Tag Archives: Walking

Out with the old, in with the new

6 Apr

It is a sad day when I have to say goodbye to a pair of walking boots, and that day came a step closer today with the purchase of a new pair of replacement boots.

My present boots are reaching the end of their life, one of the lace loops has broken on one of them and one of them has a squeak, although to be honest it has had that squeak for a while now.

The soles are just about intact, but getting pretty thin, this became particularly obvious when I put on the new pair and found myself walking taller, or was that just my imagination.

These boots have had a good life. I am not sure how long ago I bought them, although knowing me I probably still have the receipt for them tucked away somewhere. It must be over two years ago now because they have accompanied me along the South Downs Way twice now.

They hold the memories of many days of walking, not just the South Downs Way but some of the North Downs Way, the Capital Ring and many other walks. And not just walking, they are my footwear of choice for just going out, whether to the shops or the record office. They have been to work with me on a few occasions and even accompanied me to Who Do You Think You Are? Live.

I am not quite ready to dispose of them yet, the new pair needs a bit of time to be broken in, so I probably have a few more weeks use of the old pair before I finally wave goodbye to them.

Copyright © 2012 John Gasson.
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Wandering: Amberley to Arundel (Part Two)

3 Apr

After visiting North Stoke Church we walked back up the road and continued on the footpath south to rejoin the River Arun at South Stoke. The reason for leaving the river bank in the first place was so that I could cross the Gurka Suspension Bridge (as it is named on the OS map) between North and South Stoke.

The name suspension bridge conjures up images of mightly road or railway bridges, but this is a smaller version, crossing a tributry of the river, which after the recent dry weather didn’t really warrant such an elaborate bridge, but I am sure in wetter years it is essential.

Gurkha Bridge

The bridge was constructed in 2009 by The Queen’s Gurkha Engineers (which explains how it got its name) to replace the previous structure which had been damaged by a falling tree. It’s not really the sort of thing you would expect to come across during a walk in the Sussex countryside, but it is a wonderful piece of engineering nevertheless.

I was particularly pleased to cross it because it was the absence of a bridge here a few years ago that forced me to take a diversion which seemingly added a couple of miles to my walk, although in truth it probably wasn’t that much further.

South Stoke Bridge

After crossing the bridge the footpath lead us back to the river bank near South Stoke and another reasonably new bridge, and much more functional than the Gurkha bridge, as witnessed by the herd of cattle that were driven over it shortly after we had crossed it.

South Stoke Church

We were now of the western side of the river and had a pretty much clear run to the town of Arundel now. We didn’t stop at South Stoke Church, it is a lovely church, with a fantastic steeple, but one that I visited last time I was walking here.

River and Railway

It was now just a case of following the river as it flowed towards Arundel, the railway line was also following the river and our walk was often interrupted by passing trains. As a lover of trains (both old and new) this wasn’t a problem for me, but some may not be so keen on these intruders disturbing the tranquil natural landscape.

Arundel Castle

Eventually the bulky outline of Arundel Castle appeared on the skyline, rising above the surrounding countryside and the town itself which was still mostly hidden behind trees. We were still some way off the town, with still a couple of miles to go along the river (although probably nearer a mile if we had taken the road directly into town).

When we arrived in the town it was lunchtime and despite the fact that we had only been walking for a couple of hours it seemed a long time since breakfast and we were only too pleased to find a pub and take the weight off our feet and relax over lunch.

Arundel is a great town for antique shops (and a rather good bookshop) and in general has a diverse selection of shops, although due to the presence of the castle it is probably more geared towards the tourist these days.

Copyright © 2012 John Gasson.
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Wandering: Amberley to Arundel (Part One)

2 Apr

The route from Amberley, West Sussex to Arundel, West Sussex is not a particularly challenging route, it is only about five or six miles and is largely flat following the meandering course of the River Arun.

In contrast to the preceding week the weather on Saturday was quite gloomy. The weather forecast had warned that the warm and sunny weather wouldn’t last until Saturday, and it was right. We saw the sun on a couple of occasions, but most of the time we were blanketed in cloud. If the sun had been shining we would have been pleased with the gentle breeze, but as it was it did nothing to help the situation.

Houghton Bridge

We (my wife and I) began at Amberley railway station, alighting with several other walkers, but whilst they were probably off to join the South Downs Way we followed the road along to Houghton Bridge and headed roughly south along the eastern bank of the river.

It was good to leave the road behind and head into the countryside, we couldn’t leave the railway behind however as the line also follows the river south. Before long we left the river bank and followed a narrow twisting path enclosed on both sides by hedges. Eventually this emerged onto a road, a narrow country road that lead us into North Stoke.

I had never been to the village of North Stoke before, although from the map I knew that it was not really a village, but more a small collection of farmhouses. What I hadn’t realised from the map (I am terrible at noticing the contour lines) was that it was perched on a hill, not that great a hill but enough to raise it above the river’s flood plain.

North Stoke Church

The only public building in the village appeared to be the church. I was glad we decided to make a slight detour down the road to visit the church. It is a real gem, surrounded by a small churchyard and dwarfed by a large yew tree. The church is no longer used as a place of worship and is cared for by The Churches Conservation Trust.

Stepping inside the church for the first time was truly like stepping back in time, so many of the churches I have visited have been “restored” modernised, with the trappings of modern-day worship such as under-floor heating and modern seating, but this was just a plain and simple unadulterated church.

Inside the Church

To my knowledge I have no family connections with North Stoke, but I really felt that this was the closest I have ever come to seeing where and how my ancestors worshipped. This probably over simplifies things, because my ancestry spans four hundred years of evolving religious worship, and ranged from large London churches to small rural churches like this.

North Stoke Font

The first thing that greets you as enter through the south door is the wonderful font. It is a superb example and is perfectly at home in this church. It is so simple in its bulbous shape, with no frills or elaborate carving or decoration, just plain and simple stone. It has obviously seen better days and has been patched up many times, but has no doubt served the purpose for which it was designed with the minimum of fuss.

Copyright © 2012 John Gasson.
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Wandering: Over Seaford Head

3 Mar

I have been looking forward to this walk for a couple of weeks, no I tell a lie, I have been looked forward to repeating this walk since June 2010 when I last did it (although it was the other way round last time).

The weather conditions were much better back then, a little under two years ago it was a little hazy to start, but soon the sun came out and the conditions were glorious. Today we began with fog and rain and only much later did the weather begin to improve, but by then it was too late and we were on our way home.

Today’s walk was quite a short walk really, less than five miles, but conditions underfoot were less than ideal (yes, I did end up sitting in the mud on more than one occasion) which surprised me because we have been short of rain recently.

The walk started at Exceat Bridge in East Sussex (between Seaford and Eastbourne) and my wife and I followed the course of the Cuckmere River to the sea (this was the muddiest part of the walk) and we then headed west towards the town of Seaford. Because the tide was out the first part of this was along the foot of the cliffs, before ascending the steps at Hope Gap and continuing across the top of the cliffs and over Seaford Head, before descending into the town of Seaford.

The Seven Sisters, near Eastbourne, East Sussex (3rd March 2012)

The coastline in this part of the world is a truly incredible place to explore, even in the less than perfect conditions like today. We slowly picked our way along the foot of the cliffs (although not too close) and marvelled not just at the immense chalk cliffs, but also the variety of shells and stone scattered across the shore. From huge boulders of chalk with layers of flint running through them to the tiny little shells that litter the shore, it is a scene that must change every day as the tides work their magic.

Seagulls over the cliffs (3rd March 2012)

The cliffs are impressive in their scale, but once the sun comes out they take on an extra magic when their greyness is replaced by a dazzling whiteness, as seen below when we were descending into Seaford.

Seaford, East Sussex (3rd March 2012)

We spent a while in Seaford, perhaps an hour or so, certainly longer than I have spent before. I have ancestors from Seaford and of course Patrick Vaughan and his Canadian comrades were at Seaford during the First World War, so it is a place that I ought to explore further. However that wasn’t to be today, as the museum (in the wonderful Martello Tower) wasn’t open and the library is currently in temporary accommodation whilst a new one is being built.

Copyright © 2012 John Gasson.
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Wandering: Pyecombe to Patcham

7 Jan

I decided to take advantage of the dry, bright and unseasonably warm weather and get out for a walk. I have already said that I want to keep my walks more local and more convenient this year, and today’s walk was an excellent example of this because it was essentially a walk from one bus stop to the next.

It would have taken less than ten minutes on the bus, but because of the rather circuitous route I took it was more like four hours, partly because of the frequent stops I made to take photos and the necessity of having to carefully pick my way along some rather muddy paths.

The route was from Pyecombe in West Sussex to Patcham in East Sussex (actually on the outskirts of the City of Brighton and Hove), by way of Wolstonbury Hill, Clayton, the Clayton Windmills (Jack and Jill), a short section of the South Downs Way, part of the Sussex Border Path and the Chattri Indian War Memorial.

Looking south-west from Wolstonbury Hill

This was only the second time that I have been up Wolstonbury Hill, but like so many of the hills along the South Downs it has held my attention since the first time, and I have been meaning to pay it a visit ever since. Last time I was there it was a hot June day, and whilst today was not exactly cold, visiting on a winter’s day certainly shows the hill in a different light, quite literally.

From Wolstonbury Hill dropped down to the village of Clayton, famous for its railway tunnel on the main London to Brighton railway. There are not a lot of buildings in Clayton, but there is a delightful little church, sitting at the foot of the hill.

Clayton Church from the south

My next destination was the top of the hill, home to the two Clayton Windmills Jack and Jill.  Jack was looking very much worse for wear, it is in private hands and currently up for sale if you fancy living in a historic windmill. Jill is in safer hands and was looking absolutely stunning in the bright sunshine.

Jill windmill, Clayton

From the windmills I headed south by way of the South Downs Way, then skirting round Pyecombe Golf Course before joining the Sussex Border Path which leads on to Patcham past the Chattri Indian War Memorial. This was the main reason for my walk today, it has been on my list of places to visit for years, but I never quite got around to visiting.

Chattri Indian War Memorial, Patcham

The history of the Chattri is well documented and it is a truly fitting memorial in a superb setting and it good to see it is well looked after and it actually looks like it is quite a popular destination for visitors judging by the number of people I passed on the way. There is an element of pilgrimage involved in visiting as there is no vehicle access to the memorial and the nearest car park is about a mile and a quarter away.

So that lead me down to the village of Patcham, a place I have passed through many times on the bus into Brighton, but never stopped to explore. I didn’t really do much exploring this time, but there were some quite nice cottages and a few shops. The approach to Patcham was not particularly nice having left the tranquility of the Downs one has to cross over the busy A27 Brighton-by-pass (fortunately there is a footbridge) and pass behind the back gardens of several houses, with their accompanying overspill of garden and household waste.

Overall though this was a great start to 2012, a nice gentle walk over the Downs (about seven and a half miles), lots of interest along the way, and only a couple of paths were the mud was a problem, which considering it is early January was quite fortunate.

Copyright © 2012 John Gasson.
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New Year – New Wandering

3 Jan

I didn’t achieve as much walking as I would have liked in 2011, although I did manage to complete most of the shorter walks that I had hoped to do.

I did walk the South Downs Way again last year, although not in one go as I had intended but instead over several months and accompanied by my wife. This year I aim to walk it all in one go (over the course of a week) and I will probably be doing it on my own this time.

I have to admit that my most enjoyable walks last year were those where I was on my own. I have never been one for walking in groups and can’t see that changing any time soon, but you never know.

Apart from the western end of the South Downs Way I think all of last year’s walks were in Sussex, and this year I still want to focus mostly on Sussex as there are still plenty of places I have yet to visit within my own metaphorical “backyard”.

I realised towards the end of the year that trying to complete longer named routes like the North Downs Way and the High Weald Landscape Trail is just not practical and doesn’t make the most of my limited time. Sticking slavishly to a route that entails multiple bus and train journeys is just not economical in terms of time and money.

Instead I intend to focus on shorter more convenient routes (with the exception of the South Downs Way) mostly of my own making that suit public transport connections available to the non-driver like me. I have lots of ideas floating around my head and I need to start planning so that when the weather improves and days start getting longer I can start taking advantage of them.

Wandering on West Beach, Littlehampton, West Sussex (31st December 2011)

Copyright © 2012 John Gasson.
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All Roads Lead Home and natural navigation

25 Oct

Regular readers of my blog will know that I don’t watch much television (I never even got around to watching the latest series of Who Do You Think You Are?), but there was one series recently that I made an effort to watch, albeit on BBC iPlayer rather than when it was actually broadcast.

The series was called All Roads Lead Home and was about the subject of natural navigation. There were only three episodes in this series, and the idea of the show was for three celebrities to find their way around the landscape without the use of a map, compass or GPS, and using only the clues provided by nature (and the occasional man-made clues like churches and graveyards).

The series didn’t receive particularly rave reviews, partly I think because people were expecting the celebrities to be dumped in some remote corner of Britain and then be expected to find their way home. Instead the walks they made were much shorter, between fixed points and they were given a guidebook which gave them directions such as “at the next junction take the south-west path”, they just had to use the clues to figure out which direction that was.

I found the series very enjoyable, natural navigation is something that has intrigued me for a while, the expert on the series was Tristan Gooley, and I already have his book The Natural Navigator on my shelf and have been following his blog for a while. It also helped that the celebrities received their training at West Dean House near Chichester, West Sussex, which featured in clips in the series along with the parish church at West Dean and the South Downs.

For the family historian episode two was particularly pertinent, when the group visited Ireland, ancestral home of one of the celebrities, Stephen Mangan. This episode was much more about finding his roots and exploring the landscape of his ancestors. Natural navigation requires that you pay greater attention to your surroundings and not just turning up in a car as they usually do on Who Do You Think You Are? and this is a useful lesson for anyone wanting to really get to know about where your ancestors lived.

I know I am over reliant on maps when I go walking (although I rarely use a compass), and I know that when I first walked the South Downs Way last year I enjoyed it much more when I actually put the guidebook away and began to see the landscape around me. Searching for natural clues or in my case for the waymarking provided is a great way of opening your eyes to your surroundings, rather than having one eye constantly on the map, waiting for the next change in direction. Hopefully this programme will encourage me to put the map away a bit more often when I go out wandering.

Copyright © 2011 John Gasson.
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