Saturday, 28 June 2014

Washington and Sullington


This year I seem to have been doing walks little and often.  Getting out to do the big expeditions has been very difficult due to family commitments but instead I have been enjoying early morning Sunday walks a lot more locally.  In fact considering I have lived in Worthing for 14 years I am still surprised at how many local walks I haven’t done and I am very keen to redress this over the coming months.  What I am aiming for is to develop a bank of local walks that I can just do without thinking too hard about where I want to go.

Common Spotted Orchid
On this particular morning I thought it was high time that I explored a section of the Downs on the other side of the valley from Chanctonbury Ring.  Most of the time when we head up onto the Downs we focus attention on the part between Washington and Steyning and almost ignore the adjacent section along to Amberley.  Yet, in many respects this ridge of the Downs has more to commend it.

I set off from Washington village, parking by the church.  I am not sure how this small Downland village came to have the same name as the founding US President as apparently he took his name from another Washington in the north east of England.  However the village is typical of Downland villages in Sussex with predominantly flint built houses and a popular looking pub that came with the construction of the east-west and north-south turnpike roads that are now the A283 and A24 respectively.  The main roads now by-pass the village giving it a rather tranquil air slightly removed from modern life rushing by.
Dog Rose

I crossed the by-pass bridge and headed initially along the path along the foot of the Downs.  This is actually an alternative route for the South Downs Way which avoids the dangerous road crossing further south on the main route. The traffic noise soon receded as I dog legged around some of the rather well appointed looking country houses.  It would soon be clear that this would be a day for enjoying wildflowers.  Although most of the spring ones had now gone, including bluebells and wood anemones there was a lingering smell of the wild garlic from the now withered looking leaves.  Other flowers were also taking their place including bramble flowers, poppies and various types of orchid.  With the flowers were large numbers of insects and the air was alive with the buzzing of bees and flies and it truly felt that the transformation from spring to summer was well underway.
Small Tortoiseshell

Once clear of the houses I headed up a track that took me slowly up the scarp slope of the Downs.  This was not a steep climb but a slow and steady one and I took the opportunity to wander slowly so that I could take in the ever-changing view as I ascended.  The heat of the day was tempered by a lovely breeze and as I reached the top of the Downs I got the full benefit.  Alongside my path were lots of brambles and these were alive with butterflies, especially small tortoiseshells, which seem to absolutely love these extensive thickets.

Chantry Hill Poppies
At the top of the slope a large piece of stone caught my eye, principally as this is so unusual in a Downland setting (chalk doesn’t tend to last too long in the open air).  When I got up close I discovered a memorial which looked half finished.  It seemed to be fashioned into a kind of chair, but the block that had been removed from the larger piece of stone to create the ‘seat’ was left to one side.  When I looked at the date of the memorial I realised that it probably was its finished state, which struck me as even odder.
Chantry Hill Views

After pausing for a few minutes I headed on my way and soon met up with the South Downs Way.  This was initially set back from the top of the ridge so my views were southward rather than northward as I would have expected.  Below me in the far distance I could see Worthing, although it looked close enough to easily walk to.  As I headed west the view of the western end of the Sussex coast and beyond towards the Isle of Wight opened up.  I always am surprised at how green this area looks, considering that the Sussex Coast is so densely populated.

Chantry Hill Views
I followed the South Downs Way until the Chantry Post Car Park.  This rather handy place is good as a base from which to launch other walking opportunities and I have no doubt that in the months to come I shall probably try a few possibilities out.  I stood and admired the view south for a few minutes (and also the radiant poppies in the adjacent fields) before heading over the ridge on to the north side. 

Common Rock Rose
This was perhaps the most delightful part of the walk.  I had a very welcome breeze in my face and a fantastic view right out across the Weald of Sussex towards Horsham and Box Hill beyond.  The sky was full of wispy cirrus clouds and I couldn’t take my eyes off the view!  Sadly my route soon took me back down the scarp slope and to the farm at the bottom of Chantry Lane.  All the way down the grassland was full of a profusion of flowers, most notably common spotted and pyramidal orchids.  At the bottom of the hill I had to cross a field of racehorse who bowled over to me to see whether I had any titbits for them to eat.

The Chantry
I headed east along the foot of the Downs, passing a hayfield getting its early summer cut.  It seemed weird seeing this already but looking at the uncut part of the field it clearly needed it.  On the other side of my path the field of barley was looking in a complete state, albeit very green and some way from harvesting.  It waved in the wind in a rather mesmerising way, creating sweeping patterns as the stalks were caught by the breeze.
Wind Blown Crops

I soon reached Sullington Church, a rather small parish church at the foot of the Downs that appears to have lost the village it was meant to serve.  I took the opportunity to take a look inside and discovered that it was very well kept and obviously well used which was rather heartening.  The stained glass windows looked particularly good in the bright sunlight.

Sullington Church Windows
My onward route back to Washington was largely through fields of broad beans.  I wouldn’t necessarily have known that from the appearance of the plants (I am no bean expert!), but the smell was unmistakable!  Virtually all the plants were in full flower and the scent from the flowers was broad beans – I can’t believe that I have lived all these years and not previously known that! 
Sullington Church

My route back to Washington was undemanding but with the day now getting a lot hotter I was rather relieved by that.  About half a mile short of the village I found myself back on the path that I had taken my outward journey on and the traffic noise soon returned.  Despite this small annoyance though this was a delightful walk and one which I think may well become a regular for me.  The view from the top of Chantry Hill is probably the highlight but I also enjoyed the two churches of Washington and Sullington

Monday, 23 June 2014

Climping Beach and The River Arun

Climping Beach

After our brief trip away our next walk was a bit closer to home and trying out one from our local edition of the Pathfinder Walk series.  This walk is no.4 in volume 66 (West Sussex and the South Downs). This was a day in which it felt like spring had properly given way to summer and it felt appropriate to include a stretch of coast in our walk.  This walk was modest in length but explores one of the few undeveloped coastal areas in Sussex between the two towns of Littlehampton and Bognor.

Prime Location
We parked at Climping Beach in the private car park by the beach (be sure to bring some money if you come).  The children were anxious to look at the beach although our route initially took us inland along the old road through the hamlet of Atherington and past the very attractive looking Baliffscourt Hotel.  This old place looks like it has a long history behind it but is in fact a bit of a sham since it was only built in the late 1920s.  It is a clever design though for it uses many features of genuine antiquity within the fabric of the building.

Black Horse
Walking along the road wasn’t the most pleasant introduction to this walk but fortunately it was the worst part and we got it over quite quickly.  Soon the shaded woods gave way to picture postcard houses and the Black Horse pub, which looks like a popular spot.  Just past here and we left the road behind, heading instead across fields towards Littlehampton. 
Atherington Cottages

The first field we crossed had a nice wide path cut through the crop suggesting that this was a popular route.  The crop itself was oil seed rape, which looks most untidy and tangled once the yellow flowers are all gone as they mostly had here.  This is big sky country for the terrain is very flat and the only views are really of the distant Downs and the very large gas holder that dominates the skyline of western Littlehampton.
Walking Through The Rapeseed

In between fields there was a profusion of wildflowers with some very large thistles and hedge woundwort not only catching our eye but also plenty of local bees too for the hedgerow was absolutely buzzing with life.  We crossed a couple of rifes that were pretty dry looking but would serve to drain the farmland and ensure that it is fit for agricultural use.  Some of the crops looked like they had had weedkiller sprayed on them, which was a bit odd.  Luckily we were able to give these sections a wide berth as we crossed to meet the old coast road that served Littlehampton.

Resplendent Poppy
Still called Ferry Road the history of the river crossing can be guessed at as despite its modest width the River Arun proved something of an obstacle for east-west traffic until the early part of the 20th Century.  Only then did a bridge get built across the Arun and when it came it was a huge iron swing bridge that certainly looked the part and yet by the 1950s it was already struggling to cope with traffic.  The road bridge was replaced with a fixed link to the north in 1973 and demolished altogether in 1980 and now is a much daintier looking footbridge across the river.  We walked over to the bridge to take a closer look and also across the River Arun.  Littlehampton is a much different place to when the original swing bridge was here as it no longer functions as a commercial port with all the wharves and yards replaced by gentrified housing.
Additional Crops

Our onward route took us down the road past mobile homes (very popular in these parts).  Any notion that this would be a quiet road now that it does not continue into the town of Littlehampton couldn’t be further from the truth.  The West Beach is very popular, possibly because it is quite undeveloped but also unusually for these parts it is entirely sand.  The road was therefore very busy as people headed off to the beach for one of their first summer visits.

Fieldside Thistle
When we reached the golf course our route took us along a path through thick hedgerows following what looked like some kind of flood defence as it was a raised bank.  This was a bit of a trial to walk along for it was very sticky with mud for much of its mile length.  Most of the way outward views were somewhat restricted by all the new growth but every now and again we got glimpses of a very busy golf course and views towards the Downs.  We also came across other walkers coming in the opposite direction and all were bemoaning the underfoot conditions.

Arun View
Eventually we came out on the beach and an unusually quiet section.  This part of the Sussex beach is most interesting from a historical point of view as for much of its length it still has plenty of wartime relics including tank traps and other concrete defences.  The authorities must have been acutely aware of its vulnerability during World War II.  Thankfully the defences were never tested so we’ll never know whether they were up to the job or not.

Golf Course
As well as the wartime relics there were also plenty of shingle plants on show and many were out in flower, although as a spectacle they were rather overshadowed by the pinks of red valerian.  This has flourished along this part of the Sussex Coast giving a good deal of colour to the landscape but perhaps stifling the growth of indigenous plants?

Fuzzy Verge
The walk along the beach wasn’t the easiest terrain and although the onward view towards Bognor Regis was most pleasing we decided to drop down to the track behind the beach.  This was rather easier to walk along but didn’t offer the views, which was a pity.  We did however get to see a family walking their horses and the girls enjoyed their encounter with them as they stopped to make friends.  Not far beyond this we were back at the car park from where we had started.
Back to Climping Beach

This was a pleasant walk but in truth it needs a really nice day to get the most out of it.  I am not sure how much interest there might be during the winter but in my opinion the wildflowers saved it.  Without them and the odd point of interest such as the Arun Bridge (which isn’t on the official route) and the beach the walk could be described as mildly diverting rather than full of interest.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Ironbridge World Heritage Site

Madeley Court
When the weather is dull but dry I find that the best way of making the most of the weather is to focus less on the scenery and more on the history of a place.  On the occasion of this walk we were faced with the possibility of a mostly overcast day and so our original plan of exploring somewhere scenic in Shropshire where we were staying took a bit of a back seat.  Armed with volume 14 of the Pathfinder series (Shropshire and Staffordshire) we decided upon walk no.15 as this would take us around most of the main sights of the Ironbridge World Heritage Site, the cradle of the Industrial Revolution.

Making Friends
We were actually staying at a hotel en route (Madeley Court), so it made sense for us to do this walk for so many reasons especially as we wouldn’t need to go anywhere in the car.  It also meant that we didn’t start at the beginning of the walk but about half way round.

Former Shop
Madeley Court is a rather curious place.  It was originally built by an industrialist, Basil Brooke, in the 16th Century.  It has all the hallmarks of a well appointed and rather expensive country house hotel, except that in reality it is occupied by a hotel more at the budget end of the market.  It was certainly a memorable place to stay for its surroundings, but the rooms themselves were a lot more ordinary.  It seems like an opportunity missed, but then if it were in a more picturesque town it would probably have been out of our price range.

Coalbrookdale Church
Our route took us around the lake in front of the hotel and then headed eastwards.  In truth the first couple of miles of the walk were fairly ordinary but surprisingly rural considering that the appearance of the map suggested we were in the heart of Telford New Town.  The path meandered alongside fields and above us were threatening skies suggesting that rain might come at any time.  The tracks themselves weren’t easy going either – we found a lot of mud impeding our progress on the early section.  Yet, the children were happy with their surroundings and even more so when they found a field full of ponies that they said hello to.
View From The Rotunda

After awhile the industrial relics of the past started coming into sight.  Firstly we followed a goods railway for a short distance that didn’t look as though it was well used.  A glance at the map soon showed that this was part of a much wider network of lines, most of which were now defunct.  We followed the railway line down past an old ironworks and mill where it was quite obvious that it would once have been powered by the millpond that has now receded into nature and provides a lovely habitat for all manner of water-dwelling creatures.  A little further on and we took a little detour through a community orchard, where passers-by were encouraged to pick the fruit on the trees.  Alas a little early in the year for us to take part but nevertheless I did think it a wonderful idea.

How it Once Looked
Here we met a road lined with houses dating from the industrial age.  These were the well appointed ones, suggesting that they would have been owned by the mill-owning classes or the senior managers.  I imagine that even in the 21st Century they would be desirable places to live.  As we rounded the corner my eyes were drawn to an empty shop, not because it was empty but because it seemed to belong to a long gone era of shops.  I have no idea how long it has been empty but it had all the appearances of being from the 1960s or 1970s.  I rather wish it were still functioning for I would have loved going into such a time warp.

Iron Bridge
We were now in Coalbrookdale, famous as the place where smelting iron using coke first caught on and rendering my home county of Sussex as a redundant place for iron smelting since wood was no longer needed.  The old works is still functioning and is now under the ownership of Aga/ Rayburn, a rather suitable modern owner as they make very robust and rather traditional cookers.
View from the Iron Bridge

We were rather too focused on the old plant and missed the turn up to the old church that stood on the hill, rather mocking us.  A quick change of route plan that did not involve us doubling back took us instead up a rather steep hill to regain the right route.  The decision to head to the top was definitely the right one though as we soon came upon the best viewpoint of the whole walk in the shape of the site of The Rotunda.  Sadly the old rotunda is no longer with us but was built for local folk to admire the view of the industrial wonder of the industrial age in the shape of Ironbridge.  Even in the modern era this is quite a special view although I wonder how many visitors to this famous valley actually know of its existence?
Former Blast Furnace at Bedlam

After admiring the view for a few minutes we headed down the very steep flight of steps down into the valley below.  Despite Ironbridge’s gentrification and modernisation as a rather middle class looking place these days, it must have been a different story back in the 1780s.  Many of the buildings still exist including kilns and other manufacturing plants but have been turned into swanky eating establishments, twee craft shops or other places designed to cash in on the ‘visitor experience’.  Yet despite this overwhelming commercialism Ironbridge has retained an air of dignity and when we finally arrived at the bridge itself it was hard not to feel very impressed at its ingenuity.

Exploring the route to Bridgnorth
The bridge no longer has an important bridging role over the River Severn, other than for curious pedestrians, but has its place in history as the first major structure to have been built of cast iron, made possible by the recent discovery of smelting using coke.  No traffic has used the bridge since 1934 and the bridge is now one of the most important constructions from that era.
Jackfield Level Crossing

Our onward route was on the south side of the River Severn, over which we had just crossed.  For the next couple of miles our route took us along an old railway route, now turned cycle path.  This was still pretty mucky in places, which made us wonder how much rain this area had had.  Although the railway line itself was rather featureless and wooded for much of its length we did come across a viewpoint across to the old blast furnaces at Bedlam.  There is a famous painting of this old plant showing was a fearsome place it must have been.  The painting resembles a volcanic eruption in its intensity.  Further along the track we stopped at The Black Swan, a pub in the settlement of Jackfield.  Lunch here is highly recommended – we had a lovely meal washed down with a pint of the local brew.

Severn Footbridge at Coalport
Feeling fortified we had rather an unpleasant little section of path to negotiate across a building site created by pylon replacement work.  We took to the dismantled railway for a bit further rather than the scheduled route, which was closed for walkers.  We also passed the Jackfield Tile Museum, which sounded rather dull.  I assume that the interest is in the artwork of the tile rather than the methods of making them?  Anyhow it was far too tough a sell for our children to contemplate so we passed by.
Hay Inclined Plane

Eventually at Coalport we had to cross the river once again and found ourselves at the foot of the Hay Inclined Plane.  This former rail/ canal interchange looked rather derelict now especially as the canal was covered with a sheen of duckweed.  The complex here reminded us of the one we encountered at Peak Forest a few years back near Whaley Bridge.

Coalport Industrial Complex
We popped into the shop at one of the museums here and found some rather inviting looking stuff for purchase although it was completely impractical for us to consider as we still had a couple of miles to walk so we left empty handed.  Our onward route took us along the route of another old railway line, this time the former branch to Coalport from Wellington.  Truth be told the route wasn’t the most exciting apart from the tunnel about half a mile north of Coalport, which provoked some echoing amusement for the children as they passed through.  Eventually we found ourselves back at Madeley Court after a couple of miles of railway walking interrupted by a road that has usurped some of the route.
Coalport Tunnel

This walk was a good tour of many of the industrial sites in the Ironbridge Gorge area and if armed with one of the museum passports that are on offer, could make for a good link walk between museums.  I have to say though that of our party I was probably the only one who would really have been interested.  The girls were happy with the length of walk, some of the industrial relics they saw, the view of Ironbridge but perhaps most of all they were happy with their pub lunch halfway along the route J

Monday, 9 June 2014

Sapperton and Daneway

Sapperton Church

Over the years I have been well served by walks from the Jarrold Pathfinder series of books and I have found that they provide a useful introduction to areas that I don’t know in particular.  Now that we are walking more often as a family group it makes sense to take some of the stress out of working out routes by taking a guide along with us & using one of the walks if we have a spare bit of time. 

Buttercup Field
For this particular walk we found ourselves in exactly that position as we stopped in the Cotswolds on our way to visiting a friend in Shropshire.  We used guide number 6 for the Cotswolds and picked out walk 12 as one that we would like to try out.  This would give us a blend of history and countryside as we walked the area around the village of Sapperton.

We started at Sapperton village church, dedicated to St Kenelm, a saint I have never previously heard of but certainly a hero in these parts as he was a local saint venerated in mediaeval times.  We decided to save looking at the church in more detail until the end of our walk.  This was supposed to be a fairly easy walk round but became unexpectedly challenging almost straight away as we were a little confused by the directions.  The path led from directly behind the phone box in the village and crossed a stile in the hedgerow just beyond.  We then turned immediately to the left to head along the side of pastures that were clearly used for the grazing of horses (judging by the fencing), although there were none in evidence.

Wild Garlic
The navigation problems soon out of the way and we faced a different challenge.  Clearly this area had had some significant rainfall for the paths were pretty stodgy in places and almost impassable in places.  We were soon looking pretty brown and we’d barely even started!

Despite the mud the sounds of the birds and smell of the wildflowers and especially the sweet smell of May blossom filled the air.  We passed the substantial house of The Leasowes, rather tucked away in the valley below.  Every now and again we got the glimpse of a view into the distance and along the valleys that cut their way through the plateau of The Cotswolds.  Eventually our narrow muddy path gave way to a meadow filled with buttercups that was a feast for the eyes.  As we paused to enjoy the view a caterpillar dropped on my wife’s arm and this caused a good deal of interest from all of us.

Fording the River
We dropped down into the Frome valley and forded the river.  The path down was treacherous and how we didn’t come out of it without slithering down on our bottoms is beyond me.  At the bottom of the valley we got a glimpse of Pinbury Park, a large and imposing 16th Century house built for Sir Robert Atkyns, the county historian in 1712.  The surroundings are probably little changed since then.

Pinbury Park

After fording the river we had a steep but sort climb up through the woods.  The air was thick with the scent of wild garlic, which grew in profusion everywhere under the tree canopy.  Of additional interest was the fungi that lived on the trees, not a sight you expect to see during spring months.

Tunley Cottage
At the top of the hill we passed through open fields and eventually on to a road.  By now the woodland birdsong had been replaced by the unmistakeable sound of skylarks, one of my favourite songs in the countryside.  We were now headed along a road, which was mercifully quiet and provided a welcome respite from the mud.  For awhile the road headed along the plateau but soon descended into another wooded valley, which characterise this part of the Cotswolds.  We didn’t head too far down the valley though, turning left at Tunley Cottage, a house that looked suspiciously like a holiday bolthole.  The path led straight across the back garden, which was a little disconcerting and we were rather pleased that no-one appeared to be at home.

Daneway Valley
Our onward path had us cross a number of flower filled meadows that were strangely devoid of animals before we crossed into an area of scrub filled mostly with hawthorn trees.  After a few metres we were treated to the marvellous view of the Daneway valley, named after the large house that occupies it.  This house, which the walker will only catch a glimpse of, dates back to a similar period as Pinbury Park earlier and the two houses seem to have been linked at some point in the past, principally to house a family that was having remodelling done at the other location.  The valley was a riot of colour and especially yellow, green and white as the predominating blossom colours of the time.
Horse Petting

We walked along the valley, finding another field of friendly horses as we did so.  One of the ponies was most unusual in that he had the most amazing looking blue eyes.  They were all most anxious to make our acquaintance and the girls were only too happy to oblige with handfuls of luscious grass from our side of the gate.  We could still be there if it was up to the girls, but I eventually persuaded them to move on and we disappeared into Siccaridge Wood Nature Reserve.  Sadly for us the muddy paths came back, but by now the sun had properly come out and it was really quite warm.

Thames and Severn Canal
The section through Siccaredge Woods was largely downhill and all alongside the path were wild flowers (and some not so wild, like columbine) that the local butterflies were going crazy for.  We also got a glimpse out into the wider world through the trees at a couple of points.  The path was much more popular now too as we met several other walkers coming our way when previously we had not seen any on our travels.  The path descended more steeply at the end until we got to the bottom of the valley and found the defunct Thames and Severn Canal, originally designed to provide a direct water link between the two great rivers.
Former Canal Lock

This old route was never a great success and water supply seems to have been a problem from the start as no reservoirs were built to provide water storage.  Certainly the towpath that we followed for the next mile or so was in rather better condition than the waterway it served.  We were reaching the summit level as we headed eastwards and all along our route we could see the remains of the old locks.  In fact the drops to the bottom were rather precipitous in places and we made sure to keep well back away from the crumbling edges.  We stopped for a brief while to enable a quiet walk for we managed to unwillingly meet up with a family who were rather loud and obnoxious along the way.
Daneway Pub

After a mile or so of canal walking we found the pub called The Daneway.  This old place would once have been a useful watering hole for the canal people but now seemed to be a very popular place for pub lunches.  We were very full from our breakfast so did not indulge but we did stop for a drink and I had the wonderfully named Old Prickly, a beer specially brewed to help out the Hedgehog Preservation Society.
Sapperton Tunnel

From the pub we had a short walk along the towpath a little further to find Sapperton Tunnel.  This was the longest canal tunnel for many years when it was first built and even now it remains the fourth longest in the country.  There are plans for restoring it but this would be a monumental task for in places it has collapsed.  We climbed back up the hill just beyond the tunnel through one of those wonderful buttercup and daisy filled fields we had been admiring all day and back into the village of Sapperton.  We had a look around the churchyard before finding our way back to the car, but we were so brown and muddy that we did not think it a good idea to go inside and spread our mud around.  The outside appeared to be undergoing some restoration but we still admired the fine windows that are said to date from Queen Anne’s time.

Climbing Back Into Sapperton
This was a very fine walk spoiled only slightly by the mud and so care should be taken to pick a dry time to get the most from it.  A stop at the Daneway pub is to be recommended and although I cannot vouch for the food the portions looked plentiful and tasty from the other visitors who were there at the same time as us.