Tag Archives: walk

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.

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

North Downs Way: Seale to Farnham (and a bus to Alton)

12 Jun

Today we finished off last week’s walk, and it was equally disappointing, but the day wasn’t a complete waste because as it was only a short walk it gave us time to visit the nearby town of Alton, Hampshire.

This section was short, only four miles (hardly worth the effort) and pretty flat, very short on points of interest and largely devoid of any interesting views.

River outside Farnham

We did pass through some quite nice woodland (Runfold Wood), and some of the path was alongside the River Wey, which was quite nice, but after two weeks largely devoid of hills it is high time we got back to Kent and some proper hills.

Farnham is quite a nice town, or at least what I have seen of it, and it marks the start or end of the North Downs Way. The actual start/end is marked by a fingerpost at the side of a rather busy road junction bristling with traffic lights, hardly a fitting point to start or end the North Downs Way.

Start or End of North Downs Way

The only saving grace for today was the chance to catch the bus from Farnham, Surrey to Alton, Hampshire. Alton was the home of my 3x great-grandparents Henry and Sarah WRIGHT. Although time was limited, we found time to visit St Lawrence Church (below) and Market Square where the WRIGHT family lived.

St Lawrence's Church, Alton, Hampshire

The visit was really just a scouting trip, getting my bearings, having a quick poke around and buying a decent map of the town. Alton has some lovely buildings, some interesting history, a small local history museum, a steam railway and an unusual war memorial (below). I am clearly going to have to go back to Alton and explore further.

War Memorial - Alton, Hampshire

North Downs Way: Guildford to Seale

5 Jun

We should have been in Kent today walking the next section of the North Downs Way, but given that it was also likely to be the hottest day of the year so far we thought it would be wise to find a route where we could finish early if things got too hot.

The section from Guildford to Farnham is either the start or end of the North Downs Way, and it is part of the route that we had so far not done, having started somewhere near the middle and heading east. So we decided we should walk part of this section, with the understanding that we probably wouldn’t complete the full 11 miles today. In the end we made as far as Seale, Surrey, which was about 7 miles.

To be honest this was a rather disappointing part of the North Downs Way, it didn’t feel like we were actually on the North Downs, there were no real hills to speak of, so there were virtually no interesting views to speak of, the best I could find was the one below, which shows how flat the landscape was.

Not much of a view

There were a few interesting sights along the way, one of the most bizarre was the huge wooden cross on a bridge near the village of Compton, Surrey. The bridge with the cross (actually crosses because there is one on the other side as well) carries the B3000 road. Apparently the crosses indicate that road passing beneath is part of the Pilgrim’s Way.

Cross on bridge

Another interesting thing about this walk is that for a large part of it the path was very sandy, in fact it was almost like walking on a beach (shame I didn’t pack a bucket and spade). I am not a geologist, but it appears to be natural, and we saw at least one sand pit nearby. It is not the only part of the route to have sandy paths, the paths leading up St Martha’s Hill to the east of Guildford were also thick with sand.

Sandy path

The village of Seale was quite pretty, but for us it marked the end of our walk, because there is a bus stop nearby on the A31 which would take us to Guildford (by way of Farnham, so we did get there in the end). The war memorial at Seale has one of the finest backdrops I have seen.

Seale war memorial

South Downs Way: Pyecombe to Washington

2 Jun

South Downs Way sign

I was up early today and on the bus at 7:30am heading for Pyecombe, East Sussex and the start of the next section of the South Downs Way. After quick stop at the service station to pick up some drinks, I was striding up the side of West Hill.

From West Hill the South Downs Way leads down to Saddlescombe, which is a small hamlet, more like a large farm, owned by the National Trust. There is a tea-shop which is unfortunately closed on a Wednesday. There is also another unusual feature, a donkey wheel (shown below), which is a treadmill that was used to draw water up from a well.

Saddlescombe Donkey Wheel

It didn’t really explore the farm, I wasn’t sure if it was really open or not, but I wanted to press on. From Saddlescombe the path leads up Summer Down along the southern side of Devil’s Dyke. Devil’s Dyke is a well known beauty spot, with a fascinating history, which has been attracting sightseers for years, mainly due to it’s proximity to nearby Brighton.

Devil's Dyke

Devil’s Dyke is a large dry valley (shown above), but the whole area has really adopted the name, as has the pub at the top of the northern side of the valley. A branch of the railway from Brighton used to bring visitors up the hill, where they could enjoy a variety of amusements, such as a cable car across the valley and a funicular railway that ran down the north slope of the hill.

From Devil’s Dyke the South Downs Way runs west across the top of a succession of hills, Fulking Hill, Perching Hill, Edburton Hill and finally to Truleigh Hill. Truleigh Hill has also had an interesting history, from World War Two Radar Station to Cold War Bunker. Today it is best known as home to four radio masts (shown below) which serve as a landmark for miles around, especially at night when the warning lights at the top of the masts are visible.

Truleigh Hill radio masts

From Truleigh Hill the path descends (mainly gently) down to the River Adur valley, near Upper Beeding. Across the other side of the river is the lovely little Saxon church at Botolphs (shown below), but I didn’t have time to visit the church (and I have visited it in the past).

St Botolphs Church

From near Botolphs the South Downs Way starts to head northwards, on the hills to the west of the town of Steyning, before turning westwards again heading towards the village Washington, with fantastic views across the weald to the north. Before reaching Washington the path passes Chanctonbury Ring (shown below), another famous Sussex landmark.

Chanctonbury Ring

Chanctonbury Ring has a long history, with traces of a Roman temple, an Iron Age hill fort and a ring of trees that were planted in 1760 by Charles Goring of nearby Wiston. I had been straining for my first sight of Chanctonbury Ring as I approached, not only because it would prove some much needed shelter for me to sit and have a break, but also because it is like an old friend to me, whether up close or for miles around.

It also helped that Chanctonbury Ring marked the final high point of the walk and from here it was literally all down hill, from the top of Chanctonbury Hill down into the valley, just south of the village of Washington and a bus home (by way of Horsham).

According to the official guide book, today’s walk was 13¾ miles, there were some quite challenging climbs in some quite hot weather (it wasn’t supposed to have been so warm), although there were a few small diversions, such as the start at Pyecombe which took the total up to nearer 15 miles.

Some of those diversions were for trig points (I couldn’t finish without a trig point), in all there were three trig points today, at Devil’s Dyke, Steyning Bowl and the one shown below on Chanctonbury Hill just west of Chanctonbury Ring.

Chanctonbury Hill trig point

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