Sunday, 23 February 2014

Chichester Walls Walk

Western Wall
In this wettest of winters walking opportunities have been a bit thin on the ground.  Following on from the trip to Brighton over the festive period I focused my attention on walking the city walls of Chichester as I had a short window of opportunity to do so after dropping off my daughter at an event in the city.

Cathedral From Bishop's Palace
It started out as a rather austere January day, with steely grey skies and not a particularly good forecast.  However the walk was a fairly modest distance and with no worries about dealing with mud I decided it would be the best way of filling my time while waiting for my daughter.  I also wondered whether it would be a good family trip when the weather improves (sure it will?).  I decided to pick up the route at the site of the south gate (no longer in existence) and head clockwise around the wall.

West Street
I am a regular visitor to Chichester but was immediately struck by how little I had seen of the city from the walls and even more surprised by how complete they are after all these years.  The south west quadrant of the walls along the walk allows for inspection of both outside and inside the wall as after walking around the perimeter following the River Lavant, there is the opportunity for the walker to go inside the Bishop’s Garden that would once have been part of the estate of the Cathedral.

North West Wall
Of course being the middle of January I didn’t get a feel for how colourful the garden would be in the summertime, but the layout is most pleasing and I can definitely see myself coming back for another look when the time is right.  I thought the garden a bit of a hidden gem, for in all the years that I have been coming to Chichester I didn’t even know it existed!  I took a look around and climbed up onto the ramparts and doubled back to the main route.  As I did so I got to have a closer look at perhaps the best preserved bastion on the whole circuit.  The lookout from here gave some indication of the defensive capabilities of the wall although I am not sure they were ever severely tested.
Repairing Wall in Mediaeval Times (From Interpretation Board)

Perhaps of more interest than the bastion though is the fabulous view of the Cathedral, which not only dominates the skyline of the city but also the surrounding flat countryside.  The view from the Bishop’s Garden is surely the finest along the wall walk for unlike most other sections it is completely uninterrupted and doesn’t have to compete with other buildings for attention.

North Street
At the Westgate the walk climbs on top of the wall for perhaps the best preserved section.  Outside the confines of the wall I was able to have a nose into people’s gardens below, although it has to be said that most were rather drab looking in the January gloom.  Inside the walls the cramped nature of the city was rather less obvious in modern times than the interpretation boards suggested, partly as a result of 20th century housing and the large expanse of County Hall that rather dominates this quarter.

Priory Park
Although the wall crosses one street along this section, the North Gate no longer exists and I therefore had to descend to street level once again to regain my route.  At each of these main crossings the roads into the city all descend on the iconic market cross and it was perhaps from the North Gate that I got my best view of this fine looking edifice that defines the city.
Priory Park Motte

As I walked around the north east quadrant of the walls there was the merest suggestion that I might perhaps see some sunshine after all as there were hints of blue sky in all the grey clouds.  This for me was the most interesting section of wall as it was the part of the city that I know least about and the part I found most attractive.  The wall skirts around the green space of Priory Park, an area obviously dedicated to sports and recreation for there is a good looking play area as well as bowling green and a cricket pitch all accommodated within the walls.  Overlooking them all is the historic building of the Guildhall, built in 1270 by Fransican monks and presumably where the name for the park comes from.  One interesting story about the old place is that it once served as the venue for the poet William Blake, who was tried for treason over the rather piffling matter of trying to forcibly remove a drunken soldier from his garden.  I suspect there was a hidden agenda as Blake was rather well known for his sympathies with revolutionaries in France and America at the time.
Eastern Wall

There is also a very obvious looking motte in Priory Park, built by the Normans for a wooden keep to protect the surrounding area.  Apparently the motte would once have been 4 times the height it is now.  I imagine its main use these days is for children to climb up it and run down at great speed (at least that is what I would have done as a small child!).

Corn Exchange
At the far end of Priory Park I crossed Priory Road, where the wall has been breached without there being an ancient gate.  Inset into the wall was a plaque advising of the former use for this area as a gunpowder store.  Apparently storing the gunpowder in this way ensued that the explosion would have been isolated if there had been a problem! 

Southern Section
Not far beyond Priory Road and the walls disappear for a short while around the Eastgate area and I had to negotiate a number of roads instead.  The Eastgate was demolished in 1783, I imagine to help ease congestion and make the incoming road wider.  A consequence of the demolition though was that the authorities had to find another venue to house the city's prisoners for the gatehouse also served as the local gaol in its final years.

As I negotiated the streets to reunite with the wall by the district council offices I passed by the old Corn Exchange.  This very prominent building in East Street has had a good number of uses, including a market building for farmers, a Granada cinema, a branch of MacDonalds and latterly a branch of Next.  The outside of the building still looks very grand but its current retail use has hidden any of the internal detail. 
Market Cross
The south-east section of wall has not lasted as well as the other sections.  There is a short section by the Council offices, including a bastion tower, but in truth this did not detain me long.  By now the sun really had decided to show its face but my time was almost up.  I took the opportunity to check out the inside of the Cathedral and the Market Cross before finishing up.  Although not officially on the Walls Walk, they deserved some attention.  This was a most enjoyable stroll through history - next time I shall bring my girls as they will love it!