Tag Archives: Walking

Wandering: High Weald Landscape Trail – Bolney to Cuckfield

22 Oct

The High Weald Landscape Trail is a 90 mile route that runs from Horsham in West Sussex to Rye in East Sussex. The High Weald is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and according to the High Weald AONB website its key features are “its rolling hills, scattered farmsteads, small woodlands, irregular-shaped fields, open heaths and ancient routeways”.

It has been a long time since I walked a section of the HWLT, it was back at the end of April when my friend Chris and I started on the first section of this route, but finally we were back today to continue the walk.

Bolney is not the easiest of places to get to by public transport, for me it involved a bus ride, a train ride and another rather bumpy bus ride. Today’s walk got off to an inauspicious start at side of the old London to Brighton road, but we soon passed under the current London to Brighton road and into woodland, although we never really did get away from the noise of the traffic.

In a large proportion of today’s walk was in woodland and to be honest it wasn’t particularly inspiring. Perhaps if we had been a week earlier then there would have been more leaves on the trees it would have been more appealing, but as it was the walk soon became a little tedious. There path was varied, sometimes along the side of the wood, sometimes through the middle of a wood, sometimes along a road surrounded by woodland but there were few sections where we were actually out in the open.

Things did improve once we got nearer Cuckfield. The landscape did begin to open up a little bit and we were able to see the South Downs in the distance, admittedly it was only the outline of the South Downs, as it was still a bit hazy in the distance.

Without doubt the best part of walk was the village of Cuckfield itself. Of course I am biased because there are family connections with the parish, and it gives its name to the Civil Registration District in which so many of the births, marriages and deaths in my family tree occurred. I don’t think I have ever spent much time in Cuckfield (and we didn’t really spend that long today), but I have passed through on occasion and I now know that I will undoubtedly have to return in the future.

We found time to visit the church (which was open and had a display of “church treasures”) and the churchyard, then after a quick wander around the streets we popped into Cuckfield Museum. I knew Cuckfield had a museum but hadn’t realised what a treasure trove it was, along with the expected displays on aspects of local history they also have a small resource centre for family and local history. I resisted the urge to take a folder of the shelf and pull up a chair.

I need to get myself better organised for my next visit, well actually not my next visit because that will be to continue the walk but the time after that, so that I can spend some quality time immersed in some family history research.

Copyright © 2011 John Gasson.

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Wandering: West Dean – The Trundle – Singleton

15 Oct

My original plan for today was to visit the West Sussex Record Office in Chichester, West Sussex but once it became obvious earlier in the week that the weather for today was going to be relatively warm and bright I decided a change of plan was called for. As I had already promised my wife a trip to Chichester I decided to fulfil on of my long-held (well a few years held anyway) ambitions to visit The Trundle.

The Trundle is the name given to the iron-age hill-fort on top of St Roche’s Hill a few miles north of Chichester and just south of the ancestral village of Singleton, the hill-fort itself surrounds a much older neolithic causewayed enclosure and all manner of other ancient and not so ancient sites. As hill-forts go it is quite impressive, with the ditch and bank still being well defined.

There are many approaches to The Trundle, in fact about a quarter of a mile west of the summit of the hill is a spot called Seven Points, where the finger-post below indicates the possible directions (Binderton, Lavant, Goodwood, Trundle, Charlton, Singleton and West Dean). As you can see despite the slightly misty conditions the views were pretty spectacular, and I can’t believe I have never come across any reference to Seven Points before.

My approach to St Roche’s Hill and The Trundle was from West Dean, having got off the bus from Chichester at the Selsey Arms pub in West Dean, I headed south-east across the dried up River Lavant and began the climb up the hill, with the flint boundary wall of West Dean Park on my left as my guide. The path here is actually part of the Monarch’s Way and passes through a couple of stretches of woodland before heading in a more easterly direction to Seven Points. The views on this part of the route were pretty impressive themselves, looking across to the other side of the river valley.

From Seven Points the path heads up the hill to the east, with the radio mast on The Trundle dominating the skyline. I seem to be becoming more tolerant of these artificial intrusions in the landscape, especially when they act as beacons and navigational aids to the walker. There is plenty to see on The Trundle itself, many lumps and bumps, quite apart from the main ditch and bank, however the views from the hilltop were quite breathtaking.

A full 360° panorama and even with the mist it was still possible to see for miles, the spire of Chichester Cathedral was clearly visible and Chichester Harbour, further west I could just about make out Portsmouth and to the south-west the bulky outline of the Isle of Wight. I found myself wishing for a clearer day, but knew that I would be returning again one day, hopefully in better conditions to take in more of this spectacular landscape, which unfortunately my digital camera did not do justice to.

Much closer to the hill, in fact butting up against the hill to east is Goodwood Race Course, another man-made structure which didn’t seem to intrude quite as much as I had expected, although that may not be the case on an actual race day.

To the north the views were not quite as far ranging due to the presence of the South Downs, but still pretty spectacular, especially being able to look down (see below) on the ancestral village of Singleton from such a fantastic vantage point. Singleton was the end point of the walk today and it was pretty much all downhill from The Trundle, heading in a northerly direction, first along the road to Charlton and then branching off to the left on a footpath down the spur of Knight’s Hill. The path leading me down, quite steeply near the end, to the parish church at Singleton with so many family connections.

The walk didn’t take long, around two hours and was probably somewhere between 3½ and 4 miles in length and thus not particularly challenging, but I would have to say that it was probably my favourite walk of the year. I have walked in some of the most beautiful parts of Sussex this year whilst doing the South Downs Way but I don’t think anything came close to today. Perhaps it was the fact that it was new to me, perhaps the beautiful weather for this time of year, perhaps the ancestral connections or maybe just that I needed to get out and let my mind wander as well as my legs. I think I made the correct decision not to go to the record office after all.

Copyright © 2011 John Gasson.
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Wandering: South Downs Way – Exton to Winchester

26 Sep

After a break of almost a month my wife and I were back walking the South Downs Way last Saturday. This was the last section taking us from the tiny village of Exton to the city of Winchester, both in Hampshire and although the distance was only twelve miles they did seem a world apart.

The highlight of Exton for me (apart from it being an ancestral village) was the River Meon (see below), a beautifully clear chalk stream and I could have stood for hours watching the trout feeding in the shallow waters. Winchester has its own river (the Itchen) which is quite pretty in its own right, but Winchester also has a motorway, crowds, shops, cafes, noise and everything we had been blissfully free of on our walk over the Downs.

The weather wasn’t perfect, visibility was pretty poor on our journey down and we wondered whether we would actually be able to see anything once we reached Exton. Fortunately the sun did come out as the weather forecasters predicted and started to burn of some of the mist and fog. Unfortunately it wasn’t long before the sky clouded over and we were left with slightly better visibility but by no means perfect.

The sun did reappear after lunch, but it was a little too late in the afternoon. I had hoped for a clear view of Winchester as we descended from the hills, but instead we were greeted by a rather dull and grey jumble of buildings, rather disappointing in the end.

Footbridge over the River Meon at Exton, Hampshire

We passed through many places with ancestral connections during the day, both whilst walking and whilst getting to the start. It is a beautiful part of the country and one which I have ever intention of visiting again and exploring further. Public transport is not brilliant among the small villages and hamlets, so some careful planning is need.

So that is it, the walk is over, we reached our destination but it did take an incredibly long time. It was actually only ten days, which works out at ten miles a day, but we didn’t have the luxury of lots of free time to complete it, so it was stretched out over many more months than we would have liked. Next year I will try to do it all in one go.

So here is the final set of facts and figures for the walk:

Starting point: Exton, Hampshire
Finishing point: City Mill, Winchester, Hampshire
Distance walked: 12.0 miles
Highest point: Beacon Hill (659 ft)
Places of note: Exton, Beacon Hill, Lomer, A272, Cheesefoot Head, Chilcomb, Winchester
Number of trig points spotted: One – Beacon Hill
Number of sandwiches eaten: Two halves (egg and cress, cheese and onion)
Number of times I said “my ancestors used to live here”: I lost count, but probably too many times!
Number of bus journeys taken: One (we had to get an early start so my wife drove us to the station)
Number of train journeys taken: Five
Number of ice creams eaten: None
Shorts or long trousers: Long trousers (although it did get quite warm once or twice)

The River Itchen and City Mill, Winchester, Hampshire

Copyright © 2011 John Gasson.
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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.
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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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Still loving the South Downs

16 Jul

Whether it is walking them, reading about them or just looking at them, I am still in love with the South Downs.

The South Downs and the Weald, looking West from Devil's Dyke

Over the past few weeks my wife and I have continued our walk along the South Downs Way, we are now about two-thirds of the way along, with only three more sections to go. We have seen the South Downs in all sorts of weather, from the stinging wind-driven rain to the baking hot sun. We have watched as entire Wealden villages have been blocked out by sheets of rain and watched fields shimmering in the heat. We have enjoyed moments of silence and solitude on the tops of hills and shared the path with groups of walkers or cyclists rushing past.

I am now finding myself straining for my fast glance of the South Downs every morning on the way work. There is a part of my journey where I can get a brief view of the Downs, despite the fact that the bus is in general heading away from them. Every morning I am looking to see what they are looking like, whether they are clearly visible or just a grey bulk on the southern skyline. Sometimes the trees and bushes seem so crisp and clear other times they are just a dark grey outline and on one morning recently it was so misty that I could barely see over the hedge let alone to the hills seven or eight miles aways.

I have also been reading about the South Downs and in particular the South Downs Way and its history. I have been looking at old guides to the route, looking at the variations in the route over the relatively short life of the path. One day I would like to write my own guide and perhaps history of the route, but that is not really a top priority for me now.

I keep looking for a personal connection through my ancestors to the South Downs, and I guess the MITCHELL family who ended up at West Dean, Sussex would probably be the best fit, but really the strongest personal connection with the South Downs come through me.

Copyright © 2011 John Gasson.
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Wandering: South Downs Way – Exceat to Southease

21 May

When my wife and I left home it looked like it was going to be a nice day, but the weather soon turned misty and before we had reached the south coast the sun had disappeared and we were beginning to wonder whether we would actually be able see anything as we walked along the South Downs.

For the first couple of hours it was somewhat disappointing, with very limited views. The photo below is of one of my favourite views, Cuckmere Haven, but as you can see the mist is creeping in from the sea. Compare this to the crystal clear view I had just over a year ago when I walked the same stretch of the South Downs Way.

Cuckmere Haven, East Sussex

Fortunately the cloud did begin to break up around lunchtime and by the time we left Alfriston it was starting to warm up. There was a slight breeze which helped to keep us still cooler. The mist didn’t clear completely, but the views to the north across the Weald were quite good and eventually the views to the coastal town of Newhaven also improved.

Instead of going into a blow-by-blow account of the walk I am going to give you some facts and figures for today’s walk:

Starting point: Seven Sisters Country Park, Exceat, East Sussex
Finishing point: Southease railway station, Southease, East Sussex
Distance walked: 10.1 miles
Highest point: Firle Beacon (713 ft)
Places of note: Exceat, West Dean, Friston Forest, Litlington, Alfriston, Bostal Hill, Firle Beacon, Beddingham Hill, Itford Hill and Southease
Number of trig points spotted: Two – Firle Beacon and White Lion Pond
Number of sandwiches eaten: One (egg and cress)
Time spent waiting for sandwich: Too long
Number of bus journeys taken: Three
Number of train journeys taken: One
Number of ice creams eaten: Zero
Shorts or long trousers: Long trousers (a bit too breezy)

Copyright © 2011 John Gasson.
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