Thursday, 19 July 2012

The Serpent Trail Section 1 Haslemere - Liphook

Haslemere Town Hall

With all the rain we have had this spring and summer I am starting to get demotivated for walking even when the weather is decent as I know that underfoot will be so muddy.  Finding places to go walking is becoming almost as much of a challenge as the walks themselves!  A project that I have had tucked up my sleeve for some time is the Serpent Trail, a shortish walk (5 or six days) that weaves its way, snake like (hence the name) joining up the heathland areas of the Greensand in northern Sussex and Hampshire.  Given the sandy soils I thought it would be a good bet for a dry walk J.

Haslemere High Street
I parked at Liphook Station (free on a Sunday) and caught the five minute train journey to Haslemere.  I was immediately struck by how similar the stations were – almost like they were plucked off the supply shelf for that year.  As I wandered into Haslemere I had to dodge some fairly horrendous looking roadworks, it looked as if half the town was being dug up by the gas board.  Fortunately the star building – the fine looking Town Hall, was unaffected and the main street looked very pleasant decked out in its Jubilee/ Olympic Decorations.  Sadly Haslemere is not on the Olympic Torch Route so will not get the experience of seeing the flame pass by.
Swan Barn Walk Flowers

My route started just along the road from the Town Hall, almost opposite the point where I started the Greensand Way so years ago.  It was a rather different day today, with heavy clouds overhead threatening rain at any moment although the forecast suggested I would see some sunshine eventually.  Almost immediately I left the High Street and my battle with the mud commenced.  It was fairly unpleasant going as far as Almshouse Common but I slithered along as best as I could, passing the Belted Galloway herd of cows that I had seen on the nearby Sussex Border Path section last autumn.

A River Runs Through It
In fact at Almshouse Common, I virtually reprised my route to Black Down in the opposite direction from my Sussex Border Path excursion last autumn.  Today’s walk wasn’t nearly so pleasant, with no sunshine, mud underfoot and no autumn colours L.  There was nothing for it but to put my head down and get some miles under my feet hoping that things would come good when I got up to Black Down, a viewpoint that I know well and deserves some time and a clear view.

Black Down View
I actually made good time and got up to the top of Black Down fairly quickly.  Although I had met few people on the lower slopes when I got to the top things were rather different.  A friendly family of cyclists passed me, dropping the little lad’s helmet as they tended to his needs just past me.  They looked very grateful when I went over to pick it up for surely it would have been quite a struggle to do that themselves!  Next I passed by a woman with very different needs – in fact I was surprised she was up here at all, so old, crooked and wizened was she.  She flashed me a nice smile though – perhaps these outings keep her going?

Spotlight Sun
From the car park it was a straightforward walk to the viewpoint at the wonderfully named ‘Temple of the Winds’.  Right on cue almost the sun came peeping out from the clouds and shone shafts of light over the countryside ahead of me.  The view was superb – a result of all the rain we have had washing any vestige of mist away.  Black Down must surely be one of the best viewpoints in Sussexyet is rarely spoken about.  From here I could see the sea at Littlehampton, Chanctonbury Ring and even Malling Hill in Lewes.  These are places between 25 and 35 miles away from the point at which I was standing.  Through the binoculars I could see incredible detail and there was a part of me that wished I had just come for this view alone and not worried about the rest of the walk.

Pine Silhouettes
The early evening light got much better as the clouds parted a bit and eventually I had to tear myself away from the fabulous view I had been looking at.  The skyscape then began to take on more importance as a feature in itself as the clouds jostled around leaving clear spots here and there.  I wandered down through the Scots Pines and heathland seeing only one chap who was desperately searching for the viewpoint (he sounded German).  After that – no-one for quite some time as I headed down the slope back towards the outskirts of Haslemere.  Undoubtedly the Serpent Trail could not have missed Black Down, but in terms of progress made so far I had barely made any onward distance towards Liphook.

Early Flowering Heather
As I got to the bottom of the hill I had to pick my way through some serious mud once again.  In fact I remember this section being fairly muddy when I came this way on the SBP.  I eventually came to the A286, a very busy road that took some time to cross before heading up onto the sandy heathland of Marley Common.  After all the mud of the previous twenty minutes (some places it was almost ankle deep) I was very pleased to come across some well drained paths once again and I could step up the pace.  More of the cloud had shifted by now and the evening sun was very pleasant indeed. 

Sunlight Burst
On top of Marley Common, the Serpent Trail takes a different route across the heathland towards Liphook that the SBP.  In fact I was most relieved it did, for much of the day’s walking so far had been on very familiar territory and I was eager to see something new.

Foxglove Colour
I would say that the route taken by the Serpent Trail across Marley and then Lynchmere Commonsis superior to the Border Path Route, but then it isn’t bound by the artificial line that is the county boundary.  Yet, despite the wonderful scenery I didn’t enjoy this section as much as I should have done.  I think that a lot of woodland walking, while enjoyable, gets a bit disorientating after awhile.  I found it quite difficult to match what I was seeing on the ground with how the route looked on the map and that made me feel decidedly uncomfortable. 

Marley Common
Strangely I also think that the summer is possibly the most boring time of year for heathland for foxgloves apart, the landscape was devoid of the colours that make it so special.  Every now and again I got a splash of purple from the early flowering heather but mostly the only colour in the landscape was green.

Peeping Out
Eventually on Lynchmere Common I rejoined the Sussex Border Path and started getting anxious about the remaining light for the day.  At Lower Brookham the path takes a big detour around a school set in the woods and it sounded like a very loud end of term party was going on somewhere in the depths of the woods.  It certainly wasn’t the peace and quiet I had become used to earlier on the walk!  I also found there was a dearth of signage along this section of route and wondered whether the two were related (school and lack of signage).

However, I eventually stumbled onto the road heading into Liphook and was pleased to have some tarmac under my feet again.  It was a short and pleasant walk back to Liphook Station from here.  Overall I found this walk slightly disappointing, but probably because I had been spoiled with much better conditions when I had mostly done this walk in the opposite direction on the Sussex Border Path route.  Having said that the view from the top of Black Down was as good as I ever remember it and the spotlight effect created by the sun through the meagre gaps in the clouds was quite special.  I might wait for autumn tints before tackling the next section of this path though.

Friday, 13 July 2012

1066 Country Walk Section 4 Winchelsea and Rye

St Leonard's Church

Last week I finally managed to find a small window of opportunity to finish off the section of the 1066 Country Walk that I had had to abandon at the beginning of June on account of the torrential rain.  Given that there was only a three mile stretch left between Winchelsea and Rye I decided that it would be a good opportunity to do a loop and incorporate a section of the Saxon Shore Way
that had equally been spoiled by weather back in 2005, although on that occasion it was heavy snow.
Winchelsea Houses

I parked close to the bus stop where I had previously abandoned the walk and was pleased to see how much sunshine was around over Winchelsea.  With a fairly stiff wind and lots of puffy white clouds around I knew that the conditions may not last long, so I took the opportunity to take a good look around the town/ village (locals argue over the status!).

Strand Gate
As well as the half ruined church (apparently damaged in a French Raid in the 1300s and not fully repaired) the town is very much like a quieter and smaller version of Rye, the tourist honeypot that Winchelsea faces across what would have once been the sea.  I wandered down to the Strand Gate for a look at that entrance and then a looping route to pick up the official path heading off to Mill Hill.  This was once the home of a windmill that became a victim of the 1987 Great Storm.  Only remains of the mill can still be traced after the structure was almost completely destroyed in the storm.  Just along from the remains of the mill is also an old boundary post from Hastings, a reminder of the extent of that Borough before local government reorganisation.

Site of Winchelsea Windmill

The hill itself had a prominence that far outweighed its height.  In Roman times the low lying land was full of seawater, although I suspect that it actually resembled a bit of a salt marsh and was affected greatly by the tides.  Now it is pasture and arable farmland for the most part and the former appearance can only be guessed at.  I suspect that the hill on which I was stood had a modest cliff line.  The path wound around the hill to appear back on the main road that I had crossed only a couple of hundred metres away.  In order to climb the hill, the A259 takes a tortuous route around the foot and via an enormous turn of almost 270 degrees.  I would not like to meet a double decker bus headed towards me on the bend!

Daily Commute

After my brief dalliance with the main road I headed along a country lane towards Winchelsea Station, more than a mile from the place it is meant to serve.  Probably for this reason the station has been downgraded somewhat and now only gets a service of half a dozen trains per day, with lengthy periods between them.  Not a very convenient way of getting to Winchelsea – I guess this is a ‘Parliamentary Service’ put on only to prevent the closure of the station rather than be of any real benefit to the passengers wanting to use it.  The station itself has also been rationalised, with the old station house now a private residence and that platform no longer in use.  Only a concrete open platform remains, although the railway staff have done their best to prettify it by putting some planters with flowers along its length.

Winchelsea Station

I continued along the lane until reaching a junction at the foot of what would have been the old cliff line at the far side of the valley.  The took a right at the wonderfully named Dumb Woman’s Lane – I’d love to know the provenance of that one!  I also had to take evasive action to avoid a large number of cyclists that were coming up behind me – they were also taking advantage of the small amount of good weather being enjoyed that day.

Former Cliff Line

I left the tarmac road as it headed up the hill and continued my course along the foot of the old cliff line.  This turned out to be a most agreeable section of walk – full of bird and butterfly life.  I wasn’t good enough to be able to capture any on film alas.  The constant light and shadow from the clouds scudding across the sky made for constantly different views and in this rather flat landscape the sky looked very big indeed!

Spider Meal
I had a happy moment as I approached a gate for in the opposite direction was an old gentleman, who looked to be on a similar mission to me, with his binoculars ready and camera poised.  We reached the gate simultaneously and shared a moment as we speculated on how coincidental that was when we were probably the only two walkers within a mile radius!

Rye Windmill

A little further on and in between the frustration of trying to photograph Red Admiral butterflies and rabbits running away hell for leather as I approached, I caught sight of a spider eating a hapless looking bee.  It wasn’t a spider in a web though but one cunningly camouflaged on a wild carrot flower.  An amazing sight that I had never seen before!

Swan Family
As I approached Rye I passed by a very unusual water treatment works – in fact it looked surprisingly grand for such a modest sized building.  Sadly it had been made vandal proof which had rather spoiled its good looks.  Above me was worse news though when a very large black cloud came overhead and rather spoiled my picture taking for a few minutes as it became rather dark.  Any notion of taking some pictures in Rye were rather dashed therefore and while I did linger for a short while at Rye Windmill, I decided that I would push on back towards Winchelsea rather than hang around for some more blue sky that might never come.

Looking Back to Rye

This ended my walk along the 1066 Country Walk – I have only the Bexhill and Hastings links to do now for this most agreeable little project.  It really does cover most of the main points of interest in this part of East Sussex, although if I am just a little critical of the route it would be that the Saxon Shore Way and 1066 Country Walk should swap routes between Rye and Winchelsea to make both walks a little more authentic for what they are respectively trying to achieve.

Guarding Camber Castle

Anyhow, I took the Saxon Shore Wayroute out of Ryeand headed through some very large sheep fields.  For most of the way to Camber Castlemy ears were full of the sound of bleating sheep, with the call of the lapwings that live in these parts accompanying them every so often.  It was a most peaceful evening besides that and despite the pretty good weather there were very few people about.  Before I got to Camber CastleI also had an encounter with a swan family that were getting pestered by some black headed seagulls.  I gave them a wide berth as they didn’t look too good tempered!
Royal Military Canal

By the time I reached Camber Castle, the large black cloud above me had dissipated and the castle was periodically lit up once again.  Camber Castlewas one of Henry VIII’s Device Forts, built to a similar design to others at Deal, Walmer, Southsea and Pendennis.  It was originally built to protect the Ryeanchorage, but since the retreat of the sea in these parts it now looks rather incongruous.  I was rather bemused to see that it now charges an entrance fee, which seemed a bit much considering that it is a mile from the nearest road and consists of only a ruin.  I hope English Heritage raise enough £3 entrance fees to make opening worthwhile, let alone have any money left over for renovations.  Anyhow, I wandered all round this fairly complete and lonely structure, fascinated by the enormous pits that have appeared in the stonework through 500 years worth of erosion.
Canal Crossing

By now the wind seemed to have whipped up more and the trees were blowing inside out and the clouds racing along as I re-approached Winchelsea.  I decided to walk along the Old Military Canal to the west end of Winchelsea so that I could re-enter the town through the New Gate and take another look at that in the sunlight rather than the driving rain I experienced last time.

New Gate
Walking along the canal was quite an experience.  I initially passed a young family trying their best to have a picnic hunkered down in the long grass.  Every so often a big black cloud looking like it would be full of rain would pass by and the path wasn’t the most pleasant to follow as it was quite overgrown.  I was glad to regain the road back through the New Gate and was pleasantly surprised when the sun reappeared properly for my triumphant entrance back into Winchelsea.

Wickham Manor View
On the way back into Winchelsea I saw many of the same sights that I had on the last stretch, but with the added bonus of seeing them in sunshine!  I did get a better look this time though of the house called Greyfriars, a large house built on the site of a former priory that was dissolved by Henry VIII during the Reformation.  Not much of the original priory is left for much of the stone was hauled away to build Camber Castle.  Priorities eh?  Sadly the glimpse of the house, which looks a rather grand affair, is all too fleeting and as you get closer to the house it is mostly obscured by trees.
Road into Winchelsea

I soon got back to Winchelsea to conclude my evening walk & a rather more pleasant walk it was too than trying to fight through the rain as was my prospect last time here!  The walk I followed would make for an excellent family walk, with plenty to see and learn about on the way.  I must admit to being a huge fan of this little corner of Sussex.  Sadly there is only one long distance walk I haven’t tried around here, so my excuses for coming will be soon run out…

Back to St Leonard's Church

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Arun Valley Walks - Arundel to Amberley

Arundel View

After the success of our family expedition a couple of weeks ago the weather was nice enough for us to have another go & so we had to find another route that was of similar length that had enough interesting things to see on the way that the girls would enjoy the experience.  Not really an official walk, but one which I had fancied for some time was to walk across Arundel Park and the Arun Valley between Amberley and Arundel, in a sense continuing the exploration of the countryside that would have been followed by canal craft using the ‘Lost Route to London’ followed in part by the Wey-South Path that I completed in 2009.  However, in view of the windy weather, the small children we had with us and having the sun at our backs we followed the route northwards from Arundel.

Arundel High Street

The journey on the train from Amberley is an hourly frequency and takes only five minutes, but left the wallet a bit light, being a very steep £7.40 for the four of us!  Arundel station isn’t the most convenient, dumping passengers on the busy A27 about half a mile to the south east of the town and leaving a rather unpleasant walk for would be visitors to the town.  Luckily, when we reached the bridge over the River Arun things improved immeasurably.  The bridge was the first opportunity for a sit down and the surroundings were pleasant enough for the girls to want their picnic already.  This worked out nicely as it meant that we had less to carry for the rest of the trip!

Arundel Post Office

Looking at the size of the River Arun, it is hard to believe that this was once a thriving port.  The odd pleasure boat comes through here now, but the former wharves have long since been replaced by housing.  Littlehampton took over port duties from Arundel some miles further downstream, but even that has long since ceased to be a port in the meaningful sense. 

Castle South gate

Arundel is probably one of the most picturesque towns in all of Sussex (and there is quite a lot of competition in that regard).  On this sunny Saturday it really looked at its best and despite the odd closed shop the town centre looked to be in fairly rude health.  We marched up the hill past all the antique shops and galleries designed to cater for the many tourists that descend on the town.  At the top we passed the enormous gateway to Arundel Castle, the gothic seat of the Dukedom of Norfolk.  Strangely, I have not visited the castle since before I can remember, but have a feeling that this will change very soon!  The castle itself is a bit of a sham, as much of what can be seen is the Victorian vision of how a castle should look.  There is an original castle somewhere inside but it isn’t easy to see from outside the walls.

Arundel Castle

Further along the road and we passed by Arundel Cathedral, another gothic creation that vies with the castle for prominence on the Arundel skyline.  It probably succeeds from the western side since the Castle occupies the eastern slopes of the town.  The Cathedral wasn’t dedicated as such until 1965, as the main Catholic Church of the newly formed diocese of Arundel and Brighton.  The girls were in a hurry to get out on to the open Downs so they could run about so only a cursory look at the architecture was afforded as we passed by.

Arundel Cathedral

We crossed the road and headed up past the cricket ground.  This is one of the most picturesque grounds in all of Britain, hosting at least one County Championship game for Sussex each year and is a thoroughly enjoyable place to watch this most English of games.  The arena is not actually visible from the track sadly, but ahead we could see Hiorne Tower, which acted as a good focal point for the way ahead.  The tower was built as a folly by Francis Hiorne for the 11th Duke of Norfolk in the 18th Century for apparently no better reason than proof that he could.

Hiorne Tower

The onward path wasn’t quite so easy to spot as we headed down into Swanbourne Valley below.  This heads down slowly to a point where two dry valleys meet to become the one that is now occupied by a small lake so beloved of water birds from miles around.  Normally our walk in this area extends only as far as a loop around the lake.  Today though we would be heading onward, up the initially steep hill on the other side to the very top of Arundel Park.  We plodded our way slowly up the hill, admiring the wild flowers as we did so.  This year seems to have been a bumper one for wild flowers – they are in such profusion everywhere and this part of the Downs was no exception!

Arundel Park
We were rewarded at the top of the hill with one of the best views from anywhere on the Downs, looking out towards the upper reaches of the River Arun.  Far below the river meanders around the base of the hill we were stood on, cutting a cliff as it does so.  The puffy white clouds together with the wind made for some interesting shadow patterns on the landscape as they raced along.  In fact the skyscape was almost as interesting as the landscape, with high level cirrus type clouds in evidence high above the fair weather clouds.  Trails from aeroplanes heading to the London airports also added to the mix, creating some very interesting patterns indeed.
Arundel Park View

For us though the high level walking was very short lived as our path headed down the other (steeper) side of the hill.  The wildflowers that had been lost through the sheep fields that we had travelled through now returned in profusion, mostly a palette of purples and yellows, with the odd common spotted orchid thrown in.  It was quite a steep track though and we had to keep our wits about us so as not to slip over.  At the bottom where we entered some woodland the path was especially slick after all the rain we had had.

Common Spotted Orchid

We passed through the large flint wall that surrounds Arundel Park and turned right to follow the path back towards Arundel alongside the River Arun.  We wanted to cross the river at South Stoke via the only bridge in these parts.  The path through the woods was no joke though – some of the forestry vehicles had obviously been this way before us and there were a lot of very large muddy puddles disrupting our progress.  For the kids this only added to the adventure of the trip, especially as it was touch and go in some instances whether they could hang on to their shoes!

Shadow Over the Barley

Eventually we picked our way through the woods and came out into a section alongside some large barley fields.  The combination of sun breaking through the clouds, picking out certain parts of the fields and the wind waving the feathery crops around was quite a mesmerising spectacle that we all enjoyed.  Eventually we reached the  small village of South Stoke, where we stopped in the churchyard for a bit of a breather and an afternoon snack to help small people’s energy levels.  Fortunately St Leonard's Church was open and so we took the opportunity to look inside.  It was a very peaceful church, not very large but well kept and with a modest stained glass window at one end.  The church itself was built of knapped flint, like most proper downland churches, but also had an unusually thin tower.  In the churchyard was a small flock of sheep being used to try and tackle some of the grass that had grown up around the graves.

Fearsome Mud

After some refreshment and a few minutes to rest we pushed on, heading around the perimeter of the church and making our way down to the River Arun.  We crossed via the substantial bridge that looked as if it were provided for a possible road route that never quite happened.  A look at the map will show that the roads stop no more than about half a mile apart on either side of the river.  I guess having a through route would encourage far too much traffic, so perhaps it is a godsend that it doesn’t exist, for the tranquillity of the valley.

St Leonard's Church

We turned immediately left and followed the riverbank for a short distance before heading through another stretch of woodland that appeared to follow a former meander loop.  Again the mud through here was fearsome in places and we had to lift the children over the worst of it.  Yet, the flowers through here were doing really well, with guelder rose, elderberries, cow parsley and briar roses all doing really well and adding a lot of colour to the woods.  The second bridge of our walk was a distinctive little suspension bridge, which seemed to take us across the bog that had now formed from the old meander loop.

Arun Bridge

The field the other side was full of bullocks – almost all of them stopped what they were doing as we headed through and stared at us.  It made us all feel rather self conscious!  We headed quickly but steadily across the field, breathing something of a sigh of relief the other side (although we weren’t seriously in any danger).  At the far end of the field we entered the village of North Stoke, a place that seemed to be stuck in a time warp, well out of range of normal passing traffic or visitors, stuck down here at the end of a lengthy cul-de-sac road.  I guess this would be an ideal place to live for lovers of peace and quiet!

North Stoke Suspension Bridge

We headed along the road initially for the last leg of the journey, but soon opted to take a slightly longer route along a footpath heading back to the river after we had some uncomfortable encounters with cars.  The footpath turned out to be little better as we had to use various pieces of wood to try and help us cross the path-wide puddles that had formed.  By the time we had reached the riverbank once again we had stretched every leg muscle possible trying to avoid the worst of the mud, getting stung or prickled!  At the riverbank we found another obstacle in the shape of another herd of bullocks completely blocking the path the other side of our stile.  They formed quite a formidable barrier to our onward progress but luckily a few handclaps soon moved them on and they didn’t cause any bother.  The rest of the walk along the riverbank to Houghton Bridge was uneventful and surely nicer than walking along the road.

Being Watched

We did face one last unpleasant stretch though across Houghton Bridge, a rather narrow structure that can only just accommodate two lanes of traffic.  As pedestrians the crossing is a little scary, so we hurried across when there was a momentary absence of traffic.  It was a bit of a sting in the tail after such a pleasant and peaceful walk.  We were really proud of the children who completed the five miles with no great problems and had a thoroughly good time exploring on the way.  I have a feeling we may well try other routes in this area, helped by the presence of the train line.  There are numerous possibilities between Billingshurst and Littlehampton to keep us amused!

Houghton Bridge