Thursday, 22 October 2009

London LOOP section 6 Banstead - Kingston

London LOOP
During the winter months I like to do different types of walks than I do in the summer and I find October is about the time I change my perspective a bit.  Two walks I have had my eye on for a long time are the Capital Ring and the London LOOP.  Both walks circle the capital through the inner and outer suburbs respectively largely through green spaces and parkland areas.
Borough of Epsom and Ewell

Last week following an Ebay purchase made by my wife I had cause to visit south west London and so the opportunity arose to walk one of the sections of the LOOP, which passed within ¼ of a mile of the collection address in Old Malden.  My original intention with the route was to start at the beginning in Erith but obviously I couldn’t look this gift horse in the mouth and so started this walk at an unconventional point.  I parked at Malden Manor station nearby, thinking that if time was against me at least I could walk just as far as here.  If I had more time I could press on as far as Kingston a further three miles distant.
Nonsuch Park

The train journey from Malden Manor to Banstead was a bit convoluted and took over an hour for the seven mile journey as the crow flies (maybe there is a quicker bus route? I didn’t check).  Anyhow, after changing at Wimbledon, taking the Croydon Tram and changing again at West Croydon I eventually arrived at Banstead station.  This is not on the route but a waymarked link route took me to the route proper about half a mile away.
Nonsuch Palace

Initial reactions were good as I crossed Banstead golf course and found some decent signage declaring distances along the route.  The course was quite busy with golfers on a resolutely grey day and I am sure that they, like me hoped that the weather would improve (it never really did, despite threatening to a few times).  After crossing the golf course however, I entered a large slab of suburbia.  Unfortunately for the next mile and a half the path has not managed to find a greener route and is directed through some pleasant, if rather boring, 1930s suburban streets.  It was unusually quiet, with only a small handful of householders out in their gardens.  I hurried through this section as quickly as I could.
Epsom Castle

About halfway through I passed into Epsom and Ewell Borough, announced by a large sign and proudly proclaiming their twinning with Chantilly (of lace fame?).  I can’t say the scenery changed though, although I did note a rather unusual road layout around the corner when I noticed a single carriageway main road with equal sized service roads on either side.  It seemed very indulgent compared with today’s town planning requirements to squeeze as many houses into a given space as possible.
Tower Without a Church

After passing a very ugly looking church I eventually passed under a railway line (the first of several today) and into Warren Farm, a large but uninspiring greenspace owned by the Woodland Trust.  I had had high hopes for this area as I passed through suburbia and although initially disappointed I was heartened when I entered Nonsuch Park ( , an adjacent open space with an interesting history.  This apparently was once the estate which housed a royal palace built by Henry VIII as a hunting lodge.  There are few remains of the place, which was apparently demolished by a mistress of Charles II who had the estate broken up to help pay off her gambling debts.
Well House
On a grey autumn afternoon the place was delightful with odd leaves lazily drifting to ground and squirrels busily running about gathering up acorns and conkers to stash away for the winter.  Conscious of time I didn’t venture off route but apparently the Mansion is well worth a look and I might avail myself another time if I come pack this way.  The path continued on the south side of the park and before leaving for good I did come across the remains of the banqueting hall, which shows the outline of the former structure.  Now reduced to head height, the walls are still extant.
Bourne Hall Gate

I crossed the busy Ewell by-pass and headed into the town centre.  Ewell is delightful, with lots of old and unusual buildings, including a ‘castle’ (now used as a school, once attended by Oliver Reed apparently), the 18th century ‘Well House’ and most unusually a church tower without a church!  The old St Mary’s church at first glance looks the part but as you get closer you soon realise that there is no nave and the tower itself is surrounded by an iron railing fence.  After the disappointment of the early part of the walk I now found myself getting more interested in the route.  I crossed through the busy ‘village’ centre (as locals still refer to it) and through the impressive gateway to Bourne Hall.  This was once a traditional mansion with surrounding grounds but was swept away in the 1960s to be replaced by a library resembling a flying saucer.  Nevertheless the grounds were still very attractive and were abuzz with birdlife and even more squirrels frantically going about their business.
Bourne Hall Pond

Beyond the park I passed by Upper Mill, yet another historic building that is currently being refurbished.  I entered the enclosed and wooded world of the Hogsmill River, which I would now basically follow for the remaining part of the walk into Kingston (a local Councillor has put together a website about it, which can be found at   The initial part of the valley was quite interesting as I crossed various tributary streams from other springs and their associated bridges.  I soon reached another railway underpass and this time the walk hijacked a bridge used by the river.  I crossed the railway by walking on a bridge across the river but under the railway, it was all rather ingenious!  I took care on the other side to duck under the large pipe that also crossed the path.
Hogsmill River

From here the pathway is pleasant but somewhat monotonous for the next few miles.  The Hogsmill River Valley is a surprising green strip of land hemmed in on all sides by housing estates, municipal parks and sports pitches.  The walking is pleasant enough and in parts there are some features that have been added to the river to make it more interesting.  The river itself was clean and tidy (contrary to reports from other walkers) and there was some evidence that it is being looked after by volunteers or park wardens, with notice boards about various issues.  The sports pitches were pretty popular with many games of football and rugby in full swing.
Stepping Stones

I eventually reached the very busy A240 by a rather convoluted route using the available pedestrian crossings.  The path itself continued to the left of the Tolworth Bridge (it’s not obvious!) and resumed its journey along the Hogsmill for another half mile or so.  I soon became aware of the sound of what I initially took to be lawnmowers (a rather strange sound on a day like this) and was rather surprised to pass an impressive looking go cart track that was full of people having an afternoon of fun.
Hogsmill River

Just past here I left the Hogsmill for a bit as no path exists along the bank for half a mile or so.  Instead a circuitous route loops around Malden, past a Toby Carvery (could be a good place for lunch!) and up around to Malden Church.  This is an odd building, seeming to be a mish mash of styles as it has grown bigger over time.  Nevertheless it has a fine lych gate and remains an oasis of calm in this corner of London.  Just past the church I dropped back down into the Hogsmill valley and passed under the Chessington Branch Line at Malden Manor.  Time was still on my side so I decided to press on to the end of the section at Kingston.  Not much further on and I had yet another main road obstacle, this time the busy A3.  A long dog-leg was required to cross the road via a subway and given how busy the road was I would not be tempted to cross by any other means!
Malden Church

Once across the A3 the path continues for another mile or so alongside the Hogsmill past yet more sports fields and recreation grounds until eventually I reached Berrylands.  At this point the river becomes inaccessible once again and so I initially wandered along a couple of residential streets before crossing underneath another railway line at Berrylands station, which was perched on an embankment high above me.  The approach to Berrylands is impressive enough, with a 1930s shopping development but once across the line the approach couldn’t be more different.  The lane is only used by cyclists and pedestrians and is obviously a target for the local vandals, with graffiti daubed everywhere.  Why they would want to hang around though is beyond me for the air was permeated with the stench of the local sewage works.  Across the way, the Kingstonian faithful were singing their hearts out for their team.
Berrylands Approach

The path into Kingston from here followed various roads and alleyways so keeping an eye on the signage is very important so as not to get lost.  On the way I passed a newish) development called Margaret Lockwood Close.  I remembered this to be an actress for Hitchcock films but wasn’t sure what the local connection was.  I am sure she would be thrilled to have a road named after her though if she were still alive.
University of Kingston Bridge

Eventually as I reached the end of an alleyway a little further along I was reunited with the Hogsmill River for the last section of its journey to the Thames.  Now it was a confined river; its course determined by its concrete channel.  Almost hidden from view, one could be forgiven for thinking that it was an unnecessary nuisance flowing through the heart of town.  Only the University of Kingston seemed to acknowledge its existence fully and the bridges and seating areas in this area made it a feature of the academic landscape.  The main bridge outside the university was a little odd though as it once clearly had been a main road but was now closed to through traffic.  The bridge although still fairly substantial looking was not much more than a footbridge or monument, depending on how you looked at it.
Heading Into Kingston
From here I was plunged into the heart of Kingston and was slightly confused for a short while as some joker had turned some of the signage around.  I soon realised though that I was to be following the river once again past the Guildhalls, old and new.  I crossed one of Surrey’s oldest bridges and headed down through a new riverside development before reaching the ultimate destination; the River Thames.  There is a uniqueness about this river – it simply oozes class.  I don’t know whether it is the river traffic or the buildings alongside or the fine bridges crossing over.  Whatever it is the river definitely makes up for any deficiencies of this walk and makes you want to keep exploring.
Meeting the Thames
The riverside was very busy with people enjoying meals and drinks in the riverside bars, people jogging along the banks and others feeding the birds.  For me my day was done, but I do feel like I want to see more of this walk.  Maybe next time out I shall start at the beginning!

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Wey South Path Day 3 Billingshurst - Amberley

Rowley Lock Bridge
Six weeks on from my last excursion and how the landscape has changed! We have been lucky with September weather this year, but unfortunately I didn’t pick the best day today, as it was resolutely gloomy for most of the morning with a lot of dampness in the air first thing. This is my final official expedition on the Wey-South Path, although I may be tempted later on to have a go at completing the route dubbed ‘London’s Lost Route to the Sea’. The navigation itself continued beyond the length of the Wey South Path, down the River Arun and along another canal between Ford and Chichester Harbour that was closed even earlier. That though is for another time.
Rowley Lock
I parked at Amberley Station (I wasn’t tempted to start my rail journey from Worthing as connections are awful) and took the hourly train service to Billingshurst. The single fare for the 12 minute journey was an eye watering £4.20, but at least parking was free at Amberley (be warned though, there are only a handful of spaces). Billingshurst isn’t terribly convenient as a staging post but probably as good as you’re going to get. I then retraced my steps along the footpaths I had stumbled along the other week to get back to the Canal at Love’s Bridge. I went back as far as there to right the wrong of not having any pictures on the previous day’s walking. This stretch of canal is tantalisingly close to Drungewick Lane and surely it can only be a short time before this stretch of canal becomes navigable once again. Indeed as I went further south to Rowley Lock, the restoration of the old lock is both remarkable and a little strange. This is because it seems to be stranded from the rest of the canal and offers a brief glimpse of what the whole thing will look like when restoration is finally complete. My eye was drawn to a large pylon straddling the canal at this point, for it appears to have been planned that way, with no attempt made to infill the canal to accommodate it.
Stranded Section
Ahead is some good canal walking for a mile or so as far as Newbridge. On the way I passed a lifting bridge that had been put back into place as early as 1980 by a group of task force volunteers. As I wandered further along I was joined by the River Arun, a rather more attractive waterway at this point. Alongside the canal though were some fantastic looking blackberries, which I just had to take with me! Within 15 minutes I had plenty enough to make me a crumble later – fantastic!
Restored Lifting Bridge
Newbridge is the crossing by the A272 and the river crossing is quite impressive. The canal crossing has sadly been reduced to a culvert, but there is still a canal cottage alongside. Further on though there is a much better canal cottage, alongside what would once have been a wharf. As I continued towards Lordings Lock, it was quite obvious that the canal was once again disappearing into the countryside and for a good quarter of a mile or so across one field it has almost disappeared, having been infilled.
Eventually as I got towards Lordings Lock I heard a very strange clanking noise and naturally assumed that a working party were out. The lock comes as a real surprise after the obliterated section of the canal. It has been mostly restored and I soon realised that the clanking noise wasn’t a working party but the waterwheel which supplies water to the canal (or the bit of it in the lock – either side is obliterated). It is a truly remarkable relic from a bygone age, completely stranded from other parts of the canal but just about complete (apart from lock gates). There is a small picnic area on the site (presumably put there for the benefit of canal volunteers) and it seemed the perfect spot to have my picnic lunch. I can’t say it was particularly peaceful as I was accompanied by the constant clank clank of the waterwheel. The air was full of the pungent smell of ripe blackberries as all the adjacent bushes were absolutely groaning with ripe fruit. I guess that being so far from a parking area, this is not a spot that attracts many fruit pickers.
Lock Keeper's Cottage
After inspecting the lock and waterwheel for some time and scoffing my sandwich I started on again. The aqueduct across the Arun here is missing but on the other side I picked up the course of the canal once again. For the next couple of miles it doesn’t appear that much work has been done to the canal bed itself, but in truth this is probably more to do with the time of year I am here (all the vegetation still in place from summer growth) rather than lack of effort on the part of the volunteers. It is obvious that this part of the canal is being very much readied for boat traffic as most of the major engineering features such as bridges and locks have all been restored as far as Haybarn Bridge. It is a very pleasant walk along this stretch and because all the infrastructure is now more or less in place it is easy to imagine the canal in working order some time in the not too distant future.
Lordings Lock

Haybarn bridge is an oddity. It isn’t the original bridge and is also the only swing bridge on the canal. It has been brought here from the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and was installed in 2004 (see for pictures of the installation). For canal path people now though it represents an abrupt end to the towpath that the Wey South Path has followed for about 4 miles. In fact it is the last proper section of towpath walking at all heading south. From here I immediately passed through a deserted farm (probably because all the farm workers are busy getting ready for winter out in the fields) and then along a track seemingly heading towards Toat Monument, a folly tower that was built in 1827 to commemorate a hapless London tea merchant called Samuel Drinkald who apparently was thrown from his horse and killed on the very spot. Apparently his brother was a local racehorse owner, perhaps suggesting why he is commemorated here. Alas the tower cannot be reached on foot as it is sited on private land but acts as a tantalising landmark for miles around.
Haybarn Bridge
As it happens this is the closest the path gets to the monument and apart from a very brief meeting once again with the canal at Lee Farm Bridge a little further on, the route now takes on a slightly frustrating and lengthy detour away from the canal. This is because there has been a denial of access across the private land straddling the canal and there are relatively few footpaths in this area of the Arun Valley.
Pallingham Folly
By now it was early afternoon and the sun had finally put in an appearance. In fact within minutes it was pretty warm, which made the unaccustomed climb up past Pallingham Lane quite uncomfortable. The path heads up through pasture land and eventually reaches a country lane, where I turned left. A mile or so tramp along the country lane followed while I anxiously looked out for the lane that would reunite me with the canal for the last time.
Lengthy Deviation
All in all the deviation was more than two miles by the time I got back to Pallingham Quay Farm. This was once a substantial port, very difficult to believe now as the canal is mostly overgrown and the River Arun looks like not much more than a trickle. Just past the farm and the path crosses Pallingham Bridge, the last evidence of the canal itself and just a few yards from its very overgrown southern junction with the River Arun. Having completed a sizeable diversion to get here I soon realised after looking at the map that there was no prospect of a riverside walk either as the Wey South carries along the only available right of way swinging to the other side of the valley to follow another country lane almost all the way to Stopham Bridge.
Pallingham Quay
Eventually I reached a racehorse training area and the path deviates from the road here which was a welcome relief. The view from this spot was fantastic – ahead I could see the line of the South Downs and the ridge from Amberley to Washington. In front were the Amberley Wild Brooks and Pulborough Marshes, where I would eventually be headed. Nearer was Pulborough dominated by its church and just in front of me. While I admired the view I could also see the task ahead of me still for my ultimate destination was of course Amberley Station, situated just at the foot of the Downs ahead.
The Downs Ahead
I was pleased to leave the road behind a little further on and initially I wandered up through a sunken lane with lots of roots on show from the trees that were desperately trying to cling on. The lane was the main access to some very lucky homeowners who had the whole of the Arun Valley spread before them as a view. I turned left here and headed towards the remains of a Norman Motte and Bailey Castle, now completely hidden from view by woodland. The trees were a mixed bunch but with lots of sweet chestnuts among them. Squirrels were busily trying to gather what they could, while the trees themselves were starting to lose their spiky nut casings with a vengeance.
Stopham Bridge
Ahead I could hear the unmistakable sound of a busy road and soon enough I came upon the A283 at Stopham Bridge and reunited with the River Arun. The main road now passes over a modern bridge, but just to the south is the very attractive Stopham Bridge, which is essentially mediaeval and was unbelievable still carrying traffic until only a few years ago. In fact the old road markings and traffic light fittings can still be seen. Now thankfully only non-motorised transport can use the old thing, which is a scheduled monument. Adjacent is the very attractive White Hart public house and I made a mental note to come here for a spot to eat sometime soon.
The White Hart
Stopham Bridge marks a complete change of pace for the walk. The canal seems a long way behind me now as I negotiate the marshes that are the main feature of the Arun Valley between Pulborough and Amberley. Initially I crossed the Rivers Arun and Rother, which were once linked by a canal tunnel with remains still to be found hereabouts (I didn’t look, but this man has - By now I was getting slightly anxious about time as all my blackberry picking and picnicking loitering had caught up with me a bit. I crossed the old Pulborough - Midhurst rail line (mental note - explore this some time) and then the A29 before I headed across the marshes past Coldwaltham alongside an old canal cut that was constructed to cut off the large meander loop of the river.
Greatham Bridge
The next bridge across the River Arun is another corker – the 18th Century Greatham Bridge. Crossing this is a little tricky though as there is no footpath – it’s as well to make full use of the reservations on each of the masonry arches to make sure that you don’t get run over! Fortunately it was pretty quiet today and so I didn’t have to worry too much about traffic. The middle span is metal and slightly out of keeping with the masonry arches, but I suspect this was because it was needed for navigational purposes. This was my last crossing of the Arun today, the fourth in total and the river at this point looks much more like it is still capable of handling some decent sized boats.
Amberley Wild Brooks
I headed along the Arun bank for a short distance before the river meandered away once again. The path forges a fairly straight line across the Pulborough and Amberley Wild Brooks and after the closed in nature of the canalside section is was good to once again get out into ‘big sky’ country. I passed through a couple of farms and a herd of deer who couldn’t decide whether to watch me or flee (in the end they did neither – they ran a short distance before realising that I was no threat).
Foot of the Downs
When I reached the marsh I was slightly perturbed by the rather ancient looking sign suggesting that the marsh was dangerous. My imagination worked overtime, thinking about swamp monsters and quicksand, but in truth after such a period of dry weather it was an easy crossing. I bet it wouldn’t be much fun in the depths of winter though! As I approached Amberley I could here the most horrible sound. At first I couldn’t decide what it was, it sounded like a conveyor belt that needed oiling. As I got closer I realised it was a very large excavating monster with caterpillar tracks being driven by a grinning Environment Agency officer. He gave me a cheery wave for getting out of his way, but in truth I was never going to hold him up – he was big and mighty and I was an insect ready to be squashed!
Amberley Village
The Downs started getting closer and closer and I was starting to look forward to meeting the car once again. The sun was out again irritatingly, just as I was thinking about finishing my walk. The view across to Amberley Castle was lovely, although the best side is definitely the front side. This walk though wasn’t going to pass that close and this was the best view I was going to get.
Amberley Castle
Eventually I reached Amberley, one of the picture postcard villages of Sussex with its thatched cottages, castle and church. I poked into the village shop which had a lovely array of homegrown tomatoes lined up outside. Mundanely I only got a drink to wet my whistle, but this is a hidden but lovely little village shop well worth visiting.  The last section of the walk leaves the village and follows the road up over High Titten to give tantalising views of the old Amberley Museum below. This is also the route of the South Downs Way and a number of walkers were heading towards me, making the most of the lovely sunshine in this late afternoon. For me though it was a short plod down to the station to meet with the car and the end of the official walk.The Wey South Path is a hugely enjoyable short walking project. For speed walkers it’s not much good as there are many obstacles and diversions en route. It’s not particularly challenging as there aren’t many hills but for anyone interested in industrial archaeology I can’t recommend it highly enough. In fact I enjoyed it so much that I shall definitely continue down the Arun at some point and explore the rest of the waterway, including not just the river but the old canal between Ford and Chichester.