Saturday, 1 October 2011

Section 19 Rake to Rowlands Castle - 14.5m

I had decided I wanted to do another longish walk today, so after leaving home at 5.45am and driving 71miles to my finish point at Rowlands Castle, I caught a train to Liss and then got a taxi to Rake.  In theory, I could have walked from Liss to Rake as it was only about 2miles, but as the forecast for today was for some very hot weather, and it was all road walking, I opted for the lazy (but expensive - £7.20) – option, and was ready to begin my walk at about 8.15am.
Fog at Liss station
I was rather alarmed to look up from my magazine whilst on the train, to see a wall of fog out of the window.  By the time I reached Rake, the fog had been replaced by a more subtle mist, but this lingered for most of the morning, and this kept the temperatures well down – I was wearing cropped trousers, and had decidedly chilly legs for a while!
Vapour trails in a glorious blue sky
Leaving the Flying Bull pub in Rake, I crossed the road and headed down Bull Hill, soon bearing right into Sandy Lane.   After about ½ mile and past the last of the houses, the lane became a woodland path.  To my right was a steep wooded hill – this area is called Rake Hanger and it has SSSI status, having been covered with trees since at least 1600AD.
Trees growing on the steep slope of Rake Hanger
After a little over a km, I realised I must have missed a path veering off to the left  to join a lane – as usual in woodland there were a number of unmarked paths and this makes navigation particularly difficult.  Instead, I left my (incorrect) route and headed in roughly the right direction, soon picking up another path which ran behind some houses and emerged on a lane near Hill Brow.  This route actually saved me a bit of road walking.
The sun streams through the mist
Descending to a road junction, I turned left and in about 100m turned right off the road to enter Durford Heath (National Trust).  This was another large area of misty woodland, although unlike Rake’s hanger, which I had to myself, I did meet a few dog walkers and runners here. The path followed a sweeping curve, keeping to the hanging valley, finally branching off south and beginning to descend.
The path meanders through Durford Heath (National Trust)
After finally leaving the woodland, the route joined a byway between fields, which I followed for about a mile, passing Durleighmarsh Farm with a number of converted industrial units.  One of the units housed the premises of Gabriella Shaw ceramics – by coincidence I have a framed print and ceramic mug from this artist, purchased some years ago at the Olympia Christmas Horse Show in London.
Farm buildings converted for industrial use
The byway ended at the A272 where I turned left and followed the verge for about 500m to Wenham Manor Farm.  The mist was still lingering, although it was decidedly warmer now that I was free from a canopy of trees.  As it had been so dry recently I had decided to wear my lightweight, non-waterproof trail shoes on this walk.  Unfortunately, the verge alongside the road was quite lush, and absolutely saturated with dew.  When I could I walked in the road, but when vehicles were approaching from both directions I had to step onto the grass and by the time I reached the farm my feet were pretty sodden.
Sundry farm equipment at Wenham Manor Farm
Reaching the farm I turned south off the road and briefly followed a driveway before passing through a gate into a field where there were various pieces of abandoned farm equipment. The path ran along a field boundary to reach and cross the River Rother, then headed diagonally across another very dewy field (more wet feet!) to a stile where I was confronted with a herd of curious young cattle.  Although they were milling around the stile, they were actually quite relaxed, and I was able to move them out of my way without alarming them too much.

Curious calves block my way

Keeping to a field boundary I soon passed between the stone bridge supports of an old railway line, now clearly defunct.  Skirting the boundary railings of an isolated barn conversion, I soon picked up a path alongside West Heath Common.  The colours of the autumnal bracken were quite stunning. 

Autumnal bracken on the path alongside West Heath Common

Arriving at Down Park Farm I turned right onto a driveway and after passing a couple of large barns, arrived at a stile into a field.  There was a clear path across the field towards a stile into a wood, but I wasn’t convinced this was in the right direction.  However, as there were no other waymarkers I took this path initially.  Once in the wood, it was clear it was curving the wrong way, so I backtracked and skirting the edge of the initial field, found another stile, which was clearly my route.  It didn’t look as if many people came this way.
The 'wrong' way from Down Park Farm
The path then headed diagonally across a large field.  Half way across it passed under some pylons and over a stream, before bearing right to reach a lane, where I turned left.  At the first junction, I turned right and passed through the attractive hamlet of Quebec.
The road walking lasted for about a mile.  It was now approaching 11am, but the mist was still lingering in places and gave an eerie feel to the place. From the map it appeared as if I would have to continue the tarmac tramp along the lane as it skirted the flank of Torberry Hill, but when I reached a lane junction a waymarker pointed to a wooded footpath that ran adjacent to, and just above the lane.
Looking ahead (south) towards Torberry Hill
After about 1km I descended steeply to cross the B2146, just a bunch of race cyclists passed by. The route continued on a bridleway track almost opposite, from where there were misty views east towards South Harting church. 
 View east towards the spire of South Harting church
This bridleway climbed steadily to reach and cross Forty Acre Lane, a track bearing the South Downs Way.  Although I have walked the majority of this National Trail, I have never managed to complete the westernmost 24miles, so this was the first time I had set foot on this part of the SDW route, albeit only for a few moments.  I really must complete this trail some time soon!

Foxcombe House
The bridleway continued on its roughly southwesterly route, descending on a private driveway to pass the very attractive Foxcombe House, before beginning to climb again, gently at first. 
Oh dear, scratched shins again!
At the point where the SBP crossed a more substantial bridleway track I reached the highest point on today’s walk at about 180m.  I continued for about another km through the woods on a narrow footpath at first and then on a broader track, before forking SW onto another narrower path, where I found a convenient tree stump to sit on to have a coffee and snack break.  It was now nearly 11.30am and I was pretty peckish – breakfast had consisted of a peanut butter sandwich, eaten in my car at about 7.30am whilst waiting for my train at Rowlands Castle station.
SBP waymarker on West Harting Down
Descending gently on a rather indistinct path, close to the woodland edge, I eventually reached a multiple path junction, and it took a few moments (and a little help from the trusty GPS) to work out the direction to proceed. 
Indistinct path through Harehurst Wood
I joined a wide forestry track with thick conifer woods on my right and a more open aspect on my left.  I heard a buzzard calling, and looked up to see this magnificent bird soaring high above me.  I love to hear these raptors, but unfortunately they are only just extending their range into the East Sussex area in which I live, and I have only seen them on a couple of occasions there.
Forestry path
After about a mile, I left the main track and forked right on a more minor path, and I left the dense conifers behind – this path was closely bordered by young deciduous trees.  It became more open as I joined a track known as Harris Lane, which ran alongside steeply sloping horse pastures and led to Woodcroft Farm.
Horses graze on the skyline at Woodcroft Farm
From the farm, a narrow path led to the railway line, which I crossed on a concrete bridge to reach a lane.  Crossing almost straight across, I began a VERY steep climb up Chalton Peak. The views were good from the top though. The day was certainly warming up now, and I was feeling pretty hot after the climb.  After passing a group of three women walking in the opposite direction, I nipped into the hedge to change into shorts – that felt much cooler.
The VERY steep path up Chalton Peak
Reaching a lane, I headed downhill into the village of Chalton.  Opposite the very attractive Red Lion pub, I turned left and climbed some steps to enter the church yard.  There were a group of hikers having their picnic lunch on the grass just outside the church lychgate.  Part of the churchyard was securely fenced to allow sheep to graze their – they presumably help to keep the grass down and reduce the need for mechanical mowing.
The Red Lion, Chalton
I was now sharing my route with the Staunton Way a 21 mile circular recreational path.

Joining yet another long distance path at Chalton
Shortly after leaving the churchyard I emerged into a large arable field bearing a small amount of winter wheat growth, across which ran 3 separate footpaths.  Understandably the farmer had indicated the routes with wooden marker posts, although I should imagine these present some problems when it comes to harvesting and ploughing etc.
Looking back north towards Chalton
I took the right hand path which headed due south, gently ascending to the top of Chalton Down from where there were some lovely panoramic views.  Following the ridge, I walked under some electricity wires before briefly following a narrow path between trees and a strip of ‘game bird’ maize, and passing through a small belt of trees called Oxleys Copse.
Pylon from below
As I began to descend, I met a couple of young women walking their dogs.  One of the dogs was a 'rescue', and was a delightful chap.  He looked as if he had Staffie in him, although he was somewhat bigger, and was a gorgeous fawn colour.
Lovely 'rescue' dog
Although I didn’t have a huge amount of my walk left by this point, I decided to stop for lunch as it was now 1.30pm and I was getting hungry, so I sat on the narrow grass path left after the plough had done its work.  I could see a tractor harrowing the same field and kicking up a lot of dust, but he was working down nearer the valley and was therefore some distance off.
View eastish from my lunch spot
As I continued to descend off the ridge, I caught a glimpse of Idsworth House amongst the trees to my right.  Once I had reached the valley floor, I emerged on a lane in the village of Finchdean.  Shortly after passing a pub, I bore right onto Treadwheel Road which climbed quite steeply.  Where the lane turned sharp right, I maintained direction on a track which was presumably once a significant old route as it goes by the name of Wellsworth Lane on my map.
The start of Wellsworth Lane
At a small hamlet of houses called Great Wellsworth (or this may just be the name of the biggest dwelling), I saw a man shovelling aggregate from a large pile at the end of his drive, into a wheelbarrow.  He was dripping with sweat!   I commented that it looked like hot work, to which he replied that, when he ordered the stuff a week ago, he had not expected the scorching temperatures we were having today! 
Approaching the hamlet of Great Wellsworth
Descending across a final field, I crossed the railway line before emerging on Finchdean Road where I turned right for Rowlands Castle.  I passed the point where I would start my next (and FINAL!) walk along the SBP and continued towards the village center, where I had a quick drink at the Castle Inn and then briefly explored the village green, before making my way to my car parked at the station.  My GPS measured the walk today as 15.5miles.
The Castle Inn, Rowlands Castle
This was a smashing walk, from the misty woods at the beginning to the open downland towards the end.  Added to which, I think this was my warmest walk of the whole year, and it was October 1st!  My car was like an oven when I returned to it, and as I began my journey home in mid afternoon, the thermometer measured the outside temperature as 26 degrees.  Just as well there had been a good breeze after the mist finally cleared.  Now I have just one more section to walk.......

Dew covered spider web
The route

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