Saturday, 21 December 2013

Lewes Historic Trail

View From The Mount
We struck lucky once again with the weather and the girls and I had another day to amuse ourselves. They were keen to have another outing in the lovely autumn sunshine, but with the countryside all around under a sea of mud I fancied a rather different kind of walk and we therefore headed over to my home town of Lewes for a history trail.  The girls lapped it up - we downloaded a trail they could follow and we parked at the railway station for the start.
Lewes Priory

Our first port of call was Lewes Priory, which was an absolute revelation to me!  For my whole life it was dismissed as a dangerous structure and surrounded by a high chain link fence to deter visitors.  However, with a good deal of lottery money spent on it the ruin of what was left.  The result showed that there is value in the remains of what is left (and it isn't much!).  This once extensive priory was destroyed by Thomas Cromwell during the reformation.  Having been demolished in situ the remains were then systematically plundered for building materials and especially for Southover Grange, a short distance away.  Interpretive boards showed us what I have been looking at without a clue for many years. Ironically the main part of the building still left is the toilet block!  What was particularly striking to me is how much of the original estate is now under nearby housing and the nearby railway line.  Indeed during the excavation of the railway in the 1840s, the bodies of William and Gundrada De Warenne (the founders of Lewes Castle) were found and removed to nearby Southover Church for reburial.

Battle of Lewes Memorial
The Priory has been imaginatively restored and it was quite possible to feel the atmosphere of the old place.  Where the walls had been completely mined of their stone, outlines of the old structure had been drawn out in the turf, giving a good idea of how extensive the complex must once have been.  I also found out more about the little tower at the far end of the site, which had always fascinated me. Despite appearances it wasn’t that old, although its history is a little unclear.  It is thought to have been built by John Blaker, who owned Lewes Priory in the middle of the 1800s and later became the town clerk.  It appears on the OS map of 1873 so was probably built soon after the railway came through.

Prospect Tower
Having had a good walk around the ruins we headed off to a building with another connection to Henry VIII, the so-called Anne of Cleves House.  This 15th Century house was given to Anne of Cleves as part of the annulment settlement from her ill-fated marriage to Henry VIII.  She never actually lived in the house though and most of the articles on display illustrate life in Sussex rather than being connected to those far off Tudor times. The house does have some Tudor furnishings though and the children liked having a poke about in the bedroom and perhaps the kitchen even more.  Here they were able to open pots that had typical Tudor smells in them, some of them good and some plain awful!  I was drawn more to the room full of Lewes artefacts and two pictures on the wall caught my attention most of all, which were of Lewes Bonfire in Victorian times and what still counts as the worst avalanche in Britain, which killed 9 people in the Cliffe back in Victorian times. The visit occupied us for about 50 minutes and the girls came away with some little Tudor rings as souvenirs of their trip.

Inside Anne of Cleves House
Opposite Anne of Cleves House is the former Southover Manor School, an independent girls school of some repute that was opened in the 1920s and lasted until 1988.  I can remember seeing the girls playing hockey in the fields outside when I passed by on the train.  Now sadly all you see is housing as the playing fields are now occupied by Cluny Street.  One of the former pupils of the school was none other than Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall who grew up in this part of Sussex.

Southover Manor
Our next stop was the wonderful gardens at Southover Grange. As mentioned before the old house (dating from the 16th Century) was largely built from stones that came from Lewes Priory.  The gardens are what draw people here though, and even this late in the season there was plenty to look at.  The colours of some of the shrubs were at their zenith and a fiery red one by the house itself really caught my eye.  The sunlight picked out the textures of the grasses  and the autumn colours perfectly, while we also enjoyed the sculptures that seem to have popped up in the gardens.

Southover Grange
We wandered around for a short while before passing my old school and heading up the steep climb of Keere Street.   For two years I used to walk this way home each day from school and always seemed like a mountain! This cobbled hill was the unlikely spot where a royal dare is supposed to have been carried out.  The Prince Regent (later to become George IV) drove down the street with a coach and horses to win a bet.  Judging from the steepness of the street it must have been terrifying for all concerned!

Grange Grasses
We stopped off for a sausage sandwich in the cafe at the top (on the request of the two girls) and a welcome rest.  Once refreshed we passed by Thomas Paine's house (he of the 'Rights of Man' fame) and on to the castle.  Thomas Paine was rather a colourful character, being an excise officer during his time living in Lewes and this experience resulted in him becoming politically active.  He became one of the main characters in the War of Independence in the USA as his papers were widely admired and helped to draw up the documentation of the Founding Fathers.

St Michael's Church
The castle is the centrepiece of the town and used to be a mainstay of all school trips when I was a kid.  There isn't a huge amount left but it does provide a great view across the town.  We started our visit in the small museum across the road from the castle, which houses a lot of archaeological material found on the chalk hills that surround the town.  There was time to have a look at the town model, which I think I must have seen about 20 years ago last.  These days it is possible to go into The Barbican as well as the castle (this wasn’t the case when I was a boy) so we started our castle visit there.  On one of the intermediate floors the children got to have a go at dressing up in mediaeval clothing, which pleased them no end.  While dressed up they also had a go at the siege engines that were placed out as demonstrations (models of course).

Rights of Man
The displays in the main part of the castle tell the story of the Battle of Lewes in 1264.  We were taught as children that this was one of the pivotal battles in English History as outcome led to the setting up of the English Parliament.  The battle was fought by the forces of Henry III, a deeply unpopular and autocratic King and the barons led by Simon de Montfort.  The Kings forces were well beaten largely because of the tactics of De Montfort, although he didn’t live long to see the fruits of his win as he was killed in the Battle of Evesham the following year.  He did enough though to win the concession of having the King recognise baronial influence in the ruling of the country, a forerunner of what we now know as Parliament.

Lewes Castle
By now it was mid afternoon and the light was sadly beginning to fade. We wandered down through town as far as Cliffe High Street.  The immediate impression I git from walking down the High Street was how much the town had changed since I grew up here.  The buildings largely remain the same of course as most of them are listed (save for the odd awful 1960s one thrown in), but the businesses on the ground floor are almost totally different.  
Castle View

At Cliffe Bridge we headed across the Railway Land Nature Reserve that was a beloved playground for me as a child (and when it was a proper wild place!).  This part of the town has now been turned into a visitor attraction, but when I was a child the old sidings had been gone for about 12 years and vestiges of them still remained.  There was also a short stretch of embankment of the old Uckfield line where we used to try and catch slow worms and butterflies.  I realise of course that we were here during the autumn months, but my experience of coming on to this nature reserve is that there is far less biodiversity than there ever was back then.  

Harvey's Reflections
By now it was getting increasingly dark and we found the car back at Lewes Station.  My trip down memory lane was very enjoyable for me and the kids thought the museums were very cool. I was only sad that there wasn’t more daylight for I think we would have happily walked further.  Maybe another time?

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Angmering Park

Road Through The Park
We have been really lucky with the weather during November especially as a number of uninspiring weather forecasts have turned out to be anything but.  One of our favourite local walks is around Angmering Park, but we mostly go only in the spring when it is bluebell season so I thought it would be good to see how it shapes up for autumn colours for a change.  We only had a short time before it would get dark so it was important for us to get a bit of a wriggle on if we were to complete in the couple of hours we had. So as not to burn the children out on ‘walks’ this one was instead billed as a nature ramble and they both ran upstairs after lunch and got themselves kitted out with notebooks and pencils so that they could record their findings!

Sign Fungi

On arrival at The Dover, the kids jumped out and set about their task very enthusiastically, recording every leaf, chestnut case and fungus they could find.  I felt like I was taking them on a scientific field trip!  It did make for very slow walking at times but in truth it was glorious in the woods and didn’t make it a trial at all.

Glimpse Out of the Trees

Our route took us from the car park at The Dover (just north of Poling village) and along one of the estate roads heading east.  It was very wet everywhere and we already had the sense that the mud would be fearsome later on so it was good initially to get some distance under our feet along a tarmac path.  At the next junction we lost the tarmac and almost instantly the going got distinctly worse.  My sharp eyed daughter did discover a rather unusual sight – a fungus that I had never seen before growing on a signboard for the Angmering Estate.  What was particularly striking about this fungus was that it had very helpfully grown in the same colour scheme adopted by the Estate, a sort of maroon colour.

Pine Avenue
The onward track rather reminded me of the sort of cart tracks that would have been used by coaches and horses hundreds of years ago.  Deeply rutted and with the ruts full of puddles it made for challenging walking and yet roads like these were the only ways people could get about in days of yore.  The woods all around us were dark and had little of the late autumn sunshine penetrating through.  I think we were all mightily relieved to get through that section and out into more open countryside.

Staghorn Fungi

At the corner of a set of paths we changed direction and headed north through open beech woodland.  This was a delightful stretch of walking – the path was drier and the sun filtered through the increasingly brown and yellow leaves.  Along our route I paused a number of times, finding different species of fungi along the way.  By now though the season for fungi was coming to an end as many of the specimens were well past their best or chewed up by slugs and other creatures.  The only ones that were looking particularly good were the curious little Stag Horn fungi that are a surprisingly colourful addition to the woodland floor at this time of year.
Reflections of Autumn

We briefly took a route along the Monarch’s Way through the woods.  This long distance footpath through England is supposed to be a close match to the route taken by the fleeing future King Charles II after he had been defeated by Cromwell’s New Model Army at Worcester in 1651.  This would be a fantastic route to do as a complete walking project but at 615 miles in length it would be a major undertaking.  It certainly demonstrates the size of the task that was necessary in getting the King to safety 350 years ago.

Old Man's Beard
At the north end of the woods we left the Monarch’s Way and headed out onto a ridge above the Downs where we got a grand view out towards Chanctonbury Ring and Amberley beyond.  We were lucky enough to spot a pair of red kites wheeling around over the Downs looking for things to eat.  These amazing birds have made something of a comeback in recent years after they were hunted to the brink of extinction in this country.

Red Kite
The section of ridge is quite short but has an amazing view, one that would be more associated with the scarp face of the Downs some 3 miles or so further north.  Across this part of the Downs are a few homes associated with AngmeringPark.  It appears to be very much horse breeding and training country for most of the buildings and fields are set up for horsey type activities.  Of course this isn’t too far from where the famous trainer Josh Gifford was once based before his recent death.

Ridge View
At the end of the ridge we turned back south to complete the last section of our loop around the park.  We wandered down a surfaced track that was quite a relief after all the mud, heading down through some farm buildings that gleamed in the golden light of the sun.  It soon became clear that these too were horse-owning people and the girls delighted in the friendly horses that came up to say hello.

Fading Light
By now the girls had lost interest in their nature note-taking and had reverted back to discussing fairies.  This seems to be their default chatter wherever we go now and keeps them occupied for hours!  My thoughts were focused on trying to get them back to the car in good time for the sun was already sinking in the sky and I was acutely aware that the car park gate shuts at dusk.  It was a bit tricky to get them moving quickly as they were so embroiled in their stories but thankfully we did get back in time.  All of us were covered in mud, but it was a glorious afternoon and we came home feeling that we had truly earned our dinner!

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Stick Your Neck Out

Registration Point

There were no plans for another mascot trail this year but an unlikely opportunity cropped up when we found a new trail in the local town of Horsham.  This was a more homespun affair than the Gromits and the Rhinos beforehand but I thought it would be a good excuse for a town walk with the girls, especially as there were prizes on offer for this one!

Lloyds Bank
The task was to find the 51 giraffes that had been placed around the town by the Rotary Club and we were given a sheet and map where we could find them.  Any chance of this being a long-winded affair were soon scotched when I discovered that the first half dozen were all grouped together by the registration point, with another half a dozen dotted around the Swan Walk shopping centre where we started.  I was rather glad to leave the confines of the shopping centre though and the next phase of our walk took us around the rather older Carfax.  The unusually named square is the original heart of the town where the four main roads met.  It is now a rather vibrant square and we were lucky enough to visit on market day.  Our noses were filled with the fantastic aromas of curries, pasties and other baked goods being sold on the market.

Carfax Shops
We found that most of the giraffes dotted around the Carfax were in shop windows, although in many cases we had to go inside to collect the names of them.  The girls had a great time doing this as they got a lot of attention as they busily collected the names and wrote them on their entry forms.  Perhaps their favourite ones were the ones inside the British Legion shop (where they collected their poppies too – nice move!) and one inside a haberdashery shop which had been done up in lots of offcuts of material.

At the top end of the Carfax is the rather strange St Mark’s Church tower, almost completely overshadowed by the insurance buildings that surround it.  Apparently the church never prospered and despite a rebuild it finally succumbed to progress when the Royal Sun Alliance built their headquarters here.  Before moving on from the Carfax we also enjoyed looking at the bandstand, which was erected here in 1892 and has been refurbished in recent years.

St Mark's
The last giraffe on our tour of the Carfax was stationed in the Natwest Bank and literally made of money!  My children were rather nonplussed by the sight of £1 notes – how long has it been since we had those?  Our onward journey took us into the rather secretive looking Piries Place, yet another area of shops accessed via a small passageway.  I guess old Horsham would have had a lot of these, but the modern town seem to have lost of these features in the path to modernisation.  In fact the whole town is a rather strange mixture of old and new, not always sitting comfortably alongside each other either.  In this particular square of modern shops though was a rather whimsical piece of public art that seemed to be very popular with the children as it depicts a well known Horsham figure who used to ride around by donkey and trap.

Dressed for Dinner
Within the square was also my favourite giraffe of the whole day, the very pink and dolled up Zsa Zsa Giraffe.  She made quite the addition to the clothing boutique that she was stationed in!  Once we had collected all the names from Piries place we then headed out past a very interesting looking store called Pretty Things.  Sadly, although it looked lovely it was completely devoid of customers and I wonder how long it might survive for?  We turned to head down East Street and by now the girls were in their stride anxious to run ahead and find the next one.  For my younger daughter the short distances between each giraffe and the large number of them were perfect for her little legs.

Piries Place
We passed by the historic Town Hall, now a branch of the up and coming chain Bills and originally built in 1721 but much altered since then.  It last served as a public building in the 1970s when the Council was reorganised.  It serves as a rather atmospheric and seemingly popular place to eat nowadays and it is good to see the old place with such a bright future.

Pretty Things
Our route then took us down The Causeway and a pleasingly old and rather affluent looking part of town.  The bright blue skies were giving way to some rather threatening clouds and we rather hurried through the next part so that we could take refuge in the library.  The shower thankfully passed in the time we were in the library and we came out to find that it actually hadn’t amounted to very much – definitely a case of the clouds have a bark worse than their bite!

Town Hall
In the Forum area we stopped to inspect the sundial that was erected here in 2002.  It is a clever piece of artwork for it incorporates many scenes from Horsham’s history including the Wey and Arun Canal, the poet Shelley, brickmaking and Southdown sheep.  It looked particularly good in the newly emerged sunshine and attracted a lot of attention from passers by.  We dived into the local branch of Beales to find the next three giraffes and discovered that these were deliberately hidden away just to make sure that we visited every corner of the store!

Threatening Clouds at The Forum
Once we had negotiated Beales we passed by the large fountain on the junction of West Street and the former Worthing Road and known as the Shelley Fountain (although officially known as Rising Universe).  This rather controversial piece of public art has aroused strong feelings about its appearance (it has been dubbed the ugliest fountain in the world!) and has been beset by problems with its inner workings.  I rather like it personally – it is a rather bold piece and reminds me of a globe with a tear down the middle.


We picked up the last two giraffes in the shopping street, the rather delightful Siyabonga in the sweet shop (dressed up like a liquorice allsort) and Speccy in Specsavers, a rather short sighted specimen!  All that was left for us after picking these up were the last two up in the Capitol Theatre some distance away.  I was rather surprised that the girls were still up for finding these as they were a fair walk but they were adamant that they wanted to complete all 51.  The two in the theatre were worth finding though – one was done up like Pudey from Children in Need fame and the other Peter Pan.  They were worthy specimens to finish with.  This was a fun trail that worked on two levels – for the girls it was all about the giraffes while for me it was all about the history of a town that I visit often for work but rarely look around.