Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Sussex Border Path Section 5 Rogate and Nyewood

Early Sun
Another early morning expedition on the Sussex Border Path and for the first time I faced the prospect of a walk north of the South Downs ridge. In common with the last trip out on this walk I headed to a car park at the northern end of what I wanted to complete today. I arrived at just after 7am, a delightfully early hour to be out walking for there were few people about. The landscape at the beginning of the walk is more akin to the New Forest than the landscape normally associated with West Sussex. I found myself in a pine forest, still fairly wet from a day of heavy rain the day before and smelling pungent as a result.
Rogate Common
I opted to do the unofficial loop before finishing with the official part of the route from where I had left it near South Harting on my last outing. Only five miles of the official route were to be followed today although my total walk was 11 miles. I headed out of the forest towards the village of Rogate and past Nyewood before meeting up with the official route just beyond West Harting.
Looking out over the Downs
The initial section of the day’s walking was delightful. I feel drawn to pine forests and heathland – I think after coastline it is my favourite type of countryside to walk through. I enjoy the smell of bracken and the warm earthy smell of decaying pine needles as well as the shafts of sunlight that penetrate through the sometimes thick overgrowth of pine trees (and a very different kind of light to that found in broad leaf forests). As I wandered through the forest enjoying the early morning sunlight I suddenly became aware of something following me. As I looked round I discovered it was a dog, which gave me a bit of a fright as it was almost on top of me before I realised.
Heavy Dew
I moved along more quickly to try and get some distance between myself and the dog walker and maintain our relative solitude. I didn’t have to worry too much – as we left the forest we took different directions as we headed out across the fields. Once free of the trees I was able to enjoy extensive views across to the Downs, with the ridge from Butser Hill to Bignor Hill being readily visible, a distance of well over 20 miles. I wandered down the lengthy access lane to the property (?) and once again I got to enjoy the antics of the butterflies servicing the hedgerow flowers. As ever they were incredibly hard to capture with a camera but I did have a go.
Potato Crop
At the end of the lane I paused briefly to listen to the rat-tat-tat of a woodpecker high up in the tree. I am guessing it was a green one for it was pretty elusive and probably used its green plumage to hide in the foliage. This was outside a house where the car parked in the drive looked as if it were slowly being reabsorbed by nature. Such vehicles fascinate me as I always wonder whether the person that parked them in such a position intended that such a spot would be the vehicle’s final resting place?
Rogate Church
Some way further on and I entered a potato field. This is a fairly unusual crop for Sussex and I cannot remember a time when I have previously had to wander across such a field. Being late summer the tops were starting to die off, suggesting that harvest time probably wasn’t too far away. The path wasn’t obvious across the field and initially I headed for the wrong corner before righting myself. It did give me the opportunity to see a good flush of camomile and poppies alongside the edge of the field. I also got a bit bogged down in the mud which seemed to be a bit of a problem in the corner. This reminded me that I had left the sandy soils of the forest earlier and was now crossing the clay vale that characterises this part of the Weald.
Rogate View
At the other end of the field was the delightful village of Rogate, spoiled only by the A272 and the traffic that thunders through. I availed myself of the local shop, which supplied a useful array of refreshments and then had a squint at the church, which is covered with wooden shingle tiles. The refuse crew from Chichester District Council were busying themselves in the village when I wandered through – one of several sightings of the same round that covers a surprisingly large rural area. I can think of worse places to pick up rubbish from!
Former Railway Bridge
From Rogate I headed across the fields towards Nyewood with the Downs looming ever closer to me. The fields were full of buzzing bees and hoverflies and there were also plenty of butterflies flapping between flowers. The late show of flowers alongside the fields suggested that herbicides are less commonly used in this area, which was good to see. I had to walk along the road for the last stretch towards Nyewood, which enabled quick progress but wasn’t a particularly pleasant stretch due to the odd speeding car.
Horsing Around
Nyewood seemed to be more of a collection of houses rather than a proper village. I passed over an old railway bridge and remembered that the former Midhurst to Petersfield line passed through here so I went to have a look at the old station, which still exists although is now an office building. Originally the station was for Rogate and Harting, although it has to be said that it wasn’t convenient for either which probably explains the settlement having grown up around the station. Anyhow, the last train left from here in 1955 and the line looks almost completely forgotten now. See how it used to look at http://www.gravelroots.net/rail1.html . A little further down the road I encountered the refuse crew on their rounds once again, making short work of the bins along the road through the village.
Cow Meeting
I joined the Serpent Trail for a short while as I left Nyewood. This rather odd path is so-called because it resembles a snake as it navigates its way through the sandy geology of this part of the Weald. I suspect this will become a future project some day! Once past a small piece of woodland it was back out into open fields and had an encounter with a small group of horses. In fact the whole of this area seems very popular with horse lovers as I had already passed a number of fields full of horses.
A little further on and my encounter was a group of cows all charging into the field, presumably from milking. I stood and watched as they found their freedom once again. The farm hand reassured me by shouting that they wouldn’t be a problem for me. I guess some walkers are nervous of cows these days following a couple of well publicised cases where people have been killed by cattle. I was too far away to really worry about them too much.
Autumn Crops
I headed through fields to West Harting, thinking that there were already definite signs of autumn even in early August. Apples were weighing heavily on trees and crops were almost ready for harvesting. I encountered the refuse crew one last time in the village, thinking that they were following my every move (or was it the other way round?), before meeting with the Sussex Border Path at last and heading north once again.
Changing Colours
I passed by the substantial house called Quebec, where I saw a sign for a woman for a 71 year old woman who had gone missing. I stopped to read it, for such a sign is quite unusual in rural areas like this. It seemed as if she had gone missing from her house in South Harting a week or so beforehand. I hoped she was alright – I gather she was suffering from Alzheimers (I later discovered that she was found safe and well!).
Welcoming Committee
I had a bit of road walking ahead of me and the odd few houses I saw on the way all had superbly maintained gardens full of flowers. It must be lovely to have enough time of your hands to be able to keep gardens like this. Eventually I left the road and headed off across cow pastures to Down Park Farm. This place was a veritable junk yard. The whole farm seemed to be full of all manner of farm machinery that had been left to rust and rot away. It was like a long lost museum!
A little way past the farm the scenery changed once more to sandy heathland and the slightly sticky conditions that I had encountered completely dried up. I think that is why I like this type of countryside so much – it is rare that mud becomes a problem on these kinds of soils. I also briefly met with the Serpent Trail again but split when I reached the line of the old railway that I had met at Nyewood. I passed through the remains of the old bridge (only the abutments were left) and a huge house alongside. The house had incorporated some of the old trackbed in its garden, which afforded them a small platform like area above the surrounding countryside and a view across the field opposite. I should imagine it is quite a pleasant place to sit and read the newspaper!
Speckled Wood
A little further on and I crossed the River Rother, which was ablaze with the pink colours of Himalayan Balsam. This pest of a plant chokes river banks, but is undoubtedly quite pretty when in flower and seemingly beloved of butterflies and bees, which may account for its spread. Beyond came the section of path I had been dreading – the half mile trek along the A272. It’s a pity that the path planners hadn’t come up with a better solution here, for the dead straight section was pretty unpleasant especially because of the speed of passing vehicles.
Durleighmarsh Farm
I was pleased to leave the road at Durleighmarsh Farm. I travelled along what appeared to be an old coaching road through some dense woodland. This eventually opened out a bit to provide views across the surrounding countryside and I could soon see that I was closing the loop that I had started out on early that morning. The last section through the pine forest and Durford Heath was a most pleasant way of ending the day’s walk. Now much later in the day (it was almost 11am now), the mood of the forest was much changed. Gone was the early morning moisture and slightly damp atmosphere and now I was glad of the shade provided by the trees. As I wandered through the forest I disturbed a deer, who initially looked at me to assess whether I was a threat, before running away quickly through the trees. It was a lovely way to finish my day’s walking just as everybody else was getting ready to head out!
Durford Heath
I was pleased that I began and ended my walk in the pine forests, rather than have it part of the middle as would have been the case if I had begun where I had left off last time. From here the next couple of sections will be through the sand-influenced heathland of north west Sussex. It’s a part I am looking forward to exploring more!

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Sussex Border Path Section 4 South Harting and Chalton

South Harting

Another beautiful sunny morning awaited me on my next foray on the Sussex Border Path. Today I headed for a piece of Sussex that I know a little better than had gone before. South Harting is a beautiful, quintessentially English village at the foot of the Downs, just in West Sussex but a stone’s throw from Petersfield. One of the reasons that the village is familiar to me is that it is where the escarpment of the South Downs properly gets underway and the view of the village is an early highlight of the South Downs Way.
South Harting Church
It was pretty early when I began my walk and for a change I decided to get the non Border Path section completed first. I wandered up the deserted main street (well, who else would be silly enough to get up as early as me?) and past the distinctive church with its green copper roof. The flower baskets were in full bloom all along the main street, which made the village look fantastic on this mid summer day. I was rather amused to see that outside of the church was a set of stocks, a mediaeval way of dealing with miscreants. I wonder if they are still used?
Hanging Around the Pond
Just beyond the church and I was pleased that it was early morning for I had to walk along a busy stretch of road that had no pavement. I was pleased that I could do this bit before the traffic really got going for the day. Just after this little bottleneck I headed off the road to begin the slow climb up onto the South Downs. I initially wandered past a group of small lakes (supporting a fairly large population of ducks) that made me wonder how they came to be? They looked like hammer ponds but are a bit off patch for this kind of activity (more associated with The Weald, some 25 miles or so away).Perhaps they were a drinking water supply to make the most of the many springs that emanate from the foot of the Downs?
Hapless Bee
I began the plod up through the trees to the top of the Downs, expecting the sort of climb that I am used to closer to Worthing. However, this proved not to be the case and it was more of a gentle amble through the tall beech grove that covered the side of the scarp slope. At the top of the hill I finally passed out of the shade and into the sun and soon realised that it was going to be a very warm day. By now the colours of the vegetation were also passing from the lush, early summer colours to the rather more tired late summer look.Butterflies and bees were making the most of the sunny conditions and visiting every flower available to stock up on food reserves.I saw this as a good opportunity to practice macro shots with my little camera. Despite being ostensibly a point and shoot camera, it can get some good close in shots of insects, although it can also be a slightly hit and miss activity.I was excited that the first opportunity was to get a picture of a fairly small spider preparing a hapless bumble bee for a sumptuous meal.
South Downs View
The path onwards was a section of the South Downs Way that I am very familiar with. However, in all the times I have completed the walk, I have never once followed the route in an East to West direction. It felt a little odd, and the views didn’t seem quite right! The South Downs Way is a bit of a motorway of local routes and it wasn’t long before I saw the first cyclists bombing towards me. Cycling the South Downs Way has become increasingly popular in recent years, and I have to confess that I almost did it that way during my latest completion in 2008.
Hoverfly Frenzy
At Sunwood Farm the path became a road as the South Downs Way briefly follows the access road to Ditcham Park School, a private school high up on the Downs that will be visited a little further along the route. Even the approach road along a line of copper beech trees is quite impressive. Just as I reached North Lodge, the traditional entrance to the estate I hooked right to find a footpath that passed around the perimeter.
Ditcham Park
After a bit longer along the South Downs Way I finally turned off at the small nature reserve at Coulter’s Dean. This little area of downland is noted for its wild flowers, hence it is protected. I didn’t really want to wade through the grassland just in case I squashed something important! I continued through the lovely beech forest, enjoying my solitude and the cool shade afforded by the trees.
Through the Trees
At the far end of the wood I came out into a field with a stunning view across the Downs towards Chichester. It made me realise how extensive this part of the Downs actually is, for there is a whole section of land south of the chalk, which simply doesn’t exist further east. I soon rejoined the drive down towards Ditcham Park School, left earlier at North Lodge. I was immediately struck by the number of butterflies along the hedgerow at the side of the road; most were brown species and not the more colourful, but it was the sheer number that amazed me. I was fascinated by their comings and goings as I ambled along the road towards the school.
Hedge Brown
Even better was to follow at the school when I passed by a corner that I took to be the nature area. Reaching out over the fence was a large buddleia bush and it was populated by some very large and colourful butterflies. In the few minutes I stood and watched I saw Painted Ladies, Red Admirals and Small Tortoiseshells to name just a few. I was mesmerised! The school itself, a little further on, is obviously a country pile bought for the purpose. Apparently during World War II the old place served as a convalescent home for injured servicemen when it was requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence.
Red Admiral
As I headed obviously downhill towards the valley that I walked along in the previous leg of this route, I came upon the first ripe blackberries of the year – quite something for late July! Across the fields I could just make out another historic building – the old windmill high above the hill at Chalton. This is now a residence, having been saved from possible demolition by the local authority giving it listed status and a person having the foresight to turn it into an attractive home.
Ditcham Park School
All the way down the slope into the valley of the railway (not sure if it has a name!) the sides of the path were buzzing with all manner of insects with hoverflies particularly numerous but also ladybirds, bees and many other species of butterfly, not all of which wanted to play ball with me on the picture taking front. However, I did get lots of practice all the way! Eventually I reached the bottom of the slope at Woodcroft Farm, where there was lots of activity from people getting ready to go out horse riding for the day. Having already been out for a couple of hours I really felt like I had a head start on them!
Far Off Mill
I crossed the railway via one of the old 1930s concrete footbridges that were provided by Southern Railway. I thought it a little out of place, being more in keeping with a station. However, I did notice a redundant platform by the side of the line, which I found rather odd. When I later looked this up, I discovered that it had been the halt provided for convalescing troops being treated at Ditcham Park. The halt only lasted a couple of the war years before becoming redundant and Woodcroft Halt as it was named closed for good. Presumably there was insufficient traffic for a more permanent stop, with the small village of Chalton a mile or so distant not being big enough to warrant a further stop on the line.
Site Of Chalton Halt
It was to Chalton that I headed next. This small village is a little gem, tucked away on the edge of East Hampshire. The Red Lion, a pub in the middle of the village is delightful and had a super set of hanging baskets on show. The church was strangely quiet for a Sunday morning, although I suspect I might have been too late for the morning service.
Red Lion
Having had a quick look at the village I retraced my steps back to Woodcroft Farm. I was now on the walk of my objective! I now followed the Sussex Border Path back from here to the top of Harting Down. Unlike the outward part of the walk, this section was almost exclusively woodland. This presented me with reward and annoyance. Reward in the number of butterflies that I saw and annoyance when I managed to take a couple of wrong turns on the way!
Chalton Church
I did have a very magical moment through this section of the walk when I spotted a peacock butterfly recently emerged from its chrysalis and drying its wings while sitting on a blade of grass. Initially the wings were kept firmly shut and I almost dismissed it as another of its dowdy brown cousins such as I had seen earlier. I kept with it though, just in case it showed me something else. Then flash! When it opened its wings it provided the most dazzling and vibrant show of colour I have ever seen on a butterfly. It’s not a word I like or use very often but it was simply awesome!
Ditcham Downs
A little further on from this wonderful sight and I found a hangout for a number of other types of butterfly especially red admirals with their vibrant black and red colours. These are my personal favourites, so it was fantastic to see so many fluttering around me! This encounter was the result of another wrong turn and correction, so I was glad that it happened this time!
I eventually emerged from the wood at Foxcombe Farm having picked my way down an unusually muddy and steep hill. The Farm boasted a huge farmhouse and its setting out in the rolling Downs must make the place quite a bolthole. I walked steadily uphill and crossed the part of the South Downs Way that I had walked along earlier keeping straight on and following the tarmac road down the scarp slope of the Downs. Occasionally I would get a peep through the tees at the surrounding countryside and caught a glimpse of a whole bunch of running deer along the side of a far off field on one occasion.
Freshly Emerged
Eventually I reached the main road and I decided that the walk back along it to South Harting, although tempting in terms of short cut, was just too unpleasant to think about and so I crossed to walk around the base of Torberry Hill, the site of an Iron Age Hill Fort. The atmosphere of the hill fort was rather ruined by a scrambling competition that was going on at the time. Bike after bike buzzed past me with their annoying raspy sounding engines. I was glad eventually to get out of earshot at the north end of the hill, but I just swapped the annoyance of the trial bikes for more road walking.Fortunately it did not last too long and it was also mercifully much quieter than the Petersfield Road I had contemplated walking along. However, it was inevitable I would walk along some of it as there was no alternative from my position. Fortunately, the section I did do was mercifully short and I was soon reunited with the car, some 12 miles and 4 hours after I had started.
Foxcombe Woods
This was a hugely enjoyable circular walk around a part of the South Downs I knew little about except for the stretch of the South Downs Way I had previously walked. I was delighted by the butterflies and enjoyed the range of wild flowers I saw immensely. It was a relatively easy walk with long steady climbs rather than short steep ones (excepting a short steep one at Chalton). I was quite pleased to have completed the walk during a morning, but I wouldn’t mind betting that a summer evening would do just as well!
Harting Clay Vale