Friday, 29 December 2017

Petworth Park

Setting  Off

Sometimes you don't have to walk far to pack a lot of scenery and interest in and that is certainly the case for this one.  We did this walk when autumn was at its zenith and were keen on making a trip to Petworth Park so we could see both the trees in colour and the rutting deer.  Petworth Park does not appear in any of the Guidebooks we have so we decided to have a go at one of the estate walks provided by the National Trust instead.  There are many such walks to explore so they will probably be a feature of future expeditions.

Autumn Colours
It was one of those glorious autumn days where there is still a little residual warmth in the air from the sun.  We had by now had quite a lot of autumn rain though and conditions in places promised to be a bit sticky as a result.  The walk starts at the north end of Petworth Park at the car park close to the A283.  It is possible to start at one of the other car parks but you will have a different starting point and will almost inevitably have to walk further as a result.  Be warned about this car park though - it is extremely popular and you may struggle to find a space on the nicest days.

Initially the walk runs parallel with the main road heading south.  The walk is designed to highlight the most notable species of tree in the park which was landscaped by Capability Brown back in the 1750s.  I wonder what Mr Brown would make of today's planning laws?  I find it unlikely that he would have got very far with any of his landscaped parks if he were building them now and yet it is unthinkable that these most celebrated parks should not exist.

Great Oak
The first of the highlighted trees we reached were some mature specimens of English oak (Quercus robur), beech (Fagus sylvatica) and aspen (Populus tremula) in the woodland surrounding the car park. Soon the path took a route through trees on both sides. It wasn't much further on that we encountered a tree with a plaque behind it on the wall declaring it to be the Beelzebub Oak.  It derived this name because the land beyond the boundary was considered to be spiritually suspect!  The tree itself is at least 250 years old, suggesting that it may have been planted at the same time the park was laid out

Lower Pond
A little further on was the Lower Pond, a smaller and less celebrated body of water than the one immediately in font of the main house.  Some of the trees that surround the pond were already mature when the park was laid out, which gives some clue to their relative ages.  The largest oak and sweet chestnuts are reckoned to be at least 350 years old.  It seems that the pond was an attractive way to deal with the problem of flooding as this area was a swamp and was described as ‘fowle and deepe of myre’.

Climbing Up To Lawn Hill
When following a walk such as this you get a different insight into the landscape.  I have walked past dead trees many times but only fleetingly have I given much thought about their importance as a habitat.  We passed by one just the other side of the pond dam which has been cut back only to make it safe. As the guide pointed out wherever possible standing dead wood, fallen wood, twigs and leaf litter is left to support a wide variety of fungi, insects, birds and bats. Leaving the dead wood enables nature to carry out its recycling work and is credited with the difference in recovery from the 1987 Hurricane in managed and unmanaged woodlands.  Those where the dead wood was left behind largely recovered more quickly than those where the wood was removed.

By now we became aware of barking dogs and quickly realised that we were passing a boarding kennel.  I suspect they were doing brisker business than usual on account of it being half term.  When I rechecked the guide at this point to make sure we were taking the right path I was astonished to read that a bypass was planned to come through the park here in the early 1970s.  An act of vandalism on that scale would have been unforgiveable but fortunately the plans were shelved, I imagine as one of the victims of the Oil Crisis of 1973.

Upper Pond
As we headed up the hill we passed possibly the oldest tree in the Park, one of three very old English oaks. This ancient tree is estimated to be some 940 years old, so would have been a very young tree at the time of the Norman invasion. At the top of the hill we crossed Lawn Hill to a fallen sweet chestnut which was a casualty of the 1987 storm and was a mere 265 years old at the time of its demise.

Main Track
The Upper Lake was now in view as we continued across the brow of the hill.  From here we could see the South Downs and the Greensand Ridge to the north. For my money this was the best part of the whole walk - you could really get a feel for the vision that Capability Brown had from this spot.  It would have been hard to imagine how the park looked in his day for clearly many of the trees would have been much reduced in size and the water features would still have looked rather imposed on the landscape.  We soon dropped down the hill to meet the shoreline of the lake and followed around it for a short distance.

Clouds and Tree in Harmony
Within the copse around the lake we noted the mature Swamp Cypress (Taxodium distichum), which were introduced from North America in 1638. I remember seeing these when I walked through another park in London while undertaking the LOOP many years ago.  The shoreline path follows some metal railings and these are designed to exclude most of the browsing deer and allow scrub to grow beneath the trees.  This then provides a haven for wildlife, supporting breeding birds such as chiffchaff, willow warbler, black cap and nectar for insects
View Across the Park

As the trees thinned we climbed up and away from the pond. When we came upon to a very old hollow Common Lime (Tilia x europaea), we stopped to explore it a bit.  Experts have found aging this tree rather difficult as the trunk has fragmented.  It could be is 500 to 600 years old with a girth of 7.46m. It could continue as a hollow shell for several hundred years and certainly didn't seem to be in distress.  We paused here for a period of time and had the lunch that we had brought with us.

Once refreshed we continued to the top of the hill.  Once there was a farm up here but it has now long gone. We turned right on to the main track and this followed an obvious route initially through trees before opening out to another splendid view to the north.  Below us we got the first sight of the deer which call Petworth Park their home.  It was rutting season and even at a fair distance we could hear the bellows of the stags wooing the lady deer.  No doubt this is a very important season for male deer and the racks of antlers on show were quite impressive.  Many of the female deer seemed rather uninterested - they were too busy browsing and getting enough calories inside them for the winter months ahead. In fact we were so busy watching the deer that we didn't pay attention to the route and missed the opportunity to walk to the top of Monument Hill.  Perhaps we will do that another time?  I have a hunch that this would be a tremendous walk for a summer's evening.

After walking along the largely level track for some time and enjoying our vantage point for the deer below I suddenly became aware that we were approaching the car park once again and took a turn to the right to follow the line of trees that lead down to our car.  By now we were joined by other families out for a stroll and the half hour or so we had to ourselves was over.  Despite the lovely sun and the undoubted popularity of the park we did well to have solitude for that long.  I have no doubt we'll be back - that summer's evening is beckoning!


Sunday, 19 November 2017

Barcombe Mills and the Ouse Valley

Barcombe Mills Station
Back to Sussex for the next walk and this one oozes nostalgia for me as this was an area that I spent much of my youth in.  I was accompanied by big daughter for this walk courtesy of an INSET day and she got to hear plenty of stories of yesteryear as we headed round the four and a half mile loop.  This is walk 5 from Pathfinder Guide vol 67 East Sussex and the South Downs.

Trackbed North of Barcombe Mills
Our walk started at the erstwhile Barcombe Mills station, closed in 1969 and not by Dr Beeching like so many others but as a result of the severing of the route in Lewes by a road scheme.  Sadly the road scheme was obsolete by the time it was built and replaced by a by-pass only 9 years later.  After closure it was derelict for many years and became a tearoom for a short period of time before reverting to a house.  It remains in good condition even though a train hasn't called here in nearly 50 years.

When I was a kid and less than a decade after closure we moved to a house only a stone's throw from the old line and the cutting that ran past our house became a playground for me in the few years that we lived there.  By the time I was old enough I resolved to walk the length of the line and did so with a friend of mine.  We had to take a detour for part of the route at the Lewes end but it was essentially complete after that all the way into the old goods yard at Uckfield station.  The first part of our route today walked part of the trackbed to the north of Barcombe Mills station and is one of the few lengths of the route that isn't overgrown or blocked off.  For most of my life there has been much chatter about re-opening it but it would take a good deal of investment judging by the shape of it.

Autumn Colours
The trackbed here is in pretty decent condition but the going is rather easier than it was in the early 1980s when I remember this section being bare ballast.  It isn't any more although the compacted surface makes for good walking.  All along the side of the embankment were signs of autumn - plenty of berries were on show and it looks like a great corridor for wildlife these days.  After crossing a couple of bridges over drainage ditches the line became more tree lined and it was clear how much vegetation encroachment had taken place since my last expedition along here.  In fact the path was quite hemmed in in places.

Level Crossing
At the next level crossing we came upon some rails still in place but it was obvious that the way ahead was no longer accessible and we had to turn left along Anchor Lane for a short distance.  The crossing keeper's cottage was still in situ and made for a good looking home.  It was also up for sale - I wish I had a bit of loose change as I would surely have been first in the queue.  Our walk along the lane was short lived - we turned right along the rather strange Blunt's Lane.  This was seemingly a bit of spare ground between fields and hemmed in by hedges rather than a lane that I would normally have recognised.  Along the way we passed by a pillbox notable for the poor condition of its bricks.  Rather bizarrely the mortar looked in far better shape.

Our luck then ran out with underfoot conditions as we found ourselves walking along a tributary of the River Ouse.  The mud was pretty horrific along a short stretch of path and we went quickly from pristine to being completely covered!  Fortunately this section was short lived and after we had crossed via a small footbridge we managed to find a much more dry path across the next field.  By now the overcast day was relenting a bit too and the odd patch of sunshine was helping us along our way.

The next bridge took us across the River Ouse proper and our route back would now largely be long the riverbank back to Barcombe Mills.  It wasn't far past this spot that we saw our only other walker on the whole day - a dog walker helping keep his dog clean by throwing a ball in the river for him.  He had the right idea for a little further along and the mud came back to haunt us as we approached the old railway once again, this time by a bridge over the river.  This bridge still seems to be in good condition despite the length of time since a train passed over it.  I imagine it was left here because of the relative difficulty of retrieving it.

Ouse Bridge
A little further past the bridge and we passed by the Anchor pub.  This is a good spot for a spot of lunch and perhaps on another day we might have done so but for the fact we had had lunch before setting out.  For such a remote pub (it is a couple of miles from the nearest village) it looks in pretty good health.  It is still possible to take a boating trip along the river although the boats looked completely idle today!

River Ouse
We passed by the pub and watched the weir for a short time.  I was always fascinated by this as a child - perhaps the nearest thing to a waterfall I saw in my local area!  Further along the river and we passed by a house being renovated into something quite amazing looking.  It now has a small moat around it with bridges across from the path we were on.  It all looks rather charming.

Rail Bridge
We left the river for a short while and headed across another field before coming to a lengthy footbridge that I remember very well.  I always had an affinity for footbridges and this was always one of my favourites as a kid - we used to play pooh sticks from it all the time.  From here the path winds around the river bank underneath the embankment guarding Barcombe Reservoir and I always found this a bit mysterious for you never see the expanse of water beyond.

The Anchor
Eventually we found our way back to Barcombe Mills.  This place has a couple of bits of history for me - the first are the erstwhile mills themselves.  These burned down in 1939 but the water features that served them are still in place and fascinate me as much now as when I was a boy.  The second feature is a lot more personal and rather less obvious - the Bob Davis Scout Hut which lurks at the back of a nearby farm.  I wasn't even sure it was still there as I hadn't been in more than 25 years.  I remember being at the official opening in 1979 at a tender age having just joined Scouts.  The group I belonged to was one of the strongest in all of Sussex but sadly fell by the wayside many years ago.  I was pleased to see that the hut was still there although it was obviously all shut up.  I felt rather heartened that all our hard work keeping the place going (including several repaintings - I'm not sure it always needed it but was a great excuse for staying out there) had not gone to waste.  It was a lovely way to complete our walk and for my daughter to learn more about my young life.

House Renovation
This may not be the most exciting walk and it was certainly not helped by an overcast day but for me this was a great trip down memory lane and I reckon I will do this one again in a few years time.

Pooh Sticks Bridge

Sunday, 12 November 2017

South West Coast Path Section 32 East Portholland to Mevagissey

East Portlemouth
My last day for this particular trip and the longest section that I walked across the four day sojourn.  Again I opted for a circular walk here because of the lack of available public transport.  This walk was based loosely on walk number 28 from Pathfinder Guide number 5 Cornwall Walks, although that one goes only as far as Portmellion and I added the additional one mile into Mevagissey and from East Portholland in the morning.  As a circular walk this was much more satisfying than the previous leg, partly because the headland lent itself to being cut off by an inland route.

Caerhays Castle
I parked in East Portholland and was one of the first to arrive in the morning.  I guessed that this would be very busy later as the bank holiday weather was doing everybody proud.  The tide was in when I arrived suggesting that later at the right time for the visitors it would be out.  The sun hadn't quite penetrated the western side of the hill that flanks the hamlet and so on my way up I could see a heavy dew still in place.  The path began where the road ran out - in fact it looked like the road had been abandoned as the tarmac carried on albeit at a much reduced width as the nearby vegetation had encroached.

The initial hill wasn't too big, just a nice little workout to get the juices flowing.  Soon I was in familiar countryside walking along a path hemmed in by gorse bushes but also with the odd apple tree thrown in.  I wondered whether these had all sprouted from the same original tree?  Certainly they would be good for foragers after free food as they would go nicely with the blackberries.  As the slope flatted out a bit the path came out into a large field and although the path officially ran around the edge I followed the desire line straight across diagonally, which looked rather easier in terms of the descent as well as cutting off a little distance.  Ahead of me I could see the first big milestone of Dodman Point brooding under the sunny sky.

Hemmick Beach
I soon came out into a road and headed down a steep hill to Porthluney Beach.  On my left as I rounded the last hairpin corner at the bottom I came upon a familiar sight - Caerhays Castle.  This was used in the filming of Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children in 2016, a film that I had seen only a few weeks before coming.  It isn't a true castle, more of a crenellated manor house that was designed by John Nash (who also designed the Royal Pavilion in Brighton) and built between 1807 and 1810.  Despite its slightly preposterous design (for which Nash is well known) it does fit nicely with its surroundings and the deer park laid out in front of it.

On My Way to Dodman Point
I continued along the back of the beach and watched with fascination the preparations underway at the official car park opposite for the coming of the day's visitors.  It looked like they were expecting a lot!  Strangely, given how popular the weekend was the castle itself was closed to visitors for the season and would not be reopening until Spring 2018.  It seemed like a strange decision, although often these places open only for as long as they are required to rather than to take advantage of the commercial opportunities afforded.

Dodman Point
I left the road at the other side of the valley and began to climb up Black Rock.  This was a little bigger than the last climb and I took advantage of a seat part way up to get some drink inside me and enjoy the view back across to the castle and the  cove and beach.  Already visitors were arriving although some of them looked rather rather hopeful with their surf boards.  It was never going to be a great day for them as the sea was like glass and there wasn't a breath of wind likely.  As I continued up the hill I was very pleased to be afforded shade from the trees that covered the headland (and perhaps a clue as to how it got its name).

Dodman Point View
Any notion that this would be a foothill on the way to the top of Dodman Point was soon dispelled by the fact that once at the top I had very little flat ridge before descending  once again almost back to sea level to Hemmick Beach.  This delightful little beach was overlooked by a cottage that must surely have one of the best locations along this stretch of coast.  I don't suppose they welcome the cars parked outside though - they must cause some chaos for traffic as they blocked off the passing places.  Looking at the ford at the bottom of the hill it was surprisingly full of water - not sure I would like to drive through that.

Lamledra Farm
Three miles in now and Dodman Point was signposted as being only a mile away.  I was surprised and pleased at how soon I had reached this point.  The heat of the day was building but I was pleased to be getting this stretch out of the way before the heat of the afternoon really kicked in.  The long slow climb to the top of the headland was eased by the magnificence of the views opening up across Veryan Bay.  As I got towards the top I passed a family group also making their way up this significant climb; they were the first walkers of the day that I had encountered almost two hours in.

First Glimpse of Gorran Haven
I paused at the top of Dodman Point for quite a time.  From here it was possible to see virtually all of the route I had walked this weekend and even to the Lizard beyond.  The top of the headland is marked by a large cross and I strategically positioned myself to take advantage of the shade afforded by the cross.  It was quite a relief to be out of the sun for a few minutes - it had got to me a bit as I climbed to the top of the headland.  The cross itself was not here to commemorate anything in particular - just to the glory of God and had been put here in 1896.
Gorran Haven

After draining  more water and feeling suitably rested I pressed on, allowing another group to take up the sitting position they had been looking at with envy all the time I was in place.  For me now the path would be descending for quite a time into the village of Gorran Haven, as yet still out  of sight.  The next couple of miles were quite remarkable scenery as I descended slowly along the back of the rather inviting looking Bow Beach.  On top of the far headland was a very attractive grey building that I am guessing was something to do with Lamledra Farm.  The view from there must be quite amazing for I saw it coming from a couple of miles away.
Activity at Gorran Haven

Just before the headland in the distance the path descended rather more sharply down to the beach and this was a well used route by beach visitors.  They obviously have to save enough energy from their day at the beach to walk back up to the car park at the top.  Briefly I was among a lot of people going down to the beach itself but I soon left them as I turned left to carry on along the coast path while they turned right for the sand.

Heading Uphill Through Gorran Haven
At this point the character of the walk immediately changed again.  From a long view ahead and an easy path I had a rocky headland to negotiate.  There were a few family groups coming in the opposite direction and I stood to one side a couple of times to allow the small children to negotiate the rocks.  In a couple of cases the steps were as tall as the children!  Almost at the last minute the village of Gorran Haven came into view and this was a very welcome sight as I was looking forward to some lunch by now.  I decided to stop at the first available place - a small cafe just off the path at the edge of the village.  I wasn't disappointed for I had a great view over the cove and a fabulous smoked mackerel salad to eat - it was just what the doctor ordered after my morning's exertions.
Vertiginous Cliffs

Feeling refreshed I wandered down through Gorran Haven.  As with so many seaside places the smell of fish and chips was heavy in the air and there were seemingly hundreds of visitors to this little place.  In many respects these small Cornish villages get inundated during the summer months and they seem almost unable to cope.  Yet there is something about the mood and the excitement that I really enjoy as I walk through.  Largely the coast path is quiet so these encounters remain brief and I am soon out in solitude again.  In the case of Gorran Haven the whitewashed houses looked spiffing against the powder blue sky and you could almost be forgiven for thinking that you had been transported to the Mediterranean.

Chapel Point
As I climbed out of Gorran Haven I passed by the ubiquitous line of coastguard cottages and one of them had a wonderful old 1930s car parked outside.  It all looked a bit Famous Five I thought.  I wonder what the old coastguards would make of the gentrification of their houses?  The climb out of Gorran Haven was significant but eventually I reached a magnificent flat part of the coastline that afforded some great views out across Gorran Haven behind me to St Austell and the china clay quarries ahead.  I stopped here for a while to enjoy the view across St Austell Bay and found that I could see all the way to Rame Head, the headland that is at the outer reaches of Plymouth Harbour.  It was definitely worth being here on such a clear day!

First Glimpse of Mevagissey
My eye was drawn to Chapel Point down below my vantage point.  This was an impossibly pretty spot enhanced by the foresight of the developer who built some fine looking houses on the end.  It isn't often that something man-made enhances the landscape but it really did in this case.  I descended to the cove that the houses overlook and found a few people enjoying its peace and quiet.  I passed a National Trust sign saying Bodrugan's Leap.  Naturally this sparked my interest and I discovered that from here in 1487 it is said Sir Henry Bodrugan made a tremendous leap over the cliffs into a waiting boat and fled to France. He was being pursued by an army of Sir Richard Edgcumbe for treason.

After rounding the cove I caught my first sight of Mevagissey in the distance and I was pleased to see that it didn't seem too far away.  I had to negotiate the cove at Portmellion and passed by more places geared up to serve the tourists that come here.  It seems that any place of note on this stretch of coast is given over to beach activities with chips, ice creams and pubs available to anyone visiting.  Portmellion was no exception to that and as I passed through the competing smells of chips and roast dinners hit my nostrils.  The beach was surprisingly quiet although there were a few people messing around in boats and conversations were being held across the water from people in different boats.  Their days looked a lot more relaxing than mine!

I slogged up the hill out of Portmellion to make sure that I completed the path as far as Mevagissey (although the route shown in the Pathfinder Guide looked tempting) and at the top of the hill I jumped out of my skin as a bunch of boy racers came out of nowhere and roared past me.  I was thankful that I hadn't tempted to cross the road.  Seeing the direction they were headed they would have had no chance going at that speed for very much further for the roads through Mevagissey are extremely narrow.  
Portmellion Beach

Despite the fact that it had been four and a half years since I set off from Mevagissey for the onward leg to Par it felt  like no time had passed when I rounded the hill at the top to be greeted by the view over the harbour.  I like Mevagissey a lot - it really is one of the quintessential Cornish fishing villages and still has something of a fleet using the port.  I wandered right down to the harbour front and rewarded myself with a nice big ice cream and cold drink before contemplating the return leg to East Portlemouth.  It still seemed rather odd doing a loop like this - I'm not sure I would generally want to do it as I felt like the job was done at this point.

After sitting on the edge of the dock for a while enjoying the ambiance of Mevagissey and watching the comings and goings of the other visitors I summoned up the energy to wander up the hill back out of town the way I came.  At the top of the hill I looked for my onward path but didn't find it so went along an alternative route at the end of the road.  This took me down a tree covered lane and into Penwarne, a lovely looking farm that looks like it doubles as a holiday apartment complex.  I wandered through the deserted farm and then out into an open field where I met a woman that looked a bit lost.  She explained that she was looking for her son and I was almost as relieved as she was when he ambled over the field to be reunited with her.  I guessed that they were holidaying here and the son had decided to explore.
The Ship Inn

I pressed on really feeling the heat now that I had left the cooling breeze of the coast behind.  The cows in the field were clearly feeling it too as they had gathered in a shady corner of the field and didn't much like my presence when I passed them.  They looked at me as though I had something to do with the heat.  Eventually  I got to the bottom of the valley and passed by Galowras watermill where I entered a small wood.  Every section of path through woods was really valued now as the shade was so much more comfortable to walk through.

I had a nasty shock as I left the wood for ahead of me was perhaps the steepest climb of the whole four days of walking on this trip.   I puffed my way up, having to stop a couple of times on the way.  The thing that I found curious though was that the grass had recently been mown on this path.  I would not have liked to do that job, no matter the type of vehicle employed!  I was so thankful when I got to the top of the hill, a point marked by a large hedge with a hole in it that I had to go through.  It had an air of mystery that wasn't nearly so exciting as I imagined as beyond was just another grassy field.  Ahead was the large tower of Gorran Church, where I was headed next.

Gorran Church
On the way to the church I passed by yet another item lost by a fellow walker - this one looked like a GPS device although I didn't examine it very carefully.  It looked like an expensive loss though.  I wandered along the tree lined path to the church - a most attractive route.  By now I didn't have the energy to look inside the church but wandered by content to enjoy it from outside.  I crossed a busy road and passed by a pub that looked in good health despite the diminutive size of the village it served.  Thankfully road walking was at a minimum here and I soon crossed into fields.  In fact the onward path crossed a number of fields before reaching a road.  I passed a dog walker who clearly thought I was mad for she wondered if I was on my way to the pub.

Treveor Fishing Lake
I had a little road walking now but it wasn't too bad for there were no cars to worry about.  I soon reached the large farm of Treveor; one that had clearly diversified to good effect.  The main business was dairy farming and ice cream was also made here.  In the back of the farm was a campsite and down the road further it looked like they were digging out a fishing lake.  Good on them for giving people what they want.

Porthluney Cove
I felt now that I was on the home stretch for I turned off the road and headed down to the small but perfectly formed hamlet of Trevagarras.  The houses looked very pretty and a quiet haven away from the busy coast.  Yet for beach lovers it was only half a mile down to the beach at Porthluney Cove where I now returned several hours after I had passed this morning.  By now the beach was an awful lot busier than it had been and the car park was jam-packed.  The Pathfinder route stopped here but I still had the couple of  miles back to East Portlemouth to do.  This time I decided to climb via the road - that way I could deal with it quickly and know that when I got to the top it would be all downhill to the end.

East Portlemouth Beach
When I got to the top I could see the little watch house that I had passed by this morning.  I was amused to see that you could get married there - it would have to be quite a private ceremony as it is so small!  Climb over and I could enjoy the downhill back along the path that I had so enjoyed earlier in the day.  When I got back to East Portlemouth my boots were straight off  and I was on the beach giving my feet the cooling they deserved.  I think every walk should end this way!