Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Arun Valley Walks Amberley - Arundel

Arun Rainbow

It’s been a tough time again for walking.  An insanely busy autumn combined with bad weather on the days I have been able to go out meant a five week gap between expeditions, far longer than I normally like.  However, we did manage to find a window of opportunity for a short family walk and decided to do a mirror image of the walk that we did along the Arun Valley during the summer but in reverse and on the other side of the valley.

North Stoke Lane

We caught the train from Arundel to Amberley and the sunny day that we had started with soon turned overcast and rainy looking as showers came in from the west.  As we got off the train it was clear that one of the showers had only just tracked through as the ground was very wet everywhere.  

North Stoke Cottages
The sky was still grey as we wandered along the main road trying to avoid the traffic.  The road past the station is no a pleasant one to walk along but almost unavoidable if using the station as a staging point.  We opted not to use the riverbank walk this time, on account of the mud everywhere, but headed along the lane towards North Stoke village instead.

Arun Valley From North Stoke

The lane proved to be an easy if not very interesting route.  As we wandered along a couple of cars passed us and from the looks on the drivers’ faces we knew they would be back shortly after as they looked lost and didn’t realise they were heading along a dead end road.  Sure enough they did come back a few minutes later, when it wasn’t easy to get out of the way!  Despite the easy conditions of the road we were relieved to lose the tarmac and head out into the countryside just shy of North Stoke village.

Frisky Sheep
We headed up a modest slope, just about the only climb of the day, and at the top we had gained enough height to get a great view of the valley before us.  Annoyingly the black clouds were really building now and although we were in a window of sunshine, the signs were ominous.  Sure enough, about 10 minutes later as we headed along the valley a little longer the heavens opened and we faced quite a downpour.  We tried our best to hide under the trees, but we did end up getting pretty wet for our troubles.

Burpham Church
The woods were looking quite autumnal, with plenty of fungi coming through and the leaves mostly burned off.  The ox-bow lakes that the trees were growing in had a fair amount of water in them, signalling the amount of water that has fallen from the sky this year!  Usually I have only seen them empty when coming along here.

The George and Dragon
Our route continued along the flood plain which was as squelchy as you might imagine.  The rain finally relented and we did manage to see the inevitable rainbow, this time one that went completely across the sky and which had a hint of a double about it, although the second was very faint.  We also passed a field of very frisky sheep at this point, who all came running towards us (perhaps thinking they might be fed by us?).  Luckily they decided that we weren’t as interesting as we looked and moved off in another direction as we got closer.

Burpham View
At Burpham we headed up off the floodplain to the higher ground on which the village stood.  Despite its very modest size, the church looked well used and the pub also looked like it was in decent health.  We stopped to have a look around the churchyard for a short time and I couldn’t help noticing the clock, which appeared to be a recent installation.  I wasn’t sure if it had always had a clock or whether it was completely new?  Sadly the layers of mud on our feet were not conducive to an inside visit – maybe we’ll have to come again another time?

Plane Trees

We left the village via the cricket field and passed by a well-appointed looking cricket pavilion.  The girls were most disappointed that the playground equipment was so wet that they couldn't realistically play on it.  I was ordered to take a picture of it so they could remember for next time.  Our path led down a set of steps called Jacobs Ladder - so many flights of steps are called this.  Given the muddiness of this set I couldn't imagine them leading to heaven, like the biblical reference suggests!  Actually we were lucky to get to the bottom staying on our feet.  At the bottom we made our way along the riverbank for a short way through more mud.  Alongside us a wall of reeds waved in the breeze while the views across the valley were superb.

Last Leaves
By now the girls were getting a little tired so we took the opportunity to cut off a corner of the river and headed across the fields and through avenues of plane trees to the small hamlet of Warningcamp.  Through the woods the colours of autumn were well under way and everything smelled earthy and damp.  As I took pleasure in my surroundings the children took a lot of pleasure in telling each other stories, with our surroundings clearly firing their little imaginations.

Arun Valley Train

At Warningcamp we crossed the railway on the level, which was a new experience for the girls.  They were understandably nervous about it and we crossed very quickly.  On the other side there was an old lady who initially passed the time of day with us, but soon joined us for a lengthier chat.  I contented myself with enjoying the views across to Arundel Castle and listening to the rather surreal shouts coming from Arundel FC that was out of sight.  I always think that non-league football games have a strange atmosphere about them when you can't see the action.

Arundel Castle

I soon became aware of a very large dark cloud up ahead and quickened my pace as we got closer to Arundel.  I really wanted to get some good sunlit shots of the castle and I was partly successful.  However as I rounded the corner to get the full on view of the castle so beloved of all postcards I lost the sun.  Talk about sod's law!

Stoke Hill
We parted company with our old lady at the edge of Arundel and learned that she did the ver same walk every day!  It was a lovely walk that is for sure and a pleasurable way of spending the afternoon.  I think next time I would like to come when there is a lot less mud!


Sunday, 14 October 2012

South West Coast Path Section 55 Weymouth - Lulworth

Weymouth Town Clock
I was rather determined not to let the year slide by without at least one outing on the South West Coast Path and it seemed appropriate to visit Weymouth again before the end of the Olympics/ Paralympics.  Sadly I had already missed all the events that had taken place down here but with one day of the Paralympics still to go, I felt fairly sure that all the decorations would be up.  The weather was still very much summer season, although I did not think for a minute that this would last much longer. 

Paralympics Flags
Having explored the Weymouth Harbour Tramway, I turned to beach side of the coast and started the long walk along the Esplanade.  At the ferry terminal end of the seafront a large group of morris dancers and other folk-related groups of dancers were gathering and I took this to be an event marking the Paralympics.  Some of the groups had travelled some distance to be here, arriving from towns in Devon and Somerset.  They all made for quite a colourful group of people and the atmosphere was definitely one of anticipation for an exciting day ahead.

Flower Displays
My sense of anticipation was also building as I headed around the great sweep of the Esplanade.  While I think that there may be other seaside resorts that are better equipped than Weymouth, there are few that can match its setting.  The extra money that had been spent on flowers, flags and other decorations for the sailing events that took place for the Olympics/ Paralympics really made the town look extra special.  It was slightly sad then to see the first of the stuff on the beach being dismantled a couple of days after the sailing events had finished.  It looked like there had been a big beach event the night before, which was being tidied away.  I guess most of the stuff has now gone as I am writing this a month late L.

Tortoiseshell Feeding Station
I dipped into town to grab some lunch before pushing on, finding that the streets in the town centre were a veritable flagfest.  The community had really gone all out to decorate the town for the visitors and the end result was every bit as good as anything we had seen in London.  Armed with lunch I went back to the seafront and passed the official Olympic store, which was now unloading the last of its stock before final closedown.  There were no final offers or knock down prices at this stage though, most of the souvenirs were still being sold at the fairly high cost that we had seen in London.  There weren’t too many takers…

Weymouth Beach Huts
The promenade was pretty busy now that the day had got going.  The early morning fog which I had encountered on the train journey down here was mostly gone.  Looking ahead along the stretch of coast that I had to walk today there was still a bit of low cloud hanging around the tops of some of the higher cliffs.  The sun had done its best to clear away the mist, but the day was definitely a hazy sunshine kind of a day, which perhaps wouldn’t be the best for views.

Bowleze View

I thoroughly enjoyed my wander along Weymouth seafront, which looked a most agreeable place to stay.  Certainly the hotels were an appealing bunch, with most of them traditional in architecture and welcome – no gaudy stuff here!  Eventually I came to the edge of town and for the last section of level walking along to Bowleze Cove the path continues along the protective sea wall.  At Bowleze Cove I left the road and civilization behind me as I climbed up and over the first piece of high ground for the day.  From here on I knew that my way forward would not be so easy.

Bowleze Cove
I climbed to the top of the hill and found a seat to stop at and grab my lunch.  Because of the vagaries of public transport between Lulworth Cove and Wool (where I had parked my car) I knew I would actually have a lot of time for exploring and sitting down, for I still had about six hours to complete the remainder of the twelve miles of walking that day.  As I looked out across the bay I felt a pang of disappointment that I hadn’t made more of an effort to come down here during the Olympics/ Paralympics to see our heroes claim a sizable share of the medals on offer.  As an amphitheatre it must have been an excellent place to watch proceedings, although as a non-sailor I would probably have been completely flummoxed by what I was seeing!

Bowleze Holiday Centre
The first hill proved to be no more than a starter for the day – I headed down into the bay below and passed a small fairground place, which I later learned was part of the adjacent holiday camp.  The main building of the camp was a 1930s edifice, looking pretty impressive standing on the side of the hill.  Apparently this place can get quite rowdy during the summer months, but all was quiet today.  I have a feeling that it might have served as athlete’s accommodation during the Games.  I thought this because of the official Games coach that was parked outside.

Osmington Horse

The path took a better route around the hotel than suggested in the guide book, taking the seaward side initially before bending back and taking an inland route on the other side.  I plodded up the next hill, Redcliff Point and stopped briefly at the top to look back at the view across Weymouth Harbour.  The countryside along this stretch of the coast had a decidedly autumnal look about it now – many of the summer flowers had set seed, blackberries were beginning to ripen and even the leaves on the trees were on the turn.  Yet, there was plenty of insect life about with bees and wasps in particular trying to extract the last of the nectar out of whatever flowers they could find.

Common Fleabane
On the landward side of the path I briefly got a very good view of the Osmington White Horse.  This rendition of a familiar theme was cut into the hillside in 1808 and unusually depicts a rider, said to be George III, the monarch who put Weymouth on the map during his reign.  It looked in great shape, courtesy of the refurbishment that took place in time for the Olympics.

Cinnabar Moth Caterpillar

A little further along the coast and I passed by what I took to be another facility provided for the Olympics and a rather surprising and random facility.  Out on the open cliff top was a temporary shower that had been fitted presumably alongside a campsite that was now entirely deserted.  Private showers would not have been the order of the day here, for each of the shower heads were totally open and not even cubicles were provided.  Not the usual thing you find out in the middle of the countryside that’s for sure!

Clifftop Showers
I soon came upon the hamlet of Osmington Mills, where my path linked up with the inland route that had followed its way from West Bexington along the chalk ridge to the north of Weymouth.  I soon realised that I passed West Bexington a couple of years ago – demonstrating how little progress I have made along the coast path since.  I didn’t bother visiting the shop that is to the north of the path, but had intended to have a quick drink in the pub on the route itself.  When I got there however, I realised that this wouldn’t be the pleasant experience I had hoped it might be because the pub was absolutely overwhelmed with diners and drinkers!
Redcliff View
I pushed on, through the beer garden and past a couple of holiday cottages that I made a metal note of.  These might be a really nice place to stay in future!  My route then took a slightly different and more remote feel than the busy stretch of coast that I had walked along thus far.  The countryside was more akin with that of the area around West Bexington, suggesting that I had now crossed into an area of different geology.  I was also alone once again, save for the odd walker.

Smuggler's Inn
The path briefly got busier again as I reached Ringstead Bay, a small settlement with some beautiful looking houses resolutely facing out to sea.  As with many other houses I have seen along this coast, many appeared empty, suggesting they were holiday lets or second homes.  I wandered into the village and found a refreshment kiosk, which was very welcome.  By now I was getting a little hot and bothered and although I had water with me, an ice cold one went down a treat!  I decided to hold off on an ice cream until I had properly earned it and I still had the hardest section of walk still to come!

Keeping Us Safe
Feeling fortified and refreshed I wandered along the track out of the village, passing a rather uncomfortable looking chaffinch that was hopping along the ground.  He looked rather distressed but it was difficult to tell what was wrong.  I am guessing that he had a problem with his wing as he seemed unable to fly away.  I didn’t get too close as I didn’t want him doing anything he shouldn’t. 

St Catherine's Chapel
As I left the village I started the long and slow climb up to White Nothe, a very large and impressive looking cliff/ hill on the horizon.  Before doing any proper climbing I found an unusual relic of World War II; a listening station now just a historical curiosity rather than a vital piece of military infrastructure.  I continued plodding up the hill, passing a couple of lonely looking houses and a funny little timber church as I did so.

Approaching White Nothe
Eventually I came out into the open once again after a short stretch of woodland and got a sense of how high I was.  Ahead of me was a row of houses, a rather unusual sight for such a high and exposed clifftop.  I guess that they would once have been cottages for the local Coastguards, but in similar fashion to the listening post I had passed earlier, now just formed a historical curiosity.  I took the opportunity of heading across to the end of White Nothe and stopping for quite awhile.  Despite my slow pace I still had plenty of time to kill and it was a pleasure to sit and admire the view for some time.  What struck me was the fact that I was looking at the Isle of Portland from ‘the other side’.  Having seen the same view of it since Exmouth, it was quite refreshing to see it from a different angle.  I was also surprised to see how much higher up than I was from the earlier hills in the day.

Former Coastguard Cottages
I was pleased to have had an extended rest on top of White Nothe, for the last few miles into Lulworth were pretty tough going.  I was firmly in chalk cliff country now and the dry valleys between each hill meant that I would need to traverse quite a rollercoaster of hills for about four miles.  Largely I had the path to myself, which was a great relief as I felt like a red sweaty pudding for most of this way and I am sure I couldn’t have been a pleasant sight for anyone passing in the opposite direction! 

Rose Chafers
Initially though the path was level and as I passed the umpteenth yellow flower of the day, I caught sight of a bright green metallic object on top of the flower.  I was rather surprised to see this and so took a closer look to find that I was actually looking at a beetle.  In fact it wasn’t just one – the whole area of flowers were covered in them!  I later learned that these are called rose chafers and are locally common in the South of England.  This was the very end of their season though – mostly they don’t last beyond August so this was a lucky find.

At the end of the chalk ridge I passed by an obelisk (which I assumed was a navigational aid) and then a small sign announcing that I was approaching ‘Scratchy Bottom’.  Sounded more like an affliction than a place to me – I am glad I don’t have to admit to living there!  At this point the rollercoaster nature of the last part of the walk started. 

Clifftop Milepost
I first went over Bats Head, with a small arch forming underneath and then over Swyre Head, which was much higher but perhaps more attractive.  I cursed at the top of both though as my efforts in reaching the tops were not rewarded with some pleasant level walking but with an almost equally downward slope!  That said, the scenery was staggeringly beautiful and certainly rivalled any chalk coast I have ever walked along previously.

Swyre Head
After Swyre Head the path dropped dramatically down towards Durdle Door, perhaps the most photographed natural formation on the whole of the Dorset Coast.  This impressive cliff arch was thronged with people and I stopped at a reasonable distance away so I could view all the activity.  There were some very silly boys tomb-stoning from the cliff edges and plenty of swimmers in the sea.  I should imagine that the water temperature was about as warm as it would be getting this year, on perhaps the last hot day of the summer.  Considering that the bay is some distance from the nearest road, I was pretty impressed by the numbers that had visited.

Durdle Door
As I proceeded eastwards it was difficult to take my eyes off Durdle Door, but I soon had to, for the path from there back towards Lulworth was seriously busy.  I soon became aware that many of the voices of walkers on the path were not English.  In fact most sounded Eastern European and most were heading to the beach rather than away from it, despite the lateness of the afternoon.  High above the beach a refreshment truck appeared to be doing a roaring trade, with a queue of at least 30 people waiting for drinks and snacks.  I couldn’t help thinking that this was diversification in action on the part of the farmer!

Descending to Lulworth
I had one last, but mercifully short climb to make away from Durdle Door before a gentle descent into Lulworth Cove.  This impressive feature is understandably very popular too and a small settlement has built up around it, principally to serve the tourist traffic.  This was a very welcome place to end my journey, since I had plenty of time to have my long awaited ice cream and look around before getting the bus back.  The Cove itself is formed by the sea breaching a hard limestone bed and exploiting the soft shale like rock behind and creating a scallop shaped bay.  In the late afternoon sun it looked most impressive and a great place to end the day’s walking.

Bucket Tree
As I had plenty of time available I wandered along the road towards Lulworth village in order to catch the bus.  It was a welcome way of passing the time, although not really necessary as the bus does serve the Cove itself.  I got a shock when the bus turned up though as it was completely packed to the rafters with Japanese tourists, meaning that I had to stand for the entirety of the lively ride back to Wool Station, approximately 15 minutes away.

Lulworth Cove
This section of the Coast Path is incredibly beautiful and although the transport arrangements are a bit tricky, I felt that the length of time between buses from Wool to Lulworth can be used to your advantage.  I had plenty of time to explore the stretch of path fully and did not feel at all rushed.  This is probably as it should be on such a fantastic section!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Weymouth Harbour Tramway

Harbour Station
 After a summer dominated by Olympic and Paralympic activities I had one more place that I wanted to visit before all the decorations came down.  I had deliberately saved the next stage of doing the South West Coast Path for when the Olympics came to Weymouth.  In that regard I was slightly late as the Paralympic Sailing had finished two days before my visit.  However, as it was the day before the Games officially finished I was able to see Weymouth still bedecked in all the Olympic flags before they were taken down.

Redundant Signal

My main focus for the day was to complete the section of coast path from Weymouth to Lulworth but as I was not pressured for time I decided that I would take a look at another former railway before I got going.  This former railway is one with a difference though, since most of the infrastructure is still in place, including stations, track and signalling!  In fact I am not even sure that the Weymouth Harbour Tramway has ever closed, although no trains have run over it since 1999.  Theoretically the line could be used again with a minimum of preparation work, although it looks increasingly unlikely since the local Council has asked for its removal and Network Rail have not contested the request.  The ferry dock is also currently closed, while repairs to some serious structural problems are resolved.  The long term future of the port must be in question after the ferry service decamped to Poole for the entire 2012 season.  Nothing came of an attempt to reinstate the tramway as a transport route for the Olympics and this probably represented the last realistic chance of a revival.

Weymouth Marina

I arrived on the train at Weymouth Station and it was immediately obvious that trains that had gone to meet with the ferries must have reversed out of the main station or by-passed it entirely, since the junction is just north of the throat of the platforms.  This section is the only part of the entire line that is not embedded into the roadway and is pretty overgrown.  With some fairly recent retail development on one side, I should imagine that retaining this narrow corridor of rail was probably quite a nuisance.  It is still controlled by a colour light signal, albeit these days continually on red.

'New' Curve

Once the tramway enters the road network it is clear that running trains along it now would be fraught with problems.  The first section of road that it travels along is a very busy access road for the town centre and car parks.  The idea that a train crew armed with flags could walk along in front of a train along this stretch of line seems rather ludicrous now, but that is exactly what happened until 1987 when regular passenger services finally stopped.  A few railtours ventured this way in the 1990s, with the last of all in 1999.  An idea of how incongruous the line would be in today's network is illustrated by an excellent film I found on You Tube from 1994

Open for Business

This part of the railway is probably the least interesting now, as apart from the tracks embedded in the road there is little of the original character of the line left.  I crossed the road and took a look at the old 1930s bridge that would once have brought town centre traffic into Weymouth.  While it still looks in pretty good shape, its former importance has now been taken from it and the bridge now has a rather melancholy air.

Town Bridge

Further down the road and the old line takes a wider curve around the harbour wall.  Apparently the curve here was eased slightly back in 1938/39 to enable better rail adhesion.  A set of points are still in place, although I am not sure that the second line was anything more than a siding.  I suddenly became aware of how much boat movement there was in the marina as I rounded the corner as it soon became clear that the queue of boats were waiting for the lifting bridge to be opened.  I am not sure if this is by demand or at a scheduled time, but clearly there were plenty wanting to get out on such a sunny day! 


I watched the bridge open with a degree of fascination and the queuing boats all passed through fairly slowly in convoy fashion.  I should imagine that this bridge could cause some serious hold ups – no wonder that other bridges have now been made available.

The George Inn

The next part of the tramway is the one most photographed from operational days.  The route passes along the quayside on the narrow road in front of the former fisheries and harbour buildings, many of them now converted to other uses such as restaurants and pubs.  The harbour still has something of a buzz about it though, with plenty of fishing boats still lined up.  With the added dimension of the Olympics and all the decorations that came with that, I thought that the old place still looked really good.


Eventually I came upon the Harbour Station.  The first part of it was a platform only on one side of the double track formation.  I think this platform would originally have been used for transferring goods from ship to train, as tomatoes and other fresh produce from the Channel Islands was once brought in through this port.  The main passenger station is just beyond and adjacent to the ferry terminal where cross channel ferries once left from.  The only French service that has operated in recent years has been an extension of the Channel Islands service, presumably because of the difficult access for vehicular traffic.  However, Condor Ferries ran a seasonal Channel Island service from the port until 2011.  The port is temporarily closed now after the discovery of some very large cracks in the quayside, which rendered the terminal as unusable until repairs are effected.  Given the scale of the cost of repair, the long term future of the port must be in doubt.

Harbour Master's Office

Whatever the future as a ferry port, the station itself has been mothballed for 25 years.  Yet despite the length of time that has elapsed since the final services ran, the station itself is in remarkably good health.  Maybe it is because of the sea air that suppresses weed growth, or maybe because of maintenance, but the station is still pretty weed free.  It is obviously derelict though and would take some investment to get going again.  How long this station will remain in this state is anybody’s guess.  I would imagine that the showcasing that Weymouth got during Olympic year, inward investment may result and places like this that aren’t earning their keep must surely be ripe for redevelopment.

Goods Platform
Weymouth and Portland Council took over the line in 2009, stating that they wanted to close it since there were no viable plans for its use as a railway.  Since acquiring the trackbed though there seems to have been no plans brought forward.  It remains an oddity of the national rail system, but for how much longer?

Olympic Decorations