Wednesday, 25 February 2015

The Chidham Peninsula

Chidham Church
After our trip to Seaford and Cuckmere Haven we were lucky enough to have even better weather the following day.  The sun was out in full and the wind had dropped and there was an appetite for more coastal walking from my gang.  We decided to go somewhere a little less exposed this time and headed to a very different part of the coast; Chidham Peninsula.  This forgotten area of Sussex is a surprisingly lonely part of the Chichester Harbour AONB, comprising of a low lying area of marshy land (much drained) jutting out into the Harbour opposite the attractive village of Bosham.

We parked at the south end of the scattered Chidham village and decided that we would undertake the walk in the opposite direction from the suggested route in our Pathfinder Guide (vol 52 “More Sussex”, walk 8) so that we could make the most of seeing the sunset on Bosham village.  It also meant that we could get the majority of the non-shoreline part of the walk out of the way early on.
Early Gorse

Just out of the car park and our path headed down the side of Chidmere Pond, a fairly substantial looking body of water that was rather disappointingly shielded from view by a line of trees.  My guess is that this is probably private fishing water and the fishermen want a bit of privacy.  At the other end of the lake we had our first encounter with sticky mud – it would be by no means the last of the day.  The brief encounter was enough though to put us off taking a look inside the rather pleasant looking church at the other end of the path.  We did linger to take a look around the churchyard however – it looked like a very peaceful place to spend eternity.
Geese Fly

Our onward path headed along a field boundary where we caught a blast of icy north wind coming straight into our faces.  It was a relief to face away from it when we turned direction towards the coast but then had to negotiate yet more mud along the path.  Worse was to follow when we got to the low sea wall that protects the Chidham Peninsula as we had to cross what could only be described as a bog.  Thankfully when we got to the shore we could walk along the beach and this was relatively easy going.

Chidham Trees
The walk along the shore was delightful – this was a walk I had done a few years ago when walking the length of the Sussex Coast but it hadn’t been anything like as sunny that day. There was a surprising amount of warmth in the sun even though the air temperature was pretty cold.  The shoreline is pretty uniform for quite some distance and navigation could not have been easier in the sense that all we had to do was follow it all the way around the peninsula.
Portsmouth Skyline

Every now and again we would have to swap between the beach and the sea wall as the going wasn’t that easy.  Some stretches of the beach weren’t that easy to walk along but the top of the sea wall was intermittent with muddy stretches too.  If the weather hadn’t been so glorious this would have been a fairly unpleasant walk but as it was it just made for an unwelcome distraction.

Rest Awhile
Every now and again large flocks of geese would get spooked and fly across the sky in huge numbers.  This area is a common feeding ground for all manner of sea birds but for the most part we didn’t see too many as we had neglected to bring our binoculars which was a great pity.

Cobnor Point
At the southern end of the peninsula the character of the shoreline changed.  We passed by some old piling which was apparently an attempt at reclaiming some land from the sea back in the day.  There was also once a tidal mill here too although that is long gone as well.  The shoreline down to Cobnor Point has a rather attractive stand of trees all the way along it and without their summer clothing I found their bare branches rather fascinating to look at.  We paused for a refreshment stop and enjoyed the view across the main body of water of Chichester Harbour.  As we sat there another flock of geese flew overhead and settled out on one of the mudbanks in the water.  It almost felt like being in the midst of an airport!

Cobnor Point
By now we had the realisation that we still had a fair way to walk and that our daylight was rapidly running out!  We had to up our pace along the stretch from Cobnor Point to Cobnor House and beyond.  It seemed a shame to rush this section as it is one of my favourite stretches of the entire Sussex Coast.  The view across the water to Bosham and to the Downs far away in the distance is quite remarkable and looked particularly good in the fading sun.  If there is a more serene view in all of Sussex I would like to see it!  Boats bobbing about on the water and the orange glow of the setting sun on the steeple of Bosham church made for a particularly appealing scene.  The walking itself was quite interesting too, for the early part from Cobnor Point was largely via a wooden walkway across the edge of the shore.  For some reason such additions always seem to make a walk that much more memorable for me.

Bosham View
At Cobnor House we had to divert away from the shoreline briefly to negotiate around a sailing club.  There was a surprising amount of activity going on despite the lateness of the hour.  My eyes were drawn to a large houseboat moored here, although I was unable to get any kind of decent picture.  The last mile or so of the walk was a bit of a trial as this was possibly the muddiest section and we were all too aware of the setting sun and fading light behind us.  Fortunately with a few sweets the girls summoned up enough energy to make it through to the car park before the light properly faded on us.

Sun Down
This was a delightful walk and even the mud didn’t spoil it too much.  The going is pretty easy and at 5 miles in length makes for a good walk to undertake in the winter as there should be few problems making it back before getting dark.  The views across the harbour are sublime and the area is sufficiently quiet that you shouldn’t have to share your walk with too many people.  All in all a very different kind of coastal experience from the last outing but every bit as enjoyable.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Cuckmere Haven From Seaford

Martello Tower
There is nothing like a good blowy walk to freshen things up after Christmas and we struck lucky only a couple of days after the festivities when the weather provided just such an opportunity.  On canvassing the tribe they all seemed to want a seaside walk and so we picked walk 6 from vol 52 of the Pathfinder series ‘More Sussex’ walks.  I had a feeling that this walk would be largely dry and free of mud, an important consideration during the winter months.

Leaving Seaford
Being the Christmas holidays it was pretty quiet when we arrived at Seaford and we were able to park close by the Martello tower without any great problem.  This old building has had something of a facelift in recent years and now houses a local museum.  It is actually the westernmost of all the Martello towers built to help protect the south east coast of England from the threat of invasion during the Napoleonic wars (one of many threats that came to nought over many hundreds of years).  The day was quite bright and sunny but a brisk wind brought the temperatures down considerably.  It would definitely be a day to blow the cobwebs away as we headed towards Cuckmere Haven.

First Glimpse of the Sisters
Our first obstacle was to tackle the rather better than it looked hill of Seaford Head.  It always a little daunting to be faced with a hill at the start of any walk but in truth this one isn’t as bad as it looks.  Our biggest problem climbing it was actually the rather slippery mud, which made the climb like walking on a conveyor belt at times.  Add in the wind and we weren’t going to take any chances with getting close to the edge.  The cliffs here have been pretty crumbly in recent years and lots of material has fallen into the sea.  The path as a result seems to be getting ever closer to the golfers of Seaford Head golf course.

Hope Gap
At the top of the climb we stopped and briefly turned to look at the view.  Despite the season and the rather rough looking weather there was plenty of activity on the sea.  Conditions were clear enough for us to see all the way along the coast to Worthing and beyond, with Highdown Hill looking particularly prominent on the horizon.  The view along the coast from here is one of my favourite in all of Sussex, but the wind kept me from enjoying it for too long.  My eager girls were excited about moving onwards to the beach at Cuckmere Haven and so I had to catch up a bit.

Cuckmere Haven
The walk along the top of the cliffs from Seaford Head to Cuckmere Have is largely unremarkable except for two things:  The view towards the iconic Seven Sisters cliffs becomes better and better as you head eastwards and the profile of the cliffs is ever changing.  Features that I remember from walking these cliffs for 40+ years have disappeared in many cases and in others are endangered by the march of erosion.  Earthworks associated with an Iron Age hillfort on Seaford Head have largely disappeared while the valley of Hope Bottom now looks very much more truncated than the one I remember from years ago.  I imagine at least 20-30 metres of cliff have been lost since then.

Seven Sisters
Heading down to the beach at Hope Gap was sadly a no no today as the tide was in and there would have been no wave cut platform to see particularly.  We climbed up and away to reach the Coastguard Cottages shortly after.  A view of the cottages with the Seven Sisters behind is surely one of the most famous views in all of the UK and probably the most famous in all of Sussex.  The truth is though that this view might not last much longer.  I am astonished that the cottages have managed to hold out as long as they have against the relentless march of the sea.  The sea wall protecting them has been breached a number of times and sooner or later surely the battle will be lost?

View to Windover Hill
We dropped down past the cottages and made our way to the shingle beach.  Cuckmere Haven is the only river mouth in Sussex that hasn’t been developed in some way and I have very fond memories of coming here for picnics as a child.  Most of the time I came from the bus on Exceat bridge rather than via the clifftop route and that gave us extra beachcombing time.

Ferry Leaving
 It wasn’t really picnic weather today but the girls didn’t seem to mind.  The roar of the waves, salty spray all around us and pebbles to chuck in the water proved to be excitement enough.  We lingered around on the beach for quite awhile, enjoying the best of the sunshine which accompanied us at just the right time.
Cuckmere Valley
Eventually the sun went in and the cold started penetrating through our coats and so we decided to head back towards Seaford.  The return route was rather easier than the outward one.  This took us along a more inland route heading up the cinder path towards Chyngton Barn, another favourite spot to park.  Our views were now largely restricted to northwards and the unmistakeable landmarks of Windover Hill and Friston Forest could be seen in the distance.  The path also has lovely views of the Cuckmere Valley, although the meander loops for which the valley is famous are not quite so visible from this angle.

Martello Tower
From Chyngton Barn (which was rather busier than Seaford) our route took us round the edge of the golf course back into town and to the Martello tower once again.  They were a few hardy golfers out although nothing like as many as usual, which was lucky for us.  As we headed in towards town we caught sight of the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry leaving for its afternoon sailing to France.  Looking at the choppy and very cold sea conditions I was rather thankful that it wasn’t me on that vessel!

Seaford View
We were most relieved to get out of the wind once again when we reached Seaford.  After a while it really penetrated into us and made for a less than enjoyable return journey.  That said this was the perfect tonic to a few days at home – a trip down memory lane in one of my favourite parts of Sussex, some much needed exercise and even some winter sun.  What more could anyone want?

Beach Huts

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Paddington and Bus Trails – Around the River

With only just over an hour of daylight remaining I had little hope of completing any more trails for the Year of the Bus or Paddington and so I concentrated my time on combining the two in the City of London to see how many more I could find.  As a result I got to cover much of the ground from earlier mascot explorations in 2012, taking in such sights as The Monument, St Paul’s Cathedral, The Globe Theatre and the Tate Modern among other sights.

George Peabody
I started my walk at Moorgate station, which was in a bit of a mess on account of the Crossrail project which was well and truly underway.  This new railway line will link the east and the west of the Capital for the first time and provide direct access for rail passengers from Essex to Heathrow.  It is a hugely ambitious and expensive project but will significantly increase transport choices for millions of people.  For me though it rather limited my choice of how to get out of the station and without realising it I found myself in a project that was perhaps as ambitious in its scope 30+ years ago – the Barbican Estate.  This large housing estate was built in the early 1980s and must have seemed quite radical in its day.  Now it looks rather dated but in a good way – I rather like the old place.  It’s got the air of university campus about it.

I extracted myself from the estate and headed down towards the Bank of England.  The streets were strangely quiet compared with the hullabaloo of the shopping areas out west and this heightened my awareness of lots of police being about in the area.  As I got closer to the area around Bank the numbers increased substantially and I felt slightly uncomfortable about the numbers I started seeing.  By the Bank itself there were vanloads of police officers about and I wondered whether there was either going to be a heist or that they were worried about bankers stealing money following high spirited Christmas parties.  Whatever the reason I never quite got to the bottom of it.  I did spot a Paddington and the ‘All Aboard the Number 11’ in this area though before moving on.

London Wall
I decided that I would follow a route that enabled me to see ‘Push Once’ outside the Guildhall and then a further Paddington by the Museum of London.  The first I saw but sadly I could not find the second and ended up having to give up on it.  This diversion cost me time but it did enable me to see a rather sad church spire that had been divorced from the rest of its church by a Luftwaffe bomb in World War II.  Now it stood out on its own in a sea of modern buildings looking rather forlorn.

St Paul's Sunset
Of even greater antiquity were the remains of the London Wall.  This once encircled the city on three sides (the fourth side was protected by the river) but now only fragments remain.  The best preserved section is surely the one that passes close by the Museum of London and shows how the whole would once have looked.  For me it was the first time I had seen it – yet another little corner of London spotted as a result of mascot trails.  While I enjoy the artwork of the mascots I do like to see the underbelly of the city through which I am walking too – the trails make a great opportunity in which to do this.

Punk'd Bus
Feeling a bit annoyed that I had missed one of the mascots I headed down towards St Paul’s Cathedral.  As I reached the north end of the Cathedral a massive queue was forming outside.  I imagined that this was for a carol concert as most of the people queuing were dressed up in their best clothes.  I was rather glad that I wasn’t standing around on such a cold day and kept moving, heading around to the front of the Cathedral.  I caught sight of Bear in the Wood and the Punk’d bus but missed another bus that was in the area after a bit of searching.  By now I was getting weary and didn’t want to expend more time than I needed to finding mascots that weren’t very obvious.  Besides I was rather more taken with the way that the sun was now lighting up St Paul’s Cathedral and the famous dome than I was with searching out mascots.

Failing Light Over the Thames
I continued over the Millennium Bridge, now thankfully cured of its wobbles. The sky over the city was becoming quite dramatic as the sun started to sink lower in the sky and I knew that realistically I wasn’t going to finish this trail.  I crossed quickly to the other side of the river and was dumped into the middle of a German-style Christmas market full of the smells of frying wurst, candy floss and roasting chestnuts.  In my rather hungry state this was a little bit torturous but managed to find the Brollybus and Fragile Paddington.

By now time and light were running out fast and so I rushed along the riverside by the Globe Theatre and along by the Golden Hind finding Shakesbear and three more buses along the way.  By now it was getting pretty dark and I had to bail from the route rather earlier than I wanted to.  In all I probably only saw 2/3 of the mascots of this trail and sadly I had run out of time for another visit.  Overall though for a day’s visit I think I did pretty well, seeing more than 40 mascots in total and a good chunk of London as well.  I am guessing that 2015 will see lots more opportunities for mascot spotting and maybe a visit to a new city to spot them?

Monday, 2 February 2015

Paddington Trails - Paddington Mini Trail

Paddington at Paddington
After the hurly burly of dodging Christmas shoppers on the last Paddington Trail I was pleased to head out west for another trail in a rather quieter part of London.  Being a Paddington Trail it would have been rather remiss of me not to include Paddington Station itself and so that is where I headed.  Paddington is of course the station that the bear is named after and where he first met the Brown family.  This was one of the rather more comical scenes in the recent film, which the trail is designed to promote.  The bear at the station was a traditional looking one, complete with duffle coat and case full of (one assumes) marmalade sandwiches.  He even looked like he had just come off the train!

Paddington was strangely quiet during this lunchtime period – I assume for most people they had already been or gone?  Being Christmas week though I thought I would see more festive travellers.  I set off in search of the next bear, which was in nearby Norfolk Square.  This was a very pleasant square of houses, fairly resonant of the sort of housing you would expect in the more well appointed areas of London.  I imagine its proximity to Paddington Station and the A40 Westway makes this a pretty desirable location.  The gardens in the middle looked well cared for and that is where I found the Paddington.

Come Rain or Come Shine
My next mission was to find the outlying bus on the earlier bus trail.  I’m not sure why the bus was included way out here, nearly five miles from the next nearest one but I suspected that it was because it was housed outside a transport office and the organisers of the bus tour wanted one to look at themselves.  It was boldly painted and I realised that it was painted by Thomas Dowdeswell – we have seen his painted sculptures before on the Gromit trail and the Books About Town trail.  Having ticked that off my list I headed back up the Edgware Road along the dead straight road that I can remember using a lot for holidays as a child.  Those were the days before the M25 when going through London to anywhere to the north was almost mandatory.  Once we got on to the Edgware Road (the old A5) it seemed as if we had completed the hardest part of the journey as traffic tended to ease as we headed out of the city.  Now it seems busier than ever – M25 or no M25!

Paddington Basin
Just before reaching the Edgware Road tube station I dived down a side road and found myself in the rather surreal world of Paddington Canal Basin.  I say surreal because I imagine that this was once a thriving centre of commerce, being a major unloading point for narrowboats heading south from Birmingham along the Grand Union Canal.  Now it has a different kind of commerce there – high rise buildings with retail units on the ground floor and plenty of computer and hi tech companies all houses in the offices around.  The flats that were part of the complex looked well appointed but I couldn’t help thinking that they all looked rather hotel like from my vantage point.  Perhaps many of them are merely crash pads for well heeled city workers while their main home is elsewhere?

Little Blue Bear
The remaining part of my walk was around the canal basin and the first mile or so along the Grand Union canal.  This is an area that has obviously had a good deal of inward investment in recent years and I imagine the organisers of the Paddington Trails were encouraged to route the trail through here to showcase the area.  Two of the Paddington mascots that particularly caught my eye were a blue one that was covered in the kind of fuzzy plastic that you find in presentation boxes and one that was in a brick pattern.  The blue one was gaining a lot of attention as it was impossible to pass by without giving it a little stroke.  The feel of it was remarkably soft considering that the little fellow had been outside in all elements for a number of weeks by this point.  I assume the brick one is a homage to the brick industry for which London was once so famous…

The Mayor of Paddington
I crossed the canal here via a very eye-catching looking bridge and wandered past the hospital on the other side, which looked rather at odds with all the modern buildings all around it.  Just the other side of the wall was the outer platforms of Paddington station and as I passed by the distinctive roar of an InterCity 125 (are they still called that?) started up as an express headed out towards South Wales or Devon/ Cornwall.  I wondered how long these old trains would be kept going for – they are now among the oldest still running on the network even though they are much loved.

The next Paddington on the trail stood outside Paddington underground station.  A tube station directly accessed from a canal towpath seemed a little strange but I suppose in years gone by this was pretty useful.  Most of the people coming out now were headed for the nearby small businesses and the hospital clinic buildings. Anyhow this was perhaps the most regal Paddington on the trail for he was dressed as the Mayor!  

Standing Man and Walking Man
I passed under a rather austere looking road bridge and took a sharp turn to the left along a path that initially looked as if it were a dead end but soon turned right to take a route behind some shops.  This then opened out into quite a large amphitheatre created in the courtyard of the high rise buildings all around.  As a piece of open space it was very effective.  I imagine during the warmer months this can be used for all manner of different events?  The Paddington housed here was very fittingly in the middle of the stage at the bottom of the bowl of seating.

Approaching Little Venice
I headed back to the canalside and passed by a rather strange looking sculpture of two men looking like they were playing a game.  They are called Standing Man and Walking Man. Their lifelike features were a little unnerving at first.  The path headed under the concrete monstrosity of Westway, part of what was once an ambitious plan for a ring motorway around the centre of London (a kind of inner city M25).  Only fragments were built and in the usual British style the whole project (which was badly conceived due to how much destruction it would have caused) was shelved immediately following the oil crisis.  The road is not now even a motorway, having been declassified in the early 2000s.  Passing underneath though you wouldn’t know for the deafening roar suggests that traffic levels haven’t reduced following its change of status.

Love Paddington
Life on the canal could not be more different from the high speed of the road network.  Most of the boats moored here were deserted and those that were populated seemed to have crews that were happy to stay put and enjoy their wood burning stoves on board.  One or two had even opened up the boats for serving teas and trinkets for the few tourists enough to be wandering about on such a cold day.

Little Venice
The best part of the walk was saved until last.  Only one more Paddington left and it was at the far side of the triangular canal junction with the city arm of the Grand Union canal (known for the section that runs through London Zoo).  I had to walk around all three sides of the triangle to complete the route and this was a delightful section, even on what was rapidly becoming quite a gloomy day after the sunshine of the morning.  All around were lots of Victorian houses, attracted I imagine by the proximity of the railway and canal system.  Many of the canal boats in this part of the canal basin look semi-permanently moored and many were dressed up for Christmas.  The Paddington at the far end of the canal basin was a very fetching silver colour – rather fitting for a precious area of London I had never previously visited.