Saturday, 31 January 2009

Heswall Shore and the Dungeon

Heswall Shore

This is a very pleasant and varied 3.5 mile walk which falls into four clear stages. The walk begins in the car park / bus terminus in Banks Road a hundred yards from the shore. You first walk up Banks Road away from the shore and, after passing through a housing estate, climb steadily through a nature reserve.

It is slightly disappointing when this ends with your arrival at a residential road to begin the second stage, along the road. This gives way to a farm track and then a fenced path by fields, all the time parallel to the shore, with increasingly clear views over the Dee estuary.

Stage three involves the descent to the shore and is the prettiest stage of the walk. You into a path which leads steadily downhill through an imaginatively named ravine, called The Dungeon. We couldn't find any convincing explanation for this, although we did see a rocky overhang which might have suggested a secret dungeon, or oubliette.

The Dungeon does have a delightful stream wending through the trees ....

.... and then turning into a small waterfall.

The path continues at a higher level, and later crosses the Wirral Way - here on a section of disused railway line - before a final track brings you to the shore.

For stage four, you walk along the shore to reach a boatyard, which happily has Sheldrake's pub and bistro nearby, where we had an enjoyable lunch before returning to the car.

There were a lot of seabirds just out of clear view to the naked eye, but we were impressed to see two birdwatchers ensconced with telescopes and cameras stoically observing them. We admired their fortitude as it was bitterly cold day, especially on the shore, but we were not tempted to emulate them.

Rating: three stars

Friday, 30 January 2009

Liverpool City Centre

The Royal Liver Building

Something a bit different today: a city centre walk around Liverpool, courtesy of last summer's edition of the the Ramblers Association Walk magazine. A description of the walk is available online, but only to members.

The walk begins at Lime Street station and you cross the street to St George's Hall. Originally separate design competitions were held for a new hall for concerts and public events, and for a new assize court. Both were won by the young architect Harvey Lonsdale Elmes, then aged only 25. Elmes later proposed combining the two functions in a single building which would express Liverpool's civic pride and be bigger than Westminster Hall, St Paul's Cathedral and - most importantly - Birmingham Town Hall. Work started in 1842 and the Hall was opened in 1854.

It is hailed as a triumph of neo-classical architecture, but personally I have always found it heavy and oppressive. Inside however is a different story. You can now visit the cells and the courtroom which are both quite interesting. But the most wonderful thing is the that the massive tiled floor of the Great Hall, which has been covered by a wooden floor for most of its existence is currently exposed to view, and is in sparkling condition. The tiles are by Minton.

A virtual tour of the Hall is available on the BBC Liverpool website. Immediately adjacent are the splendid Walker Art Gallery, the Central Library and the World Museum.

You then walk down Victoria Street, turn left onto Stanley Street past the "Cavern quarter". Mathew Street, Cook Street and Castle Street bring you to the Town Hall. The core of the building dates from 1749-54 and is by John Wood. The dome and portico were added by James Wyatt in 1802 and 1811 respectively. It was disappointing to see how dirty this fine building has become: it urgently needs a facelift.

From here you go to Water Street, leading down towards the Mersey. In Water Street you can look into the India Buildings with its wonderful coffered ceiling over the long central arcade. It was built in 1930 and designed by Arnold Thornely and Herbert Rouse. It was damaged during the war and rebuilt under Rouse's supervision afterwards; the arcade is in fact a later addition, presumably during the rebuilding. We were given a very warm welcome here and provided with explanatory leaflets.

Almost opposite, is Oriel Chambers. It dates from 1864, but its cast iron frame and expanse of glass have accorded it the status of a modernist icon. I have seen similar buildings in Prague and Vienna which date from 40 years later. Pevsner described it as "one of the most remarkable buildings of its date in Europe".

At the end of Water Street you cross the road to reach Pier Head and the three buildings known locally as the Three Graces: the Royal Liver Building (1908-11), the Cunard Building (1916) and the Port of Liverpool building (1903-7). They occupy the site of the former George Dock which was drained in 1899.

Port of Liverpool building

Skirting the building works for the new museum, you then reach the Albert Docks. It was designed by Jesse Hartley and built in 1843-7 without any combustible material. Joseph Sharples, in the invaluable Pevsner architectural guide to Liverpool, describes it as "one of the great monuments of C19 engineering" and refers to its "monumental solemnity".

This is Piermaster's House taken from the swing bridge.

And this is the dock itself, from the same position.

Leaving the dock, you walk back along the Strand and turn up James St, and then continue up Lord Street and Church Street to return to the beginning.

On the corner of James St is the White Star Line offices (1895-98). I was struck by its resemblance to Old Scotland Yard in London and was delighted to discover that it was by the same architect: Norman Shaw.

Finally, just of Church Street down Church Alley you come on the oldest surviving building in the city centre: the Bluecoat Chambers, begun in 1716. Originally built by a sea-captain, Bryan Blundell as a school for poor children it is now a centre for the arts. It is not clear who the architect was.

Rating: four stars. A really interesting walk, with some unexpected treats.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Aldermaston (Padworth Lock and Jacob's Gulley)

Padworth Lock

This six mile walk starts at Aldermaston Lock on the Kennet and Avon Canal. You walk the short distance along the canal to Padworth Lock - very tranquil this morning - and then head south. The path goes between some abandoned 1940s gravel pits, which are eerily full of trees and shrubs growing out of the water, with some mallards, swans and tufted ducks in the areas of open water.

The next landmark is Padworth Mill on the river Kennet, with its surprisingly vigorous and noisy flow of water through the wear.

Across fields and then into Great Fishers wood for a gruelling climb up a muddy track and then, after a short stretch of road, the descent to the pretty Jacobs Gully, where an artificial lake has been created, presumably by damming a small stream.

From here, a few more fields lead to St Mary's church on the edge of Aldermaston, with its Lych Gate built in 1920 as a war memorial. The church itself consists of a Norman nave, which was extended in the thirteenth century

Just along the road you pass the imposing gates of Aldermaston Court.

 At this point we decided we had had enough of muddy fields and embarked on a detour by road down into Aldermaston Village. This added about a mile to the official length of the walk, but enabled us to see Lodges of Aldermaston Court, and to walk along the main street of the village and enjoy the splendid array of red brick houses and cottages. Many had diaper patterns in the brickwork, gothic window arches or porches and other detailing.

After a walk on down the main road we rejoined the route and swung west along the Kennet as far as Wickham Knights Bridge. Crossing the bridge, the final leg of the walk was a mile and half along the opposite bank of the Kennet and Avon Canal back to Aldermaston Lock.

Map: Explorer 159 (Reading, Wokingham and Pangbourne).

From: Rambling for Pleasure: Kennet Valley and Watership Down by David Bounds for the East Berkshire Ramblers Association Group.

Rating: three and a half stars.


It was a dull wet, day with constant drizzle throughout the length of the walk. One obvious question was "Why are we doing this?" The health benefits of walking remain valid no matter what the conditions, but it is much harder to enjoy a walk when you are wet. We took satisfaction however from this walk's contribution to our fitness programme.

Walking down Aldermaston's main street, which I have driven along many times, brought a strong reminder of one of the other benefits of walking: you engage much more closely with the environment, whether built or natural. It was always obvious that Aldermaston is a pretty characterful village, but at walking pace you can observe and enjoy the details.

Aldermaston Court

The original house of 1636 was destroyed by fire in 1843 and the park now houses offices and a hotel. The hotel (Aldermaston Manor) is the Tudor-style mansion built in the 1840s to replace the original house. It contains the grand staircase from the original house, as well as some of its windows and chimneys.

The Lodges, pictured below, date from 1636 and were originally the wings of a house.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Finchampstead (Fleet Copse and Rectory Farm)

St James's Church

This five mile walk begins in the California Country Park and heads south across fields before, taking a turn south-west along a lovely fenced track which provides very nice views over the rolling Berkshire hills for a mile or so.

Crossing a road, you then follow an unmade up road with houses on both sides which leads to a farm. From here, you skirt Fleet Copse, walking along the edge of a large field. Unfortunately, following heavy overnight rain, this field was waterlogged and very muddy, so very hard work. We tried to make ourselves believe it was good for us to have the extra exercise. We saw some disturbing signs on the boundaries of the copse: "Dogs worrying stock will be shot".

From here, you pass through Finchampstead village, bypass a farm and arrive at St James's church. According to Pevsner, the brick tower dates from 1720, but the body of the church is Norman, while some windows and arches are Perpendicular from 1590 or thereabouts. The ochre wash is unusual and attractive.

After passing the nearby pub, a descending track takes you back to the main road (Nine Mile Ride) and the entrance to the country park.

Map: Explorer 159 (Reading).

From: Rambling for pleasure Around Reading second series, by David Bounds for the East Berkshire Ramblers Association Group.

Rating: three stars. Some nice tracks and views, but several undistinguished sections.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Walking the Tube

There was an interesting article in the London Evening Standard yesterday entitled "Walk the the tube with a step-by-step map". It reported the findings of a study organised by the health insurer PruHealth to establish how far apart in terms of steps are central London tube stations. Volunteers armed with pedometers recorded the number of steps they took and averages have been recorded on a tube map.

The message of course was that walking instead of taking the tube - or getting off a stop early - is an excellent way to help meet the recommended 10,000 steps a day target. And if you don't have a pedometer, forget it or don't want to wear it one day, you can still know how many steps you have taken.

Standard readers posted many supportive comments, although one or two wags noted that walking the tube was potentially hazardous as there might be trains on the lines.

The original map is on PruHealth's website (in the press releases section).

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Wokingham to The Lookout, Bracknell (Berkshire Way 12)

Wokingham town hall

After a gap of three months, we returned to our project of walking the BBC's Berkshire Way. We are doing the shorter of the two stages prior to the final one to get back into the swing. Today's stage runs from the centre of Wokingham to The Lookout, a country park on the edge of Bracknell - 7.25 miles.

The route initially takes you along Wokingham's main streets: Shute End, Broad Street and Denmark Street. This is a good idea as there is an interesting selection of Georgian and Victorian buildings on view, the highlight of which is the magnificent polychromatic brick Town Hall which dates from 1860. Poulton and Woodman were the architects. Denmark Street has a few older, half-timbered buildings.

Quickly leaving the town behind, a path across fields leads to a lane which brings a wonderful surprise, the superb former Lucas Hospital - that is, almshouses - (now apparently a private house), which dates from 1665. Pevsner describes it as "the best building of Wokingham, without any doubt". The right wing - with the word "Venite" above the door - houses the chapel, while the left wing houses the hall. Venite is the first word of the 95th psalm and of course means "Come".

Lucas Hospital

Leaving Lucas Hospital behind, you follow a very pleasant track parallel to the railway, with lots of birds in the hedgerow and fields on the other side. We spotted a Greater Spotted Woodpecker. The track then goes through the Gorrick Plantation with overhanging dark green pine boughs, reminiscent of a painting by Cezanne.

The next section involves a suburban path, a road through a housing development and a busier road by the back of the Transport Research Laboratory to approach the edge of Crowthorne village. Here you enter woodland again and follow a section of the Devil's Highway, a one time Roman Road which connects London to Silchester (Roman Calleva).

Eventually, you go under a road underpass and enter Swinley Forest. The final couple of miles are along its mainly wide paths between the trees.

This wonderful signpost points the way to the end point at The Lookout.

Map: Explorer 160 (Windsor, Weighbridge and Bracknell).

Rating: three and half stars. Started very well, but the middle section around Crowthorne was a bit boring. Hard to avoid of course in a walk of this type.

Lucas Hospital

The hospital was built with funds bequeathed by one Henry Lucas, a wealthy bachelor for a hospital or almshouse for poor elderly men. The trusteeship of the hospital was taken over by the Drapers Company on the death of Henry Lucas's executors. The Company gained permission from the Charity Commissioners in 1999 to sell the property, which was no longer really suitable for its purpose and merge the Henry Lucas charity with the Whiteley Homes Trust. They have reinvested the money in building the Henry Lucas Cottages in Walton upon Thames. Lucas's coat of arms, which is visible on the front of the hospital, is reproduced on the Cottages.

Swinley Forest

Swinley Forest is an area of Windsor Forest, owned and managed by The Crown Estate, comprising of 2600 acres of mainly Scots Pine woodland. Swinley Park once surrounded Swinley Lodge where the king kept the Royal Staghounds in Georgian times.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Counting steps - initial experiences

Although I go out walking pretty much every week and more often when possible, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that I am steadily becoming less fit. A combination of my basically sedentary lifestyle and increasing age seem to be to blame.

For the new year I have resolved to aim to get out twice a week (successfully implemented so far) and to begin to use step counting to drive further improvements. The initial two weeks of step counting have been very illuminating.

All the advice is that you need to aim for 10,000 steps a day. On days when I don't go out for a walk, my default level is between 2000 and 3500, depending on what I am up to. So it is pretty obvious that a reasonably major change in behaviour (a step change!) is going to be necessary. I knew it would be bad, but I hadn't realised quite how bad.

On the other hand, 2000 steps equates to a mile walk, so simply looking for opportunities to walk rather than using the car or public transport or a daily couple of miles around the local neighbourhood will fairly easily double the default level.

With this sort of tactic, plus going on proper walks twice a week I am averaging around 9,000 steps a day so far which I quite encouraging.

I have also learned some important things about my pedometer. It has three basic flaws - which in effect reveal the critical criteria for buying a pedometer:
  • It occasionally resets to zero, presumably because the reset button comes under pressure, or is touched accidentally.
  • The count is not consistent: five mile walks have ranged between 9,000 and 11,000 steps.
  • The waist band clip is not tight enough, so it sometimes falls off.
A little belated market research has revealed that the Yamax digiwalker SW 201 is widely regarded as the most accurate on the market, and it comes with a flip case, so the reset button is covered. It also has a security cord, so it can't fall off. And best of all, all it does is count steps, it does not seek to measure distance, count calories or anything else at all. I have ordered one pronto.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Leigh Woods and Avon Gorge

Clifton Suspension bridge

This is a short (3.5 miles), but impressively varied and enjoyable walk. It starts in the car park of Leigh Woods, west of Bristol and is in four distinct stages.

The first involves a descent through the woods down to the river bank. The walk directions are not very clear about this, but on both of the occasions we have done this walk we have found different routes down. Today's was more adventurous and involved scrambling down a gulley. However, we reached the right disused railway bridge and turned right to walk along the river bank, along the Avon gorge.

This second stage involves a very pleasant stroll along a reasonably wide path, shared with joggers and cyclists. Not mercifully, quite as many cyclists as when we were last here in March 2006, when we felt quite oppressed by the ringing bells. There are impressive views of the other side of the gorge across the muddy river.

We were struck by the speed with which the tide was coming in. Not the full-bore, people on surfboards version, but still noticeably fast. At bit further on, the sun had come out and the view back looked quite idyllic.

Just before the Clifton Suspension bridge high overhead, you take a right turn under another railway bridge to climb the delightful Nightingale Valley.

The final stage, from the top of Nightingale Valley involves briefly leaving the wood and a short stretch of road, before crossing a field to reach the road back to the car park.

From: Somerset, Wiltshire and the Mendips (Jarrold Pathfinder Guides).

Map: Explorer 154 (Bristol West and Portishead).

Rating: four stars.


I was very taken with these new lambs, with their unformed faces.

Clifton Suspension bridge

Full information can be found at the bridge's website, including the tale of how a Victorian lady jumped from the bridge, but was saved by her crinolines and petticoats, which acted as an early parachute.

In brief, it was designed, as every schoolboy used to know, by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, after winning a competition in 1830, at the age of 24. The foundation stone was laid in 1831 and the two towers were complete by 1843, when the project was abandoned. The bridge was eventually completed in 1864, although Brunel had died in 1859.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Littlewick Green and Ashley Hill Forest

Littlewick Green well

Rather a strange walk today. We left home in dull grey weather, but before long we drove into fog. It was foggy when we reached Littlewick Green, a village off the A4, just west of Maidenhead, to start the walk and stayed foggy for the entire way round, just lifting a little around mid-day when were at the highest point on the walk. The countryside around Littlewick Green seemed to be rather pleasant .... although it is hard to be sure as we couldn't even see the far side of the village green.

This six mile walk begins outside the Cricketers pub and, quickly leaving the village a path leads across fields. We enjoyed the courteous sign: "Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints". You shortly reach the A4 at another pub - formerly the Ring o Bells, but now the Novello, named for Ivor Novello the composer, singer and actor. On the return to Littlewick Green you pass his former house, now the Redroof Theatre School. I was surprised to learn from Wikipedia that his real name was Ivor Davies, and that he was gay and once had an affair with Siegfried Sassoon.

Returning now to the walk, you cross the A4 and head across several fields to reach the entrance to Ashley Hill forest. The meandering path through the forest is very attractive and the mixed forest is delightful. It was surprising to find quite an imposing house along the way.

Soon after leaving the forest, the route passes through the Berkshire College of Agriculture, whose centrepiece is the imposing Georgian mansion of Hall Place, which dates from 1735. Too foggy for a photograph unfortunately

Shortly after this, you go along a section of road and turn left at Stebbings Farm and along a track beside more fields. Next to Stebbings Farm is Little Stebbings, with this extraordinary dovecote tower.

The next section of the walk is along a series of woodland paths back to the A4. A small detour would have taken us to an iron age enclosure, with the rather fanciful name of Robin Hood's arbour. Googling suggests that this was constructed by the Belgae, probably between AD 25-50, and a bit outside Robin's normal zone of operations. We didn't make the detour, not expecting to be able to see anything.

Crossing the A4, a section along a road and then two tarmaced farm tracks lead back to Littlewick Green. A very pleasant village with houses of varying periods, mainly spread out around a sprawling village green, with the unusual feature of a well.

From: Pub Walks for Motorists: Berkshire and Oxfordshire by Les Maples (Countryside Books).

Maps: Explorer 160 (Windsor, Weybridge and Bracknell) and Explorer 172 (Chiltern Hills West).

Rating: three and half stars, maybe more on a better day.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Dorney Common

Wakehams, Dorney

A bitterly cold morning. The walk begins at the car park at the corner of Dorney Common nearest the Thames. The first stage of the walk is along the road across the common towards Dorney village. Wakehams, above, is the first of many splendid half timbered houses in the village itself and on its outskirts. So much so, that even the village car repair shop is half timbered:

You then swing left past the gates of Dorney Court, a fine Tudor manor house which has been in the hands of the Palmer family for over 450 years. Unfortunately, you can't see anything of it from the road, but we managed this glimpse from the side road which leads to the parish church:

The carved barge boards are especially attractive. The church of St James the Less is opposite and dates from the twelfth century. The impressive brick tower is early sixteenth century. The pretty porch apparently commemorates the birth of Lady Anne Palmer in 1661.

Shortly after the church, the route swings left and follows the drive which leads to Eton College's rowing facilities towards the Thames. On reaching the Thames you turn left and follow the Thames Path for about a mile and half.

A lot of the other (Berkshire) bank is quite developed. The Oakley Court hotel is the highlight.

After passing the Eton boat house, you turn left to return to the car park, first passing the delightful Chapel of St Mary Magdalen, which dates from the twelfth century, with fifteenth century windows.

From: 50 walks in Berkshire and Buckinghamshire (AA publishing).

Map: Explorer 160 (Windsor, Weybridge and Bracknell).

Rating: three and a half stars.


Any walk along the Thames or the Kennet involves a reasonable chance of spotting a cormorant - I used to think they were sea birds. Today I saw what at first seemed like a large moorhen swimming down the river, however then I saw the long orange beak and realised that it was a cormorant making itself thoroughly at home in the river. Looking up, I noticed no less than nine friends - is this cormorant central?

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Satwell and Greys Court

Greys Court

The walk begins at The Lamb Inn in Satwell, a few yards off the Reading-Nettlebed road at Satwell. The Lamb is owned by the chef Antony Worrall Thompson and we enjoyed an excellent lunch there when we had finished walking.

Leaving The Lamb, you quickly turn into the first of several sections of beechwood. From here, the route passes through woodland and fields of the Nettlebed Estate and the along tracks to Bromsden Farm. You then descend into more woodland, walk along a wide drive between fir trees ....

.... past a lake (frozen today with puzzled-looking mallards wandering along on top of the ice) along fields, and then through the splendidly named Famous Copse (famous for being Famous?). Then through more fields to enter the park of Greys Court, with excellent views of the house itself (see below).

A steepish climb leads to a further sequence of woodland-fields-woodland and the Lamb Inn again.

From: Pub Walks for Motorists: Berkshire and Oxfordshire by Les Maples (Countryside Books).

Map: Explorer 171 (Chiltern Hills West).

Rating: Four stars. Interesting and varied. Would be even better in spring or especially autumn.


We were transfixed by this warlike sculpture on the edge of a field at Bromsden Farm. It appears to represent Bellerophon on the winged horse Pegasus, although the rider's appearance is more like a sixteenth century Spaniard than a figure from classical mythology.

Closer inspection revealed that the sculpture was made of fibreglass and that both its wings were broken. There is no doubt a story behind it, but it certainly livened up this section of the walk.

Greys Court

Greys Court is a Tudor manor house, with the vestiges of a fourteenth century castle in its grounds. The Great Tower, which dates from 1347, can be seen on the right in the picture below. The two visible towers are at one end of the walled garden of the main house, which out of sight to the left.

Other interesting features are a Tudor wheelhouse in which a donkey was used to draw water from a well, a Victorian ice house and fine plasterwork.

The house is owned by the National Trust but closed for refurbishment until April 2010, although the garden is open between March and September.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Sydmonton and Ladle Hill

Watership Down

This four mile walk begins outside the Lodge of Sydmonton Court, about 3 miles west of Kingsclere. The first stage is a tour of the perimeter of the estate and the path then cuts through it, passing close to the house itself, which belongs to Lord (Andrew) Lloyd-Webber.

You first get a glimpse of the house through the trees ...

... and then, as you get closer, a further glimpse behind a magnificent cedar. On the right you can also just see the Norman church of St Mary, now redundant.

Crossing the road, you embark on the second distinct stage. This involves a gradual ascent to the ridge of the North Hampshire Downs, with in the latter stages wonderful views over Watership Down, of Richard Adams fame, to the left.

On reaching the ridge, you turn right and follow the Wayfarers' Way for about a mile, with splendid views back over Sydmonton and beyond. Towards the end you pass Ladle Hill (768ft) on the right, apparently the site of an unfinished iron age fort.

Shortly after the hill, a very pleasant bridleway leads down, first through an open field, then through light woodland, to return to the start.

From: Rambling for Pleasure: Kennet Valley and Watership Down, by David Bounds for the East Berkshire Ramblers Group.

Map: Explorer 144 (Basingstoke, Alton and Whitchurch).

Rating: four stars. Short, but varied and exhilarating.


We passed under this rather striking storm- or lightning-damaged tree.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Ufton Nervet and Sulhamstead

St Peter's, Ufton Nervet

The walk begins close to St Peter's Church in Ufton Nervet (1861-2 in early 14th century gothic style - the spire is visible from various points on the walk).

A track leads south east across fields and past a medieval moat and fish ponds to quickly reach the main entrance to Ufton Court (more below). You walk up the impressive drive and skirt the house to the right, following a green lane down a gully and back up to a farm.

From here, a route across fields, heading first north and then north east takes you to the edge of Sulhamstead. A climb up a road and then a detour lead to St Michael's burial ground with the porch which is all that remains of the 1914 church. We passed this way on an earlier walk via Sulhamstead and took a nice summery photo of the porch.

A few further fields and you are back at Ufton Nervet after 4 1/2 miles of very pleasant quiet, open country. We saw just one other person on the way.

From: Rambling for Pleasure: Around Reading, first series by David Bounds for the East Berkshire Ramblers’ Association Group.

Map: Explorer 159 (Reading, Wokingham & Pangbourne).

Rating: three and a half stars.


Lots of hairy horses. These ones were incredibly still and seemed quite unaffected by our passage through their field. Were they asleep?

Ufton Court

This many-gabled timber-framed house dates from 1570-1580 according to Pevsner and is now an Educational Trust for children and young people. The building is rented by West Berkshire Council from the Englefield Estate. The Trust's website gives a history.

An earlier house called Ufton Pole was rebuilt by Lady Marvyn when she moved from nearby Ufton Robert. The house passed on her death to her nephew Francis Perkins and it remained in the Perkins family until 1769. The Perkins were notable catholics and the house had three ingenious priest holes to conceal priests from persecution by local magistrates in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.