Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Slindon Round

Slindon Pond
Now that autumn has well and truly kicked in we are trying to make the most of whatever good weather we have.  Last Sunday was a good case in point when the day was unexpectedly sunny for a short window of time. The girls seem to have a greater appetite for walking now and so we are trying to encourage that too by taking them out on walks that feature something a bit different in terms of things to look at.  We are very lucky in Sussex to have so many of these places on our doorstep.
Entrance to Slindon Church
I remembered that the village of Slindon had a wonderful pumpkin art display during October and I was keen that we incorporated both that and the rather spooky Nore Folly into our walk.  What was rather unexpected along the way was that the rain clouds came over rather sooner than we thought
St Mary's Slindon
We parked at the bottom end of the village and wandered up through the thatched roof cottages, stopping briefly at the church for a look inside. Slindon church has a few notable memorials inside including one to Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time of the signing of Magna Carta. 
Anthony St Leger
What caught our eye most of all though was the rather unusual grave of Anthony St Leger (d 1539), a warrior dressed in armour from the Wars of the Roses, said to be the only wooden effigy in any church in Sussex.  It certainly provoked a good deal of fascination from my oldest daughter, currently studying The Tudors at school.  It felt like a stroke of genius taking her to see it, but in truth it was no more than a lucky find since I had no idea of its existence!
Railway Carriage Annexe
Almost opposite the church was a slice of history from a different vintage in the shape of an old railway carriage now being used as a home.  Apparently this relic of Victorian railwayana was put here as long ago as 1906.
Pumpkin Art
Further up the village the pumpkin display didn’t disappoint – in fact it was the largest sales area of pumpkins I have seen in this country.  The artwork depicted a Cinderella carriage made out of pumpkins, which looked rather splendid.  We resisted the temptation of tucking some pumpkins under our arms, knowing that we had some distance to travel.
Take Your Pick
On the way out of the village we passed Slindon College.  This large building, resplendent with intricate Tudor style chimneys, was once one of the Archbishop of Canterbury's residences.  I was rather amused to find out one of the stories about the house.  In 1330 Thomas de Natindon, who was a legal representative of the Pope, was sent to Slindon to serve a writ on the archbishop. His party were not well received by the archbishop's servants who stripped and bound them, then threw cold water over them, apparently with the archbishop's consent. Natindon escaped and was pursued over the hills to Petworth where he was caught and held in prison for three days.
Tudor Chineys
We pushed on out of the village up towards Nore Folly.  As we did so it became clear that our nice sunny day was about to be invaded by some sharp rain showers as the sky ahead was getting increasingly dark.  We hurried the girls along, not wanting to get caught out in the open.  We got to the top of the hill at Nore Folly just as the first raindrops began to fall.  We crouched down under a big yew tree behind the folly and despite the heavy rain sweeping across the countryside we managed to stay dry, which was something of a miracle!
Approaching Rain
When the rain had passed after a few minutes we clambered out from underneath the tree and took a better look at Nore Folly.  This is a true folly, for although at first glance it resembles the ruin of a castle gate, it is soon obvious that it has no use at all and could never have done so.  I am not even sure when it was built, although it is estimated to have been put there between 1749 and 1786 by the Newburgh family, who owned the estate at that time.  
Rain Showers
What is not in doubt though is the view across towards Selsey Bill and the coastal plain of this part of West Sussex, which is amazing.  Somehow the rain clouds and unsettled conditions made it even more dramatic and landmarks such as Chichester Cathedral, the Spinnaker Tower at Portsmouth, Butlins at Bognor and the Isle of Wight could all clearly be seen from the viewpoint.  We lingered for a short while before disappearing into the woods behind the folly. The children pushed on ahead to look for fungi on the forest floor.  Being beech woodland they got to find some very different species than on our walk around Midhurst a couple of weeks earlier.  Sadly for me though the camera battery died here and the spare I thought I had was also dead so this is where picture taking ended for the afternoon.  However, it was almost as if the weather knew this was the case for within a few minutes the cloud came over and for the rest of the afternoon it was rather grey and drab.  Any pictures I would have got would have been fairly poor anyway so I didn’t feel too disappointed.
Nore Folley
Our route took us on a loop through the woods and across the fields of the dip slope of the Downs to the north of the village.  At times the going was pretty difficult through the mud and storm damage of the St Jude storm that had swept through here a few days earlier.  Generally though it was a delight to wander through the beech woodlands and through hedgerows sporting the old man’s beard of wild clematis. 
View Back to Slindon College
Eventually we came to the track that would lead us back down into the village of Slindon.  This looked like an important trackway of years gone by and the view back to Bignor Hill looked most inviting, even on what was now an overcast afternoon.  I made a mental note that it could be a future expedition.
Nore Folly View East
Our route back into Slindon took us along a ridge that gave us a great view of the whole of the route completed, including a distant view to Nore Folly and the Tudor chimneys of Slindon College.  It made for a lovely visual summary of our route, especially to show our children what they had achieved in a relatively short time.  It wasn’t long after that we found the car once again and got our very muddy boots off!  We headed home for a well deserved Sunday dinner after our lungfuls of fresh air.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Kennet and Avon Canal Walk Section 6 Bedwyn to Pewsey

Activity at Bedwyn Wharf
A whole season has gone by since our last outing on the Kennet and Avon Canal and we had been itching to get back for some time.  What had been bothering us though was the practicalities of getting from one end to the other.  Curiously, although Bedwyn and the next station Pewsey are both near to the canal and are only 9 miles apart there is no direct train between them.  Beyond Pewsey the railway line and canal diverge and there is no train service at all!  We had tinkered with the idea of using bikes or weathering the lengthy journey via Newbury when a rather unlikely solution came in the shape of a seldom seen friend in Staffordshire who wanted to join us for our walk.  That meant that we could park a car at each end of the walk and have a ready made transport plan!

Bedwyn Church
We rendezvoused in Pewsey and headed over to Bedwyn together.  It was a pretty unpromising day, with a lot of cloud around and damp conditions everywhere. Summer seemed a very long time ago!  At Great Bedwyn there seemed to be a lot of activity, far more than we remember on the lazy summer Sunday we were here last.  We did well to find a parking spot in the car park at Bedwyn wharf in among all the activity and were very pleased to be getting underway.

Beech Grove Bridge
Although the weather was decidedly autumnal the surroundings did not really suggest that winter was on its way with much of the foliage still on the trees and in most cases still very green.  The activity at Bedwyn soon died away as we headed westwards and all we heard for a while was the rumble of one of the suburban trains as it turned to head back towards London.  Little did we know but that was the last train we heard all day, suggesting that the line was closed for engineering works.
The bridges and locks came at a fairly regular pace along this section of the canal, although it has to be said that not all of them looked in very good repair.  Beech Grove Bridge in particular looked in very poor shape and the tank traps stationed on top suggested that it hadn’t been used by any vehicular transport since at least World War II. In fact I rather doubt that it would be strong enough now to cope with anything more than a single walker, such was its state of dilapidation.

Crofton Pumping Station
At the next lock we saw the first boat of the day heading westwards.  As is her way my 6 year old daughter waved and struck up a conversation with the boat owners, much to their amusement.  She was particularly taken with their small dogs on board, who seemed to be itching for a swim, much to the chagrin of their owners.

Former Railway Crossing
A little further ahead and we came upon Crofton pumping station.  This is allegedly the oldest working steam engine in the world and would have made for an excellent place for us to take a look around except that alas we missed its summer opening by three weeks L.  The access to the pumping station if we had been able to visit was not so obvious; it was actually via a bridge we had already passed rather than from directly opposite.  The purpose of the pumping station was to help provide some of the water for the canal, for we were now nearing the summit level and water is scarce here.  Opposite is Wilton Water, a small lake also used to help balance water levels.  On this rather quiet and damp Saturday it was rather difficult to believe that such an industrial undertaking was necessary to keep this tranquil canal going.

Bruce Tunnel
Just past the pumping station and we passed the remains of a couple of old railway bridges.  A glance at the map suggested a rather complex former railway feature, most of which is now defunct.  This was the crossing of the old line from Southampton to Swindon via Andover and Marlborough, one that was deeply unpopular with its rival company the Great Western Railway, which otherwise ran most of the lines in these parts.  A form of railway mania in this unlikely setting of Savernake Forest took over, meaning that there were duplicate lines running into the small town of Marlborough a few miles to the north of this point.  Duplication was loathed by British Railways when they took over, and all the lines north and south eventually succumbed to closure, leaving only the east-west route intact.  All the remaining earthworks are now slowly receding into nature, yet another long lost scheme that will be forgotten over time.

Bonnet Fungi
This also marked the summit level of the canal and a little further on we reached the obstacle of Bruce Tunnel, surprisingly the first that we had encountered on our journey from Reading and the only sizeable one on the whole canal.  The tunnel was named in honour of Thomas Bruce, the Earl of Aylesbury.  He allowed progress of the canal across his land, but only if the tunnel were built rather than a deep cutting.  For us walkers though we would have to part with the canal for a bit as the tunnel is not equipped with a towpath.  The original boatmen had to relay on pulling themselves through the tunnel using chains that were fitted to the walls.

Burbage Wharf
High above the tunnel are a scattering of houses, one of which really caught my eye on account of its patterned brick work.  The railway took advantage of the presence of the tunnel, cutting across to take the south bank rather than the north.  Above the tunnel was the last of the railway junctions that formed the Savernake network, this time a branch line that joined the main GWR line to a branch running to Marlborough and is now defunct along with all the others.
Afternoon Fishing
By now tummies were rumbling and we searched desperately for somewhere to sit.  Despite meeting back with the canal once again no seating existed, even by the nearby Burbage wharf.  The wharf itself was an interesting find for it has the last remaining wooden crane alongside.  This old thing was first built in 1831 although the one that is there now is a reproduction. 
Approaching Wootton Rivers
Feeling thwarted by the lack of seating we did the only reasonable thing shortly after – we resorted to our coats on the rather wet canal bank.  The gobbling down of food though did improve the mood considerably and we were soon on the march westwards once again.  It wasn’t just our moods that improved – after a mile or so more walking the weather cheered up too, revealing some sunshine and completely changing the mood of the day.  Strangely the change in weather seemed to have an effect on the number of people we saw too.  Soon there were a number of canoeists passing us as well as boaters.  Across the other side of the canal we wandered past a murder of crows (isn’t that a great collective noun?) harassing a bird of prey and encouraging it to leave.  Closer to home and we passed a stealthy heron checking out the water for a tasty snack.  Yet despite all the activity on the water we seemed to be the only walkers on the route.
Royal Oak at Wootton Rivers
At Wootton Rivers we decided that a refreshment stop would go down well with everyone and so we wandered into the village.  We were at once surprised by how picturesque it was.  Our reason for the diversion was one of convenience rather than sightseeing but we were glad that we had picked this particular village for it was lovely.  The main street was full of impossibly pretty houses, many of them with thatched roofs.  The Royal Oak made for a very enjoyable stop and I particularly enjoyed my 6X, something I hadn’t had in a very long time.
Mooring at Pewsey

When we resumed back on the canal, our sunshine didn’t last too much longer.  As we reached the Wiltshire Downs the clouds came rolling in once again and very soon we were dealing with a very heavy rain shower and cowering under the trees.  Fortunately it didn’t last too long and after a couple of miles of unremarkable but rather pleasant towpath walking we soon came to the line of boats that suggested that we were approaching an overnight mooring spot.  So it proved, with some more sunshine heading our way too.  At Pewsey Wharf we faced the disappointment of both pubs being closed.  The more convenient one on our side of the canal was closed for a wedding, with a rather special horse and cart lined up to transport the bride and groom.  The pub on the north side doesn’t open in the afternoon at all.
Getting Married at Pewsey Wharf
This marked the end of our walk and thanks to Christine this was a particularly difficult stretch logistically that we no longer had to worry about.  It was lovely to catch up with her and we vowed to do the next sections together as well.  Now that we have arrived at Pewsey, onward transport looks even more difficult without this option.  The only problem now is to find a weekend both parties can manage!