Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Lambourn to Welford (Lambourn Valley Way 2)

The river Lambourn on the outskirts of Lambourn

We resumed our journey along the Lambourn Valley in Lambourn (Stage 1 is described here) and soon crossed the river of the same name on the edge of the town. It was tiny and full of aquatic plants.

We followed a field-edge path parallel to the road and were immediately delighted to see lotso f butterflies: lots of Meadow Browns and Ringlets and a pleasing number of Marbled Whites. We skirted Eastbury along an enclosed path at the back of the village - rather a shame in soem ways because the village looked rather pretty when we drove through it on the way to Lambourn.

From Eastbury we followed a short section of dismantled railway and then another field-edge path. This was the view back along the valley.

We passed near to the late Norman church of East Garston (with the inevitable late Victorian restoration) - on the right in the view back shown below.

Following Lambourn Valley Way sign posts we found ourselves routed away from the roiute marked on the map and and climbing up a steep slope of a side valley. We were a bit disgruntled at first, but gradually we realised that we now had a wonderful view down over the Lambourn valley. This gave us a different perspective than being down in it.

The were cornfields on both sides of our path and I rather liked this image of a lone poppy.

We descended again to rejoin the mapped path and the river at Maidencourt Farm. The river at this point was much wider and faster flowing, albeit with plenty of aquatic plants.

We followed the bank to a spot where the river widened briefly - perhaps enough for some water play. There was a a handy seat too.

This was a very pleasant section with some new butterflies: Large Skippers, Commas and Small Tortoiseshells. We emerged onto the road at Great Shefford and then climbed path East Shefford House to reach the pretty hamlet of Weston.

Soon after this we entered the grounds of Welford Park, a red brick 17th century house, still owned by descendants of Richard Jones who had it built. The grounds are open in February each year so that visitors can enjoy a fine display of snowdrops. We tramped across the grassy park and were rewarded with a distant view of the house with the church of St Gregory behind it.

The church has an interesting history. It was built in 1852-55 to replace a Norman church with a 13th century stone spire with eight dormers. The new church's tower and spire are an exact replica of the previous, although everything beneath them is new. A later brief glance from the road suggested that the tower and spire are the most notable features of the church. One can't help but wonder why they did it.

Conditions: a lovely sunny day.

Distance: 7.5 miles.

Map: Explorer 158 (Newbury & Hungerford).

Rating: four stars. 

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Athelhampton House

The entrance front

The house dates from 1485 when it was built for Sir William Martyn, the Lord Mayor of London. It has changed hands a number of times, but has now been owned by three generations of the Cooke family. Your first sight of it is the Great Hall, to the right, and the Parlour Range to the left which was added in the first quarter of the 16th century. At this point it is difficult to judge its overall size.

We especially admired the interior of the Great Hall with its impressive half hammer-beam roof dating from 1485.

We were also very taken with the Gallery on the top floor. This contains paintings by a Russian painter known as Marevna (Marie Vorobieff), who was married to Rodney Phillips, the owner of the house prior to the Cooke family. She seems to have had an interesting life in Paris from 1912 where she was part of an artistic circle including Chaim Soutine, Modigliani, Braque, Picasso and Diega Rivera, by whom she had a son. The paintings at Athelhampton seem to have been done late in her life in a cubist or pointilliste style. This is the largest example.

Marevna is in the bottom left with Diego Rivera behind her. Rivera of course was later married to Frida Kahlo.

Going now into the gardens, designed in 1891 by Inigo Thomas, we started in the beautiful small enclosure called the Corona.

And moved from here to the Great Court with its impressive Yew pyramids.

We walked across the front of the house to reach the lovely Doveote.

And now we could see the whole of the left side of the house, its full size now at last apparent. It is fairly obvious that most of this is more recent. Pevsner says it dates from around 1895 and 1920-21.

We saw a little of the mighty River Puddle or Piddle and wandered through the large kitchen garden, now being refurbished, and the Private Garden on the other side of the house.

We finished in classic country-house-visiting style by buying some plants, an autobiographical book by Marevna (which I have been enjoying) and some Notelets.

Conditions: a warm but cloudy day.

Distance: negligible.

Rating: four stars. Delightful house and gardens. The staff were uniformly friendly and helpful.

Sunday, 10 June 2018


Pembroke Castle from the Mill Bridge

We are staying near Pembroke, visiting old friends, and clearly we have to have a look around the town. We start our exploration at the castle, where we also acquire a copy of the Town Trail which I had found online here.

The castle, where Henry VII was born, dates back to the Norman Conquest. The first earth and timber castle was built in 1093, although there is speculation that an iron age hill fort preceded it. It was replaced by a stone castle in the early 13th century and this was progressively enlarged up to the mid 15th century.

This is the initial view that we had as we approached along Westgate Hill.

Once we walked through the Barbican and the Great Gatehouse I was delighted to see my first Red Admiral of the year - an unexpected delight.

Once inside we climbed the Henry VII tower and enjoyed this marvelous view to the north. On the left is the well-named Great Tower. It was commenced in 1204 and is 25m high and 16m in diameter. It is a rare example of a circular keep.

We had a very enjoyable ramble around the castle building, although we resisted going underground to see the Wogan, a vast natural cavern which was a shelter for cave dwellers during the ice age.

Emerging from the castle we turned right to reach Main Street and pass St Mary's church. On the left was Pembroke Town Hall with its splendid clock tower. The building dates back to 1820.

Heading along Main St we came to Orielton Terrace, a lovely group of presumably Georgian or early Victorian houses.

On the right after this was the rather handsome Congregationalist (?) church which we were warmly invited to visit by some very friendly worshippers.

A bit further on was the former Wesley Chapel, now an antiques centre.

We doubled back here and turned left into the New Way, the first street to breach the town walls and turning left at the bottom follow the line of the former walls. We passed the Gun Tower, one of six defensive towers.

Further along was the Gazebo. The base was originally another defensive tower onto which a gazebo was added in the 19th century. It has lately been restored and is now a rather lovely private house.

We headed back up towards Main St and then followed Black Horse Walk which brought us down to the Upper Mill Pond, with the 13th century Barnard's Tower on the right.

The pond had impressive wildlife including a family of Moorhens, herons and Cormorants. A passing local advised us that there was a great view point behind the reed beds and I duly took advantage of this excellent tip off.

We headed along the side of the pond and reached the bridge at the end. This offered a final, splendid view of the great castle.

Conditions: warm and sunny.

Distance: about 3 miles.

Rating: four stars. The castle was really impressive, but the town seemed to be in decline. We spent time discussing how it might be revived, but without coming up with any very convincing ideas. WE thought its remote location was probably the core challenge to renewal.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Menorca: Cala Galdana - Algendar Gorge and Cala Macarella

The mouth of the river Algendar at Cala Galdana

For today's walk we have come to Cala Galdana on the south coast of Menorca to do two there-and-back walks.

The first one is along the gorge of the Algendar. We head away from the town, initially past an array of bars and restaurants, with the river, already narrowing, in a concrete channel on our right. Quite quickly we reach open country and see the high right hand side of the gorge over to our right.

We are in fact walking along a track to a house, but soon the path veers right and we are surprised to find a rather beautiful hen in the long grass.

Here is our first view of the gorge proper.

It's very overcast and quite cool. There is a lot of birdsong from mainly invisible birds, but soon we start to see numbers of Speckled Wood butterflies, the orange European race.

There are lots of small whites too. Gradually the the gorge opens out and the vegetation changes. We see blue and brown damselflies.

Rocky heights loom ahead.

Quite suddenly the imposing left wall of the gorge closes in on us

It looks like we have reached a dead end. Our walk book describes an open gate and we can see the gate ahead but it looks - and indeed is - firmly locked. We see if there is a way round, but the obvious desire path to the right has been barricaded too. We chat to a very pleasant English couple who have been birding and they point to the Egyptian vultures circling above us.

There is no option but to turn back, having foregone about a quarter of the walk. Things brighten up on the butterfly front though and we see a Cleopatra and a Small Copper.

We return to Gala Galdana and have some lunch.We then head off on the steep and direct route towards Cala Macarella. There are great views back over the bay as we climb.

At the top the path levels out and becomes quite wide, if rather uneven in places. There are a number of orchids to the side of the path.

But not many butterflies, until I spot two or three Painted Ladies off to the left.

After a while we come to the wooden staircase which leads down to Cala Macarella. I think I counted 190 steps before we reached the back of the beach.

The path joins the beach at the right side in the photo. I decided to head round to the cliffs on the other side to take this picture.

By climbing another stair case it was possible to get a view of Cala Macaretta, a delightful concealed inlet on the side of the main bay. It is so secluded that it is apparently the preserve of naturists.

After returning to the main beach and enjoying the view for a while, there was nothing for it but to climb the 190 steps and make our way back to Cala Galdana.

Conditions: warm, but rather cloudy.

Distance: about 6 miles.

Rating: four stars.

From: Walk! Menorca by David and Ros Brawn

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Menorca: Cape Artrutz to Ciutadella

The lighthouse at Cap Artrutz

We started this walk along the Cami de Cavalls at the lighthouse at Cap Artrutz. No longer in use, it is now a cafe.

We walked along the coast road with suburban houses on the right and a rocky foreshore by the sea.

It was grey and cool, but suddenly the sun broke through and the rough scrub that we had reached revealed itself to harbour some butterflies. We quickly saw both male and female Clouded Yellows. The female turns out to be a separate form of the Clouded Yellow, form Helice (Colias croceus ssp. croceus f. helice).

There was also a nice female Common Blue.

We passed through a classic drystone wall and headed away from the village.

Soon we passed a dry stone hut on the left.

The sun went in again and we walked steadily along a rocky track with not much going on. Eventually the path approached the cliff edge and I moved closer to take a shot of the coast looking back: basically a lowish, rocky plateau.

 A but further on we passed through a gate in a spectacular drystone wall (I am a great fan of the drystone walls of Menorca)

Now we had a clearer view of the coat ahead and Cap de Menorca (the most westerly point of the island) to the left on the horizon.

Gradually the path become more level and the sea more blue ...

... and before long we entered the village of Cala Blanca, effectively the southernmost suburb of Ciutadella. The creek was a beautiful blue and was happily not too heavily developed. We paused for a light lunch in one of the cafes.

Obviously the next stage was going to be more suburban and the early omens were not encouraging as we passed the Blarney Stone Irish Pub, however we soon spotted many examples of these beautiful pink flowers which were a bit reminiscent of mimosa.

The next port of call was Cala Santandria, wider than Cala Blanca. We thought it quite an inviting spot.

At the mouth of the Cala is the Torre des Castellar. It was one of the defense towers built by the British between 1799 and 1802 with the intention of defending the coves of the island as support for the Castle of Sant Nicolau, before a possible enemy (French) landing. It is somewhat similar to the Martello towers built on the South coast of England at about the same time.

We walked along the far side of the Cala and spotted a Cleopatra butterfly (one of my favourites) before going round a small pretty inlet.

Soon we were back on a suburban road and heading around the edge of the ferry port.

A bit further on we looked across the entrance to Ciutadella harbour towards the Castell de Sant Nicolau which we saw yesterday. It is apparently illuminated at night.

A final mile or so brought to our hotel on the west side of the city centre.

Conditions: cool and cloudy for much of the time, eventually becoming bright and sunny.

Distance: about 8 miles.

Rating: fours stars.

From: Walk! Menorca by David and Ros Brawn