Sunday, 29 January 2017

Arundel Park and South Stoke

Daybreak at the Castle
Sometimes it is necessary to use the end of the day in order to get the best conditions but more often than not the real magic is afforded to those who get up early for daybreak.  This was definitely the case on this particular walk.  I was up long before dawn and on this particularly frosty day I was anxious not to go to far from home.  I plumped therefore for this walk, one of the closest to home in Pathfinder Guides volume 66 West Sussex and the South Downs (walk 18).  It is a walk I have done many times but not blogged.  I have also never done it in the depths of winter so this was to be a new experience.  One of the reasons I wouldn't contemplate it is that it can be a mudfest - the heavy frost this morning neutralised that aspect.

In The Deep Midwinter
I had the pick of parking spots in Arundel - another benefit to getting here early.  Arundel is justifiably a very popular place for walkers and visitors who want to browse around the small selection of interesting shops.  This means that parking can be at a premium later in the day but no worries before the sun came up!  After being in my nice warm car the cold was bitter - how glad I was of my woollens wrapping me up against the frost.  I took the short path from the road to the riverbank and as I did so the sun slowly rose above the trees off in the distance.  This orange ball of fire looked at odds with the frozen land over which it now glowed.  

The river looked extreme;y cold and perhaps would be frozen too if it weren't for the fairly strong flow and the twice daily influx of salt water that rushes in on the tide.  Over in the distance the castle was now starting to glow orange with the rising sun.  For a rather grey and austere building at the back it looked amazing with a dose of red glow on it!  Along the river the first hint of fog started as soon as the sun came up.  The misty conditions seemed to increase the frostiness around me and my hot breath was playing havoc with my camera as I seemed to need to demist it every time I took a shot.  The frost seemed to cling to every piece of vegetation, dead or alive.  In fact the skeletons of the dead vegetation seemed particularly enhanced by a coating of the white stuff.

Jack Frost
Progress along the riverbank was slow as I enjoyed all of my surroundings.  I wasn't alone despite the early start.  At least three dog walkers were also out and we all agreed what a fabulous morning it was.  Eventually I turned to face the iconic view of Arundel Castle and as I did so I realised that the pictures are surely taken from the opposite bank as I could not quite get the angle for decent reflections. Eventually as I reached the bottom of the castle the sun had changed from orange to a golden glow and the frontage of the castle was bathed in the most beautiful light.

Golden Glow at the Castle
I pressed on through the town and as I climbed the hill I bumped into the first of the dog walkers I had seen on the riverbank and we passed the time of day before going our separate ways.  I passed the cathedral, also getting a good dose of the light now developing.  As I walked I spent much of my time wiping the mist from my camera lens - there was nothing for it after that, I would just have to stop using the viewfinder!

My route took me up the side of the cricket ground and past Hiorne Tower.  By now the whole town seemed alive with dog walkers - not sure I have ever seen so many!  Seeing the bright morning must have made the early walk that much easier though!  Hiorne's Tower was apparently built by Francis Hiorne to impress the 11th Duke of Norfolk sometime around 1800.  The 11th Duke was also the one responsible for the massive building programme at Arundel Castle, turning it into the version we see today.

Hiorne Tower
I dropped down into Swanbourne valley from the tower and the mist that I had first encountered at the river was hanging around here too.  This suggested that I might be lucky and see an inversion from the top of the park.  This made me quicken my step somewhat and the hill on the other side seemed a lot less of a struggle than the last time I climbed it back in the summer.  At the top of the hill the path follows the edge of the trees at the crest and prolongs the anticipation of the view.  For my money the view from the top of Arundel Park is one of the best anywhere in Sussex and it certainly lived up that billing today but for a very different reason.  

Swanbourne Valley
I could see nothing of the valley floor as it was completely enveloped in fog.  All I could see where the hill tops sparkling in the sun.  Most of the frost in the sunny areas had melted by now leaving green areas highlighted by the sun and frosty areas lurking in the shadows.  I lingered for a few minutes taking in the view before descending into the valley.  This path can be treacherous when there is lots of mud but the surface was just about staying solid if icy away from teh glare of the sun.  Areas where the sun had penetrated were dripping with meltwater.  It made for a different sort of beauty as the beads of melting frost glinted in the sun like little jewels.

Arun Valley Mist
I was pleased that the path through the woods at the bottom was still solid - this can be quite horrific during wet weather, hence I don't come this way usually in the winter.  As I wandered through the woods I finally had the countryside to myself - this was too far from the nearest car park for all but the most determined dog walker.  As a result I was pleased to see lots of birds although as a consequence of the cold they didn't stay in one place long enough for me to get any pictures.  My only opportunity proved to be the best sighting of all - a large buzzard that flew over the field I passed by.  It then sat in the tree looking at me, staying slightly too far away for me to get a reasonable shot of it.

Approaching South Stoke
I soon reached the hamlet of South Stoke and surprisingly the fog layer that looked so thick from my lofty viewpoint half an hour earlier was now anything but.  I am not sure the fog had lifted though - just a trick of the eye I think.  Anyhow the trees around the delightful South Stoke Church looked like they had been decorated by a confectioner.

South Stoke Church

 From here it was the long walk along the riverbank to the car about two miles away.  This was enjoyable but I felt that the best of the day was already done by this point and it was still only about 11am!  The path was definitely getting stickier all the time as the frost melted and by the time I reached The Black Rabbit pub I was just looking forward to getting to the end of the route.  Happily there wasn't much further to go and as I neared where I had parked I saw lots of families embarking on their day out.  I felt smug knowing that I had already had the best of the day!

Arun Walk

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Three Commons Walk

Iping Common
I have decided that INSET days are lucky as we seem to get very good weather and opportunities for walks that don't seem to exist at far too short weekends.  Autumn had sadly rather passed us by so it was a stroke of luck that we had a beautiful frosty day on our spare day.  With daylight hours short and a daughter that was a bit more reluctant to go far in the cold weather I chose for us walk number 3 in Pathfinder Guide number 52 More Sussex Walks.  This was one that we had last done when she was small enough to go in the backpack more than 10 years ago!  At 4 miles it is a pretty easy stroll but crucially it also misses the worst muddy conditions as the sandstone heaths over which most of the path passes is thankfully dry in the winter.
Flowering Gorse

We parked in the small car park on Iping Common.  We were by no means the only people there - the car park was unusually full for a weekday and we were soon greeted by the first of many dog walkers as we left the car.  Iping Common is a delight.  Open and airy and studded with mostly the odd birch tree and even small clumps in some places.  Few places look their best in the winter but I'll wager that Iping Common is one of them.  The low golden sunlight picks out the silvery bark of the birch trees and the dead grass very well giving the whole location a warmness that is missing from so many landscapes at this time of year.

Frosty Detail
Inevitably the gorse was already out in flower.  No matter how early I think it comes out into flower it always confounds me by being even earlier.  The only thing I can say with confidence is that it doesn't flower during June.  I think I have seen flowers on a gorse bush pretty much every other month of the year!  The odd splash of yellow did enhance the landscape even more.  As for other life - mostly this was in the form of small birds.  We managed to see a few of them, including chaffinches, sparrows and great tits.  I think this is supposed to be a good place to see more unusual species but sadly we didn't see any.

Vintage MG
Unlike my last visit here on the Serpent Trail this time I managed not to take a wrong turn and we headed across the Common pausing to take a look back when we got to the far end.  Over the brow of the small hill the path took a route down the shady side of a small wood and the frost had not even started to melt here.  That left some wonderful frosty shapes on the leaf litter and the grass - these are such a joy!

Eventually we found our way down to the lane where I seemed to walk forever on the Serpent Trail.  Happily we took a right rather than a left and headed away from the lane almost immediately.  It didn't go down too well with my daughter though as we had to climb a small hill.  So small in fact as to be inconsequential!  This passed by the back of the pub where we had lunch one summer day back in 2005 when we last passed by.  Sadly the pub is gone now and serves only as a private residence.

Approaching Stedham
We crossed the main road and walked down a tree lined lane for a short distance.  As we reached a small row of houses we turned right again (eventually when we found the sign) and headed along some field edges and screening woodland.  This was a most attractive section of the walk with some fine views northwards across the Weald towards the Greensand ridge a few miles away.

Daughter Racing Ahead
Below us the River Rother followed us in parallel and we were soon heading down towards its level.  The river was clearly a bit warmer than the surrounding air as it was generating a small amount of localised mist.  At the bottom of the valley we came upon the small village of Iping.  This is a very agreeable little place centred mostly around a mill on the River Rother it seemed.  Our acquaintance with the village didn't last long.  Once across the road we climbed up above the River once again and it was gone almost in the blink of an eye.  The river meandered away from us for a bit and we continued through another frosty hollow of trees until it came back to meet us about half a mile further on.

Former Pub, Stedham Village
At the next road we came upon the village of Stedham and this one was marked by an arched bridge across the river of some antiquity.  Alas our oath didn't take us that way but into the village itself.  With daughter I don't expect to have any nosy deviations from the walking route for fear of getting a moody backlash :)  Stedham is impossibly pretty and even daughter was smitten with the place as we wandered through.  Our eyes were particularly drawn to a phone box that has been converted by the locals as an information kiosk.

Information Kiosk
Just before leaving the village we hooked a right turn and walked down towards the pub on the edge of the village.  We had thought about using this as a lunch stop but were glad we hadn't banked on it as was shut this Monday lunchtime.  Luckily daughter had a change of heart earlier in the day and we had some lunch procured from a Worthing bakery waiting for us in the car when we got back.  By now daughter was looking forward to this and she was most surprised when we crossed the main road and walked across a short stretch of heathland to find the car once again.  I think the length of the walk rather surprised her - it was rather shorter than she thought it would be!

Friday, 6 January 2017

Compton and Loseley Park

Compton Church
Autumn had arrived and despite the continuing good weather it was quite clear that days were getting colder and the dew more pronounced.  Hence on this walk despite the wonderful conditions we ended up with very wet feet!  My daughter had a rather random inset day in the middle of the week and with most of her friends away doing something else she decided that she wanted to make the most of a wonderful autumn day and have some fresh air with me.  She picked out this walk as an introduction to the North Downs for we have some intentions of doing this as a family walk next year.  It is walk 14 from the Pathfinder guide number 65 Surrey Walks.

Watts Gallery
We parked up by Watts Cemetery just outside the village of Compton.  I have been through here many times and always think how attractive it is.  It also reminds me of the famous footballer/ cricketer from days gone by.  The idea of any sportsman excelling in two sports simultaneously these days is unthinkable.  The start of our walk was alongside a road, which wasn't the best introduction especially as it was so busy on this Wednesday morning.
Sunken Path
It was a relief when we got to the Watts Gallery, home of 500 pieces of work of the famous painter and sculptor G F Watts.  I wasn't sure it was open as we passed by but made a metal note of perhaps visiting some time in future for a closer look.  We joined the North Downs Way at this point and would follow the path almost all the way to Guildford.  The path ran steadily uphill for quite a while but not so much as to be noticeable to daughter (she seems allergic to hills at the moment).  The path was very pleasant, passing along field boundaries, through sunken sections and across stretches of woodland, now showing advanced stages of autumn.  The sunken section of the path hinted that this was an ancient thoroughfare, perhaps between the village of Compton and Guildford.
North Downs Ridge

Along the way I had the best chat with my daughter as we admired the surrounding countryside.  Walking really stimulates good conversation I always think.  This walk sparked conversations about history mostly - surrounding us were relics from pre-history in the shape of tumuli and from World War II in the shape of pillboxes.  Daughter seems to be particularly enjoying history at school at the moment so relating what she learns there to the landscape around really sparked her imagination.  On the way along this section of this path we passed a large group of ramblers.  I was thankful they were going the opposite way to us.
Former Guards Van

Eventually at the top of East Warren we reached the summit of the walk and it was downhill into the Wey Valley.  This is a section of the North Downs Way that I remember from my outing in 2004.  Back then I was faced with a field of sheep mostly gathered around hay dispensers.  There were none now and the field looked like it had been grazed for a while so lush was the grass.  We looped around the field and I looked out for an old railway guard's van that I had spotted last time.  I was pleased to see it was still there although noticed that it had disappeared further into the vegetation.  Eventually I suspect that nature will reclaim it completely.
Weald View

Just before we reached the main road that leads into Guildford we took a sharp right and headed up a steep hill that took us around the perimeter of the Surrey Police College of Brabhoeuf Manor.  This looked like a very well appointed place for would-be police officers and had a magnificent setting overlooking the Weald.  The path stuck rigidly to the perimeter fence as we went up and over the ridge on which it sits.  Eventually when we got to the bottom of the hill we reached the corner of the fence and went our separate ways.  For us we turned right again and headed back towards Compton.

Considering that we were only about half a mile from the path on the other side of the ridge the character of the path could not have been more different.  We passed by the hamlet of Littleton and then crossed into Loseley Park.  The house at the centre of the park, which we could see from a distance, seems to have been made up from other treasures taken from earlier buildings.  Much of the stone came from Waverley Priory while some of the internal panelling came from Nonsuch Palace, places I have visited on other earlier walks.  The house looks like a treasure to be visited next year with our newly acquired membership of the Historic Houses Association.

We passed by the fishing lake at the bottom of the estate and round the perimeter until we reached the former main drive.  This was a magnificent avenue of trees, now starting to shed leaves and conkers and the path was becoming littered with autumn debris.  The scene was rudely interrupted by the group of ramblers that we had encountered earlier.  It looked very much like they were doing the same walk as us albeit in the opposite direction.
Loseley Hall

At Polsted Manor we changed direction, heading along the metalled Polsted Lane into the village of Compton.  We had intentions of a pub lunch in Compton at the Harrow pub but when we arrived it wasn't open.  It seems to be a Thai restaurant these days so not sure we would have gone for that in any event.  The last stretch of the walk though Compton village was along the main road, which wasn't the nicest way to end any walk but we did at least get a good look at the church and even crossed the road so we could get a good look inside.  A most attractive church it was too, especially decked out with autumnal flowers and ready for any harvest festival service that might be held.

Compton Village
This was not an especially challenging walk but was full of wonderful views through the best sort of countryside Surrey has to offer.  Although bounded on all sides by some very busy roads they did not impinge on the enjoyment of the walk at all.  Moreover it gave me a good opportunity to enjoy my daughter's company - a rare thing in these otherwise busy times.