Sunday, 31 May 2015

Horsted Keynes and the Bluebell Railway

Horsted Keynes
For my next walk I had a little companion in the shape of oldest daughter so deliberately picked a shorter walk for us to do.  Given that we were still in the height of bluebell season it seemed somehow appropriate to undertake a walk in the vicinity of the Bluebell Railway and walk number 9 from volume 66 of the Pathfinder Guide West Sussex and the South Downs fitted the bill perfectly.

Horsted Keynes Church
We parked in the heart of Horsted Keynes village rather than the suggested start point of Horsted Keynes station.  This seemed a more sensible option considering that we were not going to be paying passengers today.  We dropped down from the village green and headed along the road towards the church admiring the laburnham and apple blossom that was now out in full flush along the way.  It wasn't long before we turned off the road to head down a path between fields that was lavishly decorated with all manner of spring flowers and several butterflies that had come to see what good eating was in the area.  In particular we stood and admired a small tortoiseshell that had landed on the path right in front of us.

Small Tortoiseshell
A little way further along the path and we came to the first lake of the day - one of a series of furnace ponds that would once have driven water wheels for the iron industry.  Once a commonplace industry in this part of Sussex the iron works have long since disappeared, leaving only the ponds as a reminder of what was once here.  Of course nature has done its best to ensure that they now look as if they have always been there and the ponds provide useful habitats for so many species.  The dam end of the lake was also pretty marshy so we had to watch our step as we made our way along this side.

Greater Stitchwort
On the other side was a small woodland and our track was still pretty wet so we had to pick our way through as we admired the show of bluebells along the way.  At the top end of the wood a woodpecker feverishly tapped away at the trunk of a dead tree.  We also had a treat in the shape of a small patch of common spotted orchids growing in place of bluebells in a small corner of the woodland.

First Lake
Just past the wood and we reached the road that heads down to the station at Horsted Keynes.  As with many country stations this one was built some distance from the village it was intended to serve.  In fact Horsted Keynes station is more than a mile from the village, which was far from convenient for any passenger wanting to catch the train.  Unusually though this station had a large choice of destinations for it was easy to get to London, Brighton, Lewes, East Grinstead and Haywards Heath from here.  Even now in its guise as a through station rather than country junction it is an impressive sight as it was built with slightly preposterous extravagance considering the passenger numbers that would once have used it.  The final train under British Rail management left the station in 1963 and shortly after the station became the northern terminus of the preserved Bluebell Railway until 1994 when the northern extension to Kingscote opened.

Horsted Keynes Station
We took the opportunity to have our lunch in the picnic area outside the station and wait for the next train to come.  Horsted Keynes is a passing point for the trains on the Bluebell Railway but we had to be patient for the trains as there was nearly an hour before their arrival.  Eventually the appointed hour came and we headed on our way to the bridge at the northern end of the station.  Unfortunately I misjudged the arrival time for the down train and it came earlier than I expected and we missed it.  By the time we reached the bridge it was already in the station.  We did hang around for the up train though and it wasn't long before the chuffing of the engine came through.  As the northward trains have to negotiate a couple of steep climbs the show they put on is rather better than the down trains anyhow.  My daughter was thrilled to reprise what many schoolboys of the early 20th Century must have done - watch the smoke billow up across her face as the train thundered through underneath the bridge.

Up Train Approaching
Excitement over we continued on our way.  Unusually the onward path took up residence on the trackbed alongside the working line (albeit with a fence between us).  Alongside the path was a pretty healthy crop of wild strawberries, although these were only in the flowering stage and not bearing fruit just yet.  Alongside the trees were also sporting nice new foliage and the scene was one of a healthy lime green for the most part.  Sadly we had lost the sun now and for the remaining part of the walk it was overcast conditions, which was a little sad considering how promising the day had been.

Heading North
After half a mile or so we crossed the line by means of a walkers level crossing and headed up the side of the field opposite to an over bridge.  Our path took us away from the railway now but we passed a family having a picnic in the next field who had a panoramic view of the line.  I suspect they had chosen that spot very wisely...

Level Crossing
We crossed the same road we had done earlier (albeit further north) at a place called Tanyard, which was a very well appointed looking house that would probably appear on any lottery winner's wish list.  We crossed a steep field to the side of it and then across another dam and pond at the bottom.  Such little features I think make any walk that bit more special.  My daughter certainly enjoyed it although the drop at the far end reminded us briefly of our time in Madeira!  

We rounded a very large field on the other side of the woods, catching a view of the South Downs far away in the distance as we did so.  By now the sun had completely disappeared so what should have been a magnificent view was in fact a rather duller version than we could have hoped for.  Never mind though for we were to dive into the woods again for more bluebells.  As the walk turned into more of a pleasant stroll through pleasant but unremarkable countryside our conversations got a little deeper and I have to confess that I concentrated less on my surroundings and more on the company.

Broadhurst Lake
Eventually we dropped down into some woods that headed along a track that looked as if it could once have been a road but never quite made it as a surfaced lane.  We passed by Broadhurst Manor, now an animal sanctuary and guarded by a very large wall.  On our right began a succession of ponds and we were rather amused to see a family of geese doing what looked like formation swimming.  At the far end of the woods and ponds we came upon Horsted Keynes churchyard.  We paused to take a look as there is a rather famous person buried there in the shape of former Prime Minister Harold MacMillan.  Despite his importance his grave was rather overshadowed by a family member.  Nevertheless it was an interesting talking point for my daughter who of course had never heard of him.  He was Prime Minister before I was born so I have no memory of him in that role but I do remember him in later life when he was in the House of Lords.  It kicked off a lengthy conversation about politics which my daughter has only recently become aware of.

MacMillan Grave
From the church it was a short wander back to the car.  Despite the modest length of this walk (5 miles) we really enjoyed the varied nature of the scenery and the different aspects of Sussex history that we explored.  It was also a good reminder that Sussex isn't just about the Downs - other areas like this are just as interesting and enjoyable to explore.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Amberley and Parham House

The Sportsman
I have to admit this walk is a favourite of mine having done it many times.  It was pleasing therefore to find it as one of the walks featured in volume 66 of the Pathfinder Guides West Sussex and the South Downs.  On a bright clear Sunday morning I was anxious to get up and out early for the first time during the summer season.  What I was not prepared for though was the freshness of the morning - it was seriously cold when I went out at 8am!

Amberley Village
Instead of parking at the top of Kithurst Hill as suggested I actually parked in Amberley village.  This gave me the advantage of getting the steep climb of Amberley Mount out of the way at the start of the walk rather than at the end.  Amberley had not yet properly woken up when I arrived and so my walk down through the village was pretty quiet.  That also meant that I was at liberty to admire many of the beautiful houses in the village without appearing to be too nosy!

The Black Horse
It was sad to see that the Black Horse still hasn't managed to attract a buyer or tenant as although it has managed to stave off redevelopment the position it finds itself in surely cannot continue forever.  I cannot fathom why it hasn't been taken on for it is right in the heart of the village and ought to be the centre of the community.  The Sportsman pub further along the road is faring much better - still open and apparently doing a reasonable trade despite being in a much less convenient location.

Turret House
Once through the village I began the climb up on to the Downs.  This was along the road at first and meant that I probably ascended half of the hill without even realising that I had climbed.  All along the side of the road the hawthorn blossom was bursting forth as we made the transition between the early spring flowers and those that come along later.

Framed Calf
Soon I passed the big red house at the top of the land above Amberley Museum and this was where I would leave the road behind me and take to the chalky track that heads up to the crest of the Downland ridge.  This is a house that I have admired for a long time - it looks very well appointed and must have the most magnificent view across the Arun Valley to Bignor Hill beyond.  I would soon have the very same view but would have to go a little higher up the slope in order to do so.  I passed a field of very hungry looking cows all chowing down on the feed that they had been left.  With many calves in evidence I suspect that these cattle needed more calories than most.  It was hard also not to think 'awww' when looking at the littlest calves - some could have been no more than a few days old.  I wasn't the only admirers - a small group of women runners stopped for their 'awww' moment too :)

Amberley Castle
They had run down the steepest part of the slope without stumbling or falling - quite a feat.  I looked forward to the next keep fit fanatic doing even better when I saw him come over the crest of the hill on his mountain bike.  Sadly he never gave me the pleasure of seeing what he could do as he was off and walking as soon as he saw the gradient!  To be fair I think he had the right idea - I'm not sure I would have tried it either.

Amberley Mount View
Eventually I puffed my way to the top of the hill and was glad that I had warmed up considerably from my climb for the breeze on the ridge was pretty stiff.  It was pretty difficult to hold the camera still for any kind of photography so thank goodness for plenty of fence posts along the way.  When I thought I had got to the top of the hill I discovered that the climbing continued for some time afterwards.  Luckily I was mostly distracted by the fantastic views to the left and right of me.  I was soon joined by a farmer who drove across the field to my left to tend to his sheep.  Looking at the field they were in you could be forgiven for thinking they had had a pillow emptied out all over it for the grass was covered in what looked like little balls of cotton wool.

Arundel Castle
Eventually I got to Kithurst Hill car park.  By now Sunday felt like it was truly waking up for there were horse riders, cyclists and dog walkers all along the South Downs Way.  I was rather glad I had done this section early for it was relatively quiet and I think I missed most of the crowds.  I had seen a group of ramblers ahead at one point but luckily they must have gone another way for I soon lost sight of them.  Regular readers of this blog will know that large groups of ramblers in the countryside are one of my pet hates!

Best View in the World
At Kithurst Hill car park I headed down the steep slope to the foot of the Downs once more.  Initially I passed through a beautiful meadow of flowers before finding a sunken lane that took me to the foot of the slope.  When I left the woods behind me the fields were full of rape seed and the field edges full of apple blossom from the fringing trees.  The heady aromas of both rather jarred though - they did not really complement each other.  

Parham House From the Downs
I soon reached the main road that heads from Storrington to Amberley.  Judging by the toll house I passed I am guessing this was once a turnpike road - now it is of only secondary importance but I did get lucky in crossing straight away for it can get very busy especially on a Sunday.  On the opposite side of the road I follow a quiet lane down towards Storrington airfield.  All along the road I admired the trees now coming out into their summer clothing - I particularly like the fresh greens that first emerge in the spring.  Some of the trees alongside the lane are also enormous specimens - I bet they have seen a few changes to the landscape over the years...

Ridge Walk
Eventually after passing a succession of enormous houses I came to the main road that skirts the airfield in Storrington.  There was an awful lot of activity going on unsurprisingly.  This airfield is primarily used by a local gliding club and every few minutes gliders were being launched into the air being towed along by small and rather angry sounding little planes.  I imagine once up in the sky it must be lovely to watch the world below you very peacefully - for me I had to make do with the fascination of watch it all unfold.
Kithurst Hill

I turned sharp left and headed along the estate road to Parham House.  Sadly for me when I approached the lodge house I found the ramblers that I had lost earlier.  I had to wait for them to move on before I could get a decent shot of the old lodge.  This took longer than expected for they used the opportunity to wait for all the stragglers - bloomin' typical!  Eventually they moved on and I got my picture and headed in the opposite direction. 

Magnificent Tree
I walked the length of the estate road right to the front of Parham House.  Strictly speaking this isn't on the route but I wanted to get a couple of pictures of the house close up as it is such a wonderful looking building.  The old house is open to the public but surprisingly wasn't open yet on that particular Sunday, despite the fact that it was by now late morning.  The house itself is ostensibly Elizabethan and is still in private hands, something of a rarity for a house of this ilk.  It does make a great place to visit but be aware that it only opens in the afternoons!

Glider Plane
The walk across the estate is one of my favourite walks in all of Sussex and we quite often come up here for a bit of a stroll, especially in the autumn when the kids like looking out for deer and conkers.  We usually start at the western end of the estate as it is rather easier to park there.  In fact if I had been smart I would have parked there again for this would now be the end of my walk :)
Parham House

Once through the estate I joined the section of path I had walked on one of the Arun Valley walks that I blogged a couple of years back.  I headed off the sandy ridge that Parham is built on and across the gault clay to the south.  Catch this on the wrong day and you could be squelching past Rackham watermill and across the fields - not pleasant walking then.  Today though was a delight for the dry conditions meant that the last mile was a lot easier than most times I have been this way.

Rackham Mill
This is a delightful walk showcasing some of the best Downland scenery that Sussex has to offer with magnificent views across to Arundel, Bognor and the Isle of Wight to the south and as far away as Black Down and the North Downs to the north.  Once off the ridge the section through Parham is surely one of the best landscapes parks in the south of England?  I picked a perfect day for it too :)

Sunday, 3 May 2015

The Devil's Punchbowl

Punchbowl Viewpoint
My birthday walk this year took place a day after the actual day due to other commitments.  Actually it was no bad thing as the weather wasn't all that special.  The day I chose was supposed to be extra special because of the best solar eclipse to be seen in the British Isles since 1997.  I had thought that it might be a unique addition to the walk but in the event the weather was stubbornly overcast and my chances of seeing anything were slimmer up country than they were down here on the coast.  Sadly I ended up seeing nothing more than a brief darkening of the sky at the appointed hour.

Looking Out at The Murk
The forecast did promise rather better though especially in Surrey and so it was there that I headed once again.  Time was rather limited though so I satisfied myself with a trip to the Devil's Punchbowl.  I had been meaning to go here for some time and my memory was probably activated by passing by on the way to Frensham Pond a few weeks earlier.  What I was particularly interested in seeing was how the landscape had changed since the re-routing of the A3 a few years ago.  The old turnpike road used to follow the contours of the Punchbowl and was one of the worst bottlenecks on any road in the south east of England.  It was so bad that I would not have dreamed of coming to walk up here a few years ago such was the traffic noise.  My only experience of it was walking the Greensand Way first leg 11 years ago (one of the first entries of this blog) and then I only flirted with it thankfully.

Muddy Gully
When I arrived at the Devil's Punchbowl the changes to the road network were immediately apparent.  What was once the A3 is now a cul-de-sac road that is traffic calmed and leads only to the car park of the National Trust visitor centre and cafe.  The remaining part of the road has been expunged and returned to nature - more about that later.

Ridgeway Farm
I lingered for a little while hoping that the resolutely grey skies would clear as promised.  When that didn't seem to be happening any time soon I thought I ought to get on my way.  This was to be a loop of approximately five miles as detailed as walk 12 in volume 65 of the Pathfinder Guides Surrey Walks.  I headed off in a clockwise direction around the loop, not bothering to hang around at the viewpoint for very long on account of the murky conditions.  On a good day the mist can hang around in the hollow of the Devil's Punchbowl and even spill over into the surrounding countryside while all around is sunny, hence its name.  No such luck as I headed out but I was keeping the faith.

Punchbowl Stream
As I headed down the western side of the Punchbowl the crowds soon melted away and apart from one or two more intrepid strollers I largely had the countryside to myself.  I came upon a plaque that described the giving of the area to the National Truct and it was rather a poignant story.  A barrister by the name of William Alexander Robertson left a bequest to the Trust to purchase a piece of land as a memorial to two of his younger brothers who were killed in the First World War.  The purchase of this piece of land was made possible by the bequest.

As I headed downhill the monotonous colour of the day was broken up by the cheerful yellows of clumps of daffodils and gorse now coming into full flush of flowers.  The slope got steadily steeper until I reached what can only be described as a steep sided gully that proved to be quite tough going for a short distance courtesy of the mud that had developed at the bottom from the remnants of rainwater flowing this way and helped by horses.  Luckily this section was short lived and opened out into a lane that soon turned into a tarmac road.  I didn't continue along this though, taking a sharp right turn and heading along another old lane that I imagine would once have been part of the local road network.

Waiting for the cloud to shift
I passed by a beautiful old farmhouse before descending into a wooded valley with a stream at the bottom that presumably was the product of whatever spring exists further up into the Devil's Punchbowl.  The woods were definitely still dressed for winter with little sign of spring here.  I crossed the stream and headed up the steep slope the other side.  The sharp turns and steep slope probably put paid to any notion that this could be have been turned from a lane into a proper road but there were signs further along that made me laugh for there was a suggestion that motorised traffic could travel at national speed limits!

Old A3 Crossing
I was soon turning right again to head back up the eastern side of the Punchbowl and use the Greensand Way route that I had walked all those years ago.  I soon realised how little I remembered the route, possibly because in those younger days I focused more on mileage than my surroundings and walked these sections far quicker.  I walked fairly slowly up the slop as I had a notion that the stubborn clouds were showing signs of parting enough to let the sun through.  I even sat on a handy bench and watched the wind do its best to blow them away once and for all.  It made for an interesting sight, with billowing movements passing up through the hollow of the Punchbowl.  Still though I never got what I wanted and felt compelled to move on to allow enough time for a cup of tea at the end of my walk.

Hindhead Tunnel Overlook
My prayers were answered finally as I reached the top of the hill close to the memorial to an unknown sailor who was murdered here back in 1786.  The clouds cleared very quickly once they started and within minutes the day transformed from overcast to brilliant blue and clear skies.  I had crossed the old A3; a crossing that had been quite tough back in 2004 but was now anything but now that there are no cars.  Indeed it was a bit eerie seeing an abandoned road - this is a rare sight compared to the number of abandoned railways that we see up and down the country.  I was curious to see what had replaced it and took the opportunity to head down to the observation area above the tunnel that now takes the A3 underneath the hill safely out of earshot.  The improvement to the area is immeasurable.

Gibbet Hill Memorial
I wandered up to Gibbet Hill to pass the memorial.  The story of the sailor murdered by a couple of locals keen to steal his money seemed like a different world, as did the brutal punishment for they were soon caught and hanged here.  Now that the sun was shining the crowds were out and I was thankful that it was just a short walk along to the cafe.  I walked along the side of the old road, now grassed over and landscaped back into the countryside like it was never here.  I guess eventually when the trees start colonising the transformation will be complete.  As I stood looking at this changed world I got talking to an elderly gentleman who told me a few stories about the old road and then his time during the war when he worked in the Royal Signals.  It was a very pleasant way to end my walk and I thought about his stories as I supped my tea at the cafe in the warm sun.

Devil's Punchbowl
It was a shame that the weather couldn't have played ball for the whole walk but when the sun did come it made such a difference to the landscape.  I think this is a walk that my children would enjoy and feel certain that it won't be the last time we come this way.