Thursday, 30 December 2010

Wealdway Section 1 Eastbourne - Berwick

Eastbourne Pier
After a month of Christmas preparations and losing my last walk due to illness and the snowy weather, I was very anxious to get out as soon as public transport was working again after the Christmas break.  In these days of shortened daylight hours I didn’t fancy the long trip up to London to complete the next section of the LOOP as I neither wanted to face the traffic associated with the sales, or a train ride almost exclusively in the dark.  I was conscious that the Downs still had a covering of snow and so on that basis I picked a walk that I have been planning for a long time now although had previously been undecided which direction to take it.  The weather conditions and my mood dictated that I would try the Wealdway as per the guidebook suggested direction of south to north rather than the other way round which would normally feel more natural to me.
Bleak Midwinter Seafront

I parked at Berwick station (it’s free on Sundays and Bank Holidays) and took the short train ride down to Eastbourne.  On the way I could see that the Downs had just about enough snow on them to make them white, although in truth it was a fairly thin covering.  The day was rather bleaker than the weather forecast had suggested with little hint of any sunshine, despite what had been predicted.  Still on arrival at Eastbourne it felt good to get some lungfuls of fresh air after largely being indoors for the last couple of weeks.
The Meads

The seafront was pretty blustery and various elderly guests were hanging grimly on to their hats as they tried boarding their coaches from the seafront hotels.  It looked as if many of the hotels had done a brisk trade over Christmas if the coach traffic was anything to go by.  I took a quick look at the pier, still trying its best to look cheery on what really was a very bleak looking morning.  The paintwork on the pier was the only blue in existence, with the sea looking very grey and choppy and the sky looking little better, although there were hints offshore that the sun might make an appearance at some point today.
Dewpond View

The pier marks the official start to the walk although you wouldn’t know it as there is no marker for the whole of the promenade westwards from here.  In fact the first clue I was on the walk at all was almost two miles it at the point that the South Downs Way footpath section starts at the end of The Meads.  After a longish walk along the promenade it suddenly felt like a proper walk as I climbed up the steep hill that I had descended on my South Downs Way trip almost two years ago.  The paths coincide for about half a mile until splitting at the top of the steep slope.  This time I took the right hand turn and headed off along the ridge of the South Downs, heading towards the bridleway section of the South Downs Way, which I soon met.  I had now turned north and was pleased therefore to have the wind at my back for much of the rest of the day, making for much more comfortable walking conditions.
Eastbourne Trig Point

When I met up with the South Downs Way again, conditions underfoot had become a lot less friendly however, as I soon realised that when I reached the snow it was not the nice crunchy kind that I had been hoping for, but extremely hard and icy and starting to thaw.  This made it extremely tricky to walk on and I went over a couple of times before realising that the best way of dealing with it was to avoid wherever possible.  For the next couple of miles the path follows the old coach road towards Jevington and normally this affords great views across the Pevensey Levels, virtually the whole town of Eastbourne and further afield Hastings and the High Weald of Kent far off in the distance.  Today though the view was just about there but I had to use rather more imagination on account of the murky conditions.
Snowy Top

At Willingdon Hill the Wealdway takes its leave of the South Downs Way and heads on a bigger loop encompassing Butts Brow and Coombe Hill before descending into Jevington.  I was pleased about this as I was rather enjoying this high level walk and I always though that the SDW is too quick in some places to lose the high ground.  It also meant that I got to look at more of the earthworks left behind by the Iron Age settlers that once called this place home.  Remains of a Neolithic Camp and various burial mounds complete the scene.  Far below me I could see rather newer antiqities such as Polegate windmill, which I have great affections for since it is located a stone’s throw from where my Great Grandparents lived in the later 1970s.

After looping around this last part of the ridge I turned and faced into the wind.  I was a very uncomfortable experience!  I was pleased now to be heading off the ridge and down into Jevington village, where the path enters right opposite the welcoming sight of the Eight Bells pub, a little further up the road than the Hungry Monk restaurant where I passed by on the SDW.  The Eight Bells had a roaring fire on offer and looked very welcoming and hard to resist.  However, I had a feeling that if I succumbed I might still be in there rather than finishing the walk!
Approaching Folkington

My dalliance with Jevington was very brief for I was soon heading along the old coach road that once passed for a main route to Eastbourne from Lewes.  Now not much more than a mudbath, having thawed sufficiently to create an opportunity for horse to do their stuff, the coach road was far from a pleasurable experience.  A little way into the coach road and it appeared to have swallowed a family, since there were some very ill equipped people (even with pushchair) trying to use its debatable charms.  They didn’t look at all like they were enjoying themselves!
Folkington Church

My ordeal soon came to an end as the path finally swung away from the shadow of the Downs for the sun to finally make a breakthrough!  This was very welcome indeed, especially as I soon came upon the hamlet of Folkington (pronounced Fo-wing-ton in these parts!).  This delightful little place seems to exist in a different world to the 21st Century going on all around it.  The church, with its small wooden spire, positively gleamed in the weak winter sunshine and the bleakness of Eastbourne seafront seemed like a world away.  By now it was well into the afternoon and conscious that I still had four miles left and my pace had been very slow I decided against going in the church this time, but headed out through the wooded combe towards Wilmington. 
Folkington Woods

After a day that had seemed devoid of wildlife, the next couple of miles seemed to have everything that was available!  I was sung to by a group of goldfinches, a redwing put in an appearance and I was followed for some distance by a robin.  My spirits rose considerably and even more so up ahead as I surely came upon the highlight of the walk.  I left the wooded combe and headed out along the foot of the scarp slope of Windover Hill, covered with a thin layering of snow.  Up ahead the Long Man of Wilmington, that mythical and mysterious hill drawing, stood half camouflaged underneath the snow barely visible.  Even on such a day though the majesty of the man could be appreciated.  I have always been fascinated by this drawing, especially as no-one knows how he came to be there, what he represents or even how old he is.  One thing is for sure though and that is that he is the largest representation of a human being anywhere in Western Europe!
Snow Patch

Dropping down the path away from the Long Man was a treacherous affair as the path had been covered almost completely with sheet ice.  It was a miracle that I managed to get to the end without falling over, but I was relieved that this was the last of the snow for me today as from here on the sun and warm air was really starting to do the trick.  Wilmington Priory glowed in the sun just ahead of me and I assumed that I would have the opportunity to look around.  It is now owned by the Landmark Trust however, and not open to the public generally although it is occasionally on Heritage Weekends.  It looked occupied when I passed by so I didn’t loiter too much, moving on instead to the small church next door.  This resembled the church at Folkington and the two villages now share a parish council, along with the hamlet of Milton Street.  So as not to upset anyone by showing favouritism the parish is known as ‘Long Man’, a very diplomatic solution!
Long Man Under Snow

Wilmington Church had the most enormous yew tree living in the church yard.  The old beast looked like it was having trouble supporting its own weight and the locals had propped up some of the limbs with some fairly substantial looking telephone poles.  After lingering in the churchyard for a few minutes, I headed down through the village.  Wilmington is one of the more picture postcard villages of Sussex, with many lovely old cottages and even a few vintage cars on show.  My lingering memory though was of the smell of smoke from lots of open fires all working hard to keep the locals warm in their houses!
Wilmington Churchyard

If I could have stopped the walk at Wilmington it would have been a very fitting end to my journey.  There was still more than two miles to go though until reuniting with the car and these were less memorable miles.  The chalk downs were left behind me as I now headed onto the clay vale that characterises the next part of the Weald.  I soon crossed the extremely busy A27 (with difficulty) and headed out across squelchy fields towards Berwick village.  The terrain is almost marshy in places and so I was relieved that my path managed to steer clear of the worst of it.  I eventually reached the River Cuckmere, a very picturesque river downstream, but here nothing more than a muddy backwater.

I reached the road next to Arlington reservoir, a feature that I would have to explore next time for now I was very focused on my final destination, especially as the short-lived sunshine had disappeared.  Now the light was beginning to fade and I my feet were really hurting after all the hard work of trying to grip manfully to icy paths all day.  Today was far more of a struggle than I expected or wanted, but it felt very good to have some miles in my feet once again.  I think that I may end up doing this walk once again when conditions are better, for it has much to commend it and even on a fairly poor day the highlights clearly shone through.  I think the next section of the Wealdway will have to wait for the spring though – the idea of clay walking in the winter is too much for me!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

London LOOP Section 11 Elstree - Cockfosters

Elstree Flats
For days I had been wondering whether to do this section using only public transport to reach each end or do my normal routine of driving to one end and getting public transport to the other.  After a very frosty night my mind was made up for me when I didn’t have enough juice in my battery to get going!  I hot footed it down to the station and caught the train, safe in the knowledge that there were no dreaded engineering works to get in my way!  Sadly what I also knew was that the weather forecast suggested that there would be a lot of cloud after lunch and that by going on the train I wouldn’t get started until 11am.

Still after a trouble free journey to Elstree, I emerged from the train to ice cold temperatures (still) and not a sign of any cloud!  The write ups for this stretch of the LOOP weren’t very glowing and even the guide book bemoans the fact that there is too much road walking.  Yet even as I trudged up Deacon’s Hill Road to get out of Borehamwood I still had a sense of excitement as it was such a beautiful frosty morning.  I have to confess that these sorts of days are the most exhilarating for me as far as walking is concerned and even faced with a bit of road walking I was just pleased to get lungfuls of cold air!
Frosty Morning

After the seemingly endless climb up Deacon’s Hill Road, I turned left onto a main road where I was soon confronted with the odd sight of what looked like a salt and pepper pot in the adjacent field.  I soon realised that they were ventilation shafts for Elstree tunnel that I had just passed through.  What struck me as a little strange though was that they were built from different types of brick.  Just past these and I was able to get away from the road a bit as I found a parallel path that also gave me some decent views across the Hertfordshire countryside (ok so Borehamwood messed up the view a little).  I also realised that now we were much later into November, some vegetation was completely in the shade all day and the frost hadn’t actually melted for several days.  The white hoar frost was quite a contrast to the autumn scenes that I saw on the last section of the walk only three weeks earlier.

After this flirtation with countryside it was even better to get the real thing when I finally managed to leave the roads behind for a bit and head through Scratchwood.  If you think you’ve heard of Scratchwood, it’s because for many years the first set of services on the M1 were named after this green space.  Now they have the rather dull name of London Gateway, but they will always be Scratchwood to me.  In fact Scratchwood may not exist now if the original plan for the services had come to fruition.  Users of the service area will find the slip roads and set up rather odd – this is because the original plan was for a motorway link to built from here and almost obliterate Scratchwood itself on its way to joining up with the A1 at Stirling Corner.  Luckily nothing came of it so the delightful woods remain intact.

Despite surviving the bulldozer another intervention by a less obvious target now threatens to spoil the woods beyond recognition – the litter lout.  Sadly the woods are despoiled by people who supposedly come here to enjoy the countryside and defle it by leaving all manner of rubbish behind.  It was rather a shocking sight in places although nothing prepared me for what was to come – the side of the A1!  Having found my way through Scratchwood I was then faced with the most unwelcome trudge along the side of the ‘Great North Road’.  Sadly this most important of highways, linking London with Edinburgh, is a linear rubbish dump, with most of the litter finding its way beyond the reach of cleansing staff who wouldn’t have a hope of grabbing any of it underneath the most fearsome looking thorny bushes.  Some of the rubbish was quite eclectic too, with computer monitors and high heeled shoes in amongst the usual round of drinks bottles and fast food packaging.  The plod along the side of the road was a bit soul destroying if I’m honest and although I would have been unlikely to try my luck crossing this monstrous road, I still cursed the fact that this option wasn’t open to me on account of the substantial fence along the central reservation that would have required a large pole to help me vault it.
Out on the Razz

Having eventually made it to the underpass I faced almost the same distance back until I finally reached the car park of Moat Mount, which was closed (permanently by the looks of it).  A hapless dog walker in a car looked gloomily at the gate but there was no way it was going to be available for parking today.  I sauntered through, much to the annoyance of dog walker, and was surprised how quickly the sound of the A1 receded in the park.  Moat Mount is like a twin of Scratchwood but its pedigree is rather different since this is the erstwhile grounds of a long departed stately home.  Sadly the LOOP doesn’t allow for the best exploration of the parkland and with only a short amount of daylight hours available to me and many more miles to go I wasn’t inclined to venture off the beaten track.  Maybe another day?
Moat Mount

All was quiet as I headed out of the woods and out into open fields.  For awhile I just had the odd bird and fields full of horses for company.  Yet, as soon as I felt brave and patient enough to get a picture of a robin that had been following me, along came a jogger and ruined it for me.  Grrrr!  I soon realised that since my last outing some of the trees had lost their leaves entirely while others sported quite a lot of foliage.  Seems a bit daft to those in the know, but this was the first time I’d ever noticed that it was oak trees with leaves and all the beeches had lost theirs entirely.
Grazing Horses

I soon reached the village of Barnet Gate, where I again faced a short roadside walk, although happily this one was pretty quiet.  After half a mile or so I entered Totteridge Park and the feeling of wandering across empty countryside continued, although this place is pretty hemmed in by urban development.  By now I was coming across a lot more dog walkers and as I crossed a very frosty set of football pitches I became aware of an almighty din caused I assumed by a dog kennelling centre away in the distance.  The dogs didn’t appear to be very happy to be there!  I also came upon the trickle known as the Dollis Stream, which seems to have an importance far outweighing its size as there is a dedicated path following its length, as well as the LOOP.  After a mile or so of frozen fields and barking dogs I reached the edge of Barnet.  I crossed to the other side of the Dollis Stream via a pretty sturdy vandal proof footbridge and it was immediately like entering a different country!
Dollis Path

Initially the housing estate on the other side didn’t look very inviting, with several piles of fly-tipped rubbish waiting for me.  However, as I headed eastwards the scene improved considerably.  Call me a snob if you like but I couldn’t help noticing that the rubbish dumping stopped when I entered a more expensive looking neighbourhood!  Nonetheless I was pleased to leave this seemingly endless housing estate behind and cross the road into some playing fields.  Normally this looks like it would be a very busy place but on such a frosty day, there was only one very lonely looking young man practising with his football.  In fact for a minute I could have sworn he looked at my attire to see whether I might be able to join him!  I’m not sure I would have kept up with him – he looked decidedly fitter than me!

At the far end of the park I passed a first for me – a league football ground!  OK, so Underhill isn’t exactly Stamford Bridge or White Hart Lane but Barnet do just about play league football (albeit they are in great danger of being relegated out of it this year).  All was quiet today and a quick check of the upcoming fixtures at the far end of the ground suggested that there was no game here until the 11th when they face the mighty Accrington Stanley.  Just up from the ground is the Old Red Lion pub, no doubt a haunt of many Bees fans but for me it was the owner that caught my eye.  McMullen Brewery is based in Hertfordshire but does it have a family connection with my wife’s family (her maiden name)? 
High Barnet Station

A Northern Line train rumbled over the bridge on the other side of the road as I passed underneath.  When I turned left on the other side of the bridge I entered one of those almost impossibly rural pieces of countryside that still manage to exist cheek by jowl with suburbia.  The LOOP has an uncanny knack of finding them, which probably explains why it is such a fascinating walk.  The only clue was the proximity of High Barnet station just across the way.  Yet even the terminus of the Northern Line looks just like a country station.  The pathway across the park was like a skating rink and I must have looked quite a sight as I slithered across it, not having noticed when I was too busy looking at the tube trains!
King George's Fields

After crossing another short slab of suburbia I headed out across King George’s Fields, named in celebration of King George V’s silver jubilee in 1935.  It was a bit of a climb to the top, but I was glad that the LOOP had picked this green route rather than the more direct route up Barnet High Street.  At the top I looked back across London for quite a view.  Somewhere around this point was the decisive Battle of Barnet, one of the most famous of the battles of the Wars of the Roses which took place in 1471.  It was at Barnet that Warwick the Kingmaker died and with it the Lancastrian cause for fourteen years.  You can see why this was chosen as a battle site – the view all around was quite something although surely very different on that day over five hundred years ago!  The heart of the battlefield is now occupied by Hadley Green that is now a place for Sunday strolls and the back yard for the well heeled, who live in very sumptuous 18th Century houses overlooking it.
Barnet Pond

I lingered by the pond, which was almost completely frozen.  The one part that was free of ice was full of birdlife desperate for a swim!  The pond is situated at the top end of Barnet High Street, a completely different scene to the bottom end that I had left when I crossed under the railway line.  This is a picturesque and monied looking place, far removed from the housing estates at the bottom of the hill.  I continued across the Green and soon became aware that some of the very large houses had had some famous residents back in the day.  David Livingstone had lived in one and a couple of doors away was a house formerly lived in by Anthony Trollope.  At the far end of the Green was a delightful church with the tower picked out by the late afternoon sun.  This part of Barnet was definitely a far cry from the roar of the A1 and the dull walking that characterised the earlier part of the day.  I was quite disappointed that the daylight was starting to wane, for by now it was 2.30pm and the sun was starting to give up on me.
Barnet Green

Just past the church and I entered the world of Monken Hadley Common, a remnant of the once extensive hunting forest that covered this part of Hertfordshire.  Initially it was more of the same as Hadley Green, with a large open space bounded by some extremely large houses.  Eventually though the path descended into woodland and there was a flavour of what the hunting forest must once have been like (although I’ll bet that there weren’t lots of well worn paths in those days!
Barnet Church

This section of the walk was delightful and even though there were a lot of people about walking off the excesses of their Sunday lunches and taking their mutts out, the woods still seemed peaceful and tranquil.  In fact I was so in my own little world as I passed through the woods that I clean forgot to take a look at Jack’s Lake, supposedly the highlight of this end of the walk.  By the time I realised I had gone too far for me to walk back and look.
Monken Hadley Common

At the other end of the Common and it seemed all too soon I came upon the white gates denoting the entrance/ exit and I was in Cockfosters, the small suburb on the border of Barnet and Enfield that is home to the terminus of the Piccadilly Line.  I soon came upon it’s 1930s Art Deco splendour and was pleased to be whisked away within seconds of my arrival.  It was only upon stoppng with my walk how cold it had been, since I soon got pretty hot on the tube train!
Cockfosters Station

This section of the LOOP is not particularly exciting but redeemed by the delightful walking through Scratchwood at the beginning and across Monken Hadley Common at the end.  In fact the last three miles of today’s walk is perhaps one of the best sections of the entire walk and reminiscent of Kenley Common in the south of London.  It set me up nicely for the next section that will hopefully be walked in the next few weeks.