Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Sussex Border Path Section 15 Charlwood to Copthorne

Providence Chapel, Charlwood
It’s been awhile but I managed an early morning outing on a Saturday and although I toyed with the idea of continuing along the Serpent Trail I decided against it on account of the exceptionally hot weather we have been experiencing.  I decided that a better bet would be the short and tricky section of Sussex Border Path around Gatwick Airportas this has held me up from onward progress for some considerable time.  I have to confess to not being overly-motivated to doing this section, but thought it would be a good idea to finish it while I have only a short timeframe.

Lane Out of Charlwood
Due to the heat (it was later to reach 30 degrees Celsius), I decided also to complete the walk first and get public transport second especially as at least two bus journeys were going to be needed.  I parked in Charlwood, where I had finished up more than a year ago.  I picked up the Sussex Border Path as it led northwards out of the village, passing initially an attractive little school and then a surprisingly old looking church hall before heading out into the countryside along a green lane.

In the relative cool of the morning there were plenty of insects about and a few cows in the field next to the path lazily swishing their tails and grazing happily.  Yet any thoughts that this would be a nice quiet walk were soon dispelled by the roar of jets taking off and landing at nearby Gatwick Airport every couple of minutes.  Yet, the intermittent sound of the jets did not bother me as much as I thought it would as the noise was not as continuous as traffic.

New River Mole
I turned right at the next junction of paths and wandered along a very dusty farm track for half a mile or so.  The underfoot conditions were very different to the last time I did any of the Border Path, when I had to play hopscotch between boggy parts of the path.  The wildflowers grew in profusion and so far at least I was enjoying more countryside than I had dared consider.

At the end of the track I crossed a busy road and headed through a broad hedgerow, coming out into the managed course of the River Mole.  This has been diverted considerably in order to fit the perimeter of Gatwick Airportin.  Yet, despite that it still looks quite authentic as it follows a twisty path in much the same way that you would expect to see in a completely natural setting.  All along the banks were profusions of flowers, all seemingly at their peak now in mid July.  The butterflies were having a great time flitting between flowers trying to sup the nectar from the best ones.

Mole Valley
The warmth of the day was properly getting going now after a surprisingly cool start.  Away on the bank opposite I caught a flash of ginger hair as a fox crashed through the undergrowth, quickly followed by another.  I soon became aware of a pair of eyes upon me and some barking like noises and realised that I was witnessing a family of foxes with the young ones having a great time playing in the bushes while being watched by a vigilant parent looking for signs of danger.  I stood and watched them for some time, transfixed by their antics.

Perfectly Framed
After a few minutes I moved on and had the fright of my life as I turned the next corner when I was confronted by a startled deer that bolted into the bushes as soon as it caught sight of me.  I think I was almost as startled as the deer!  The foxes and the deer were all within a stone’s throw of the built up area to the north of the airport itself and yet this was more animal action than I had seen for a long time on the path.

Brighton Main Line
I crossed the road ahead and to my surprise the path followed a green tree corridor down the side of the dual carriageway of the A23.  Although I was aware of its presence the trees did a remarkable job of screening the road and made this section of path far more bearable than I dreamed would be possible.  Eventually I had to bow to the inevitable though and enter the world of Gatwick Airport.  The path was fairly badly signposted through the complex and it took a good deal of map reading to find the right route across the approach roads.  The noise of the planes was by now joined by the noise of the people mover that takes passengers between North and South Terminals and the traffic heading to the car parks.

Landing in the Fields
Eventually I managed to find my way through the complex and crossed the main Londonto Brighton railway line into a quiet stretch of countryside once again.  Far from being the hideous stretch of walking that I had expected, the section through the airport area was surprisingly short lived and far from being the horror that other commentators have suggested I found it fairly interesting although I was thankful I didn’t have to walk much further. 

Choked Path
I rounded another field with grazing horses and came out opposite a pub that now serves as an Indian restaurant.  It is surprising how many pubs have found this fate, although it is preferable to see them still functioning at all than be boarded up, as has happened with so many others.  The onward path took a course down the side of the M23 spur with pleasant views to the north even if the southern aspect was dominated by the high motorway embankment.  The path is clearly not very well used for it was very overgrown and I questioned the wisdom of wearing shorts that day.

M23 Crossing
At the end of the path I turned right under the motorway and headed down a rather strange road.  I passed some well-to-do looking houses living cheek-by-jowl with some that had fallen on hard times and were in some cases completely derelict.  On my left hand side was an old nursery but the glass houses had clearly seen better days, with most of the glass smashed and the vegetation inside now running riot.  I did think it might make for a cool photograph but got a sense of life at the other end of the property & hesitated.  I was glad that I did, for in the far corner there were some very furtive looking men that appeared to be dealing in scrap metal or some other such thing.  My watching was clearly not welcomed and so I hurried on, feeling rather uncomfortable about the area as I did so.
Burstow Manor

Further down the road a lorry was reversing in the lane.  This seemed quite a complex manoeuvre and I wasn’t quite sure what the lorry was even doing there.  It was registered in Bulgaria and at first I thought that it had got lost on the satnav but realised that it was in fact connected with the men I had seen back at the ‘scrapyard’.  I was rather relieved when I left them all behind as for some reason I felt a bit vulnerable as I walked past them all.

Burstow Church
Eventually I turned off this road and up another lane towards Burstow, crossing the main M23 as I did so.  After passing some more rather strange looking storage units and being stared at again I finally came upon the lovely little hamlet of Burstow, which seemed like a world away.  I took the opportunity to have a look inside the wonderful old church and its stained glass windows, enjoying the coolness of inside as I did so.  Across the way was an old school house, now turned into a nursery.  It really was a beautiful and unexpected oasis after all the industrial stuff earlier.

Burstow School House

My onward walk was mostly through fields of various crops although I did have an encounter with some fairly fierce looking white geese. I showed them who was boss though and they didn’t push it.  I was by now feeling very hot and when I approached Copthorne I checked the bus timetable and was very pleased to see that I could get one only nine minutes later.  I decided that I would save the onward walk for another day – it was far too hot to push myself too much.
Fierce Geese

It wasn’t the best walk if I’m honest but far better than I had expected, with far more countryside than urban areas. It reminded me of sections of the London LOOP, darting from sections of countryside into urban areas almost at whim.  What did please me most about this modest length of walk though was the fact that I had overcome an obstacle and I now could continue this walk in loops in much the same way as I had previously done.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Kennet and Avon Canal Section 5 Kintbury to Bedwyn

Turning Circle
Our second day on this latest trip to the canal started at the last station of the commuter line from London, which rather curiously is the very rural Bedwyn.  It seems rather an arbitrary place to terminate the line and is about as far as you can imagine a Londoncommuter station to look like.  Anyhow, it does mean that this is the last ‘easy’ stage of the route westwards along the canal for the next station at Pewsey is further away and after that there are no stations at all for a while.  All that though is for another day as this time we headed back to where we had finished yesterday at Kintbury.

Large House at Kintbury
Our route today would take us through the small town of Hungerfordback to Bedwyn; a distance of 8 miles.  We hoped that we weren’t pushing the girls too much but had remembered that they completed a similar distance out of Reading on day 1.  The start of the day was a bit grey as the early morning mist and swirling low cloud hadn’t burnt off quite yet.  It did make for cool and clammy conditions to begin with, but none of us were particularly complaining for it had got a little hot the day before.

Goods and Chattles
We passed a cycling family eating their breakfast and soon realised that they weren’t the only ones.  Kintbury seemed gripped with breakfast fever as many of the canal boats had the various aromas of coffee, bacon, eggs and toast all wafting over the towpath.  Fortunately we had already had a substantial breakfast otherwise the smell of all this cooking would have been torture!

Poppy Side
Kintbury is obviously a very popular stop for boating traffic for the line up of boats was surprisingly long considering that we had not seen a moving vessel east of here for some miles.  Some of the vessels were not here for pleasure though as the banging and sawing sounds revealed.  I guess maintenance and DIY is a common theme for Sunday mornings in this corner of Berkshire.

Orange Tip Butterfly
At the next bridge though the moorings gave way to clear canal once again and at this point the clouds finally drifted away to reveal the true nature of the day, which was going to be another hot one.  We passed a very large and ornate house on the left hand bank and off into open countryside.  Bridges seemed to come along at regular intervals on this section and the number of locks seemed to increase too, suggesting that we were heading uphill a little more quickly.

Wire Lock Bridge
The path passed through some lovely shading woodland for awhile before coming out into open fields once again.  This change in scenery was to happen a number of times during the day, providing a nice balance between the two.  Along the towpath the flowers were attracting a number of butterflies, including small tortoiseshells and orange tips which were the most eye catching. 

Yellow Flag
We crossed under the railway and then across the canal itself to resume our trip down the left hand side.  Curiously this was to be the only canal crossing of the whole day.  Across the other side of the canal was the unmistakable features of an old mill, this one called Dunmill. It looked like the old place had had a significant facelift for the brickwork in places looked very new.  I suspect it is now luxury apartments although it was impossible to see them properly from our side of the water.

Dunmill Lock
The town of Hungerford soon came upon us and we took the opportunity to head into town for a little looks around. Sadly the first thing I think about Hungerford is that awful day in 1987 when a large number of people were shot dead by a deranged gunman in what was the first event of its type on this shores.  The fact that it happened in this fairly sleepy but very picturesque town makes it all the more shocking.  By now the day was getting properly hot and so we thought that a nice cold lemonade in the nearest pub would help flagging spirits.  We took the opportunity to sit out in the street and watch the world go by, which was very pleasant. 

Hungerford Town Hall

On the way back to the canal we caught sight of a very pleasant looking bakery, which to our surprise was actually open on this Sunday lunchtime.  I always have a hard time passing a bakery shop and it wasn’t hard to persuade me to go inside.  We grabbed some snacks and made our way back to the canal for our journey westwards.  As with Newbury the canal seemed to find a course through the town that did not seem to prolong the urban stretch very much.  The last sight before we headed into the open meadows was a view of the large and well appointed church that wasn’t dissimilar in style to the one we had passed in Newbury yesterday.

Hungerford Church

As we wandered along the towpath through the meadows to the west of Hungerford I got the unlikely sight of a canal boat coming towards me sporting a Brighton and Hove Albion flag, my local team in Sussex. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity of a photo & we exchanged pleasantries as he chugged by.  A little further on and we passed a sadly derelict house before finally finding the seat we had been looking for to stop and eat our snack.

Albion Fan
We passed under the railway once again and our onward walk from here seemed to be very much more open in character. We seemed to have finally left the woodland behind and the canal followed a much straighter course.  This had the effect of the mileage seeming to be chalked off more quickly but it also meant that there was less interest overall.  Every so often the trains thundered or rattled by, depending on whether it was a stopper or an express.  The difference between the two could be identified long before they passed by.

Derelict Lock Keeper's House
A couple of miles of pleasant but unremarkable countryside ensued with the main interest points being offered by the canal-side flowers in the shape of some lovely yellow flag irises and the odd orchid that hid surreptitiously in the grass.  We also passed by a section of canal that was being repaired, which forced us out into the neighbouring road.  Other than this annoyance though we largely had the towpath to ourselves until we got to Bedwyn.

Southern Marsh Orchid
Our arrival at Bedwyn was prefaced by another long line of boats, although this time there was a lot less activity.  We took our leave of the canal after eight miles and four and a half hours of walking - a pretty good effort from the girls & with no complaints.  The only sadness this time was that we didn’t have a third day as we had had last time out.  This was an enjoyable walk but short on highlights after Hungerford.  A stop at this small town is surely a must though for any walkers/ cyclists/ boaters along this stretch.

Burnt Mill Footbridge

Monday, 15 July 2013

Kennet and Avon Canal Section 4 Newbury to Kintbury

Newbury Market
Only a month after our last trip and we were eager to get back for more although this time we didn't have the luxury of a bank holiday so had to settle for a two day trip.  The weather had not promised anything other than being dry so it was particularly good to see some sunshine out when we got to Newbury.  We parked at the small station of Kintbury and took the short train journey to Newbury.  When we arrived it was rather busier than last time out & the town itself was busy with Saturday market traffic.

Feeding the Swans at Newbury
We wandered over to the park where we had completed last time out & found that it was full of kids and families out enjoying the warm sunshine.  It was quite a contrast to the deserted state that we found it in before.  We relieved ourselves of our picnic lunch in the park to enable us to have light loads for our walk today.

Newbury Lock
With full tummies and a sweet in mouth to get ourselves going we headed along the canal after lunch.  Like so many towns the canal seems to manage to avoid most of the built up area.  The town of Newburyseems to have grown up around the canal with it being only incidental to the town.  In that sense canals are very different to rivers, which tend to be the focal point and reason for being in many towns.  However, we crossed the main shopping street at level and for a moment at least we witnessed the hustle and bustle of the place.

Newbury Church
The busy High Street was a fleeting moment in otherwise peaceful surroundings and the canal cut a channel past the substantial church and past some beautiful old buildings that I guess were built around the same time as the canal (if not before).  There was also some buildings that clearly had some canal use although inevitably these are now just residential places.

Reflections at Newbury Wharf
Newbury is clearly a popular spot for mooring canal craft as the queue of boats continued for a long way along the towpath.  Eventually they petered out just before a rather strange looking wall on the opposite shore.  It turned out that this belonged to a long lost railway to Lambourn, which closed to passengers in 1960 and never managed to reopen despite an attempt to preserve it as a heritage railway.  It has now almost completely returned to nature here, with the brick wall of the bridge abutment as the only clue of its existence.  The bridge also rather strangely marked the limit of the built up area of Newbury and it would be countryside from now on.

Newbury By-Pass
Our progress westwards was along rather a straighter canal than we had been used to thus far.  We swapped to the other bank at Enborne Bridge and this was surprisingly the last time we would do this on this section.  According to the interpretive board here this was something of a milestone as we had moved officially from improved river to cut canal and this probably explained why we were now following a much straighter course.

Pickletimber Bridge
The next bridge was far less sympathetic to its surroundings as it carries the main A34 Newbury By-pass.  This was perhaps the most controversial road scheme of the 1990s and the one that became the watchword for fights between the Government and environmentalists.  I suspect it even contributed to the pulling of the plug of so many other subsequent road schemes.  Even though the environmentalists lost the battle here they could arguably have won the war on road building.  For my part I have mixed feelings about road schemes.  As a motorist I get frustrated by bottle necks, but as a walker I value the countryside.  It’s a very difficult one to balance.  However, I couldn’t help but smile at the permanent marker under the bridge.  The design had been celebrated by the Concrete Society and yet the environmentalists had also managed to scrawl ‘death to 10 thousand trees’ on it as the plaque had been placed.  I wonder what the local population made of the canal when it was first built?

The climbing was still slow and steady with another lock just after the by-pass bridge.  We had already passed three locks and so far they had all been uphill since Reading.  We briefly headed through a wooded section of canal and under the wonderfully named Pickletimber Railway Bridge.  As we approached we heard the distinctive rumble of a train but for a change it wasn't one of the ubiquitous Inter-City 125s but a freight train; something almost unheard of for the girls to see.

The Red House
The next couple of miles was very pleasant walking. There was nothing remarkable to see and the countryside was nothing particularly special and yet it was.  Summer was in full flow and the canal banks were a riot of colour with thistles, cow parsley, buttercups and wild roses among the many flowers trying to vie for the attention of the local bee population.  Every now and again we would stop and catch up with each other but the afternoon wore on pleasantly with the adults nattering and the kids swapping stories.

The Drinker Moth Caterpillar
At Hamstead Bridgewe began to realise that the children were starting to lag behind and we noticed a sign inviting us to a nearby pub.  We thought that the perfect tonic, although we weren’t prepared for the fairly unpleasant walk up the road.  Fortunately the pub, The Red House, was well worth a visit.  Sadly we weren’t much in the mood for food because the dishes being served looked absolutely mouth-watering.  Instead I grabbed a cup of tea (the first time ever in a pub) and the girls some fizzy pop and we sat outside in the delightful garden, enclosed by a large hedge.  It was the perfect antidote to tiredness as the pace quickened a bit after we returned to the canal.

Dreweats Lock
The remaining couple of miles of the walk were very peaceful and we saw no boat traffic whatsoever apart from a couple of boats moored some distance away from any settlement.  One in particular seemed to be the focus of a lot of work by its occupants as they hammered and chiselled away to the sound of heavy metal. It rather ruined the peace and quiet of the surrounding countryside but I couldn’t help but smile because it was obviously helping their productivity.

Other than a few cyclists though we had the towpath pretty much to ourselves, in contrast to the earlier sections.  After a section of open countryside in which we got to see a lot of the surrounding area we were suddenly plunged into woodland again and this persisted for the last mile into Kintbury.  By the time we got there we were feeling pretty hungry and saw what looked like the perfect spot on the island ahead of us.  The Dundas Arms certainly looked idyllic and we flirted with the idea of having an early dinner there until we saw the prices.  They were certainly proud of their food!  I think if had been just the two of us we probably would have gone for it, but with two tired children in tow and in our present state we thought twice.  Sigh – maybe next time?
The Dundas Arms
This was a smashing walk, every bit as enjoyable as what had gone before but quieter and more understated. While the countryside could not be described as remarkable it was English pastural scenery at its very best.  We all thoroughly enjoyed the six miles over from Newbury and were happy that we got to have a second helping the following day!

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Selsey Bill and Pagham Harbour


The girls seem to have the bug for walking, which is encouraging.  Given the choice of activity on a bright sunny Saturday they voted for a picnic and a walk – good girls!  We had a good day of weather ahead of us but a rather breezy one.  It was tricky to come up with a choice of walk that would suit the conditions but I came up with an absolute cracker down by the sea in the southernmost part of Sussex.
Broom in Flower
We headed down to Pagham Harbour visitor centre and had our picnic first.  This meant that we didn’t have to carry the grub which was a blessing.  We then togged up and headed around the coast path towards the small town of Selsey.  Pagham Harbour is an inlet of the sea that has long since ceased to be a true harbour as it has silted up so much.  It is a great place for bird watching though and there were plenty of enthusiasts about.  From the small visitor centre we headed around the inlet and across the course of the old Selsey Tramway that had once limped down from Chichester.  As a railway it was pretty short-lived, being built on a shoestring budget by the famous light railway builder Colonel Stephens.  The tramway was powerless to compete with bus services as reliability and speed was never its strong point.  Very little remains of the line apart from a short section of embankment alongside the harbour in the reserve.
St Wilfrid's Windows
We actually saw very little birdlife ourselves, perhaps because of the windy conditions.  All we saw was a swan family mooching about in the reeds but far too camera shy for us to get a decent picture.  Although birdlife was a bit scant the path itself soon turned into a riot of colour courtesy of the swathes of pink thrift, bright yellow broom and darker pink foxgloves interspersing every now and again.  It made for a delightful first mile or so around to the hamlet of Church Norton.
St Wilfrid's Chapel
We all caught up with each other at St Wilfrid’s Chapel in Church Norton.  This is now a disused church that resembles a cemetery chapel but was originally the parish church for Selsey until all but the chancel was removed in 1866 to form the new parish church that is more central to the modern town.  What is left of the chapel was rededicated to St Wilfrid, a Saxon Priest who did much to promote early Christianity to the area around Selsey.  The remaining part of the Chapel is also a Grade 1 listed building.
Sea Cabbages
We took a look inside and it was delightful.  The stained glass windows looked particularly radiant and we particularly liked their theming, with scenes of wildlife and historical events as well as the usual religious ones.  
Sea Kale Flowers

The churchyard was still pretty active, with a number of people coming to tend graves, many of which looked new and suggesting that this is not a holy place that has been pickled in aspic but is still very much in use.  Just outside though is a rather older feature that is probably overlooked by all but the most observant of visitors; a large motte and ditch from an early fortification.  This apparently once housed a Norman Keep but all trace of that has long since disappeared, leaving only the earthworks and an interpretive board to show how it must once have looked.
Bladder Campion
After our little detour into the church we headed back to the shore and found ourselves walking along a beach of sorts around the edge of the harbour.  The children decided that they would begin filming themselves in a documentary as they walked along this stretch of the shore.  There manner seemed very much like that adopted by presenters on Blue Peter; maybe some of the techniques had rubbed off on them?  When I played the footage back later much of what I saw was blue sky as they had failed to point the camera in an interesting direction as they spoke! 
Railway Carriage Home
At the far end was the large shingle bank that forms the spit across Pagham Harbourmouth.  We climbed up on top to finally see the view of the open sea.  Our view at the coast was astonishing – the shingle was covered in flowering sea cabbages.  The white flowers were quite the sight!  While there appears to no footpath along the seafront into Selsey from here the reality is somewhat different.  The seafront road doubles up as a footpath and as we headed in towards town we enjoyed the wide variety of buildings that have been placed here over the years to enjoy the extensive sea views.  In particular the homes built out of vintage railway carriages were particularly enjoyable.  
Eric Coates
The kids were very happy with their conversations behind us but by the time we got into Selsey though it was clear they were flagging a bit so we got them an ice cream to perk them up a bit.  Some sit down time acted as a pick me up and we walked along the seafront of the southernmost part of our County enjoying the boats bobbing on the sea by the lifeboat station.  Unusually because of the flat terrain around here the lifeboat station is housed in a building at the end of a lengthy pier.  This always provides good photo opportunities and on a sunny day like this it looked particularly good.
Selsey Lifeboat Station
Just beyond the lifeboat station we came across a group of people all huddling around something on the beach.  As we got closer we saw that it was a seal and we were a little concerned that it was being bothered by unthinking people.  We gave it a wide berth but later I discovered that the seal is a regular visitor to the shore and seems to be quite tame around people.  I suppose this is quite fitting considering that the name Selsey means ‘island of the seal’.
Heading out of Town
We were cut short in our trek along the seafront as part of the front is actually privately owned and we didn’t much fancy walking along the pebbles.  We debated whether we should get the bus the last couple of miles back but elected to continue as the girls still seemed happy.
Medmerry Mill
We skirted around through the streets before getting back to the seafront about half a mile further on.  Just past the coastguard station we headed out onto what passes as cliffs in these parts, although to be honest they barely qualify as they are only about 10 metres high.  The view ahead was now dominated by Medmerry Mill and beyond the Spinnaker Tower could be seen in Portsmouth, the Isle of Wight and the Palmerstone Forts that guard the strait between the island and the mainland also known as Spithead.
Sea of Yellow
We only walked as far as Medmerry Mill, a fine looking place that is not one of the more heralded windmills in Sussexyet deserves to be for it is well preserved. Perhaps the reason why this is the case is the surroundings it finds itself in.  This part of the Sussex Coast seems to be overwhelmed with caravans and the mill sits right in the heart of it.

Pagham Hide View
The onward walk from the Mill back to the nature reserve was a lot less pleasant than we had hoped for.  Initially the route took us around a few back roads before we finally managed to get back on a footpath that followed the course of the old Selsey Tramway for a bit (not that you would have known – it looked just like any other path!).  After some more road walking the path crossed several fields of very little note before we reached the car once again.  In hindsight we should have spared us all the last couple of miles of the walk back to the nature reserve.  It was far less interesting and rather further than the girls could comfortably manage.  Being the troopers they are though they managed to complete the walk though.  Next time I think we’ll use the bus for the less interesting part of the walk!