Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Sussex Coast Walk Day 7 Worthing - Shoreham-by-Sea

Heene Terrace
After a wet Saturday and an unpromising start to Sunday I was really pleased to see the weather perk up considerably during the afternoon so I could get out for another Sunday evening stint.  Unfortunately time was very restricted and so any prospect of a trip away from home wasn’t on the cards.  Lucky for me that the next stretch of coastal route could be started from home, but knowing that it would be pavement all the way didn’t tempt me to consider walking the route.  Instead I thought it would be good to try out the new(ish) cycle route from Worthing through Lancing to Shoreham.  I had hoped originally that this stretch would take me all the way to Brighton, but the second half of the route would have to wait for another time.
The Lido

I regained the coast at Grand Avenue, more or less where I’d left off a couple of weeks beforehand and did the law-abiding thing and cycled along the main road rather than the promenade.  Although the promenade is like the M1 for most of its length from Grand Avenue to the Pier, the Council has banned cycling following an accident involving a pedestrian a few years ago.  Various attempts have been made to restore cycling (and indeed many people still do cycle along there) but this has yet to be ratified.  I did not want to risk getting a ticket from a police officer, despite the fact that the promenade was quiet and my cycling would have been low risk.
Worthing Pier

It does feel funny taking pictures in your own town, but a couple of sights along the western end of the promenade should not be missed.  The first is the delightfully replanted Heene Gardens in front of some very grand looking flats variously called West Mansions, Heene Terrace (and a couple of other names that escape me).  The other is the Lido, a relic of what was once an outdoor swimming pool but which is now an amusement facility for small children (see website at http://www.theworthinglido.co.uk/ ).  Interestingly this was originally built as a bandstand and later became a lido, when these were all the rage.  Before closing as a lido it apparently housed a couple of dolphins for a year when they were rehoused from the Aquarium in Brighton.  The pool still remains under the floor allegedly so if fashion once again dictated it could once again resume this role, although it has not functioned for twenty years in this guise.
The Dome

A little further along the promenade is Worthing Pier and surely one of the best preserved in Britain.  On a fresh summer’s evening it looked in wonderful shape with flags fluttering in the wind and plenty of people wandering along its length.  The view from the end is pretty good too, with the Isle of Wight still just about visible in the west and Beachy Head in the east.  The other jewel of Worthing’s seafront is the Dome cinema, recently refurbished and a real survivor having been threatened with demolition not too many years ago.  Inside the old spirit of cinemas is still very much in evidence and could be quite a pleasant surprise for anyone who has grown up on a diet of multiplexes.  Despite these obvious attractions, Worthing seafront does not have the grandeur of other seaside resorts and has been a victim of some fairly awful developments (Grafton anyone?).  Fortunately some of the newer developments appear to be addressing some of these problems and the new Warnes development and forthcoming Eardley will hopefully restore some of the lost character.  From Splash Point just east of the pier it is a pleasant couple of miles ride into Lancing along the cycle path that was opened in 2003.  This has now been extended into Lancing, avoiding the need to use the dreaded A259 road at all until Shoreham-by-Sea.  The eastern end of Worthing is dominated by the soon to be demolished (allegedly) Aquarena swimming pool, which must have seemed ahead of its time when built in the 1960s but now sadly in desperate need of replacement.  The eastern end of the seafront is dominated by attractive terraced houses that lend a nice character to the area, in contrast to the seemingly endless blocks of flats that dominate the western end.
Beach Boats

The only gap between Worthing and Lancing is formed by Brooklands Park, a smallish pleasure park dominated by a pleasant lake where a train runs around.  There were few people there this evening as all the attractions had closed for the day, leaving only a few dog walkers and plenty of bird life swimming around.  A little further on and I reached Beach Green in Lancing.  This is a large recreational space behind the seafront and the subject of a local difficulty when the Parish Council discovered a number of concrete blocks under the surface a few years ago.  These had been put there as tank traps during World War 2 and afterwards buried.  Since then soil movements exposed them at the surface, proving to be quite a headache for the Parish, who had endless debates on what to do about them.  I understand that they are to be reburied rather than the disruption that would go with removal.  A good picture of what they once looked like can be found at http://www.northlancing.com/Community/Concrete%20Blocks%20at%20Beach%20Green/Blocks%20buried%20under%20Beach%20Green%20Lancing.htm
Lancing Beach Green

The beach at Lancing was thronged with kite surfers all taking advantage of the stiff breeze and the lack of other beach users.  Watching them whirl around was quite fascinating, although I wouldn’t have swapped places as I hate cold water!  The path alongside the green diverges away from the main road and soon traffic sounds are replaced only by sounds of the sea.  The continuation of Beach Green eventually leads into Widewater Lagoon, a piece of the sea now landlocked by the changing beachfront.  Looking at the topography of this part of the coast it is easy to imagine that the lagoon was probably much bigger originally, although the western end of it is now occupied by Golden Sands caravan park (which looks like it has seen better days, having several empty caravans and plots.  Some of the newer chalet type caravans look completely unfinished and give the park a bleak feel.

Widewater Lagoon however is a different proposition.  It now acts as a local nature reserve and unless you were to follow the coast path you may not even know of its existence since it cannot be seen at all from the A259.  It is a little haven for seabirds although there weren’t many in evidence as I passed.  At the eastern end of the lagoon, I passed into Shoreham-by-Sea although this is only an arbitrary boundary for the urban area is contiguous.  This end of Shoreham is called Shoreham Beach and has quite a different charater to the other side of the River Adur.  The Beach is basically a shingle spit although almost entirely built on since the 1930s when it first started developing from houses made out of spent railway carriages.  Now though it is hard to see any of these humble roots as many of the houses are getting ever bigger as they are redeveloped.  Some of them could even be described as ostentatious, with adornments such as observatories placed on top and enormous iron railings and verandas around them.  There is also the small matter of some road cycling along Beach Road, which comes as quite a shock after cycle paths all the way so far.  The coastal cycle route crosses the spit at the western end and crosses the Adur but I wanted to continue to the end of the spit to the mouth of the river.
Church of the Good Shepherd
At the end of the spit is Shoreham Fort, a derelict looking Napoleonic Fort which many people would like to see restored although the prospects don’t look that promising.  The beach at this point is at its widest and hosts some fabulous shingle plant communities.  When the community of Shoreham Beach was being set up it was originally colonised by arty types and many early feature films were made here apparently.  More can be learned abouyt Shoreham Fort at http://www.shorehamfort.co.uk/shoreham_fort_history.htm
Shoreham Fort

Across the water is the end of another spit that forms Southwick Beach.  Although tantalisingly close it actually isn’t on land as there is no bridge across the mouth of the Adur.  I had a quick squint at the lifeboat station, now being rebuilt after starring in the BBC TV show Ireland to Sydney By Any Means, when Charley Boorman used Shoreham lifeboat as one of his means of transport.  The station was demolished soon after and a new one is only a matter of months away. 
Lifeboat Station

Even on the landward side of the spit the ride back to the footbridge was a bit of a shock to the system as the brisk westerly wind which had been at my back all the way from Worthing was now suddenly in my face.  Luckily I tood advantage of the path alongside the new development at Emerald Quay to mimimise the wind and maximise the interest (Harbour Way is deathly dull!).  Nevertheless it was a bit of a slog to get to the footbridge and by now the light was already starting to fade.  I elected at this point to return home rather than press on the additional seven miles to Brighton and headed for Shoreham station.  I crossed the River Adur by way of the old concrete footbridge built in the 1930s to replace an earlier ferry.  It is now on borrowed time however, as it is due to be replaced by West Sussex County Council once funding has been secured.  For cyclists this is good news as it will form part of the coastal cycle route and they will be able to share the bridge with pedestrians (for now though cycling is banned).  See the plans at http://www.sustransconnect2.org.uk/schemes/project_detail.php?id=54
Adur Footbridge

Once across the bridge it was through the churchyard of one of my favourite churches, St Mary De Haura (of the harbour) now over 900 years old and on to the train.  A lovely ride, although I was disappointed not to make it to Brighton.  I think next time I shall do the whole thing when I have a little more time.
St Mary de Haura Church

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Wey-South Path Section 1 Guildford - Cranleigh

Reeling Them In
I fancied a walk away from the coast today and have long looked at the Wey-South Path as a small project with a great deal of interest. The Wey-South Path is the creation of the Wey and Arun Canal Trust and is a 36 mile long path running from Guildford in Surrey to Houghton Bridge near Arundel in West Sussex. It is intended to be the nearest right of way to the old Wey and Arun Junction Canal, the so-called ‘London’s Lost Route to the Sea’. The canal was closed in 1876, having never been commercially very successful and finally driven out of business by the Guildford – Horsham railway line that now forms part of the Downs Link.
Serene Guildford
The Wey and Arun Canal Trust are a charity trying to breathe life back into this old transport corridor and they have already made an amazing effort to get some sections restored. Completing the job is likely to be a monumental task however, and I may never see it completely re-opened in my lifetime (bearing in mind that I am only 41 that will give some indication of the task ahead). This year, the Trust have overcome a significant obstacle when they reopened the reconstructed Loxwood road bridge. The reopening sparked my interest to find out exactly what is left to do and so I found myself heading off to Cranleigh to take a look at the northernmost section of the old canal. The website of the Trust is at http://www.weyandarun.co.uk/
Canal Reflections
The bus service from Cranleigh to Guildford is remarkably good and on this Sunday early evening there were plenty of passengers (begging the question of why the train service succumbed in the 1960s). After a white knuckle ride into town I headed the short distance down to the River Wey, a tributary of the Thames. This is still a very busy waterway with many canal boats to-ing and fro-ing through Guildford town centre and points south. This part of the waterway is known as the Godalming navigation and is obviously still popular with trippers in their pleasure boats. The towpath is a very pleasant proposition too and the Wey-South path follows it for the first couple of miles to Stonebridge Wharf.
Along the canal towpath I enjoyed watching the boats but also the whole ambience of the walking. It’s been a long time since I’ve been canal walking, although I enjoyed it immensely when I lived in the Manchester area a few years ago. The short stretch to Stonebridge Wharf has whet my appetite for more, and towpaths are usually a good prospect for cycling also. The canal was buzzing with natural activity as well as with people. All along the way, shiny blue damselflies were buzzing around with their paddle like wings and their clumsy looking flying. Butterflies, especially fritillaries were also feeding on the waterside flowers and the cattle alongside were taking the opportunity to wander in for a drink and a cool off.
Shalford Bridge
I soon reached the mighty Shalford Rail Bridge, resplendent in a fresh coat of green paint. Alongside is a fairly substantial bridge carrying nothing more than a pipeline, but a few yards to the south would have been a second rail bridge if the chord line connecting Shalford with Godalming had ever been completed. All that remains of this erstwhile project is the earthworks, now used as a National Trust path for a few yards. It does catch your eye though as atop the embankment is a round World War 2 pillbox, built in 1940 apparently and in quite good condition with a commanding view over the waterway. I briefly inspected it before continuing on my way towards Stonebridge Wharf, where the old Wey and Arun Junction Canal diverged away. Some excellent information about the history of the section and information about the surrounding areas can be found at http://weyriver.co.uk/theriver/index.htm
Shalford Pillbox
Before reaching Stonebridge Wharf I had first to cross the main A248 road at Broadford Bridge, which wasn’t a pleasant experience as the sight lines were quite poor and the traffic very fast. This area was once a busy goods depot and the adjacent pub, The Parrot, was once a busy watering hole for the canal people. I didn’t stop to inspect as I had a fair way to go. Across the road and past the fairly recent industrial park building additions, I reached Stonebridge Wharf, which was once the site of a gunpowder factory and where this fairly dangerous cargo was loaded on to canal barges. All is quiet today, with a few boats taking advantage of the short section of Wey and Arun Canal still connected to the main waterway system. There are a number of secluded mooring spots along this wooded section offering privacy from prying eyes. All that remains of the gunpowder factory is an old store room, raised above ground level on small pillars presumably to keep any moisture out.
Rebuilt Canal Bridge
I turned left and headed down towards Stone Bridge, now occupied by the A281 and rebuilt as a result of the heavy traffic that now uses this road. Where there was once an arched bridge, this has now been strengthened by adding bricks into the arch and leaving only a culvert. It is the first obstacle that will be encountered by the preservationists along the route but not as insurmountable as the problem that exists on the other side, where the canal bed has been largely filled in and used as an ornamental stream by the private landowner. In all likelihood this part of the canal will have to be rebuilt entirely, probably using the Bramley Stream adjacent as the basis of the new canal. My very brief trip alongside the canal also stopped abruptly as the path now heads south using the Downs Link and the old railway line that once ran from Horsham – Guildford.
Double Bridge
In truth the next three miles or so are not especially interesting for the canal hunter. Much of the old canal bed has been obliterated under housing development in this area, although a mile or so along the track and interesting relic becomes obvious. While heading under the three arched Tannery Bridge, the link path to the North Downs for the Downs Link comes into view and its route uses what at first glance to be an addition to the rail bridge. However, on closer inspection it is clearly the original canal bridge, which has been built over and incorporated into the former railway bridge. The canal bed here is still visible but very weed choked as nature has taken over.
Bramley and Wonersh Station
A little further along the railway and the path makes a brief detour as the rail bridge across the stream has been removed. Ironically the path uses the canal aqueduct to cross the stream and return back to the trackbed. From here it is possible to look back along the canal bed all the way back to Tannery Bridge. Onwards from here though the canal bed becomes unclear as it runs through adjacent gardens. For a little while at least the only industrial archaeology on offer is to do with the railway and soon I reached the site of Bramley and Wonersh station. I couldn’t help but smile at the irony of a train climbing frame in an adjacent play area as I approached the old station. The station itself has recently been partially restored from its previously very overgrown state. The platforms are still extant and a few other adornments have been put in such as replica crossing gates, a replica signal and signage to try and recreate something of the atmosphere it would once have had when operating as a station. What really caught my eye though was the postbox on the western platform that was apparently part of the original station building and left behind when the rest of it was demolished. South of the station the path continues along the railway for a couple of miles until Run Common. Initially there is no sign of the canal as it would once have passed through what is now a housing estate. According to the Trust, this section may present one of the biggest hurdles to completing the job.
Remnant of Station Building
Eventually though, to the left of the track a green duckweed choked body of water makes an appearance. I could see that this has some water in it and the banks were relatively clear suggesting that some restoration work has been carried out here in recent years, although nature is starting to slowly reclaim it. The railway continues for a while along a high embankment with the canal some distance below but eventually the two former transport corridors come to roughly the same level and inspection of the canal bed becomes easy as they run alongside each other. Eventually at Run Common, the Wey-South path diverts away from the Downs Link and initially takes the old tow path route. Run Common was once an important wharf along the route and this can still be picked out as a pond in an otherwise waterless stretch of canal bed. Apparently this was one of the first stretches to be restored, but probably needs another go as it is starting to return to nature after 35 years. About half a mile south of Run Common, the path leaves the canal as progress onward is impeded by a fence.
Canal in Water
The path heads out over farmland and it was a pleasant change to get views across to the Surrey Hills and surrounding countryside. Transport corridors are interesting to follow but often do nothing for exploring the wider countryside since many of them are tree-lined and offer no outward views. While I wasn’t sure at first about the various diversions needed along the Wey South path, I welcomed the first major one and I shall have to see about those more major ones to come.
Semi-Restored Section
Eventually the path comes back to the railway line. For ease of returning to the car and facing the prospect of darkness closing in, I decided to take the direct route along the Downs Link back to Cranleigh rather that the more tortuous route via the Wey South path. I shall continue using that route on the next section as there are some more pieces of canal to find along there.
Old Wharf
All in all, a good start to the route, although I followed more of the Downs Link than I would have liked. I shall be back along there for a complete trip with the bike soon and when I do I shall have to look out for some of the features of the canal I missed this time. Some were missed because of the overgrowth and some through ignorance but I shall be back!
Golden Fields

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Sussex Coast Walk Day 6 Littlehampton - Worthing

Look and Sea

Another Sunday morning jaunt this week and I have to confess I wasn’t especially looking forward to this section of walk.  I have previously walked this stretch of coast, during the foot and mouth crisis a few years ago when it was one of the few areas locally that weren’t off limits to walkers.  That should give some hint as to the terrain of this walk – largely urban fringe and quite heavily developed.  Some walks are memorable, some are unpleasant and some are just blah.  This walk is definitely in the latter category since I remembered very little of it for a few years ago! However, if I am to complete this walk along the Sussex Coast, I will have a few more uninteresting stretches mixed in with the best coast walking the country has to offer.
Banjo Road

I took the train to Littlehampton and passed by the derelict Steam Packet pub once again and followed the road down alongside the River Arun.  There are still a few obviously port-related buildings along the road although they are slowly being replaced by gentrified apartments like a lot of other waterfront locations around the country.  A little further down the road and I passed between two of the blocks of apartments to find myself on the harbour wall.  The development along Littlehampton riverfront isn’t bad, although I’m not sure I would like to live at ground floor level as I am sure there is a tendency for passers by to peek inside.  I had a hard time restraining myself and although I am naturally nosy, I’m sure I’m not the only one!
Beach Cafe

As part of the development, the community of Littlehampton acquired the Look and Sea Centre, a tower that houses a café, lookout tower and museum of seafront life.  It’s quite popular with my children and is a pleasant place to while away an hour or so.  Adjacent is the RNLI station that also looked as if it might have been part of the deal.  The lifeboat crew were busying themselves about the place, taking advantage of time away from their normal day jobs.  It’s hard to believe that this is a hobby for most of them!
Convalescent Home

At the south end of the riverside was a more traditional mix of terraced houses, cafes and small businesses largely closed on a Sunday morning.  There used to be a ferry that ran across to West Beach from here but I think it has now stopped as there was no signage.  A little way past where I took the ferry terminal to be (according to my map), the leisure facilities for Littlehampton began.  For such a small resort, the town of Littlehampton is actually quite well served for leisure facilities.  I passed by a very still boating lake and then an amusement park, apparently in rude health with a log flume and big slides in evidence.  At the light beacon on the shoreward end of the breakwater I turned left and headed east along the seafront.
World Speed Record

In some respects the walking today is a little monotonous, since the whole length of the walk is alongside a shingle beach.  However, given that I was doing a relatively short stretch it was bearable and there were other diversions en route, not least the activities of the large numbers of people out on this hot morning.  Littlehampton Seafront, although fairly short is very pleasant and the area behind the beach is largely given over to green space, giving the seafront a fairly open feel.  It was mostly quiet as I passed by although the beach itself was thronged with dog walkers and the promenade had many runners on their morning jogs.  I passed the café and could smell them preparing to open for the day, although the shutters were firmly shut.

Just past the café and the promenade meets the main road heading towards Rustington.  This is not an especially pleasant section, although about ¼ mile along the road I passed the magnificent Convalescent Home built in late Victorian times and still serving its original function.  Staying there would definitely help me feel better!
Stripy Beach Hut

Shortly after the road makes a sharp left into Rustington village centre and the coastal path then heads along a series of greenswards for the next couple of miles.  Almost unnoticed just past this point is a memorial stone placed there by Rustington Parish Council commemorating the world air speed records which were set offshore here just after World War II.  Even as a local I had not been aware of this little piece of local and international history.
Ferring Beach

In between greenswards, I came across an activity that was rather unexpected when I discovered a coffee morning going on at the back of a nursing home.  It was well supported although the bric a brac on offer didn’t hold much interest to me.  As I continued I came across the first of the greensward signs for the day.  Many of these open areas are still privately owned and although the footpath cuts across them, the open areas actually form part of the privately owned estates adjacent.  Their usage is obviously closely guarded for each different one I crossed demanded that visitors must not camp, cycle, use a radio, play ball games etc, in fact do almost anything that might be construed as fun!  Consequently most visitors were sedately walking along like me, or were sitting around on park benches looking like they were too decrepit to do much else.  As I headed east the housing on the landward side of the path became more and more ostentatious, with great big mock mansions and huge hedges surrounding them.  Many of these estates can only be accessed using private roads, adding to the exclusivity of the area.  In fact the footpath is pretty much the only public access that actually exisits.
Beach Garden

Then the footpath ran out at the end of Rustington!  From here there was a half a mile trudge along the shingle bank past the yacht club and it was a stark reminder of how awful this surface is to walk on.  Luckily it is quite a short stretch and soon I picked up another path on the Ferring greensward.  By now the early morning sunshine had given way to a sea fret which was billowing in from time to time, with watery sun trying its best to burn it off. 

Before long I reached another café, the Bluebird at Ferring.  It was doing a brisk trade, with many customers sitting outside enjoying a late breakfast.  Almost all the beach huts alongside were shut up though, rather strange for a hot midsummer Sunday.  The section of walk from here into the Borough of Worthing was thronged with walkers, all enjoying a Sunday morning stroll along the tarmacked path that serves as the access for the seafront houses.  On the way into Worthing I passed by a pillbox, complete with plaque advising that it was a type 26 (whatever that is).  The pillbox appeared to have been vandal proofed, for although complete it had no windows, suggesting that it is no longer in its original state (or how else would it have been useful?)
Goring Gap

Around the corner and I arrived at the edge of Worthing.  Immediately the feel of the seafront was different, with the green space immediately behind the beach being publicly owned and as such filled with people already playing ball, enjoying picnics etc.  Unfortunately, the down side of all this activity is that there was a lot more litter in evidence.  Unfortunately in my professional capacity I am acutely aware of the problems and sensitivities of the litter left behind by visitors here.  Seeing how people abuse public space, I can understand entirely why the private landowners along the coast from where I have just come from have adopted the attitude they have.
Sea Lane Cafe

The Goring end of Worthing seafront is pleasant and makes for easy walking, passing along tamarisk lined paths until I reached Sea Lane Café.  I know this to be an absolute goldmine and with good reason, the food is good and the location cannot be beaten.  Even on a rotten day it can be quite exciting watching the waves crash in on the beach below while you quaff a coffee.  Today was no exception as it was heaving even though it was well before lunchtime. Almost as soon as I passed Sea Lane Café, the beach huts began.  There are a large number of beach huts in Worthing, predominantly white in contrast to the three colour scheme that seems to operate in Arun.  Walking along behind the huts feels a liitle strange, like being divorced from the sea and I was pleased when I reached West Parade and the beach huts ended.  My final action on the seafront was to take a close look at the Waterwise Garden.  This was put in as a joint project by the Council and Southern Water a few years ago to promote the idea of gardening with less water.  It’s an interesting little area, but not for aficionados of shingle plants, since many of them are not native!  A list of plants can be found at http://www.worthing.gov.uk/worthings-services/leisureandculture/parksampopenspaces/parksinworthing/parksinalphabeticalorder/waterwisegarden/
Waterwise Garden

I decided to leave the seafront via Marine Gardens and save the rest of Worthing seafront for the next section of walk.  All in all this was nothing more than a pleasant stroll, not terribly exciting but not nearly as deadly boring as I had remembered.  Probably worth doing as only this short stretch as trying to push on might be just too much urban fringe walking all at once!