Tuesday, 29 April 2014

High Salvington and Findon

Honeysuckle Lane Viewpoint
Sometimes you don’t have to go far away or undertake great distances in order to do a walk that is very memorable.  This delightful little round proved just that as we explored a place on our very doorstep that we had not been to before.  I had the morning with just the girls and they were anxious to get out for some fresh air while we had some time to ourselves.  We parked up at the small car park at Honeysuckle Lane on the edge of Worthing on a beautifully sunny day and headed north up the lane away from the houses.

Early May Blossom
The lane itself is a popular walk for dog owners and there were quite a few people about on this Wednesday morning courtesy of the school holidays.  The journey up the lane was accompanied by the sound of birdsong, bright sunshine filtering through the trees and the wafting of pungent scents from all the competing flowers.  The insects were going crazy too with plenty of buzzing noises around us from all the various pollinators and even a few butterflies adding some colour to the scene.

Long Furlong View
Our walk through the bushes soon gave way to more open countryside as we headed away from town and deeper into the South Downs.  Every so often we would get vistas across the surrounding countryside with glimpses of Angmering Park and then the sweeping dry valley of Long Furlong.  After the winter months it was good to see some colour in the landscape once again, although I’m not sure whether I like the rather artificial yellow created by the rapeseed fields that dominate the landscape in early spring.

Bluebells Out
As we walked along the chalk path there was some brief interest in fossil hunting from the girls, but when it became obvious that they weren’t going to find much they soon lost interest.  Instead they decided that a more fun game would be to balance on the very thin sheep tracks that followed parallel to the path on the banks alongside.  I can remember doing exactly the same thing as a boy and even though they looked like they would fall over any moment I put my parenting instinct to one side for a moment so they could continue.  They justified my faith by walking flawlessly along without any hint of accidents…

Small Tortoiseshell
Eventually we reached the main road that comes up Long Furlong and at this point we changed direction to head across one of those incredibly yellow fields.  The girls really enjoyed walking through the yellow flowers and I have to admit my surprise at the lack of smell.  I seem to remember in years gone by really not liking the smell of rapeseed.  Either there are new varieties being sown now or my nostrils aren’t what they were.

Running Ahead
At the far end of the field we stopped briefly for refreshments and enjoyed the view across to Chanctonbury Ring, which the girls remembered from one of our previous expeditions.  Below us the cricket pitch for Findon Village was looking in a state of readiness for the new season ahead.  The cricket team for this village is of some repute – some years ago they reached the final of the village cricket competition and played at Lords.  Alongside the ground appeared to be a small camping ground with a couple of hardy souls already staying over (albeit in caravans rather than tents!).

Running Through The Yellow
Our route took us alongside some fields overlooking Cissbury Ring down to theb delightful church at Findon.  Set away from the village I suspect that the church was built for the convenience of the Lord of the Manor rather than for the villagers.  Even now it is separated from the village by the main road, which forms quite a barrier for the flock wanting to attend communion.

Chanctonbury View
No such problem for us and in fact we were in luck as the church was open for preparation for Easter.  This allowed us the opportunity to take a look inside and we weren’t disappointed.  Far from being gloomy the inside of the church was lovely and airy and the flowers were just starting to be assembled for the Easter services.  Outside was the real star of the show though as the churchyard was brimming over with flowers and blossom trees.  Sadly though any sweet smell of blossom was rather overpowered by a nearby bonfire and its acrid smoke.  Grrr!
St John The Baptist Church, Findon
We pushed on down the drive and had a squint at the rather palatial looking manor house as we did so. Just before reaching the main road we took a path between the fields.  For awhile we were hemmed in by bushes that were becoming increasingly green and full of blossom.  I imagine in a few weeks this path might be a bit tricky to negotiate as the foliage fills out more.  Eventually the bushes gave way to fences and we walked between fields full of horses.  Some were curious and came over to say hello while others took no notice of us whatsoever.  We passed down through an old farm where there were some very large greenhouses, reminding us of what Worthing used to be famous for.  Back in the old days the Worthing tomato was famous in the south, but sadly most nurseries are long gone and have been redeveloped into housing estates.

Findon Place
Eventually we found ourselves back within the Worthing boundaries as we arrived at The Gallops.  I soon discovered that despite my day off from work I still got buttonholed in a professional sense as I ran into the guy who empties our dog bins.  A thankless task you might think but no – our man loves what he does for the most part although he did grumble about some of the bins being misused.  I pushed on after a brief chinwag and headed off across the wide open space of The Gallops.  No racehorses today although it was easy to see what a great space this would be for exercising them.  

The Gallops
We clambered up the zig zag staircase to High Salvington mill.  This old lady wasn’t operating today but a group of volunteers has restored it and they show people round every couple of weeks during the summer.  My children remembered taking a look round as we passed by.  Next door almost is a rather unusual corrugated tin church – almost unnoticeable unless you walk past.  Not sure what it looks like inside but I might have to attend a service one of these days just so I can take a look.  From here it was a short walk back along Honeysuckle Lane to the car.  Not a particularly pleasant part of the walk as the lane is a bit narrow and it is the only access to the car park. 

High Salvington Mill
Despite the rather unpleasant finish this was a walk full of interest in spite of its modest length (3.7 miles) and I have a feeling it will be added to our retinue of local walks.  I think I need to look for some more now – short local walks are a lot more convenient for summer evenings!

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Serpent Trail Section 6 Midhurst to Petersfield

Midhurst Sand Quarry
March really was a glorious month this year and in complete contrast to the cold one of 2013.  As is traditional for my birthday I had the day off work and the rare treat these days of having a day’s walking to myself.  I lined up the completion of The Serpent Trail for my outing, which seemed appropriate as I had done an earlier section on my last birthday.

Midhurst Common
It was a grey start but with the promise of a much better day ahead, a phenomenon that seems to be quite familiar on these Serpent Trail walks.  I drove over to Petersfield and parked by Heath Pond, a largish lake on the edge of town.  This was quite a useful spot to park as it was both free of charge and at the end of my walk.  I got the bus over to Midhurst, getting the public transport part out of the way first as the frequency of service is two hourly and I didn’t fancy trying to race for it later in the day.

Woolmer Bridge
At Midhurst I got off at the southern end of town and retraced my steps back to the old station, which surprisingly still exists even though a train hasn’t called there in over 60 years!  Just past the station I picked up the Serpent Trail once again and headed out over Midhurst Common.  I passed by an old sand quarry, looking rather forlorn now that its working life is over and nature is reclaiming the space.  There was a rather half hearted looking fence supposedly protecting it but it was so tumbledown that I didn’t even need to climb over it to take a closer look at the quarry pond left behind.  I imagine that much of the sand would have been transported away by rail and a little further along I passed the broken remains of that former transport route again.  It wouldn’t be the last time today…

Pussy Willow
As I climbed up through Midhurst Common the pastie that I had bought in Petersfield was calling to me, while the day was also warming up so I killed two birds with one stone and rested for a while at the top of the hill.  As I sat and watched the world for a while I mused on what changes between February and March and decided that it is definitely birdsong.  I think that birds must be sensitive to the amount of daylight and warmth for all around me the trees were alive with the tunes of different woodland birds trying to attract attention over the background noise of all the others.

Peacock Butterfly
The path dog legged around the planted forests of Midhurst Common taking advantage of fire breaks until reaching Woolmer Bridge.  This would once have been crossed by the main A272, but like so many on that route it has been by-passed on account of being too narrow.  Now it seems like a bridge without a cause as the main road takes a course to the north on a rather brutish looking embankment.  For awhile at least the traffic sounds of the road rather bothered me and got in the way of my enjoyment of the normal countryside sounds.

Iping Common
The next couple of miles were possibly the highlight of the day as I crossed Stedham and then Iping Commons.  All around me were signs of spring, although not the same signs that I had seen on the Canal a few days previously.  Now I was seeing pussy willow, lots of blue and great tits but almost no flowers.  I was particularly pleased to see my first peacock butterfly of the season and was able to get really close to take a good look.  Annoyingly though my encounter was cut short by a loud barking behind me as a dog walker and her unruly dog approached.  I cursed as I walked on, trying to stay ahead of her as she was clearly walking a lot more slowly than me.  The dog bothered me for a while and the walker made some half hearted attempts to bring the animal under control.  I so hate these types of dog walker and dogs – they are incredibly annoying.

At the other end of Iping Common I was treated to some vibrant colour as I passed by a garden resplendent with camellias in full bloom.  I had to enjoy it while I could for the walk took a decided turn for the worse as I reached the road junction just beyond.  For some reason the planners of the walk thought it would be a good idea to route the Serpent Trail along a stretch of road more than two miles long through the village of Dumpford and on to Nyewood where I reunited with a path that I had followed on the Sussex Border Path a couple of years ago.  The walk along the road wasn’t all bad though – some of the houses alongside had some lovely gardens to admire and the views out across the Downs were lovely too.

Apple Blossom
Eventually I came into Nyewood village on a very different type of day to the last time I was here.  Then it was a hot and sultry August morning, while today was mid March with little foliage on the trees and a decided nip in the air still.  When I crossed the old railway once again I was able to see far more than I had on my last visit as the cutting in which the old station is sited was almost completely clear of vegetation.  Time hasn’t treated this old line very well though – there is no way that it could realistically be opened again even if there was a political will to do so.  The trackbed has some serious puddles and trees growing along the line of where the track would once have been.  The station is still in good condition though and probably could still fulfil the role if needed.

Spring Colour
It felt strange retracing my steps from that August day a couple of years back although today I was pleased that I could cut off the corner through West Harting.  I soon reached the farm that I remembered with all the old farm equipment and trucks that had been left to rot.  In fact the main truck that had caught my attention that day definitely seemed to be far worse than I remembered it.  I lingered for as long as I dared without drawing attention to myself before heading onward across West Heath Common.  The fragments of heathland were definitely getting further apart now and each one seemed a little smaller than before.

Abandoned Truck
I soon met up with the old railway once again by a removed bridge.  The owners of the land are obviously a bit fed up with people trying to retrace the route as there were an unusual number of signs making it plain that the old trackbed was not the footpath.  In fact my path alongside was possibly more interesting as it followed the normal lay of the land rather than that of the railway and I was soon high above what must have been quite an impressive cutting when it was built.  Oddly the path of the railway was soon completely obliterated as it left the cutting – all traces of the line had been completely absorbed into the agricultural land.  I could make out a rather intriguing looking hangar like building on my left – it looked like some kind of hobbyist shop although I couldn’t get a clear look at it.  On my right the view was dominated by blossom rich orchards.

Durford Bridge
When I reached the road I was disappointed to have to walk some more distance along tarmac.  I did get to walk across a rather stately old bridge though and past a bank that was smothered in newly flowering celandines so I couldn’t complain too much.  Before I reached the A272 the path dived between some houses and back out across fields for the last countryside section before reaching Petersfield.  I got a pleasant surprise passing by Durford Abbey Farm – the remnants of the old Abbey could still be made out, although mostly in the form of a moat rather than anything more substantial.  The abbey itself was finally killed off by Henry VIII during the dissolution but in truth it had been mostly a wreck for some time before that as most of the community had succumbed to Black Death over 150 years earlier and the old place had never really recovered.

Celandine Bank
As I headed in towards Petersfield the air was full of a nasty niff and initially I suspected the sewage works that I had passed.  However it soon became clear that it was in fact a local farmer who was muck spreading the fields.  It was positively foul & I was very glad that I would be heading home later that day and not having to put up with the smell.

Out On The Pull

I made my last rendezvous with the old railway line before entering the built up area of Petersfield.  If I hadn’t known it was there I’m not sure I would have even noticed as all that was left was a fragment of retaining wall from an old bridge.  Onward and into Petersfield the line has been almost completely subsumed by housing developments.  My route took me along a residential road before I finally reached the last fragment of heathland on the edge of town, the appropriately named Heath Common.  By now I was looking forward to a cup of tea and was delighted that the cafĂ© alongside Heath Pond was open.  I took full advantage and got me a brew and sat and watched the antics of the waterfowl on the pond.  I couldn’t think of a better way to end my day :)

Heath Pond
Heath Pond

If I’m honest this wasn’t the most exciting day’s walking and I can safely say that this was the least exciting section of the Trail.  In some parts it felt as if it should have stopped in Midhurst, but there are a few highlights along the way.  Iping and Stedham Commons are definitely worth a visit in their own right and Heath Pond at the end was absolutely delightful.  I must think about that as a possible picnic spot in the future.  I did enjoy this trail as a whole, although not perhaps as much as I thought I would.  Heathland can get a bit monotonous at times and it is probably wise to consider carefully when you plan to do the walk.  Maybe heather time is best?

Friday, 11 April 2014

Kennet and Avon Canal Section 7 Pewsey to Devizes

Getting Underway at Pewsey
The whole winter has passed without us being able to return to the Kennet and Avon Canal.  The extremely wet weather coupled with conflicting diaries meant that we hadn’t managed to meet up with our friend Christine since October.  Ironically when the opportunity finally came it was when we least expected it as with only a couple of days notice everything fell into place and we managed to get together once again.

Towpath Toad
It was perhaps the most perfect day of the whole of March with bright sunshine predicted for the whole day and spring well and truly underway.  We did the car swap over thing before finally getting underway at Pewsey Wharf, where we left off back in October.  All was quiet on this Sunday morning and as we got underway we speculated about the marital bliss of the chef who had got married on the day we were last here.

Canal Catkins
All the talk at the beginning of our walk was how many bridges and locks we might see on our trip today. We all felt fairly confident of quite a lot for this would be the longest section yet attempted.  Our walk over to Devizes would be slightly more than 10 miles, quite a tall order for our seven year old daughter.  As we got going it was clear that many of the canal folk had re-emerged from winter slumbers too.  Boats were being opened up after a lengthy break and being restocked.  It all made for an interesting beginning…

Pickled Hill
All around us signs of spring too with daffodils coming out and leaves starting to sprout.  We also passed a few discarded eggshells, presumably from newly hatched ducklings.  What was more of a surprise though was seeing a large toad sitting on the riverbank.  He looked a bit docile, probably because it wasn’t very warm yet.  The first mile or so was through some very attractive woodland and judging by the numbers of boats moored here it was clearly a popular part of the canal.

Lady's Bridge
We moved through Stowell Park and caught glimpses of the landscaped park and rather grand looking house beyond.  A slightly flimsy looking suspension bridge crossed the canal here and it turns out that it is the last of its style left.  The bridge carries a footpath across the canal but to be honest it would only surely be of use to the bravest of walkers.

Deepest Wiltshire
As we continued it seemed that our prediction of bridges (20) was woefully short and locks (15) was wildly over estimated.  In fact we quickly realised from looking at the map that we wouldn’t see any locks at all.  Most of the bridges were of the same type of brick design that we have seen in so many places but when we got to Lady’s Bridge we found something altogether more special.  The story goes that the local landowner did not want the canal across her land but was appeased by a healthy £500 donation and the building of a fine ornate bridge.  It certainly was a cut above some of the others that we have seen.

The Barge Inn
Beyond this the countryside opened out and we could see the chalk hills of the Wiltshire Downs.  The names amused us, especially the small lump known as Pickled Hill… By now our little party was beginning to stretch out and so at the next bridge we all waited for each other.  Thank goodness for mobile phones!  Texting ahead made life so much easier.

Alton Barnes White Horse
It wasn’t much further on that we found the perfect tonic for small legs when we happened upon a pub at canalside in Honey Street.  The Barge Inn has had quite the history, being variously a bakehouse, a slaughterhouse, a brewery and a grocer’s shop over the years.  It seems pretty well established as a favoured pub by boaters and the locals alike and when we called by it was absolutely rammed.  We were fortunate to find the last table outside to have some drink and a snack while we enjoyed the ambience of a warm spring day.  The view across to the Downs from here included a very good view of the White Horse of Alton Barnes, one of 13 such figures cut into the chalk downs in Wiltshire!  The horse itself is 200 years old, first having appeared in 1812 on the orders of the local landowner.  It looks pretty well looked after and I imagine it had a bit of a spruce up on the occasion of its bicentennial.

Power Source
Feeling fortified by a pint of real ale (only for me and not the girls!) we marched on towards Devizes.  It didn’t take long for us to be spread out again but the walking was relatively easy and we were in no desperate hurry.  Walking in little separate groups did allow us the opportunity to see perhaps more stuff than we would otherwise have done and possibly the highlight of the day was seeing a grass snake.  I was rather astonished to see one so early in the year but a couple in a nearby boat told us that they were common along this stretch of the canal and can often be seen swimming in the water.

A highlight for the girls soon came along in the shape of a rope swing and it was hard to get them to move along after they had discovered it!  To be fair I think I would have been as excited as them at their age and so I indulged them for a period of time until they had exhausted its entertainment value.  By now the number of boats had decreased but there were a few canoeists paddling furiously along.  I wondered whether they might be in training for this year’s Devizes to Westminster kayak race, a famous endurance event that uses a combination of the canal and the River Thames.

Awaiting a Bridge Opening
After a couple of miles further we decided to regroup and have another refreshment stop.  We lingered in the warm sunshine for quite a while to allow little legs to recuperate and this seemed to have the desired effect.  Oldest daughter decided she was going to stride off ahead and I followed along behind at a safe distance to allow her some space without letting her get out of my sight.  Meanwhile younger daughter walked along with the two women of the group.  This revolutionised our walk as up to this point we had worried that we had bitten off more than we could chew.  Far from it – older daughter completed the remaining three miles in not much more than an hour and younger daughter was only 10 minutes or so behind us at the end.

Catching the Sun
The remaining part of the walk was very tranquil and the towpath pretty quiet.  I was rather amused by the fact that one of the narrow boats failed to pass us even though it had been following us for some time.  Even without any locks along this section of canal that demonstrated to me that this means of travel is very slow.

Idyllic Spot
We passed by another busy looking pub that appeared to be a mecca for narrow boats but didn’t stop this time as the sun was starting to get low in the sky and daughter ahead of me was clearly not in the mood for stopping!  Eventually we reached the Devizes marina where we had swapped cars earlier.  To our annoyance we discovered that the towpath was on the wrong side of the canal for where we wanted to be and there was no bridge across.  This necessitated a further half a mile walk down to the next bridge and a walk back of similar distance.  Luckily the daughters were good sports about it, but I think we will remember that for next time we are down here.

Lonely Walker
This was a tranquil and pleasant section with some very pretty countryside and made for easy and surprisingly dry walking.  I have to say though that it was somewhat rescued by the beautiful weather conditions as compared with other sections of the canal it was a bit short on interesting features.  The Barge Inn definitely makes up for some of those deficiencies though – it was a good spot for lunchtime refreshments.  Just be careful not to eat or drink too much or you won’t want to continue your day’s walking!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

The Mills and Memorial

Jill Mill

On our return from Spain we were lucky enough to find that spring weather seemed to be the order of the day and much of the wet stuff that we have endured all winter seemed to be well and truly behind us.  However, much of the countryside to the north of us was still something of a swamp and so the next family walk that we took really had to be on the South Downs as that was the only area we could be sure would be dry.
Downland View

As it happens this was no great hardship as it was a gloriously sunny day; perhaps the first that really hinted that the change of season was upon us?  I had decided on a route that would take us on a circle from Clayton Windmills to the Chattri Monument and then back around in a circle via Ditchling Beacon.  I felt that this would probably have enough interest for the girls and also introduce them to a few hills.  So far we have worked on their distance but not got them to walk up and down hills.

Random Tank
I should have realised that when we arrived at Clayton Windmills that the car park would be absolutely jammed.  Yet we struck lucky with just about the last space available, allowing us the opportunity to stick to plan A.  Clayton Windmills are also known as Jack and Jill but they have not always lived side by side. Jill Windmill was originally built near Patcham but was moved to this location several miles to the north during Victorian times and before the advent of motorised traffic.  To do so must have been quite the effort as the whole thing was dragged over by teams of horses.  Since then the old girl has had quite a colourful history, with the most recent brush with disaster being the Great Storm of 1987 when the mill was saved from certain destruction by some brave volunteers who secured the sails.
Wolstenbury Hill

Jack Windmill hasn’t been quite so lucky in the last few years.  Unlike Jill, Jack has been in private ownership for many years and it looks like the maintenance needs have rather overtaken the owners.  The mill has recently lost its sails but I cannot be sure whether this is a permanent issue or just to enable restoration.  I rather hope the latter as the two look so much better together when they both have their sails intact.

The Chattri Memorial
After a good look at the mills we headed over towards the Chattri Memorial.  We passed through a stud farm where the horse looked as if they were still suffering from the after effects of the rainy winter as their fields were pretty churned up looking.  They also had rather a strange bedfellow in the shape of an armoured vehicle that had seemingly been left abandoned in the middle of the field.  We also passed a very busy looking golf course on our way over to the Chattri along our rather zig zag path.
Chattri Daffodils

Surprisingly this is the first time I had visited the memorial and seen it up close.  I have of course seen it from a distance many times but thought about visiting when I saw it featured on a recent programme about the Great War.  The Chattri Memorial pays tribute to the brave soldiers from India who rallied to the cause of the British Empire during the war.  Many of them died as a result of their injuries while they were being treated at the makeshift hospital that had been created at Brighton Pavilion.  The Pavilion had been used for this purpose to try and make the Indian Soldiers feel as possibly at home as they could be.  Following the demise of individual soldiers they were transported up to temporary cremators on the Downs so that the religious beliefs of the soldiers could be observed.  Seeing the memorial in such a peaceful place with such a great view is rather poignant and in stark contrast to the conditions that most of the soldiers would have seen during active service.

It's a Pig's Life
We lingered at the memorial for some time and it was quite clear that this is a focal point for many walkers who pause to pay their respects.  I don’t know why I should have thought this but seeing an Indian couple heading up to the memorial was particularly good to see.  I cannot ever remember seeing Indian people walking on the Downs before, but this is clearly an important enough destination to have attracted this couple.
Lamb Encounter

Eventually after a spot of lunch and a good scout round we headed back along the path that we arrived on, taking a right hand turn half a mile or so back.  We descended down into Lower Standean, a hamlet dominated by the farm of the same name.  This is a delightful spot and unbelievably peaceful considering how close we are to Brighton.  The farm was mostly devoid of people but as we passed through a vehicle turned up and the occupants were carrying a lamb.  This was quite a treat for the girls as they were able to have a stroke and acquaint themselves with the few days old lamb.
That Kind of a Day

Our onward route took us around some of the dry valleys of the Downs.  These are curious features believed to have been formed by meltwater eroding the chalk during times of permafrost in the last ice age.  There were no walkers now, only livestock.  All the animals on show looked to be enjoying the sunshine as well, with most lazing around in sunny spots away from the still chilly breeze.

View North From Ditchling Beacon
Eventually we climbed back up towards the scarp slope of the Downs near to Ditchling Beacon.  We gave the children some incentive to climb the hill by promising an ice cream at the top.  As we slogged up the hill we saw a number of scouts on what I took to be some kind of hiking competition.  Some seemed lost but we soon pointed them in the right direction.  We also seemed to act as gate people for bikers and horse riders – clearly this section of path was quite a highway!

Ditchling Beacon
At the top of Ditchling Beacon we were relieved that the ice cream van was in place.  I imagine that the owner had done quite a trade on this unusually warm day.  We sat and enjoyed the view for some time at the highest spot in East Sussex.  The Ouse Valley and cliffs at Seaford Head look remarkably close from here while to the south is the new feature in the landscape in the shape of the Amex Stadium, Brighton and Hove Albion’s stadium that was built in 2011.  Strangely this is the first time I have seen it from way up here.

The Amex Stadium From Ditchling Beacon
The walk back from Ditchling Beacon to the windmills at Clayton is almost all downhill and probably one of the finest stretches of the South Downs Way of them all.  The views to the north are fantastic and on this particular day they were especially clear.  For some reason there was quite a bit of mist hanging around the coast but not so inland – the view was stupendous and covered most of the Weald of Sussex for thirty or so miles north and to the east and west.

Kite Flying Above Clayton
The South Downs Way is becoming a bit of a motorway in places though – there were so many walkers on this stretch.  I am hoping for a long run of dry weather so that we can head for quieter places in the future.  This was a good walk for the girls to do though – it was a modest distance (approx 6 miles) and with some reasonable climbs to help with their stamina.  The mills and the memorial added some extra interest along the way but when asked both girls said their highlight was the ice cream J