Thursday, 30 October 2014

Sussex Border Path Section 18 Cowden and Hammerwood Park

Cowden Church

 Several more months have ticked away without me being able to do more of this walk and I was anxious to do more.  Now I am the other side of East Grinstead it is getting a little harder to find a long enough time slot to walk the route but on this Sunday morning I was disciplined enough to get up very early and take myself off to Cowden village.  I parked up by Cowden Church and as I admired the steeple and took in the ambience of the early autumnal morning I jumped out of my skin when I was greeted by the lady vicar who had come up behind me on her way to get ready for the morning services.  I politely told her I wasn’t lost before heading on my way.
Dahlia Show

I crossed the nearby allotment site, still showing plenty of colour in the shape of the last sweet peas of the season and dahlias in full bloom.  Even the raspberry bushes still had plenty of fruit on them.  My feet though got extremely wet very quickly due to the heavy dew on the grass as I walked along the path between plots.
Holtye Common

I soon came upon the local golf course – yet another one.  This part of Sussex has more golf courses than almost anywhere else I know.  Initially the going was good but I soon got a bit lost as I lost the signs for the path about halfway across and went around in circles a bit before finally finding my way out and onto the nearby road.  I went downhill a little way, passing a hapless squirrel that had recently been squashed by the looks of things and was under surveillance from a nearby crow.  I am guessing he thought I was competition for this delectable meal…

Roger's Town
My onward route then passed through Holtye Common, a delightful stretch of birch woodland that soon became another path alongside another golf course.  This one seemed quite a challenge as the guys who were playing the hole near me were really struggling with the significant slope of the valley they were trying to get their ball over.  I passed quickly, feeling rather amused by their frustration.
Abandoned Phone Box

After passing through more woods I crossed a road to find a very old looking telephone box that was slowly receding into nature.  Obviously when I looked inside there was no telephone but there was one of the notices that BT provide to encourage the local community to take the box on as a community asset and thereby safeguard its future.  The funny thing was though that the consultation period was 42 days from the date of the poster.  That was in 2009!  A little overdue methinks…
Bright Berries

Some road walking followed and this seemed to be an unusually busy lane.  I suspect that part of the issue was that there were some lost drivers all looking for a fishing lake which was obviously not easily found with their Satnav devices.  I was asked for directions by a couple of them but despite having a map I wasn’t a lot of help for there are so many small ponds and lakes in this part of the county.
Hammerwood Country

Eventually I left the road and encountered my first overgrown path of the day which wasn’t fun to negotiate.  By the time I got out into the open fields beyond I had been scratched plenty by the brambles and I was wet through with dew from grass and other vegetation.  Luckily the day was warming up by now and despite my wetness it wasn’t too uncomfortable.  The walking wasn’t the most interesting for a while though – endless field after endless field it seemed for a while until eventually I came out on a field that overlooked Hammerwood Park and my work didn’t feel like it was in vain.

Hammerwood Park
I had deliberately constructed the route to get a look at Hammerwood Park.  This old house has had quite the history, acting as Special Operations base during World War II.  It was later owned by Led Zepellin who bought it to house some of their family and group members.  By the time they sold it in 1982 the old house was in serious need of repair and luckily it was bought by David Pinnegar who restored it back to its former glory.  The house opens during the summer months and hosts classical music concerts and is probably one of the hidden gems of East Sussex.  Sadly although I could see the house very well much of the view was obscured by some rather unfortunately placed electricity pylons.
Even the Kitchen Sink

I passed through Owletts Farm and then an enclosed path with huge berry filled hedges either side of me.  This section of path was a joy to walk along as the autumn sun picked out some of the vibrant colours of the berries and last flush of flowers.  Soon the hedge turned into woodland and I was rather surprised to see a number of abandoned sink units left in the trees.  I wondered whether this was an abandoned campsite?
Tired Sign

At the far end of the wood I crossed back across the main road I had encountered earlier and headed towards the path I had chosen through the woods on the other side.  This was a complete nightmare – the path was so overgrown it was almost impassable and although I persevered I really wished I hadn’t.  It was a complete nightmare trying to get through to the other side and the road beyond. In fact what I hadn’t realised was that the path was in fact a dead end and as I tried to blunder through the last few yards to the road beyond I got my foot stuck in a muddy bog and went round and round in circles trying to find a way out.  In the end I probably trespassed my way through the grounds of the very opulent houses in my way but by then I didn’t much care for the prospect of going back through the thicket was far too much to bear.  My advice would be don’t come this way!

Eventually I found the safety of the road beyond and was happy to walk some tarmac for a bit.  The early sunny weather had by now given way to gloomy greyness and this did not much help my mood.  It was however the sort of cloud that I thought could easily shift at any moment so I ploughed on, largely forgetting the camera for quite a while.  The scenery was pleasant rather than memorable and I was pleased when I reunited with a section of the SBP I had walked last time out.  Much had changed since then – blossom had given way to berries and the landscape looked tired rather than fresh and vibrant.

Friendly Horses
As I left the overlapped section and followed the official SBP back towards Cowden.  As I did so I encountered a running race of some sort for the next mile or so I saw what seemed to be an endless stream of runners in various states of fitness jogging in the opposite direction that I was heading.  Most had race faces on and ignored me bu there were a few friendly ones who gave me a nod and a smile.  I seemed to lose them altogether by the time I got to Jules Wood and from here on the path was devoid of people.  On the whole I found this section rather dull and it wasn’t helped by the rather grey and gloomy weather that has come across.  The autumn colours had yet to fully develop either and so the whole walk rather felt less than satisfying.  The only things of note that I passed by were the rather wonderful Waystrode Manor, a half timbered grade II listed building and a couple of murky looking dewponds.
Waystrode Manor
On the whole this was a disappointing walk not helped by the unexpected gloomy weather which closed in.  The non SBP part of the route was also very difficult due to the largely overgrown state of the paths.  It might be a while before I venture out on the next section of the SBP.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Blenheim Park

Blenheim Frontage

For our next walk a rare opportunity came along in the shape of Brownie Camp, which meant that for the first time in many years my wife and I could have a weekend away without having to worry about anybody else.  It was quite a luxury!  We decided to head to Oxford for our weekend as we wanted to go far enough away without being too far in case we were needed.

Woodstock High Street
Some years ago on a gloomy November afternoon I had walked around Blenheim Park using the walk in volume 6 of the Pathfinder Guides (walk 8).  It was a hugely atmospheric walk and I thought that would be a splendid one to do in combination with a visit to the magnificent Blenheim Palace at the heart of the park.  The weather on this day was rather different to last time out.  We started with a sunny morning but the cloud rapidly came across to leave us with rather overcast conditions.

We parked up in the rather smart looking village of Woodstock, no doubt where a lot of the estate workers would once have lived.  Now it comes across as a very well to do place that Oxford professionals might live and feels very much like a Cotswold village.  Perhaps it is the use of Cotswold stone that really ensures this as nearby villages do not have the same feel about them.

Entering the Park
 We parked in the village car park and wandered down the High Street, doing some window shopping as we did so.  There are clearly some very wealthy people in these parts if the prices are anything to go by!  As we walked along the main road the sight of the Victory Column in the park came into view for the first time.  This is something we would glimpse on several occasions as we walked the five mile circuit of the park.  Just beyond here is the area of the village known as Old Woodstock, although much of the housing now looks rather more recent.

Furze Platt
The first mile of the walk can only be really described as positioning as it follows a not terribly inspiring course through some nearby fields.  One memorable sight along the path across the first field was the line of different hollyhocks that flanked us.  I am guess that these were garden escapes but they added some much needed colour to a drab looking landscape.  With the overcast conditions and the recent harvesting of the crops much of the countryside was looking rather tired.

Grand Avenue
Eventually we reached the A44 again and crossed.  We were immediately confronted by the high wall of the estate and passed through a big clunky gate to access the park.  This section of the path is the course of Akeman Street, a Roman Road that would have allowed a direct route from St Alban’s to Bath using connections at each end with Fosse Way and Watling Street.  The path is also followed by the more recent incarnation of the Oxfordshire Way, a 68 mile path that links Bourton-on-the-Water with Henley on Thames.

Aggressive 'Lambs'
Just inside the park we walked past Furze Platt, a rather derelict looking farm.  It isn’t exactly the most picturesque looking house in the park but what a shame to see it without anyone living in it.  The barn outside had an enormous crack in the wall, suggesting that this might have been a deal breaker for turning it into a luxury holiday house.  We soon pulled up to the main drive to the north of Blenheim Palace.  It was a hugely impressive sight lined by avenues of trees and in the distance was the impressive Victory Column once again.  This must have been quite the entrance to any visitor to the estate.  

Autumn Fruits
We continued on our way along the side of fields full of grazing sheep and in some cases some very aggressive ‘lambs’ that had not yet been successfully been weaned and were causing their mothers grief now they were so big.  It was amusing for us to watch even if not for the sheep involved.  Eventually we reached a small woodland at the other end of the park and met the perimeter wall once again.

Swan Family
From here the path takes a tortuous route through the park, going round field boundaries and this enabled us to see some of the features of the landscaping that was put in by Capability Brown, some 60 years or so after the Palace was built.  At this end of the park they were mostly shaped clumps of trees and avenues through to the palace itself but eventually we reached the lakes for which the landscape gardener is particularly famous.

Grand Bridge
The Lake was formed from the natural feature of the River Glyme, which was dammed at its southern end.  The result of the damming was that the Grand Bridge, which formed the main approach to the house was reduced in height and the original rooms that were built into the structure were submerged below the water line for good.  Once the appearance was changed in this way its grandeur was far more fitting for the landscape it sat in.  Walking around the lake was a pleasure and as we got closer to the house we could get glimpses of its enormity.

Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace is on an astonishing scale.  It was built for John Churchill, an eminent soldier who defeated the French at the Battle of Blenheim (hence its name).  The house was allegedly a gift from Queen Anne to thank John Churchill and provide a fitting estate to go with his newly formed title as the Duke of Marlborough.  What followed was the building of a gargantuan house by John Vanburgh who had recently completed Castle Howard in Yorkshire.  It isn’t clear whether Anne had this in mind when she sanctioned the house but unluckily for Churchill there was no wriiten contract and when the Queen died the funds dried up.  This was to become a theme of the estate’s existence, with the house providing a constant drain on resources to the family and bankruptcy was only staved off by some convenient marriages by subsequent Dukes.  It is something of a miracle therefore that the house remains in the hands of the family.  Now of course it attracts visitors by the thousands, especillay as Sir Winston Churchill was born and brought up on the estate.

Woodstock Gate
We took the opportunity to deviate from the walk and tour the house and estate, taking advantage of not having small inquisitive people with us who we would have to constantly tell not to touch things J.  We spent a fascinating afternoon wandering around and although the house is obviously magnificent its opulence is rather too much and it is easy to see why the old place attracts its fair share of criticism as well as plaudits.

Walking to the Column of Victory
Once our tour was over we returned to our walk, crossing the Grand Bridge and passing Fair Rosamund’s Well to the grandiose Column of Victory for a closer look at last.  Around the bottom of the column is a full account of the story of the Duke’s victory – a rather long read for anyone who wants to know the blow by blow account of the battle.  I couldn’t help but think what modern minds would think of anyone trying to put in a similar structure these days.  Could you imagine for example Bill Gates building a column accounting for all his business exploits, or Sir Alex Ferguson with all his sporting achievements?  

Column of Victory
We paused at the column for a while before heading round the last part of the lake and back into the village of Woodstock.  It is rather strange that these two places are side by side for they seem to thrive together and yet the existence of the perimeter wall around the Blenheim estate serves as a reminder of the gulk between the two sets of people on either side.

Column Story
There is no doubt that this is a walk oozing with history and definitely complements any proposed visit to the Palace and estate.  It’s modest length (5 miles) means that it takes only a couple of hours and the lack of any strenuous climbs also ensures that you aren’t a sweaty mess before you enter the house for a visit!

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Books About Town

Around the World in Eighty Days

 I had hoped to bring you the full set of Books About Town, this year’s mascot trail in London.  Sadly due to lack of time we only managed one of the four trails – the other three in the city, along the river and through Greenwich Park did not materialise.  The one we did manage to do, the Bloomsbury Trail, was a wonderful appetiser and we were rather disappointed not to do more.

The Day of the Triffids
The theme of this mascot trail was rather different to the others.  The ‘mascots’ were in fact benches that were shaped like half open books.  These were then decorated in a theme depicting the book or a famous scene from the book.  The books were produced by the same organisation that brought the Rhinos in Southampton, the Gromit Trail and London 2012 trails.  The idea was to raise awareness of reading and the connections of the books to the areas of London in which they were situated.

The Importance of Being Earnest
Bloomsbury is probably the most famous literary part of London and it was therefore rather inevitable that one of the trails should be based there.  We actually had another purpose in London that day as we had a theatre show later in the evening so this was the perfect activity to while away the afternoon while we waited.

From Theatreland and Covent Garden we began our walk by heading over a few streets where we found that our first book bench was inside the Stanford Travel Shop.  Rather unsurprisingly perhaps the first bench we found was ‘Around the World in 80 Days’, an old favourite of mine by Jules Verne.  It was curious that the bench was to be found in the basement floor of the shop but luckily it was sufficiently out of the way that we could inspect it at leisure before moving on.
Mrs Dalloway

The Jules Verne bench was quite an outlier and in a sense it was probably good that we managed to find it first before the girls’ enthusiasm waned.  It did mean that it was quite a walk to the next one, crossing the considerably busy High Holborn and heading along Bloomsbury Street before coming to the next one outside the University of London.  This was to be another favourite of mine, The Day of the Triffids.  I remember being frightened witless by that story when I read it aged about 12.  The design was a suitably stark looking black and white.
Sherlock Holmes

Several of the benches were scattered around the campus of the University of London.  I had never before been to this part of London and was amazed by the size of the University.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have been; after all this is one of the premier universities in the country and it is in the heart of the capital city.  The feeling of learning oozed from every orifice of the building though, even at a time when most of the students were not around.
Mr Tumnus Meets Lucy

Next on the list was The Importance of Being Earnest and a play of huge significance for us as a family for it was written in our home town of Worthing!  Oscar Wilde is possibly one of the most famous people to have lived in the town and the play is arguably the most creative thing the town has ever produced.  The design of the bench wasn’t our favourite though it has to be said.

Far more interesting was the next bench, only about 100 metres away, which was the amazingly colourful 1984.  This book was the one I had to study for my O Level English Literature exam back in that auspicious year.  It was a book I really enjoyed reading and I was particularly fascinated in the design chosen.  It was complete with garish colours and an amazing level of detail, recalling almost every famous subplot and character that I could remember from the book.  Even my girls, who obviously have no knowledge of the book due to their tender years, could not take their eyes off the design.
Jeeves and Wooster

After inspecting for what seemed like ages the next two benches were also not far away, on opposite sides of the road in the central park areas of a couple of crescents of grand town houses for which London is so famous.  On the north side was Mrs Dalloway and on the south Sherlock Holmes.  The latter of course was depicted in the last London mascot trail that we walked around in Regent’s Park.  He was getting quite a lot of attention as you might expect but the less obvious Mrs Dalloway over the road was being almost completely ignored.  I wondered then how many of the people that come to look find the benches by chance and how many actually walk the trail?  Certainly the London ones have tended to be walkable and this is much more satisfying than the Gromit Trail in Bristol and another in Glasgow that we came across using Clydes.  They were all so far apart that it simply wasn’t possible to find them all on foot.

Pride and Prejudice
We headed east from Woburn Square and Gordon Square along Torrington Place crossing seemingly lots of roads before we finally came to the entrance between buildings that we were looking for.  The next bench was one that was eagerly anticipated by the children for it was the Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, one of their favourite books.  It was located in the almost hidden St George’s Gardens and entering seemed like a metaphor for the wardrobe itself.  The gardens could easily pass for Narnia in a child’s imagination…  The bench itself was very eyecatching with a magnificent portrait of Aslan on the back and the meeting of Lucy and Mr Tumnus on the front.  It was definitely worth finding it for the artwork alone.

James Bond
St George’s Gardens was the furthest extent of our walk and we now started to head back towards Covent Garden.  On the way we stopped first at Jeeves and Wooster in a rather utilitarian looking shopping centre.  We weren’t so impressed with the design so we pushed on to Pride and Prejudice in Queen Square.  This had found a very pleasant home overlooked by a number of hospitals and what I took to be a statue of Queen Anne but was in fact Queen Charlotte, the Queen of King George III.
Hercule Poirot and the Greenshore Folly

The pattern of the placement of the books was beginning to become familiar by this stage.  Bloomsbury is charaterised by many squares with green spaces in the middle and very well appointed houses and buildings overlooking them.  So it proved that the last three books on the list were all found in these surroundings.  We found James Bond, Hercule Poirot and Peter Pan all holed up in small central gardens and all three were completely free of visitors – clearly we had either left other walkers behind or there wasn’t anything like as much interest in this trail as others we have previously walked.  Nevertheless we enjoyed this short walk through some of the most well appointed and expensive parts of London.  What a pity we couldn’t have followed this walk up with going to see the others.  The books were all worth seeing!

Peter Pan

Monday, 6 October 2014

Loxwood and the Wey South Path

Merry Hills
Back to Sussex again now after all the trips away.  For the next few weeks at least it is unlikely that I am going to be able to do any ambitious trips but we are trying to pack a number of shorter walks in to keep up our fitness and enjoy the progress of autumn.  This next walk is from the Pathfinder Guide “West Sussex and the South Downs” (volume 66) and walk number 8.  Much of the route reprises footpaths I have taken when walking the Wey South Path and the Sussex Border Path, but I was keen to see the progress of restoration work along the canal.

We saw this as possibly the last opportunity for an evening walk – by now the evenings were noticeably drawing in and soon we’ll have no evening daylight at all.  I do like the early mornings and evenings for walking – it is such a treat to have them.  The winter months do seem so very long.

Golden Fields
Because of the lateness of the day we did not chance our arm at the Onslow Arms car park as suggested in the guide book but instead parked in Loxwood village. The first part of the walk was along the intriguingly named Spy Lane (I wonder how it got that name?) until we reached a small church.  He we turned and headed into the countryside where we were greeted with a sight that we only half expecting - a healthy crop of blackberries already ripe and ready to collect.  Luckily we had brought some containers on the offchance and set about collecting as many as we could, completely filling what we had brought.  We did linger for quite a while before I became aware that the light was going to fade on us unless we continued our walk.

Common Fleabane
After crossing a couple of fields we headed northwards but only after stopping to admire the view back towards the South Downs.  In these Wealden parts of Sussex it is easy to forget how high you climb for the terrain is not as pronounced as the Downs.  Yet there are spots such as this where a view can extend for many miles.

Sir Roger Tichbourne Pub
We continued to pick as we walked alongside golden fields of wheat and barley.  They would surely be cut any day now looking at their ripeness.  All around us were the beautiful golden colours of late summer - scenes that are short lived and very special.  The hedgerows were brimming with the fruits of autumn and the last flush of summer flowers and it was hard not to be distracted especially as my family were heading off into the distance while I stopped to look!

Oakhurst Farm
Eventually we came back to the main road after passing the wonderfully named Songhurst New Farm and Merry Hills.  The path came out opposite the Sir Roger Tichbourne pub, now looking in rude health once again after several years of neglect and closure.  We had to walk a short distance along the main road, which was not pleasant before turning right and heading down another country lane devoid of traffic. 

Purple Loosestrife
At Oakhurst Farm I was curious to see progress on the large farmhouse that had largely been a building site when I passed by in January 2012.  Much progress had been made but the site was still far from finished.  I guess it will be some time before completion.  For now though it wasn’t easy to see what still needs to be done, for most of the site is now obscured from view unfortunately.

Restoration Work
We wound our way through the countryside along the Sussex Border Path before reaching the old Wey and Arun Canal.  This is a path I have walked a few times and it was very interesting to me to see how much progress had been made on restoration works since I was last here over 18 months ago.  It looks like a significant stretch will be completed in the next few months, weather willing.  Much of the walk here though is rather spoiled by the current restoration works which has turned the towpath into a mudbath and ruined by caterpillar tyre tracks in places as the heavy machinery rumbles along here to do most of the donkey work.  It is all a far cry from the days of the navvy back when the canal was first built.

Devil's Hole Lock
Since my last visit along here I was rather heartened to see a whole new section of canal had actually opened to boat traffic, with another mile surely ready anytime within the next couple of years.   It is starting to really progress.
Flight of the Heron
Along the path we also saw a few natural wonders with sightings of deer, a kingfisher and a heron all making an appearance, much to our excitement.  The sun had most disappeared by the time we got back to the car but what a beautiful evening it had been (and good pickings too!)