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

27 Aug

My wife and I were out and about again today, walking another section of the South Downs Way. The weather was reasonably good, slightly cooler than previous walks and mostly dry. The photo below shows the first climb of the day, as you can see there was lots of broken cloud, but around midday the cloud became thicker eventually leading to some light rain and ultimately one heavy, but very brief shower.

There had obviously been some very heavy rain recently because there were some very large (almost unpassable) puddles and many patches of mud, which made some of the paths a little awkward.

Butser Hill, Queen Elizabeth Country Park, Hampshire

I like this particular section, partly because of the almost continuous views of the village of East Meon and that it finished in Exton, both of which have family connections, partly because there are some superb views to the south to Southampton and the Isle of Wight and partly because it is a section I am not that familiar with (unlike some of the Sussex sections).

The biggest surprise of the day was the state of HMS Mercury, last year when I walked this section the site contained many derlict buildings that made up this naval establishment. Today although the security fences were still there but the buildings had gone, or rather they had been reduced to big piles of ground-up rubble. I don’t think there was anything architecturally outstanding about the buildings but it was still sad to see them gone.

HMS Mercury (23 June 2010)

HMS Mercury (27 August 2011)

As with previous walks here are some facts and figures for today’s walk:

Starting point: Queen Elizabeth Country Park, Horndean, Hampshire
Finishing point: Exton, Hampshire
Distance walked: 10.1 miles
Highest point: Butser Hill (889 ft) [said to be the highest point on the South Downs]
Places of note: Queen Elizabeth Country Park, Butser Hill, HMS Mercury, Wether Down, Coombe Cross, Meon Springs, Old Winchester Hill
Number of trig points spotted: Two – Wether Down (although we didn’t get up close) and Old Winchester Hill
Number of sandwiches eaten: Two halves (egg mayonnaise and cheese ploughmans)
Number of taxi journeys taken: One (from Petersfield to QECP) [quicker than waiting for the bus, meant we could start walking sooner]
Number of bus journeys taken: Four
Number of train journeys taken: Three
Number of ice creams eaten: Three! (a bumper section of the SDW for ice creams)
Shorts or long trousers: Long trousers (a few warmer spells but not warm enough for shorts)

Copyright © 2011 John Gasson.
Creative Commons Licence This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License
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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.
Creative Commons Licence This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License
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South Downs Way: Queen Elizabeth Country Park to Exton

23 Jun

South Downs Way sign

It was another ridiculously early start today, out of the house by 6.15am to catch the first of several buses today. I had been looking forward to today’s walk, but nervous about getting home after I had finished.

As is becoming normal for these walks, it began at the side of a busy road (the A3) and almost straight away an uphill climb (Butser Hill – pictured below). For my exertion I was rewarded with some fantastic views to the south, across to the Solent and the Isle of Wight.

At the foot of Butser Hill

For the next four or five miles the path followed an arc around the village of East Meon, Hampshire (another place with ancestral connections). First it was to the west, then the north and finally to the east, but always about a mile or two away.

East Meon from Butser Hill

One of the more unusual sights was HMS Mercury, a disused Royal Navy shore establishment. The high fences topped with razor wire remain but the buildings look to have been abandoned to the elements. Some of the buildings to the south of the base form part of a sustainability centre, which includes the South Downs Natural Burial Site.

HMS Mercury

The final climb of the day was up Old Winchester Hill, a nature reserve dominated by an iron age hill fort (and home to a trig. point). It was whilst I was standing on these ancient defensive earthworks that I was treated to a display of modern defensive hardware.

A pair of jet fighters made five or six passes of the hill before heading north with a roar. I don’t know if the hills and valleys are a regular training ground, but it may explain the signs prohibiting kite and model aircraft flying.

Descending Old Winchester Hill

From Old Winchester Hill the path descends to Exton, Hampshire, the end of my day’s walk and the start of a marathon five hour bus and train journey home. The approach to Exton is along a path by the side of a dried up stream bed, which was a bit of an obstacle course. The normally wide paths of the South Downs Way were replaced with a narrow twisting path, with tree roots and overhanging branches, it certainly made an interesting change.

Exton is a lovely little village, I didn’t have much time to explore, but I got a few pictures of the church, and had a quick look around as I made my way to the bus stop. I will be back there again soon to complete the final section, then I will take the opportunity to spend a bit longer looking around.

The River Meon near Exton

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.

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