Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Arlington and Abbotts Wood

Puffy Clouds
After all the tropical posts I imagine that a few followers will be surprised to see a blog entry from the UK once again but we headed back for a lengthy summer trip after our first year at our new school.  As you can imagine we were very keen to do a few walks while we were back and used our base in Alfriston to explore a few places in East Sussex between family and friends visits.  This particular walk linked together a couple of old haunts and is walk number 23 from Pathfinder Guide 67 East Sussex and the South Downs.

Arlington Reservoir used to be a popular winter walk for us as it is relatively short and suited the legs of small children but also it was relatively clean throughout the perimeter path even in the depths of winter when other places are afflicted by mud.  A trick we learned from our many visits is to park in the layby outside the reservoir  and not the official car park.  There are usually plenty of spaces and you will save yourself the parking fee (useful for refreshment money later!).  Upon entering the reservoir area we took a left turn and initially headed along the shore of the artificial lake that was created in 1971 to provide drinking water for Eastbourne.  Nearly 50 years on from its creation it now seems at home in its surroundings and the edges have softened sufficiently to look like it might be natural.  The view across the reservoir is great with Windover Hill and the chalk figure of the Long Man  of Wilmington as the backdrop.
Our loop of the reservoir this time didn't last long as the path soon led off to our left and across fields with ripening wheat and almost ripe barley.  There was a slight breeze that helped the individual stalks wave almost mesmerically and for a few brief moments I was transfixed by the movement.  All in the hedgerow alongside were dozens of bees going about their business and quite a few butterflies.  It was pleasing to see the butterflies as we had heard that numbers seemed to have been decreasing in recent years.  We noticed a lot of painted ladies in particular - apparently it was a year where their numbers had swelled.

The path led us across fields to Upper Dicker passing by an old moat apparently.  I did look for it without success as it was buried somewhere in the trees alongside the field.  Sometimes I wonder about these kind of features in the landscape - do OS people really see them or have they been included on earlier iterations of the map but are now lost to undergrowth and nature?  We passed by a few fragments of woodland, a reminder that this area would once have been covered in an impenetrable forest back in prehistoric times and even up to the Saxon age.

The Plough
We passed by a lady with a young dog as we approached the village.  The dog immediately dropped on to its back for its belly to be rubbed - my girls obliged much to its excitement.  It was certainly a great welcome to the village although strangely she was the only person we saw outside.  The only other person we saw was the landlady of The Plough where we stopped for a lemonade.  It seemed like a lovely village pub - I hope that it manages to stay afloat when so many others are going out of business.  Feeling refreshed we walked along the street and past the rather opulent looking Bedes School which has produced a number of locally famous sportsmen including the footballer Dan Harding and the cricketer Luke Wells.  We soon crossed their cricket pitches and the latest crop of pupils were being put through their paces in the cricket nets on the far side.  I wonder if any will make it into the county cricket scene?

Bede's School
We were soon back in farmland although the pasture here looked pretty rough - just a few miserable looking cows populated this area.  We had hoped that we would get a good view of Michelham Priory, a pretty well preserved priory dating from the 13th Century.  Unfortunately in the height of summer the surrounding trees completely obscured it except for the briefest of glimpses of one of the towers.  We also had a moment where we struggled to find the onward path here - we eventually found the ramshackle stile that led us into a nearby wood.  Woods would be the order of the day for the next stretch of the walk - we passed through and then went around the perimeter of Bramble Grove which was a surprisingly dark stretch.  At the far end we came upon a road just outside Arlington Speedway track, the home of Eastbourne Eagles.  Luckily all was quiet today - I imagine they make quite a din when they are in session.

Fully Clothed
Across the road and we passed briefly down the side of Abbotts Wood before heading into the forest itself.  This was a firm favourite when I was a kid - I loved walking to the lake in the middle and was pleased that this walk included the same.  If it hadn't I probably would have made sure to include it.  The lake isn't particularly spectacular and in fact every time I see it I am sure it is a bit smaller - maybe that is because of the increasing amounts of vegetation I see there.  We lingered on the bridge for a short time before pushing on completing the loop through the forest to the car park.  This is a walk I must have completed dozens of times and yet it always looks different.  In my minds eye I have a memory of this walk as a child and no matter how many times I do it as an adult it never seems to match my memory.  I cannot honestly think of any other place where this is true...

Abbott's Wood Lake
The car park was as quiet as you might expect on a work and school day; on a similar sort of day at the weekend it would be rammed as this is a seriously popular beauty spot.  However once we had crossed the fields and arrived at The Yew Tree pub in Arlington we came upon quite a crowd of pensioners in the beer garden having their lunch.  Maybe they had already had their constitutional walk at the woods earlier on and we had missed them?  Seriously though we quickly understood why it was so popular - we had a great lunch and a pint of local real ale to wash it down.

The Yew Tree
From our pub stop it was a short trip down past the church to the reservoir beyond.  The clouds that had built up on the way round now dissipated once again and the church looked resplendent in the sunshine newly emerged.  We wandered around the reservoir for the final part of our walk and ended up walking almost a complete loop.  On the return leg we got to see a lot more birdlife and especially a group of great crested grebes swimming and diving in the water.  They always seem to be too far away for me to get a decent picture more's the pity.

Arlington Church
This was an enjoyable family walk as it gave us plenty of time for chatter and wasn't too taxing.  The two pubs on the way around seem in good health and hopefully that will remain the case for future walkers.  I was vaguely disappointed with it though - perhaps it would be a better one to do in spring or autumn.  During the summer months the amount of foliage meant that the woodland sections were just dark and devoid of flowers or colour.  I was also most disappointed not to get a view of Michelham Priory - maybe you could with no foliage on the trees?

Back to the Reservoir

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Koh Kret

Leaning Chedi
A rather mysterious place in Bangkok that we had heard about many times but had not managed to get to before is the small island of Koh Kret.  This is an island in the middle of the Chao Praya River that was formed when a meander loop was bypassed using a man-made canal dug during the 1720s.  The island was largely deserted after the Burmese invaded this part of Thailand later in the same century but some time after it was settled by Mon people, an ethnic group originally from central Asia (around Mongolia).  They have brought some of their original culture, traditions and foods to the island and visiting feels like another world away from Bangkok.  We visited on a Sunday when the market was in full swing - possibly the best day of the week to visit, although if you just want to see daily life without the visitors come on a weekday.

Landing Point
In order to get to Koh Kret it is necessary to get a ferry across the river.  It is possible to reach it on the Chao Praya River Express Boat from the centre of Bangkok but as we live in the north of the city anyway we took a taxi across to the ferry port in Pak Kret.  In order to get there you will need to walk through Wat Sanam Nuea, the grounds of which are geared up to tempt visitors with all manner of refreshments and trinkets before they even get on the island.  We saw what was on offer ad decided to come back later after we had been to the island.

Face Off
The ferry ride across takes only a few minutes although the current does not allow for a straightforward back and forth route.  There is also the small matter of a lot of other boats going up and down the river that have to be avoided but for the princely sum of 2 Baht it is a memorable way of getting there.  As you sit on the boat the first thing you notice is the wonky chedi of the temple on the other side.  This has become something of a landmark for the island - more about this later.  At the ferry dock on the other side we took a left turn while most of the crowds took a right to the market.  There was method in our madness - we wanted to look at the market last.  The path essentially loops around the whole circumference of the island although it is considerably closer to the coast on the north side than it is on the south side.

Hanging Around
The most immediate thing to know about Koh Kret is that there are no proper roads here and the only motorised transport is on two wheels and not four.  That isn't to say that you don't need your wits about you - some of the motor cycles went down the narrowest of lanes.  Certainly at the beginning of the walk around the island the alleyway between the houses and businesses was very narrow.  You soon get the sense that this part of the island is geared up for visitors as most of the restaurants seem a little more well appointed than the street shacks you see on the mainland away from the centre of Bangkok.  In a couple of cases we saw restaurants that faced out on to the khlongs (canals) that help maintain the drainage of the island.  These had benches and tables that somehow dangled over the edge - quite an interesting place to sit but if you dropped your fork you would never see it again!

Covered Bridge
Although the main focus of the market is on the north coast there were quite a few other stalls on the east coast as well.  We saw some interesting looking pottery stalls and a garden centre that diverted our attention for a bit.  The path felt like a bit of a maze through all the buildings and we were pleased when it finally crossed a covered bridge and opened out at Wat Chimplee Sutthawat.  Inevitably there was a market in front of the temple, but this one seemed much more geared up for locals as it sold the usual mixture of fresh produce and street food rather than any tourist stuff.  The Wat itself is very pleasant and guarded by a number of Buddhas and the usual assortment of animals that you see at temples including zebras and tigers.  I've never really quite understood why zebras are associated with Buddhist temples as they don't live in Asia and I cannot see the connection.  There appears to be no definitive answer to the question either, although some suggest that the connection is a zebra crossing denoting some sort of safety.  Not sure I buy this as an explanation as zebra crossings aren't particularly safe in Thailand!

Colourful Postbox
At the next temple we took a sharp right to head away from the river.  This is the road that is nearest to the south shore, although it follows a path closer to the centre of the island.  Only out and back paths access the south coast - we weren't sure how long it would take to get all the way around the island and so we stuck to the main road this time.  In the absence of motorised transport we passed by a man pushing a trolley full of supplies, mostly cans of pop, to the businesses further out on the island.  It looked like quite a tiring job.  The road stretched out straight as an arrow for some considerable distance ahead of us.  We were a bit lacking in shade now and so it seemed like a long and hot walk along this section of the path.  Every so often a motor cycle whizzed past us and made us wonder whether we had made the right choice to walk?

We soon left the majority of buildings behind and there was farmland either side of us.  As well as the usual crops of corn, bananas and rice we saw some unusual fruits that we couldn't identify - they looked like nobbly apples.  Throughout the farms were small shrines that made this an undoubtedly Thai place.  There wasn't much in the way of wildlife however, pretty much all we saw were the ubiquitous zebra doves that we seem to see everywhere and the odd stork.  It wasn't really properly rainy season yet though so this might change when the wet weather is a bit more regular.  Most of the houses away from the more visited areas of the island were quite ramshackle and largely built on stilts.  I imagine that this area has more than its fair share of floods given how much water flows through the Chao Praya River.  Even the road was on stilts now - a useful precaution I'm sure.

Unknown Fruit
At the far end of the island was an interesting sight - a new Buddhist temple being built.  Judging by the extent of the construction it appeared that no expense was being spared.  It was hard to fathom why a new one was needed when the population here is so small but I imagine quite a few of the locals are gaining useful employment as a result.  Life out at this end of the island seems slow and relaxed.  Few motorbikes came along now and we saw only the odd person and a few soi dogs lounging around.  The houses looked a bit more salubrious and in some cases had some well tended gardens.  I wondered whether these were boltholes for rich people who spend the rest of the week in Bangkok?

There was a bit of localised commerce at this end of the island.  A couple of coffee stalls, one or two selling snacks and another selling some very colourful looking dresses.  Our thoughts turned to some refreshment too and we were pleased to see a small coffee shop signposted off the main road down towards the riverfront.  The walkway to get there was rather more exciting than we wanted though - it was some rather flimsy plans balanced on stilts.  The builders of this walkway had covered the planks in cement to try and strengthen them but succeeded only in making them a bit more scary somehow!

Wat Construction
Worse was to come when we got to the end as the planks were covered in ants that soon were on our feet and lower legs.  We got a few nips that made us run a bit faster for our coffee!  Luckily it was a great spot for a refreshment stop, with a lovely balcony that overlooked the river.  We drank our coffee and watched the river traffic with fascination for quite a while, in particular the ridiculously small tug boats that seemed to drag along the most enormous loads behind them.  I honestly don't understand how they have enough power to do the job.

Feeling refreshed we retraced our steps along the ant infested walkway taking care to more a lot more quickly this time - it did the trick.  We were soon back on the main road and headed onward once again.  It wasn't too long  before we left the rural end of the island behind and the market stalls started.  We were behind a couple of ladies heading down with more supplies for their stall - they made quite the picture as they trundled along.  They were impossible to pass though!  At the start of the market proper we passed by the motorcycle taxi rank - there were lots of drivers waiting for a fare.  I've never been tempted by riding on the back, mostly because I am rather bigger than the average driver and I'm a bit worried that it would be a fairly unstable way of travelling.  There appeared to be no shortage of customers though - I couldn't help wondering where they all go as it isn't exactly a huge island.
Golden Buddha
The market was a delight and a rather distant prospect from the other weekend market that we have got to know at Chatuchak.  This one was far smaller of course but also had a more relaxed vibe.  Some of the pottery we had seen earlier was on sale and is apparently one of the most distinctive things that you can buy here.  The traditional design comes from the original Mon people that settled here and we purchased a few items from the best stall that we found.  

Photo Opportunity
At Wat Phai Lom we stepped away from the market for a few minutes to take a look at the temple.  Of particular note here was the garden next door which seemed to be a favourite spot for family photos.  It was a little film set like to be honest, with fake animals and even an artificial waterfall on show.  There were lots of families having their picture taken, many of whom seemed to beIndian rather than Thai.  I wonder if they fool their families into thinking that they have visited some kind of perfect safari location when they get back home?

Pottery Stall
Once back at the market we eased ourselves through a section with lots of food stalls.  It was lunchtime now and activity was frenetic with fish, pad thai, deep fried snacks and all manner of fruits being sold to hungry visitors.  We took the opportunity to have some lunch too, although we chose a small restaurant with seating overlooking the Chao Praya River and an enormous golden Buddha rather than snacking as we walked.  It was a much more civilised scenario and probably a good deal more satisfying too.  Feeling refreshed we continued through the market and bought one or two trinkets along the way including some pieces of the famous pottery that is made here.  The pottery itself is very intricately designed terracotta that is very distinctive.  We bought a few pieces as presents for our friends and family on a forthcoming trip to the UK.

Snack Time
After winding our way through all the stalls we eventually came to what is known as the reclining pagoda at Wat Paramaikawat.  The temple is pretty old, dating from the Ayutthaya period before the Burmese invasion and after being abandoned for a time it was restored during King Taksin's reign.  This chedi was built upright but began to list due to erosion of the river bank in the 1890s.  An unsuccessful attempt to right it happened in 1992 but now it is regarded as the most important landmark of the island.  It certainly is a unique sight.  As we got there the blue skies that we had enjoyed for most  of the day gave way to a very big black cloud and we took the hint.  Within minutes we were back on the ferry heading back to  the 'mainland'.  I feel certain that we will be back here very soon - it was a hugely enjoyable trip!

Change Is About To Come