path.  There is a move to restore this and significant progress has been made in the past few years.  It will probably be longer than my lifetime to see this little stub of the canal becoming part of the through route though.  We also had to cross the busy A248 road - not an easy task.  I rather wished that the towpath went uder the road bridge but alas there is insufficent room.

Guildford Castle
The onward walk from here is very familiar as I have done it a number of times in combination with other routes.  For my money the approach to Guildford is up there with some of the most scenic canal walks in all of England, certainly the ones I have visited.  It starts at the rail bridge taking the North Downs railway across the canal and passes by the shallow lock of St Catherine's (it only brings the water up a couple of feet).  After meandering through some woods and passing the base of sandy cliffs Guildford comes into view overseen by its castle.

Negotiating the Locks
As we approached the edge of the built up area the canal boat that we had helped through the lock finally caught us up - it would only be ahead of us for a short period of time though as the lock in town soon held it up again.  By now we had also caught up with the hoards of people all enjoying one of the first genuinely warm days of spring.  Sadly my lot weren't particularly interested in a trip to Guildford Castle so I had to go with the flow.  I think perhaps it was the hill up to the top that put them off - maybe next time I come this way I shall make sure of a trip to the top.  For now though we made our way through the town to the station and returned by train to Godalming.  On the way we passed by a memorial to Lewis Carroll, who died in Guildford in 1898.  Rather fittingly it was of Alice watching the white hare running away alongside the canal.  I think this must be a recent installation as I don't remember seeing it before.

Last Crossing
As short walks go this is a particularly good one with plenty to see along the way.  I think perhaps we might try and complete this walk going north although it doesn't look as if transport links will be easy - maybe some out and back walks would work?

Lewis Carroll Monument

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Duddleswell and Nutley Mill

Ashdown Forest
Half term brought some beautiful weather with hints of spring in the air and we were all eager to get out.  We needed somewhere that was fairly dry underfoot and settled on Ashdown Forest.  This part of Sussex has always been a bit of an enigma for me - I've travelled through dozens of times over the years but walks are still quite rare.  In fact I realised when seeing a picture of Nutley windmill that I'd never seen it up close and felt that I had to fix that.  I delved into a different guidebook for this walk, Cicerone Guide Walking in Sussex - this is walk 11.

Lunch Stop
We parked opposite Duddleswell tea rooms.  I remember this place being impossibly busy back when I last visited more years ago than I remember.  Today though it was empty and closed - probably a lot less clientele around on a winter's midweek day in February.  As soon as we got going we had some difficulty with route finding.  That isn't unusual to be honest and probably why I haven't been up here too often.  There are so many paths that it isn't easy to know whether you are on the right one...

Nutley Clock
We got in a bit of a tizz trying to find our way through the bracken but in the end the view of Nutley in the distance and the lie of the land got us there.  I was rather surprised at how many houses had been built on the edge of the ridge and even a new build was going in.  That was perhaps the biggest surprise of all but sure it must just be replacing an existing house?

Nutley Church
We dropped down a broad ride through the forest to a confluence of streams at the bottom of the valley.  Even though we had barely covered a mile the children were already angling after their picnic and this seemed as good a place as any to stop.  Picnicking in February is not quite the same as it is in June but this little place did make for a lovely place to stop.  

Pink House
After refreshments we continued on our undulating route towards Nutley.  We could see the  grave of some airmen who crashed here during wartime.  Our route this time did not pass close enough to look more closely - we'll come back another time I think.  We routed around a farm that looked as if it were geared up for equine farming rather than anything foodwise.  There was a lot of activity in this area, mostly men and Range Rovers.  Not sure what this was about but was thankful that it did not seem to involve shotguns this time.

Old Lodge
Once past the farm we dipped down into another valley before climbing up through the woods and into the village of Nutley.  I've always though that this otherwise attractive village is rather spoiled by the A22 running through the middle of it.  Villages with main roads running though the middle of them seem to lose a lot of their charm and this one is no different.  It was lovely to see gardens getting some colour back though - snowdrops and crocuses were on show in many of them - the bleakness of early January seems a long time ago already.

Nutley Mill
We passed by the small church and the school before diving down a lane to take us away from the village.  This was a very pretty lane and made for easy walking for about a mile.  The houses scattered along the lane had beautiful gardens and great views; they must be idyllic places to live especially as the road noise had already died away.  At the end of the lane the path climbed up through a small stretch of woodland and came out at a pink cottage.  We again lost our way a little here as the instructions didn't seem to match what was on the ground.  Luckily there was a path a little further along the road that we took although that meant we had to double back to the windmill.

Camp Hill
Nutley Windmill is claimed to be the oldest working windmill in Sussex and was built around 1700.  Sadly it wasn't possible to have a particularly close look as it is understandably locked behind gates when not open to the public.  The sails were also pointed away from us so I had to make do with the view that I got.  The sun helped though, coming out briefly from behind the clouds to shine on it and really light it up.  I dwelt here for a short time before rejoining the girls who had already moved on.

Our route now descended across typical Ashdown Forest country - bracken and small areas of woodland criss-crossed by broad rides/ fire breaks.  At the bottom of the valley the path became more intimate as we crossed over a stream and we followed it for a short time skirting around a rather grand building called Old Lodge.  Children were starting to lag by this point and so sweets had to come out to help them along :)  We also caught sight of a goldcrest in the hedge but try as I might I could not get a decent shot of it as it did not sit still for more than a second!  It was lovely to see Britain's smallest bird though - I don't remember a time when I have seen one this close before.

Camp Hill View
We found our way onto the drive to Old Lodge and followed it all the way up to the main road.  The sun was fully out now and we had an extended sunny interval as meteorologists would call it.  The trees that we walked through seemed to have an extra glow about them, especially the silver birches that positively gleamed!  The end of the driveway marked the start of the best bit of the whole walk.  We now headed alongside the main road and over Camp Hill, an iron age hill fort.  While the fort itself is not particularly impressive the views out from here most certainly are.  We could see right down into Hampshire from here and a squint through the binoculars enabled us to see Blackcap, Devils Dyke and Chanctonbury Ring.  By following the ridge of the South Downs west Bignor Hill could be seen and beyond until even through the binoculars I couldn't determine exactly what I was seeing.

Camp Hill
Just after Camp Hill we lost the sun for a short while.  The amazing thing about the sun going in at this time of year is that it transforms the landscape into a much duller version of itself almost immediately. Sadly this was the case as we passed by Ellson's Pond - we didn't pause to admire it like the people in the guide book did.  The sun did come back a little way further on though and immediately the temperature increased too!  By now we were almost back to the starting point and the onward track that we had missed at the start of the walk was rather more obvious.  Perhaps there is a case for starting the walk at Ellson's Pond to make route finding a bit easier?

Ellson's Pond

This eventually became a very satisfying walk but the route finding did prove to be a problem a number of times on the way round.  Mud was in short supply thank goodness, meaning that this is a pretty good winter option.  Ideally though try to pick a day when the tea room and the mill are open for maximum enjoyment :) 

Duddleswell Tea Room

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Blackcap and Stanmer Down From Ditchling Beacon

Early morning walks at any time of year are special but none more so than on cold and frosty winter mornings.  With the memory of my walk around Arundel Park fresh in the mind I was eager to have another early morning outing and made sure I got up while it was still dark so that I could be up on the hills when the sun came up.  After the mud and the less than perfect conditions last week this week could not be more different.  Conditions were benign but seriously cold when I got going and I chose a downland walk on the basis that the underfoot conditions would probably be better.  Thus I plumped for walk number 23 from vol 52 Pathfinder Guide More Sussex Walks.

Daybreak at Ditchling Beacon
Familiarity was the key to this walk for this part of the Downs is really where I feel at home.  Ditchling Beacon is not too far from Lewes where I grew up and this is the part of the Downs that I explored as a youngster.  I venture to these parts all too rarely these days but I always get waves of nostalgia when I do.  Parking at Ditchling Beacon is no joke these days although I was never going to have a problem coming at this time of day on a Saturday.  If you come later in the day on the weekend you might consider coming up here on the bus - a regular service comes up here from the centre of Brighton.

I felt the chill wind as soon as I got out of my warm car and I soon realised that I wasn't alone for there were a couple of photographers around clearly hoping for a special sunrise.  We were a little early for that and I was pleased for the first half mile or so the skyline from where I assumed the sun would come was obscured.  I hurried along the chalky track to get to where I thought I might get a good view and was rather disappointed to see that the sun had beat me too it.  Nevertheless the red ball had only just cleared the horizon over towards Firle Beacon and it still looked very special indeed.

Which Way?
Surprisingly considering that I was on the crest of the Downs the best views were to be had to the south and east.  Even with the proximity of Lewes I didn't catch sight of it for some time but in the distance I could see the faint plume of smoke coming from the incinerator in Lewes.  Elsewhere on the Downs livestock continued their interminable grazing - must be awful spending all your life grazing.  I suspect that this went on pretty much all night too.  It wasn't just sheep up here either - a large herd of bullocks did their best to keep out of my way.  Further on was a different kind of beast - a large excavator that looked rather melancholy.  I suspect the farmer has been doing some work to improve the tracks up here - there was some evidence that work had started although I wasn't sure how extensive it would be for not much had yet happened.

Having enjoyed the early sunrise I could now see that the rays were extending beyond the ridge of the Downs to illuminate the countryside below.  I've always thought that being on the crest of the Downs is a bit like in a low flying plane - the view from the top almost has to be seen to be believed.  Far below me here is Westmeston and its dainty little church.  A little further on and I passed teh extensive grounds of Plumpton Agricultural College and then Plumpton Place.  The latter was where my mother grew up and subsequently became a haunt of Led Zeppelin as Jimmy Page owned it at the height of their fame.

Blackcap View
Plumpton Plain is a section of the walk that I could hurry along because it is essentially flat.  As I walked along I tried to imagine my grandfather working in the fields up here in the 1950s as he was a farm labourer at a nearby farm.  It really is that special to me around here.  Past Redhouse wood the main South Downs Way heads southwards but I continued straight on.  The path in the book skirts around the summit of Blackcap but I decided to head to the top so I could enjoy the view north across the Chailey and Shelley's Folly.  The trees on Blackcap are iconic for me although they seem a bit thinner than I remember.  It was replanted in 1953 to commemorate the coronation of the Queen.  It is remarkable that she is still on the throne!

Blackcap From Mount Harry
I lingered for a short while before continuing on to Mount Harry where I came across a brazier that I don't remember at all.  Turns out that this had a Queen Elizabeth connection too, only this time it was put here to celebrate her Golden Jubilee in 2002.  This is the territory that the Battle of Lewes reached and I tried to imagine the two armies at full tilt all those hundreds of years ago.  Although not widely known outside the area where I grew up, it was one of those pivotal battles in English history and led directly to the setting up of Parliament when Henry III was defeated by the rebel barons.  

At Mount Harry I dropped down to another historic relic - the old Lewes racecourse.  Sadly horses haven't raced here since 1964, more than 50 years ago.  Yet I remember plenty of race horses galloping around the course when I was a boy, for the track still exists as a training course.  It is probably too much to ask that it will ever re-open after all these years, but I guess it theoretically is possible since all the infrastructure is still here.

Ouse Valley View
I turned here to head back towards Ditchling Beacon.  My return route was a lot less straightforward as I would be using paths that negotiated the dip slopes of the Downs and crossed a couple of the dry valleys that characterise this part of the Downs.  This part of the Downs is less visited for me but notwithstanding the ups and downs of the walking this area should perhaps get more attention.  I enjoyed it for there were no people about at all - a far cry from the runners and dog walkers on the South Downs Way.  I had some curious sheep for company and the warming sun - in fact the temperature had risen quite a lot and the frost had melted.

Creeping Halls
I found my way to the back of Falmer village before turning once again at what was marked as a farm on the map but what was in reality a pile of rubble and some rubbish that suggested that farming activity had ceased a long time ago.  I headed north at this point, following a shady tree lined road into the wonderfully named Shambledean Bottom.  As I did so my eye was caught by the sight of a large number of halls of residence that have found their way into the rural idyll of the Downs.  Of course these belong to the nearby Sussex University.  I found it rather astonishing how many have been built - there is seemingly no end to the expansion of our student populations.  I suppose the halls are really necessary to the whole operation.

Confused Cow
I passed by St Mary's Farm - a human habitation that is almost the antithesis of the halls.  Yet even here was plenty of activity.  I suspect that the farm does a sideline in shooting activities for a group had assembled for what looked suspiciously like a lesson.  I didn't hang around - the thought of a buch of shotguns being fired and shattering the peace of the morning was too much for me.  What lay ahead now was a lengthy climb back to Ditchling Beacon.  Fortunately it wasn't too steep but the climb did seem to go on forever - in all it was probably a couple of miles.  As I got back up towards the summit the numbers of walkers around increased considerably.  I felt a bit smug as I returned to the car to find that people were setting out for the day knowing that I had already experienced the best of it!  The car park was rather busier now and almost as soon as I left my parking spot it was filled by the next visitor.

Back to the Beacon
This is a great walk for a workout.  It has some fabulous views out across the surrounding countryside, among the best anywhere in the South Downs.  It is a little short on specific landmarks on the way round but I felt so good after it - just a little frustrated that my diary is so full looking that it looks unlikely that I will be able to repeat the experience any time soon.