Monday, 18 November 2019

Warsash to Lee-on-the-Solent (Solent Way 5)

The Rising Sun

We picked up the Solent Way at Warsash on the opposite side of the River Hamble to Hamble-le-Rice and walked away from the rather inviting Rising Sun pub. A plaque reveals that this was where 3,000 Commandos set sail in landing craft for the Normandy Landings in 1944.

We followed the track towards the mouth of the Hamble: this was the view towards the other side.

This area (the Hook with Warsash Nature Reserve) offered a great variety of bird life - I must must put some time into improving my shoreline bird identification!

Further along, once we were walking along the side of Southampton Water again, we noticed this dramatic structure on the other side: from the map it looks to be Fawley Power Station.

We followed the path until we reached a point where the signage disappeared, just before the Solent Breezes Caravan Park - and so did the path! We found some steps which led up to the caravan park, a strode confidently across it to reach a sign saying the coastal path was closed (but not offering anything in the way of an alternative). After talking to some residents who explained that the problem was (a) coastal erosion and (b) an out of date map (dating from 2005 it turned out).

We found our way down to the gravel beach. This was the very eroded clifftop we had expected to walk on the top of.

This was the view ahead to Hillhead - it looked like a tiring walk.

Happily, after a while we spotted a steep path leading up to the cliff-top path, which was here set back much further from the cliff edge. Now we made faster progress, observing a massive flock of Brent Geese in a truly massive field on the land side.

As we approached Hillhead we were forced inland by a fine house (Dreamfield) whose construction required the path to be diverted inland - again without any signs to get you back on track.

Fortunately, we were able to find our way to the beach where we passed in front of the Meon Shorre Chalets and then round the corner to Hillhead Harbour. Across the entrance to teh harbour we could see a a line of beach huts in shades of blue, looking was nice in the afternoon sun.

Passing the beach huts led to a pleasant walk way with overhanging foliage.

We left Hillhead along the road passing the Osborne View pub, altering us to the distant sight of Osborne House, allegedly Queen Victoria''s favourite.

Further on, we turned right down onto a path at the back of the shingle beach which offered quite a nice sunset.

My final image is this platform in the Solent, presumably for oil drilling or something similar.

After that it remained only to follow the path into Lee-on-the-Solent, where we had parked. We were surprised - and rather saddened - to learn that there there was once a pier with an art deco tower at the back of it. It was built in 1935 and demolished in 1958. The advent of package holidays was blamed for its early demise.

Conditions: bright and sunny for the most part.

Distance: 7 miles, not counting the various detours.

Map: Explorer 119 (Meon Vally, Portsmout, Gosport and Fareham).

Rating: four stars.

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Southampton (Town Quay) to Hamble-le-Rice (Solent Way 4)

God's House Tower

We have had a bit of a lull in our Solent Way project - since mid July - but here we are, back on it. We resume at Southampton's Town Quay and turning right from its entrance, we pass the remains of the City's Weest Gate and then reach the 15th century God's House Tower. It was built to protect the sluice gates which controlled the flow of water into the (then) town moat. It was also the headquarters of the Town Gunner. A look at our 2012 City Walk in Southampton revealed that we had in fact come this way before.

We continued along Platform Road and into Canute Road where we admired the plasterwork on this former hotel.

At the end of Canute Road we climbed up to the Itchen Bridge to cross the wide River Itchen (looking into the sun unfortunately).

We walked through the suburb of Woolston, grateful for the frequency and precision of the way markers and emerged on the side of the Itchen. We were struck by the great size of this ship moored on the other size of what is now Southampton Water, fed by the Test and the Itchen.

We headed along Weston Parade where there were four rather lovely art deco pavilions. All the windows have long gone and there was inevitably a lot of graffiti. Such a shame.

At the end of the Parade we continued through Westwood Woodland Park, keeping near to the waterline.

We emerged onto a road and were delighted to find the ruins of Netley Abbey (English Heritage) right opposite. The original Cistercian abbey was founded  in 1238 and granted to Sir William Paulet, Marquuis of Winchester, by Henry VIII after the Dissolution of the monasteries. Paulet demolished the monks' refectory and added a large house. The house remained occupied until 1714, when it seems to have been abandoned as a picturesque ruin. Paulet's additions were removed in the 19th century.

We were surprised by how big it is - this is the first view you get of it.

And beyond the main facade lies a massive cloister and the remains of the church.

We continued along the road through the village of Netley and rejoin the waterside at the entrance to the Royal Victoria Country Park. This was once the site of the massive mid 19th century Royal Victoria Hospital, designed to care for British soldiers who were fighting in sundry wars across the globe in that period. The initial trigger was the appalling conditions of field hospitals during the Crimean War.

The hospital was over a quarter of a mile long and was the world's longest building when it was completed. It fell into disuse after the Second World Wat and was closed in 1958, and burnt down in 1966. All that remained was the imposing chapel.

We walked through the park, keeping as close to the water as we could to emerge on a narrow coastal path passing a oil terminal and a massive jetty. We slightly overshot the correct route as we approached Hamble-le-Rice, but managed to find the right way in the end to reach the Foreshore car park. This is where the cheerful pink ferry goes to Warsash on the opposite side of the River Hamble, the third river to flow into Southampton Water.

Conditions: bright at first, then cloudy. Cool.

Distance: 6 miles.

Map: Explorer OL 22 (New Forest).

Rating: four stars.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019


King Alfred's School

Another walk with my good friend Merv. In fact it is two walks: a circular walk from Wantage passing through Letcombe Regis, East Challoe and Cove, and a walk around the town itself.

We parked at the Beacon art centre and walked a short way along the road to pass the original King Alfred's School, which dates from 1849–50. From here a path led us towards open country which we crossed to reach the pretty village of Letcombe Regis. We we were very struck by this lovely half timbered house of 1698.

And also by the handsome Old Rectory opposite. I couldn't quite get a photo however. Nearby was the church of St Andrew. The tower is 12th century and other parts were restored or rebuilt in the 15th and 19th centuries.

We followed a narrow track with a lovely view across fields to typical downland countryside.

We turned right onto another track, along a short section of road and then along Cornhilly Lane to reach and then follow the former Wilts and Berks Canal. It was completed in 1810 (so late in the canal era) with the purpose of allowing coal to be shipped from the Somerset coal fields to the towns of Wiltshire and Berkshire. It went into decline only 30 years later with the advent of competition from new railways.

The first section of the canal was dry and required some imagination to recognise it as a canal.  At a crossing road we found this fine old building, we think once a forge but now converted into housing accommodation.

Continuing along the same line, the next section of canal had water in it, although covered by green algae. A new housing estate was just beyond the hedge on the left.

At the end of this section the canal side path was briefly diverted on account of a new housing estate. This did mean we saw a flock of Goldfinches - a lovely sight.

The estate was one of several built on the former airfield at Grove. An emblem of the airfield was this de Haviland Venom, a fighter-bomber introduced in 1951. I have no great interest in aircraft, but I was surprised by how modern it looked. It was only in service until 1962.

We now followed a network of paths through the outer areas of Wantage to reach the area known as the Wharf (the Wilts and Berks Canal once terminated nearby). This was once an industrial area and it was interesting to see that two mill buildings still remain.

We walked up Mill Street passing a set of Almshouses dating from 1868.

At the top of the road we passed the former Town Hall, currently being restored, and entered the oblong Market Place to start our town walk - which we decided to do in reverse order. The detailed route can be found here. The main item of note in the Market Place is the statue of Alfred the Great,  although Merv greatly enjoyed the massive second hand bookshop in a sort of arcade at the far end.

You might wonder there is a statue of Alfred here, and the answer is that he was born in Wantage. The statue was the work of Count Gleichen, Prince of Hohenlohne-Langenburg and was unveiled in 1877. The battleaxe in one hand and the manuscript in the other attest to Alfred's prowess as a warrior (victory over the Danes at Ashdown in 871AD) and to his education and statesmanship.

We headed down Grove Street passing the interesting Georgian Clock House

At the top we continued along the road and then turned right and right again to pass through a housing estate which was suddenly revealed to have the 18th century former stables of Stirlings House tucked away in it.

Now down to Post Office Lane to find the attractive Eagles' Close Almshouses of 1867.

Nearby in Newbury Road were the Stiles Almshouses of 1680. Their founder was Robert Stiles, a merchant ... of Amsterdam.

We then went along Church Street to see the 13th century church of St Peter and St Paul, which was sadly closed.

It was a short walk from there to the Beacon.

Conditions: quite mild, but mainly cloudy.

Circular walk distance: about 6 miles.

The walk route can be found here.

Map: Explorer 170 (Abingdon, Wantage and Vale of White Horse)

Rating: four stars.

Friday, 18 October 2019

Le Bar sur Loup and Gourdon

The gorge of the Loup

For our second walk near Grasse we followed another path from the RandOxygene guidebook: a circular one from Le Bar sur Loup to Gourdon (where we were yesterday). The plan is that you walk to a point below Gourdon then climb up to the village, have a look around and then climb back down to the circular route and continue on back to the beginning. Since we saw Goudon yesterday, we just settled for a circular walk.

Bar sur Loup is a very pleasant village, a bit larger than Gourdon. The main square faces the church, with a belvedere behind it. The picture above was taken from the belevedere - you can see the source of the Loup in the middle of the picture about a third of the way across from the left.

The wonderful statue is of the Comte de Bar, who was born in Bar and later fought in the American War of Independence. Nearby is the base of the castle keep or Donjon, now a bistro.

The walk starts from the cemetery and you walk gently uphill passing the Chapel of St Claude, a 16th century crypt restored in the 20th century.

You continue uphill to join a long-distance path – the GR 51. Gourdon can just be made out on its hilltop, almost lost in the low cloud. You climb steadily, soon hitting a surprising section with a rocky path and woodland on both sides.

Emerging from the woodland, there is fine view down to the valley below. The stone columns in the valley bottom are all that remains of the Pont du Loup, a railway bridge built in 1880 and blown up during the Provence landings of 1944.

 Soon there is a slightly better view of Gourdon. The building on the right is the well named Eagle's Nest.

After a while another bridge can be seen down below in the Loup valley.

Then there is a mysterious cellar with two entrances and stone walls. I can't find out anything about it.

At the point at which the path up to Gourdon begins, we begin a long descent, passing a number of examples of beautiful autumn colours.

This is quite arduous and slippery, but eventually we emerge onto a road, which was apparently once the route of a railway line, presumably the one which went across the Pont du Loup. We were getting a bit tired by now and foolishly turned the wrong way along this road. It was easy walking along the flat surface and so it didn't do us too much hard. We also got an unexpected close up view of the river Loup emerging from the mountain: the Saut du Loup.

Continuing along the road in the right direction now and crossed the bridge we saw from afar earlier in the walk.

Soon we reached the outskirts of Bar and not long after that we were back at the car park by the church.

Distance: officially 6.5 km

Change of level: officially +520m and -520m

Time taken: officially 3.5 hours.

Source: RandOxygene Guide for the coastal area (Pays cotier) of the Department of the Alpes Maritimes. Free from the Tourist Office in Grasse. Two other guides are available for other parts of the Department.

Rating: four stars.

Thursday, 17 October 2019

Gourdon and the Plateau of Cavillore


On the second day of our brief visit to Grasse we have found a lovely walk from the edge of Gourdon, a very pretty hilltop village 760m above sea level. The panorama from Gourodn etends from Nice to Théoule and under the right conditions it is possible to see Corsica. Gourdon has been rated as one of the Most Beautiful Villages in France.

The walk starts at a car park at the edge of the village. You follow the road which leads to Caussols and soon take a right which leads to a tarmaced road which winds through an area of scattered houses. You take a right and begin to climb. The path soon becomes quite rocky, but before long gives you a good view of Gourdon (see above).

As we climbed higher along a switchback path, the sun came out and provided a second view of the village from a higher position and with the sun on the houses.

As we left the village behind, I was struck by what seemed to be a newly planted wood.

We climbed steadily until we were under a rocky massive, with a lone hang-glider cruising around on the thermals.

A narrow path through the rocks brought us to the Plateau of Colliore. This was the view back.

Ahead there was a wild stony area which looked rather barren and uninviting, not least because the clouds were thickening and the temperature dropping.

We trudged across the plateau and were not sorry to quite quickly reach one of the spectacular signposts that France specialises in and to turn left towards the edge of the plateau again.

The route down from the plateau was easier than the way up, but there was still a zig-zag path to negotiate.

At the bottom, we crossed the road and followed a track which led us past the Chapel of St Vincent.

Not long after this we rejoined the Caussols road and followed it past the car park to the village. There is in truth not a lot to it. Behind the 12th century church of St Vincent there is a great belvedere ...

 ... with lovely views over the valley below.

Otherwise the picturesque streets twist and turn, filled with tourist shops – but not many tourists at this time of year. We quite liked this cast iron statue of Medusa on the corner of the church.

Distance: 5.3 km

Change of level: +300m and -300m

Time taken: 2.5 hours.

Source: RandOxygene Guide for the coastal area (Pays cotier) of the Department of the Alpes Maritimes. Free from the Tourist Office in Grasse. Two other guides are available for other parts of the Department.

Rating: four stars.