Saturday, 22 October 2011

Section 20 Rowlands Castle to Emsworth & round Thorney Island - 13.2m

I was quite excited to be walking my final SBP leg today, and was very pleased that the weather forecast was so good.  I had read that Thorney Island is quite exposed and it would certainly help if there was some nice sunshine around.
The route
As for the previous section, I got up very early and drove west to Emsworth, parking up pretty much right on the SBP.  Unusually, I would pass my car part way through the walk today as I was walking an ‘upside down lollypop’ shape – a linear walk from Rowlands Castle to Emsworth and then a circuit of Thorney Island.  My plan had been to walk to the hospital and catch the 8am bus to Rowlands Castle.  Unfortunately, the bus did not arrive, and when I phoned the bus company I was told that they had changed the timetable the previous weekend and the first bus was now at 9am on Saturdays!  Luckily I was also near the train station and, although it involved changing at Havant, managed to do the transfer pretty easily, and eventually arrived in Rowlands Castle at 8.45am.
The start of today's route from Finchdean Road
From Finchdean Road, I took a footpath running roughly eastwards along the edge of Stansted Forest.  Apart from a small climb on a curving path near the start, the route was flat and straight as a die – a wide grassy avenue between trees.  I believe this must relate in some way to Stansted House which I think was just visible in the distance.
The Avenue, leading to Stansted House, just visible in the distance
About 1km from the start I left The Avenue, turning right (S) to descend very gently across a field towards Horsepasture Farm.  At the farm drive I turned left along the edge of Lyeis Wood before arriving at Holme Farm.  The path here went right through the farm buildings close to some stables.  I would certainly be concerned about that if I kept a horse here.
Strawbales alongside Lyeis Wood
Turning SW on a private road, I passed a few properties, and exchanged pleasantries with someone riding a nice horse. The road ended at the edge of a wood, where it became a bridleway, climbing gently up to cross Woodberry Lane.  The bridleway continued through woodland in the wonderfully named Shuffles Plantation – the mature conifer trees looked lovely with the early morning sun slanting through them.
Shuffles Plantation
After about 500m I reached the busy Emsworth Common Road where I turned right and walked along the verge for about 300m before reaching another bridleway into Hollybank Nature Reserve.  As I was walking along the road, and dodging the traffic, I realised there was also a permissive path marked on the map in the woods which I could have taken to avoid the road, and having checked the online SBP now, they do indeed suggest you take that route.  However, my map showed the SBP going along the road, so that is what I did.
Taking my life in my hands (unnecessarily as it turned out) on Emsworth Common Road
Hollybank Wood is part of the Forest of Bere, a remnant of an ancient Norman royal hunting forest.  When I reached the junction with the aforementioned permissive path, a group of cyclists burst at high speed onto my path, but turned away from me down the route I would be taking.
Entering Hollybank Wood
After emerging from the wood, the route joined a road along the edge of a residential area.  I’m not entirely sure if this was part of Westbourne, or Emsworth, as it is not attached directly to either.  Skirting the edge of the houses, initially on a pavement and then on a unmetalled track, I arrived at a roundabout and turned left on the B2147.  This too was along the edge of the residential area and there were fields to the left.  It was clearly a horsey area, and two ponies were causing something of a traffic holdup as they were being led along the road.
Ponies being led along the B2147
Shortly before reaching Westbourne church I turned right off the road.  Initially the path was narrow, but it soon opened out into a large field where cattle were grazing.  Keeping close to the back of the houses, I could now clearly hear the noisy traffic on the A27 ahead of me.  Reaching the end of the field, I walked through a large tunnel under the major trunk road and then continued towards a railway bridge.  However, rather than walk under the bridge, my route turned away and took me to the hamlet of Lumley, where there was a very attractive white house and mill stream.
Lumley Mill
Now the route turned south again and this time did pass under the railway, following a pleasant residential road in the Emsworth suburb of Hermitage, where the properties needed little bridges to reach their front doors as a stream ran between them and the road. 
Cottages in Lumley
This road ended at the A259 close to where I had parked my car that morning.  As there was an attractive pond and a handy bench here I stopped for a coffee break.  I then took the opportunity of ditching my flask and fleece in the car, taking my sleeveless gillet instead.  Although I couldn’t yet see it, I could definitely smell the sea now.
Pond near Emsworth, close to my parking spot
Setting off again, I crossed the road and admired the Slipper Pond before heading east along the road to the Sussex Brewery pub, where a footpath went down a the side of the pub to a field where piebald gypsy ponies were tethered out.  I followed the edge of this field to Emsworth Yacht Harbour, walking past numerous boats out of the water and past some unusual deckhouses on stilts.
Emsworth yacht harbour
Reaching a waymarker, the footpath turned away from the marina area to head east again to cross another lane, before heading up a narrow overgrown path between hedges into a another large field.  This led to Thornham Farm, where I joined the access drive for a few hundred meters to reach a parking area at the edge of Chichester Harbour, and the start of the seven mile circumnavigation of Thorney Island.  Jutting out into Chichester harbour, the Island was used as an RAF station until 1976, and has therefore remained remote and free from commercial development.
Info Board
The tide was well out and the view across the marshes and mudflats was gorgeous, particularly as the sun was shining and reflecting off the wet surface.  There was quite a chilly breeze blowing however and I was glad I had kept my fleece jerkin on when discarding my jacket back at the car.
Nutbourne Marshes
The route headed first round a small bay and passed a marina area on a narrow gangway bridge and then a more substantial footbridge to reach Prinsted Point, and on to Thornham Point.  Before Thorney Island became attached to the mainland by land reclamation in the 1870s, this area was on a small peninsula ending with Thornham Point at its tip.
Prinsted Point
There then followed a very straight path on top of the sea wall, which eventually veered round Stanbury Point after a little over one kilometer.  Part way along this straight section I had to pass through a security gate because the southern part of the island is still owned by the MOD.  It was necessary to press an intercom button and then some unseen guard, who was presumably watching me on the security camera, opened the gate and let me through.  Seemed a bit daft really!
Looking back at the security gate
When I reached a slipway near a marina area I briefly left the shoreline path, first to see the delightful St Nicholas Church at West Thorney, and then to avoid the Thorney Island Sailing Club premises. As I reached the seawall again, there was a curious waymarker pointing directly east out into the channel.  This is not marked on the map and I cannot believe you can cross over at any time of day, whatever the tide is doing!
Surely this waymarker is pointing the wrong way?
For a while the path was away from the sea wall, a little inland, first on an open grassy area close to the old RAF runways and then on a narrow path lined by hedges.  There had been a cloudless sky for much of the day so far, but clouds were beginning to bubble up a little now.
Enclosed path
At the end of the bushes, I passed a bird-watching hide and soon reached the most southerly tip of the island, called Longmere Point where there was a narrow sandy beach.  It was tempting to stop here for a break but there were no benches, so I pressed on a bit further.
The beach at Longmere Point
The path soon became a gravel track and after a while became rather enclosed again.  Here I spotted a number of people walking ahead of me, and I caught them up at a lovely spot where there were two large remembrance benches for soldiers lost in Afghanistan.  The group of four (plus two Golden Retrievers) took one bench and I took the other, where there was actually a Book of Remembrance enclosed in a metal container, which people could sign if they wanted.
At the memorial bench, Longmere Point
I got one of the ladies to take my photo on the bench before they set off again.  I lingered for about 15 minutes, just time for a snack and a quick read of my Kindle (Jurassic Park), before setting off on the grassy path to Marker Point with fine views across the Emsworth Channel to Hayling Island.
Looking across Emsworth Channel towards Hayling Island
Keeping close to the shore line, the path curved round three bays with pasture land on the landward side.  After passing through a kissing gate at the end of the pastures I arrived at an MOD security gate again where fortunately I was let out!
The first of three bays between Marker Point and the exit from the MOD area at Wickor Point
The path now followed a straight causeway on a high bank, passing Deep Channel en route – a wide tract of inland water which makes Thorney a real island.  Ahead I could see yachts and riverside houses at Emsworth.  I caught up with the Golden Retriever people on this section, although they were walking on a sheltered path on the landward side of the causeway.  They were walking rather slowly and one of the women seemed to be limping.
Deep Channel
Soon I arrived back at the stilted deckhouses, passing by on the opposite side of them, and then turned right through the Yacht Harbour and past two marina basins to reach my outward path.  This time however, I turned left out of the gypsy pony field to reach the Slipper Mill.  Continuing on a causeway adjacent to the Slipper Mill Pond, I passed a sluice gate which controls the pond level when the tide is out.
Looking back along the causeway besides the mill pond
Turning right round the edge of the pond I followed another causeway (which apparently is on the exact county boundary between West Sussex and Hampshire) to the road by the Lord Raglan pub.  I retired to their garden for a swift half of lime & soda in very modest celebration of my completion of the Sussex Border Path.  As I returned to my car I spotted a man feeding the ducks with his young son, and he kindly took my photo next to a convenient SBP waymarker near the pond.
Mission accomplished!
Well, that is another long distance path completed and a very fine one it is too. It has taken a while to do, as I started with my friend Anne back in March 2009.  We completed most of the eastern section from East Grinstead to Bodiam Castle that year, and also started the Mid Sussex Link.  In 2010 we only managed to walk three sections, completing both the Mid Sussex Link and the Eastern Section to Rye.

Although I am no longer able to walk with Anne, I was determined to walk the western section alone this year and I feel a sense of achievement at having done so.  Some of the earlier sections ended up being rather short, either due to hot weather (if I had the dogs with me), or the necessity of doing circular walks due to the lack of public transport, but it is now complete.  Where next?

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