Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Whitby and Saltwick Bay

Abbey From Town
Our Whitsun holiday this year was to a part of the country I have scarcely been since I was a boy and I thought it high time I went back for another look with my girls.  Unusually we stayed right in the heart of town and that meant that we could start this walk from the front door of our holiday cottage :)

Seafarers Mission
We wandered down to the old swing bridge across the River Esk.  This eye-catching crossing was once the only way for road traffic to cross the river and must have resulted in some fiendish traffic jams back in the day.  For now though the bridge is mostly thronged with pedestrians and it is only the most determined motorist that comes this way.  We crossed over and took a right away from the main street though a narrow pedestrianised side street with some delightful shops and bunting all laid on.  It looked very summery and cheerful and was the perfect sight for our first day of holiday.  At the end we crossed the road and turned right again heading alongside the Esk for a while before coming to the old Seafarers Mission.  I don't think this building serves its original purpose at all now but hats off to those that founded it.  A building of this nature must have been vital considering how much Whitby has always looked out to sea for its living.

Just past the Mission we climbed up and out of the valley.  After an initial steep climb up steps we soon headed through a housing estate and along more gentle slopes as we left Whitby.  We passed by the old hospital - a rather handsome looking building that is now converted to flats - and then we were out in the fields.  Our onward path skirted a few fields and through a farm before reaching a main road.  We turned right again and were thankful that for at least the first couple of hundred metres our route had a path alongside the road.  I am not too keen on walking along roads, especially with my daughters and this one seemed a bit of a race track.

The next turning was left along a track away from the road.  It wasn't too easy to see the names of the houses we were aiming for but Hornblower was a memorable one.  I wondered if it had anything to do with the novels of the same name.  We passed through another farm and kept going uphill, albeit quite slowly.  I started to wonder whether we would ever get to the top!  Halfway up the hill we opened a gate for a farmer heading in our direction.  He looked most appreciative, probably he has to do that job many times each day and hopes that he comes across a hiker each time he approaches one.

The first half of the walk is in truth rather unremarkable.  It was only when we got to the farthest point from Whitby that the true magic of this walk was revealed.  The first hint was reaching the house called Hornblower.  This was a sounding station - the enormous horns on the top of the building rather gave the game away!  Not sure why this was provided separately from the lighthouse about half a mile away but there you are.  Both buildings were rather special - I cannot imagine anything like it would be built nowadays.  Hopefully the horns aren't used anymore as the building is now used as holiday accommodation.  I wouldn't want to be kept awake by a foghorn if I stayed here!

The need for both of these installations was fairly apparent shortly afterwards as we saw the first shipwreck.  This is the Admiral Van Tromp, a trawler that ran aground in mysterious circumstances in 1976.  Further on we also saw the remains of the MV Creteblock, an unusual ship that was built at the end of World War I from reinforced concrete rather than steel due to the shortage of the latter.  Out in the bay is also the remains of the SS Rohilla, a hospital ship lost in World War I with the loss of nearly 80 lives.  Today the shipping we saw was safely out to sea - this coast is clearly treacherous.

Admiral Van Tromp
Our path headed back towards Whitby along the clifftops from the lighthouse.  It was a delightful route full of interest with rock formations, the tantalising view of the Abbey approaching, kittiwakes wheeling around above our heads and screeching at each other on the cliffs and profusions of wildflowers growing along the side of the path to tease our senses.  Add to this the salty air wafting over us and we had the recipe for the perfect walk in my eyes :)

Whitby Abbey
Soon we came upon a large caravan park.  Seemed like a lovely spot on this day but I'll bet it can get a bit wild up here on the clifftop.  The reason for it being here was plain to see - the sweep of Saltwick Bay below us must keep the residents amused for hours!  On another day perhaps we would have gone down to check it out but we had a date at the Abbey that we meant to keep.  It meant hurrying along the next stretch of clifftop and past all the hoards of people.  Caravan Parks do seem to generate a lot of casual walkers - I've noticed this before in the south-west.

We managed to get to the Abbey in good time.  We were here for a performance of Dracula - the Abbey of course is featured heavily in the Bram Stoker novel.  We had also been listening to it in the car - seemed only natural while driving around these parts!  It was a bit of a romp through the story.  Only three actors played the various characters and this led to some amusement as they constantly changed costumes to act the various parts.  We moved around the Abbey to watch the performance too just to add a bit of extra context to it.  While not covering the whole of the story the hour and a half or so covered a good chunk of it and was thoroughly entertaining.  It was a good way to end the walk.

Saltwick Bay
We wandered around the rest of the ruins after the show and then down the famous 199 steps back into the town.  In spite of the crowds and kitsch on sale in some of the shops there is no doubt that Whitby is a charming place and it was a real pleasure to visit.  This walk was a great introduction to the coast, town and the main attraction of Whitby. I can thoroughly recommend it as a good starting point to any stay here.  At 4 and a half miles in length it is modest but packs a lot in.

Whitby From Top of 199 Steps

Monday, 5 June 2017

Northiam and Great Dixter

Great Dixter
A place that has long been on our radar for visiting is the celebrated garden of Great Dixter.  As it is clear the other end of Sussex we needed a day that we could plan for in advance.  We were also unsure whether it was worth the length of trip - a perfect way to extend the visit was walk number 1 in Volume 67 of Pathfinder Guide East Sussex and the South Downs.  It meant that the length of journey justified the modest length of walk as well as the garden.  We picked the perfect day - beautiful blue skies with puffy clouds floating along leisurely.

Our walk started at the village hall in the scenic village of Northiam.  For me this end of Sussex is relatively uncharted territory, especially as the scenery is a lot more reminiscent of the neighbouring county of Kent.  Our first task was to cross the busy A28 road and disappear down an alley running between some sumptuous looking gardens.  We were soon out into open fields and our decision to choose this day was vindicated when we saw how brilliantly all the lush new growth and flowers looked in this glorious weather.  It was one of those magical days that only come along a few times in the spring and which must be savoured.  The fields were largely left to fallow and were filled with buttercups, adding a touch of gold to this corner of Sussex.

New Foliage
To tell you the truth there was nothing particularly remarkable about the first half of the walk other than the luscious colours.  The path largely skipped between fields lined with blossom festooned bushes, mostly May.  Eventually at the sight of a large oak tree resplendent in its new foliage we turned direction and headed up a modest hill towards the house of Great Dixter itself.  As we climbed there was time to catch our breath and enjoy the views across the Weald behind us.  It was hard to believe that this area was once the iron industry capital of England so rural is it now.  The only sign of industry now is the large windmill at Sandhurst over the border in Kent a few miles away.

At the very top of the hill we reached the house itself.  This was built in 1910-12 by Edwin Lutyens using an original house on site and adding another structure rescued from Benenden.  Although the house is lovely it is surely the garden that stands this property out from others.  It was designed by Christopher Lloyd, the celebrated gardener, and manages to be structured and yet wild at the same time.  I loved its slightly chaotic feel as weeds were celebrated as part of the structure of the garden without being allowed to strangle it.  Of particular note for me with the huge angelica 'trees' that seemed to tower over everything else.  I'm no gardening expert but the garden is arranged into rooms, demonstrating to me at least that this is obviously not a modern concept.

Great Dixter Gardens
We spent a good amount of time in the garden enjoying the warm sunshine and even having a spot of lunch.  We didn't actually go inside the house (although perfectly possible to do so).  Somehow it didn't feel right on such a great day - maybe next time?  Eventually feeling that we had seen enough we headed back to the car and completed the loop.  What followed was rather more road walking than I like but necessary to get us through the village.  Northiam is characterised by traditional clapboard houses, a very distinctive sight at this end of Sussex.  Combined with the unique finger posts that seem peculiar to East Sussex, the clapboard houses are perhaps the characteristics that remind me that I am an East Sussex boy at heart despite living in the west of the county for nearly 20 years.
We left the village by another lane and eventually left the road behind opposite a well done barn conversion.  There was one little surprise in store as the path opened up to reveal a great view across fields with beautiful thatched cottages and an oast house over to the left and the spire of the church ahead of us.  A scene that was quintessentially English.  We crossed over the field and back to the church.  As we got closer a rather grand affair greeted us, unusually with an octagonal tower.  Just beyond it though was a sight that we almost missed - a very old oak tree that apparently Elizabeth I is reputed to have sat underneath.  It was an interesting point to conclude the walk.

Crossing The Last Field
This wasquite a short walk, clocking in at only three miles.  Adding the visit to Great Dixter to the walk is vital in my opinion - doing both together certainly justified the distance to travel over from Worthing.