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Wandering: South Downs Way – Cocking to Queen Elizabeth Country Park

7 Aug

My wife and I completed another section of the South Downs Way on Saturday, after a few weeks break we finally made it back down to Cocking, near Midhurst in West Sussex to carry on heading west towards Winchester. The weather wasn’t particularly brilliant, for about the middle third of the walk we were accompanied by light rain, not enough to make us wish we had waterproofs, but just enough to be annoying.

The temperature was still pretty warm even though we only saw the sun for a couple of brief moments, there was a slight breeze, but not enough to make it cold. We should have had some spectacular views to the south across to Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, but the conditions meant that although you could see some vague outlines it was far from clear.

Looking east from Pen Hill nr South Harting, West Sussex

The second half of this walk was one of my least favourite parts last time, not particularly difficult just uninspiring. The only real notable feature of this section was the crossing of the border from West Sussex into Hampshire, but even this is easily missed because it is not marked in any way except on the map.

Queen Elizabeth Country Park at the end of the walk was a welcome sight bring with it toilets, refreshments and most importantly a bus stop from which we could start our journey home (the sound of the traffic racing past on the busy main road wasn’t quite so welcome).

Like the last time I wrote about our walk along the South Downs Way I am going to give you some facts and figures for Saturday’s walk:

Starting point: Cocking Hill Car Park, Cocking, West Sussex
Finishing point: Queen Elizabeth Country Park, Horndean, Hampshire
Distance walked: 11.1 miles
Highest point: Linch Ball (813 ft)
Places of note: Cocking Down, Linch Ball, Didling Hill, Monkton Wood, Treyford Hill, Pen Hill, Beacon Hill, Harting Downs, Queen Elizabeth Forest
Number of trig points spotted: One – Linch Ball (although we didn’t get up close)
Number of sandwiches eaten: Two halves (egg and rocket, cheese and cucumber )
Number of unusual place names: Two (Mount Sinai and Milky Way)
Number of bus journeys taken: Four
Number of train journeys taken: Two
Number of ice creams eaten: One
Shorts or long trousers: Shorts (still warm despite the lack of sunshine)

Copyright © 2011 John Gasson.
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South Downs Way: Cocking to Queen Elizabeth Country Park

19 Jun

South Downs Way sign

I just can’t get enough of the South Downs at the moment, and although the weather was a little disappointing, it turned out to be one of the most memorable days for a long time, mostly for the right reasons.

It is getting more complicated to get to the start and get back from the end of these walks, but getting to the start provided the first surprise of the day, our train was held up because of a steam train! I knew there was a steam tour passing through Sussex today, but didn’t think I would actually see it. Not that I could actually see much, but it was unquestionably a steam train, a rare sight on the mainline this day and age.

After the train came a bus ride to Cocking Hill Car Park, and almost straight away a walk up Cocking Down. Halfway up the hill is a rather large chalk boulder (pictured below). Like a giant marble, it is begging to be pushed down the hill, but I guess it is probably fixed in some way (or too heavy to be moved). According to my guide book it a work by sculptor Andy Goldsworthy and is part of the Chalk Stone Trail.

Chalk boulder

Up on the top of the Downs the views are quite spectacular, unfortunately because of the combination of poor light and haze my photos don’t do them justice. To the south Portsmouth with it’s Spinnaker Tower was clearly visible, with the Solent and Isle of Wight beyond that.

Closer to the path the next point of interest was a cemetery, but not the sort of cemetery I am used to, there were no headstones at this cemetery. The Devil’s Jumps (part of which is pictured below) are described on the information board as being "the best example of a Bronze Age (2000BC – 800BC) barrow cemetery on the South Downs". The Downs are dotted with smaller barrows and tumuli but these certainly take some beating.

Devil's Jumps

Not far from the Devil’s Jumps is a much newer memorial, a nice flint built memorial to Hauptmann Joseph Oestermann, a German pilot. It seems rather unusual that a German pilot should be remembered in such a way, and the story is certainly worthy of further research, such as who actually put it there?

Flint memorial

The path continued in a north-westerly direction, before turning westwards near Mount Sinai and climbing up Pen Hill, there once again the were some spectacular views, this time mainly to the north-east. Dropping down from Pen Hill, you are confronted by the bulk of Beacon Hill. The South Downs Way actually goes around the side of Beacon Hill, but I took a quick detour up to the top to visit the trig point and admire the views.

Looking east from Beacon Hill

As you can see from the pictures, there was plenty of cloud about. There were larger gaps in the cloud which allowed the sun to briefly spotlight certain favoured parts of the landscape. For most of the walk though it was still pretty warm, despite the lack of sunshine.

The biggest surprise of the day came after retracing my steps down Beacon Hill and walking around it to the other side. I was just beginning the climb up from Bramshott Bottom to Harting Downs when I heard the sound of a plane, or was it a helicopter? It certainly didn’t sound right, not a normal light aircraft, something bigger perhaps? Suddenly a big black shape appeared above the trees, no wonder it didn’t sound right, it took me a few seconds to realise it was a Lancaster bomber, passing a couple of hundred feet above my head!

I quickly pulled my camera out, but only managed to catch it disappearing to the east. There is only one Lancaster bomber flying in this country, with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, but what was it doing over the South Downs?

After the physical and emotional high points the rest of the walk became rather disappointing, heading west from Harting Down the path entered a thin strip of woodland and the temperature seemed to drop dramatically, and I was glad to get out into the brief spells of sunshine again.

The path westward from Harting was quite a challenge, not so much physically, but mentally. I had been going for nearly four hours without a break, I was starting to get hungry, my legs were beginning to ache, but worst of all the South Downs Way was becoming boring.

There were no real views to speak of, the path was pretty flat and mostly farm tracks and roads. Worst of all it seemed to go on for miles, although in truth it was only a couple of miles. Then came the county boundary, leaving West Sussex and entering Hampshire, this should have been an occasion worth celebrating, but there was no sign marking the border and it wasn’t easy to tell I had crossed it. The only noticeable indicator was a slight change in the style of signposts.

It was a real struggle to keep going, I needed to find somewhere to sit down and have a bite to eat, ideally somewhere in the sun, preferably with a view and a bench, and definitely soon. But there wasn’t anywhere, finally as I came to a bend in the road, I seized the opportunity. There was a length of wood acting as a step up to a footpath, that would have to do for a seat.

Not your usual picnic spot

It wasn’t much of a picnic spot, but I set off after only ten or fifteen minutes rest with spring in my step. I had looked at the map, there were only about four miles to go, the end was almost in sight. Suddenly I heard bells, they were loud and clear, I thought for a moment it was a mobile phone ringtone, but no it was definitely church bells, presumably carried up on the wind from Buriton Church.

It didn’t take long to finish of the last four miles. The last two were through the Queen Elizabeth Country Park, with nice wide paths and lots of signposts. In the end it took me about five hours to walk the fourteen miles and was glad to finally sit down in the bus shelter, by the side of another busy road as usual.

Getting home wasn’t easy: bus to Petersfield, train to Havant, train to Horsham and finally a bus home. Although I didn’t have to wait long at each change of transport, it still took me about two and a half hours to get home, but at least I was sitting down all the way.

So now I am in Hampshire, with only two sections to go until Winchester, the signpost at the country park said 23 miles to Winchester. The next section is going to be interesting, it should finish in Exton, Hampshire the home of some of my MITCHELL ancestors. I am really looking forward to having a look around the village and at the church where some of them were baptised and buried. The problem is that I still haven’t worked out how I am going to get home from there.

South Downs Way: Amberley to Cocking

17 Jun

South Downs Way sign

Yesterday saw another early start, not only I am starting to get further away from home, but also I wanted some time at the ancestral villages of Singleton and West Dean once I had reached the other end of the days walk. This is the last section of the walk that is wholly in the county of West Sussex, next time I will be crossing the border into Hampshire.

I had walked the first few miles of the route before, but that must have been 15 to 20 years ago and the only thing I remember is the first hill, Bury Hill (pictured below), which rises up from the River Arun at Amberley, West Sussex.

Bury Hill, Amberley, West Sussex

I remember vividly how last time the climb nearly killed me, but all this walking I have been doing must be paying off because it was nowhere near as bad as I had imagined it would be, and now I look at the photo it doesn’t look that daunting at all.

On the whole this section of the South Downs Way wasn’t quite as flat as some of the previous sections, and several times the path dropped down into a valley before climbing back up onto the hills on the opposite side. It is quite re-assuring to be able to look across the valley and see the path continuing onwards, such as the photo below which shows Bignor Hill as seen from Westburton Hill.

Bignor Hill from Westburton Hill

I have frequently seen or heard that the South Downs Ways follows ancient pathways, and just past Bignor Hill there is an excellent example of this, where part of South Downs Way passes along Stane Street, the Roman road running from Chichester to London. This is commemorated by the fingerpost (shown below) pointing the way to Noviomagus (Chichester) and Londinium (London), although I think the other small sign should have said "NO CHARIOTS" rather than "NO CARS".

Bignor fingerpost

Nearby Stane Street is Glatting Beacon (pictured below), which dominates the sky line with it’s two radio masts bristling with aerials and dishes. Also amongst the trees is a trig point, but I deliberately skipped this one (and an earlier one on Bury Hill) to save time. The views southwards from just below Glatting Beacon are quite fantastic, down to the City of Chichester and the coast, as usual the view was a bit hazy.

Glatting Beacon and sheep

As I walked further west the hills started to become more wooded, although there were still gaps where some spectacular views opened up, mostly to the north, such as in the photo below from the fingerpost near Crown Tegleaze.

View from Tegleaze Post

Further west still, on Graffham Down, the nature of the path changes completely as it enters into a woodland corridor, completely blocking the views to the north and south for about a mile and a half, and providing some welcome shade from the midday sun.

Soon though the shade vanished and I was out on Heyshott Down, and on the look out for the trig point (pictured below). I had thought it would be nice to stop and sit by the trig point and have my lunch, as it was almost guaranteed to have some fine views. Unfortunately the field was occupied by cattle, and I didn’t fancy sharing my lunch with them. A footpath leads across the field, straight past the trig point, so I went and got some photos, whilst watching where I was treading!

Trig point and cattle

From Heyshott Down the path descended for the final time that day to Hillbarn Farm and the nearby car park on the main road. As seems to be the norm I ended the walk next to a busy road, and as is my usual luck I was about a minute from the bus stop when I saw the bus rush past the end of the farm track.

At least it gave me time to find a shady spot in the car park and sit down and eat my lunch and take the weight off my feet. The buses here, just south of the village of Cocking, are pretty frequent (every half hour) and fortunately the route back to Chichester (and the train home), would take me through Singleton and West Dean, where I could do some ancestral wandering.

Happy Sussex Day 2010!

16 Jun

The 16th June is Sussex Day, a day to celebrate the county of Sussex, England (technically that should be East Sussex and West Sussex, but lets not argue). Like last year I decided to celebrate the day by walking around Sussex, and so I could kill two birds with one stone I decided to walk the next section of the South Downs Way (from Amberley to Cocking).

After finishing on the South Downs Way I had chance to spend a couple of hours in nearby Singleton and West Dean, both ancestral villages which I felt I really ought to get to know better. I didn’t really have long in either place, but it was a start.

Over the next couple of days I will be posting some details and some photos, from both the South Downs Way and the two villages.

Like last year the weather was absolutely beautiful, it began quite cloudy and with a strong wind, but that soon cleared and the sun did it’s best to help Sussex celebrate in style. The only slight disappointment was my pedometer deciding to pack up (battery trouble I think) so I am not sure what the total mileage was. The South Downs Way was supposed to be 12 miles and I probably added another 3 miles at Singleton and West Dean.

Now I will leave you with a photo of the trig point on Heyshott Down, with a fantastic view to the north (although a little hazy), whilst I try and work out the revised rules for the free access to findmypast.co.uk on the next England match day!

Heyshott Down trig point

Missing (but now found) from the 1911 census transcription

12 Feb

The birth certificate of Walter Henry BOXALL encouraged me to investigate what happened to his mother Alice Ruth and her husband Walter William WEST, one source I checked was the 1911 census.

It took me quite a bit of searching to find the couple and their five children. I had almost given up on finding them, even trying a search of the passengers lists to see if they had left the country. I found a death entry in the GRO indexes that seemed to indicate that Alice was still living in Sussex when she died in 1968, and this encouraged me to continue searching.

I tried so many different searches, it didn’t help from my side that I didn’t have a reliable date of birth for Walter William WEST, but it expected to be able to find the couple together in Sussex, somewhere near Chichester.

Eventually I found Walter William WEST, living in Cocking, Sussex, according to the transcription he had six children, but his wife was missing. Curiously there were two sons with the same name (Charles), age (9 years) and place of birth (West Dean, Sussex). I thought that a bit bizarre, but all was revealed when I checked the actual census page.

There was only one Charles on the page, and there was Alice the wife of Walter William. In the transcription Charles had been duplicated and somehow Alice had been missed altogether. I have submitted a correction, in fact six or seven corrections, so that hopefully anyone searching for Alice in future will not have the same problem as me.

Ironically, this particular page was one of the neatest I have seen in my searches, Walter William WEST had the sort of handwriting that I wish all my relations had, clear and legible, not what you would expect from a labourer on the railways.

Generally though I have found that the 1911 census transcription is pretty good, although I do find the odd mistake now and then, but nothing as major as an individual actually missing.

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