Friday, 30 November 2012

Arun Valley Walks Pulborough - Amberley

Pulborough Church
I had reserved walks in the Arun Valley for family outings but during the short days in the winter months I am struggling to find the motivation to go further afield.  I am stuck with both the Serpent Trail and the Sussex Border Path since both onward sections need availability on a weekday/ Saturday and generally I only have Sundays available.  In the absence of a family accompaniment I ummed and ahhed about whether to go back but eventually I succumbed and headed over to Amberley Station.

Autumn Bracken
I had chosen a route that to be fair was a little further than my children could walk – from Pulborough to Amberley using a different route to the one taken by the Wey-South Path that I had walked a few years back.  This route would enable me to look at the small town of Pulborough before heading across the RSPB Pulborough Brooks reserve and via the small villages of Rackham and Amberley before finding myself back at my origin, some 8 miles later.

Autumn Almost Done
It was a glorious late autumn morning, with lots of sunshine and no wind.  The last of the leaves were hanging on the trees, with barely any traces of greenery left.  I was one of two people getting on at Amberley and six minutes later I was in Pulborough.  The station is a well preserved former junction station (the old line to Midhurst hasn’t run since the mid 1950s, although the bay platform is still very much in evidence) and sports a good number of hanging baskets.  These were surprisingly being tended, although the flowers were mostly gone.

Edge of Town
I turned left out of the station and headed along a tarmac footpath that passed between the railway and adjacent fields.  Almost immediately the sound of St Mary’s Church bells rang out over the countryside, signalling the start of worship at the historical church.  I turned and headed along another lane to reach the church shortly after.  Unless I had the intention of joining the service it clearly wasn’t going to be possible for me to explore inside.  I nevertheless enjoyed the sight of the early morning sun on the golden stone of the church from the outside and the sound of the bells clanging out their refrain.  The church itself is sited in possibly the most attractive (and probably oldest) part of the town, retaining a village feel.

Arun Fishing
I crossed the very busy A29 road and continued onwards past the attractive looking Chequers Hotel and along a lane that followed the crest of the Greensand Ridge.  Unlike the Greensand Ridge to the north of The Weald, the southern version is much smaller and continues almost unnoticed east-west parallel to the South Downs, tracking a few miles to the north of the chalk ridge.  The lane had wonderful views out across the Brooks below me and across to the Downs to the south.

Arun Reflections
I dropped down into another part of the village and finally the bells stopped, leaving me to enjoy the peace and quiet of the early Sunday morning once again.  I crossed the road, passed the library and headed out of the village past a wonderfully old house that sat just above the river floodplain, probably only just above where floodwater could be expected.

Flight of the Swans
As I got to the floodplain I expected rather stodgy and muddy conditions in view of the recent weather but instead it was fairly good going.  On the bank of the River Arun I paused to look back at Pulborough and enjoy the serenity of the river.  In fact so slow was the flow that all the riverbank trees and bushes were perfectly reflected in the water.  Sadly there were no puffy white clouds at this stage, as they look really good in reflections.  Along the riverbank were a number of fishermen hunched over their rods, no doubt hoping that the benign conditions would also help with their catches.  They were surprisingly friendly; most of them passing the time of day with me.

Watching Brief
Somewhere along this stretch of riverbank was apparently a Roman Road, which crossed the river at right angles and headed east-west.  It is known as the Sussex Greensand Way, but traces are almost completely disappeared into the countryside.  I passed over it without noticing any features; my only clue that it was there at all was the rather large interpretive board announcing its existence.  Maybe one day I might find some way of devising a walk that incorporates some of its route?

I eventually reached the end of the riverside path and was directed back across the floodplain towards the main RSPB reserve.  This was a bit of a trial, for this section was particularly mucky and it took all my powers of picking my way through to prevent myself sinking into the quagmire.  I was very relieved to get onto the slightly higher ground of the visitor part of the RSPB reserve.  The footpath across doesn’t really promote birdwatching, since the organisation really wants people to pay for the privilege.  It is worth doing though – the hides are well equipped and the walk around very pleasant.  For me though, that would be for another day.

Bramble Colours
I did get a little lost through the reserve as I think I missed a sign.  I eventually did manage to retrace the route and came upon Wiggonholt Church, a delightful chapel sized place of worship.  Due to its remote location, church services don’t take place every week although the door was open to allow inspection inside.  I had the place to myself in this little peaceful spiritual oasis and since I had walked through lots of wet grass to get to it I didn’t even have to worry about muddy boots!

Wiggonholt Church
After a few moments to pay my respects I headed off across towards the RSPB Visitor Centre, which was starting to get very busy with the leisure visitors (all the serious twitchers would have been here for a long time!).  I negotiated the crowds getting out of their cars and heading off to pay their money for what I had just seen for free!  Not that I am advocating an avoidance of payment, just finding it curious that a public footpath heads off right across the reserve.

Inside Wiggonholt Church
My onward path took me through Wiggonholt Common and the pine forest that is at the less visited part of the RSPB reserve.  The light was fantastic through the late autumn forest, with those deciduous trees that are dotted in among the pine trees really showing off the zenith of their colours.  The woods though looked very different today on account of the clear cutting of a section to the left of the path.  Indeed the machinery was still on site and making quite a racket as I approached.  Yet somehow even this destruction couldn’t detract from the beauty of probably the finest part of today’s walk.

Wiggonholt Common
Eventually I came to a road and onward progress needed to be made by tarmac.  In some respects this was a relief as it meant that I would have a break from muddy conditions.  However, this area is not as muddy as most due to the sandy soils of the Common.  I headed along the road for quite some distance, enjoying the autumn colours and the wisps of wood smoke hanging in the air from nearby cottages.  Eventually I came upon the western gateway of Parham Park, with its very attractive looking lodge houses and an exquisitely coloured tree decorating the scene.  Walking across the park is fantastic at this time of year, but sadly it was not on today’s itinerary.

Parham Western Lodge
I re-entered the woods just north of Rackham and initially passed through more sandstone country before dropping down onto the floodplain once again.  This slowed my progress once more as I had to deal with some very sticky conditions.  I was now on the route of the West Sussex Literary Trail, surely a future project?  This is a walk from Chichester to Horsham celebrating some of the places that were haunted by famous classic authors such as Shelley.  I did think that even he would have struggled to wax lyrical about the conditions underfoot today.  I passed by the delightful Rackham Mill, now just a residence rather than a working mill.  The original buildings date from the early 19th Century and present an idyllic spot for someone interested in wildlife and/ or bird watching.

Fiery Autumn Colours
My route continued across a field that had been harvested of its maize, but which had been otherwise left untouched.  I suspect that it got far too wet for machinery to finish the job and it was therefore left to the local pigeons to deal with.  There were certainly plenty of them as I crossed the field, all flying up in unison as I got closer and resettling about fifty metres further forward.  This happened a number of times before they clued into the fact that they ought to encircle me and land behind me.  There were so many it was more like watching a flock of starlings.

Rackham Mill
I was pleased to reach another road as by now I felt like I was walking on platform soles from the large cakes of mud that had developed underneath me.  I soon stomped them off and was able to pick up pace again as I headed through Rackham village.  This linear village has developed along this ridge top road and I soon became aware of the stunning views to my right back across the Arun Valley towards Pulborough where I had started my day.  By now it was approaching lunchtime and the roast dinner brigade were gathering outside The Sportsman pub waiting for their grub.  The twitchers seemed to be out in force too and I passed a large group making use of one of the only spare spots for the view across the valley.  The bulk of the equipment they were carrying was frightening and put my little camera bag into perspective.

Pigeon Field
Eventually the road took me down into Amberley village, one of the most picture postcard downland villages you are ever likely to come across.  In contrast to the activity in Rackham the village seemed very quiet indeed, perhaps explaining the sad demise of the Black Horse pub in the centre of the village.  This is a pub that we had been to a number of times to eat and it was very sad to see it out of business.  Signs up in the village suggested that it might be turned into housing, which wasn’t a popular choice by any means.  I noted that it had a Peter Oldrieve sign outside, surely now living on borrowed time, so I grabbed a picture of it before continuing on.

Black Horse
I had the choice at the village to continue on my planned route via the castle and back along the riverbank or using the road to return to Amberley station.  I chose the river route so that I could get a closer look at the castle.  However, I soon wished that I hadn’t for not only did I see very little of the castle (as it was mostly hidden behind the 60 feet high curtain wall), but I then had to endure the swamp of the River Arun and its floodplain. The castle is now a luxury hotel, with prices starting in excess of £300 per night.  It is a castle of some antiquity though, with a history stretching back to the 1100s and was originally used as a fortification for the Bishops of Chichester.

Amberley Church
Of more interest perhaps than the castle was the church of St Michael, which looked fantastic in the wintry sunshine.  Sadly my boots were in such a state that I didn’t fancy wandering around inside for fear of getting dirty looks from other visitors of which there were a few milling around.  I viewed from outside only but did notice a small gate in the wall of the castle that intrigued me.  I suspect it was a secret entrance to the church for the castle dwellers.

Amberley Castle
The last half hour or so was miserable walking.  The view across to Bury Church was very interesting from the path and this enticed me to continue across the marsh.  It would once have been the footpath to a ferry crossing that existed for 300 years between the two villages, but which ceased in 1965.  I have noticed references to the ferry service still in existence, although stating that the ferry is now closed.  Hardly front page news since it is getting on for 50 years ago!

Bury Church
I cursed and grumbled all the way along the riverbank back to Amberley, wishing I had taken the drier option along the road.  However the views up to the Downs were very enjoyable, as were the sounds of lapwings flying around in the distance.  My rout managed to get me back all the way to the railway station without any further road walking along the busy Houghton road, so I was thankful for that.  All in all a very interesting and varied walk, with plenty of history and natural sights along the way on what was a very modest length of just short of 8 miles.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The Serpent Trail Section 2 Woolbeding and Rake

View From Woolbeding Common
Autumn walks are amazing if you get the right kind of weather.  It’s always tough to get up and ready in the dark but the reward is that you can be out as the sun rises, always a great time of day.  I had to take a leap of faith today as it had been raining all night and even as I got myself going it was still pretty overcast.  I had chosen to walk some more of the Serpent Trail, a walk I started back in the summer due to the soft and wet ground conditions.  Large parts of this walk are across sandy heathlands, enabling me to avoid the worst of the mud.

Mossy Tree
I found myself at the top of Woolbeding Common just as dawn was giving way into morning and the heavy rain was finally moving off eastwards.  Everything was wet, but the light suggested that it would be a great day for crystal clear views.  I was surprised to find a couple of cars already stationed in the pocket car park, but there was nobody about.  I had chosen this point to start the walk as the Serpent Trail does one of its dog-legs on this section and using this point I was able to complete a triangular walk without the need for public transport.

Redford Garage
After admiring the view across towards Petersfield I headed down off the top of the hill towards the hamlet of Redford.  Autumn was well advanced by now and even the fungi were starting to dies off.  The trees were largely in their last stages of yellows and browns, with seemingly only a breath of wind or a frost needed to finally de-clothe them entirely.

Redford Tea Rooms
Redford is a curious place and seems like a throwback to a bygone era.  My map suggests that it boasts a post office, but this seems to be a tea room only nowadays.  Perhaps this isn’t surprising given that there are so few houses around!  Opposite is an old fashioned petrol station, decommissioned now but still with much of the same infrastructure that would have been there when the old place was still operational.  The path crossed the road at this point and the nice solid ground that I had hoped for underfoot came to an abrupt end.  Onward it was boggy and slushy for quite a way as I crossed Stedham Marsh.  I guess this was a clay pocket in amongst the sandy soil – quite commonplace in this part of The Weald.  The air was dank and wet as the trees and bushes steamed in the early morning sunshine, now just beginning to break through the clouds behind me.

Fungal Growth

I passed the wonderfully named settlement called Titty Hill and was relieved to find some tarmac beneath my feet for a bit.  The road was awash with water in places and I had to pick my way through gingerly.  I turned off briefly to cross a field at Lyford Farm and my onward route was now filled with sunshine as the black clouds finally receded.  It was beautiful, but strangely silent and devoid of bird song.  For me that is possibly the biggest difference between autumn days and spring days.  The air temperature may be similar and the weather the same, but it is always so quiet in the autumn.

Daybreak at Stedham Marsh
Apart from a short stretch across the fields at Lyford Farm it was road walking for a couple of miles through the village of Milland, which enabled me to get a reasonable pace going.  I did notice that the local population must be/ have been a god-fearing bunch for I passed a chapel at the southern end of the village to add to the two that I would be passing later at the north end.  Curiously the village itself has none, although there is a prosperous looking pub right in the centre.

Reflections in a Road
The village was very quiet, the only activity at this early hour was a couple of chaps putting the finishing touches to the village bonfire, scheduled to take place later in the evening.  A delivery man was dropping off seafood at the pub, but otherwise all was very sleepy with curtains drawn in almost every window.  Made me wonder why I am so nutty as to get up so early!

Lyford Copse
Eventually after walking through Milland and north along the road that follows an earlier route from Roman times, I escaped back onto footpaths once again.  This had the instant effect of slowing me down to snails pace once again as the walking conditions were akin to porridge!  Luckily as I ascended towards the two old churches at Tuxlith the ground conditions became a lot drier and the walk through the beech forests were quite beautiful in the early morning sunshine.

Last of the Rosehips
After clambering up the steps I came upon the old chapel of Tuxlith.  It was rather gloomier than I had remembered from when I passed by on the Sussex Border Path, but that was probably because of the later time in the year and the fact that the sun hadn’t yet cleared the trees.  Sitting alongside the obviously newer Milland Church, both are located some distance from the village they are supposed to serve.  In fact the old chapel isn’t used as a church at all any more, although the layout inside could still be used for church services if need be.

Waiting for Breakfast
I crossed the busy B2070, unusual in that it is a dual carriageway here.  Of course it wasn’t always such a minor road – it used to be the A3 London to Portsmouth road, hence its dualling.  The A3 now runs some distance to the north along a new route.  On the other side of the road I entered Chapel Common, a large expanse of heathland resembling the New Forest, which it is essentially an extension of.  I was able to quicken my pace once again and soon picked up the purple arrows of the Serpent Trail once again.  I had missed a couple of miles of the route from Liphook in a bid to save time, principally as I had walked that section under the guise of the Sussex Border Path, with which it shares a route.  I didn’t find it a very interesting section last time out, so saw no reason to reprise those miles.

Site of Roman Station
To the north of my route across the common were expansive views and I could quickly see that this place is popular with dog walkers, no doubt attracted by the relative lack of mud compared with elsewhere.  I raced along this section of the walk, enjoying the views and the benign conditions before getting a nasty shock when my path suddenly stopped and the onward route continued alongside the road into Rake.  Luckily the road is no longer anything like as busy as it was, but it was still the worst experience thus far en route.  Hopefully one day a new route might be found away from the road?

Different Shades
From Rake down to Durford Heath I followed the route I had taken on the Sussex Border Path through the delightful woods of Rake Hangar.  Although there is nothing especially noteworthy about these woods, the ambience of beech trees bathed in autumn sunshine is terrific and should be celebrated just for that.  I was also thankful that this time I had the woods to myself as last time out I had another couple for company and they annoyed me L.

Milland Lane
At the end of Rake Hanger I took a sharp turn to the east and left the Border Path for good today.  My onward path took me through an area of forest that is actively being harvested for wood as sections of it had been clear-cut, an unusual sight in this part of England.  It was an enjoyable track with glimpses of view across the forest back towards Rake and Milland showing me where I had already walked today.  By now I also realised that my timings were well out and I had to put some pace on again, meaning that I took far fewer pictures than normal.

Tuxlith Chapel
At Combe Hill I had to avoid a lot of mountain bikers using a specially designed course that came across the track.  There were quite a few bikers about but all seemed friendly and didn’t hurry me along.  I could see how such tracks would be good for the serious enthusiast as they must provide a suitable and robust challenge.

Chapel Common
Onward I continued along the foot of the ridge for a little while before coming upon a path I had previously used when doing the Border Path.  My heart sank when I realised I would have to go uphill again, this part was really to avoid a country estate that was blocking my onward progress.  I had to find my way up to the road that went along the top of the ridge and I eventually found it by a car park in Tullecombe.

Rake Hanger
The road walking wasn’t too bad and I picked up pace again along the tree lined country lane.  I eventually came upon the hamlet of Borden, where I had an opportunity to lose the road for a bit and cut down through a thick dark wood.  At the bottom of the hill I rejoined the road for a short distance through Jungle Wood.  Normally I hate long stretches of road walking, but with all the mud around me, I was quite thankful of the hard tarmac surface below me.  This came to an end at Kingsham Farm and I took a track that led into Kingsham Woods.

Glimpse of View From Combe Hill
This was a fairly unpleasant section of the walk - not because of the conditions or that the wood wasn't nice but because the dreaded pheasant shooting parties were out.  I got some glances from the huntsmen as I wandered through - not unfriendly or hostile but I did feel a bit of a nuisance as I wandered through their bloodthirsty activity.  Blood sports are definitely not my thing - that may make me a townie rather than a true country person but I'll settle for that if necessary.

I was very relieved to get past the hunters and crossed another road where there was a chapel marked on the map.  I soon realised that this was no more than a graveyard - the chapel that accompanied it was little more than a ruin.  My route took me across the adjacent field and although it had a nice green top to it, the grass disguised some horrific mud.  I decided against plan A, which was to cross the field diagonally and took plan B, which was to decamp to the nearest road and get some tarmac under my feet once again.

Old Farm

I had rejoined the outward route here and plodded my way back past Titty Hill and the old garage at Redford up to Woolbeding Common.  It was a very different scene than the one I had left earlier in the morning for the sun was no w fully out and the day was surprisingly warm for early November.  On the whole this was a most pleasant walk, albeit with a bit more road walking than I would have liked.  It was strangely devoid of interesting things to look at but made for a pleasant autumn stroll.  I expect to be doing the next section for my next walk as it does make for a good mud-avoiding route!

Church of the Good Shepherd Graveyard