Friday, 27 February 2009

Broadmoor to Moulsham Green (Three Castles Path 1)

We recently completed the BBC's Berkshire Way (and wrote a short review of it). It was a very enjoyable experience and we decided to follow it by doing the Three Castles Path, a sixty mile route between Windsor and Winchester which was inspired by the journeys of King John (the third castle is one he built at Odiham). Like the Berkshire Way, we can do it in stages from home.

As luck would have it, the first stages of the Three Castles path are the reverse of the last two stages of the Berkshire Way and part of a third. So we decided to begin our journey along the Three Castles path at the point at which it diverged from the Berkshire Way. This is towards the end of stage 4, just after the path leaves Windsor Forest and passes under the A3095. To get here, we walked along a length of the Devil's highway from Crowthorne. With these additions, the four miles of stage 5 became about 5.25.

Stage 5 proper begins at Broadmoor Farm on the edge of Crowthorne and continues along a pleasant track, where turning a corner we met these sheep ....

The route continues, with Broadmoor Hospital in view on the left - surprisingly large in view of that fact that it houses only 260 patients. It then passes through Wildmoor Heath The site is owned by the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust and Bracknell Forest Council and is managed as a Nature Reserve. Traditional management practices such as grazing and scrub cutting are carried out to improve the quality of the heathland for biodiversity. These habitats are particularly rare in southern England due to the impact of agriculture, forestry and development.

After crossing a road the path leads into and through Little Sandhurst and thence to Ambarrow Court, a nature reserve on a much smaller scale. We did see some nice wild snowdrops here.

Crossing another main road, a couple of fields lead down to the entrance to Horsehoe Lake, part of the Tri Lakes Country Park, formed from a series of disused gravel pits.

Leaving Horsehoe Lake, the final - and best - part of the walk follows the winding River Blackwater for a mile or so.

It is a very unusual context for walking along a river bank, as there are lakes to both the right and the left for much of the way. We saw some widgeon the river which quickly flew off to join their brethren on the lake. You can also see the inevitable cormorants high in the trees on the little island.

You leave the river and lakes for the end of the stage at Moulsham Green, on the edge of Yateley.

From: The Three Castles Path by David Bounds for the East Berkshire Ramblers’ Association Group. Stages 4 (part) - 5.

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

Rating: three stars. The route links what are probably the best bits of countryside in the area, but you are never far from a housing estate.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Nice old town

The flower market in the Cours Saleya

We know Nice pretty well but, inspired by our recent city walk around Liverpool, we thought it might be rewarding to do a planned walk around the old town. We worked out a route inspired by a delightful booklet called Strolling through old Nice which we bought in the market last year.

We began at the western end of the Cours Saleya, where the flower market was in full swing, with mimosa in abundance. As you walk along, there are several passageways on the right through which you can see the sea. This, the first, is the most interesting.

Further along on the right we noticed - for the first time in years - this fine shop front.

At the end is the former Cais de Pierlas palace, once the home of Henri Matisse. I cheated slightly and took this picture in the early evening to maximise the golden colour.

Turning left into Rue de la Poisonnerie, you look up to see this wonderful relief of Adam and Eve ...

... and then the Church of the Annunciation, known locally as Sainte-Rita. St Rita of Cascia is apparently the patron saint of desperate causes and her church is said to be Nice's most frequented. It is not clear what construction should be put on this.

Turning right then left brings you to Rue Droite, one of Nice's oldest streets. On the right is another church, the mid-17th century Gesu. The street is very narrow and the church can only be seen clearly by standing at the back of the small courtyard in front of it.

Further up on the left you could easily pass the Palace Lascaris. Once the home of the Lasacaris-Ventimiglia family it was built from older existing buildings and decorated in the 17th and 18th centuries. It later became flats. It was purchased by the city in 1942 and restoration began in 1963. The main rooms are quite interesting, but its main glory is the wonderful frescoed staircase.

At the end of Rue Droite you arrive at Place St Francois, where the former town hall faces you. It was built in 1580, but given its present appearance in the 18th century. The tour de l'horloge can be seen to the left.

From here, the rue Pairoliere leads to Place Garibaldi, which lies beyond the old town. This harmonious square, dating from 1780-84, but now crossed by the new tramway is bordered by arcaded blocks and graced by a statue of the great man with a fountain. One side of the square is enlivened by the Chapel du St-Sepulchre.

The return leg passes by the tour de l'horloge ...

... and continues on to Place Rossetti, where you find the cathedral of Sainte-Reparate. Its faceade was decorated in 1825 and restored in 1980. The dome, invisible from below, is covered in glazed tiles and is a landmark of the old town. The fine bell tower, completed in 1757, is currently being restored.

Rating: four stars.


Even places you think you know well have new surprises if you do some research and/or walk around with fresh eyes. Apart from individual sites, the most striking thing was the stylistic consistency of most of the buildings, especially the churches - old Nice is a baroque city to rival Prague, Salzburg or Vilnius.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Nice: Mont Boron, Mont Alban and the Port

Nice and the Baie des Anges seen from Mont Boron

In Nice for our annual burst of winter sun - and it did not disappoint with 15 degrees of sunshine around lunchtime. Last year we went on a lovely walk around Cap Ferrat, and this year we decided to try one on the two hills on the outskirts of Nice.

You take the Number 14 bus out to the terminus on Mont Boron. I had foolishly imagined a sort of empty car park on a bare mountain peak, but in fact it is a pleasant little square, with some houses. It's obvious really that a regular bus route would go to an essentially developed area.

From here you take a path into the nature reserve which covers the top of Mont Boron and make a complete circuit of the peak, very quickly enjoying a splendid panorama over the port, the city and the whole of the Baie des Anges.

Further round the circuit there is a lovely view over the Bay of Villefranche.

On completing the circuit, and almost returning to the bus terminus, you turn left onto a path which completes a second circuit at a higher level. This time you can see the walls of the old fort.

You return to the terminus and take the road towards Mont Alban, cutting through a very pleasant wooded picnic area on the way. The fort of Mount Alban is in a poor state, but at least the tiles on the roofs of the four towers have been recently refurbished, so the overall effect is charming.

From here there is a lovely view over Cap Ferrat , which clearly shows the spit of land pointing out to one side where St Jean Cap Ferrat is located.

One you have enjoyed the views to the full, you return - yes, to the bus terminus, happily for the last time. You now begin the long descent, mainly down steps, to the port.

On the way, you pass the Church of Notre Dame du Perpetuel Secours (Our Lady of Perpetual Help), which dates from 1927. It is essentially a square building with an octagonal lantern. The style is described as neo-byzantine and the church was the work of the architect Jules Febvre. Our Lady of Perpetual Help is also apparently the patron saint of Haiti.

Finally, you reach first the commercial port, where we were staggered by the sheer size of the car ferry to Corsica. It looked more like a cruise ship. Soon afterwards you come into the pleasure port with its colonaded blocks and church of Notre Dame du Port.

The walk then continues with an ascent of the Colline du Chateau (castle hill) by lift and a return to the city centre.

We have enjoyed the sights of the Colline du Chateau before, so on this occasion we followed the coastal path around the headland and were soon rewarded with a view of the Promenade des Anglais, with the palm trees that feature in paintings of it by Dufy.

From: Walk and Eat: Nice, by John and Pat Underwood (Sunflower)

Rating: four stars.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009


Holy Trinity church, Grazeley

Just time for a short, local walk this afternoon.

Thia walk starts on the verge of a lane by a farm to the northwest of the village of Grazeley and follows a roughly triangular route, involving lanes and fields .

You reach Grazeley and pass through the pleasant churchyard of Holy Trinity church (1850, by Benjamin Ferrey). A series of field paths take you north, ever closer to the M4. There you skirt around Hopkiln Farm by the strangely named Kybes Lane. The final third involves more fields and a road passing by the grim Royal Ordnance Factory at Burghfield.

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

Map: Explorer 159 (Reading).

Rating: two stars. This is not a great area for walking: flat, large fields, field paths rather than tracks, motorway noise.


A green woodpecker, seen in profile on a telegraph pole, livened up the last stretch of the walk. Also some deer seen across the fields (a pair and a trio at different times). I know farmers find them a pest and there are said to be just too many, but their dainty movement and white rumps are a pretty sight.

Monday, 16 February 2009

The BBC's Berkshire Way: A review


We have described our experiences of walking the BBC's Berkshire Way in a number of postings (listed below). The route links Lambourn in the west with Windsor in the east and traces a meandering path across the whole county. Now that we have finished the whole walk it is time to offer some reflections on it.


Overall, it's a fantastic idea - well done to the BBC! We have very much enjoyed the individual walks and felt a great sense of achievement when we finally got to Windsor, even though it was months after we started the walk.

The 14 stages comprise a cleverly chosen route which links the best bits of Berkshire countryside and provides great variety. The route covers a number of different types of walking: downlands (the Berkshire Downs and North Hampshire Downs), rivers (the Thames, the Kennet, the Loddon), the Kennet and Avon Canal, gravel pits, fields (of course), woodland (especially Swinley Forest), even a racecourse (Ascot) and the park of a royal palace (Windsor).

You also see something of some of the county's nicer towns: Hungerford, Newbury, Wokingham and Windsor.

We wondered if there were any significant omissions. There is some nice country west of Reading in the Bucklebury-Hampstead Norreys area and the Thames in the east of the county is also very attractive. But, obviously a route like this can't cover everywhere, and one has to conclude that the compilers of the walk have done an excellent job.

Conversely, the route managed to avoid most of the areas of the county that you wouldn't want to spend much time walking in: there were very few areas of suburban sprawl to plod through.

Beyond the specific locations, the Berkshire Way provides a nice introduction to the joys of linear rather than circular walking and of long distance paths.

At a more practical level, the walk descriptions and maps are good, and there was seldom any real ambiguity about where to go. There was some variability in the precision and clarity of directions. Leg 3 for example a bit vague in places (you are told to take a turning but not given a sense of how far along the path it will be). We just got lost once - in Purley - but that is easily done. However, these are only very minor gripes.

Some of the descriptions are also a bit out of date – there are quite a lot of references to “when we walked this in 2002”. However, we did not encounter any significant problems with changes since then. And in fact West Berkshire Council at least have improved signing and way-marking since 2002.

The stages are listed below. Our favourite was probably Bury Down to Lardon Chase, along the Ridgeway.

Stages of the Berkshire Way

1 Lambourn to Hungerford (7.5 miles)

2 Hungerford to Combe Gibbet (6 miles)

3 Combe Gibbet to Hamstead Marshall (4.75 miles)

4 Hamstead Marshall to Newbury (4.75 miles)

5 Newbury to Chieveley (6.75 miles)

6 Chieveley to Bury Down (6.75 miles)

7 Bury Down to Lardon Chase (7.5 miles)

8 Lardon Chase to Pangbourne (7.5 miles)

9 Pangbourne to Reading Bridge (7 miles)

10 Reading Bridge to Ashenbury Park, Woodley (5 miles)

11 Ashenbury Park, Woodley, to Wokingham (8 miles)

12 Wokingham to the Lookout, Bracknell (7.25 miles)

13 The Lookout, Bracknell, to Ascot (4.5 miles)

14 Ascot to Windsor (7 miles)

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Ascot to Windsor (Berkshire Way 14)

Queen Victoria's statue, near the end of the walk

At last, the final seven mile leg of the BBC's Berkshire Way! The walk starts at the east side of Ascot race course. A path behind a row of large houses emerges at Golden Gates Lodge. The eponymous gates, with their royal crest, were formerly used by the Queen's procession at the Royal Ascot meeting in June.

After a short stretch of road and a pleasant stroll through a piece of Crown Land, you enter Windsor Great Park through the Ascot Gate. Soon, passing through Prince Consort's gate, you enter the Great Park proper, to be greeted by this view which encapsulates the rest of the walk: tarmac road, trees, grass.

From here, a winding route brings you to Snow Hill and the splendid statue of king George III, known as the Copper Horse. the statue is by Sir Richard Westmacott, and was made in 1824-30. The statue was erected by his son, George IV, who apparently wanted it to resemble the statue of Peter the Great in St Petersburg, hence the massive base. The base, of granite, is 25 feet high.

There is a fantastic view looking towards the castle, along the Long Walk.

From here it is straight ahead, two miles or so, along the Long Walk to the edge of the castle precincts. The deer park is on the left.

Finally, the castle is in close view.

You skirt around its sides to reach the end of the walk at the statue of Queen Victoria by the entrance to the castle, first noting the Guildhall (or Town Hall), designed in about 1687 by Sir Thomas Fitch, and completed after his death by Sir Christopher Wren.

Next door is the delightful Crooked House. You would have to come early in the morning to take a picture without spectators outside.

To celebrate the completion of the Berkshire Way, we had a glass of champagne and some seafood at the Cafe de la Mer, just further along the High Street.

Rating: three and a half stars. Interesting to walk in the Great Park, and some fine sights, but curiously monotonous as well.

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

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Burghclere and Ladle Hill

Ladle Hill

I saw an opportunity for a mid-week walk, but I wanted to avoid the mud which would be the inevitable consequence of the recent heavy rain. That pointed to a walk on high ground and I thought immediately of the North Hampshire Downs, perhaps around Burghclere. My collection of walk books yielded a 3 mile option (too short) and a 7 mile option (not enough time before dusk). A Google search located the excellent Hantsweb site Walking in Hampshire, provided by Hampshire County Council. This produced a leaflet on walking around Burghclere, with a perfect 5 mile walk.

The walk begins just outside Old Burghclere at Manor Farm and you begin by following a lane signposted to Burghclere railway station. The former station has now been converted into a house however. The first stage of the walk follows the former railway line for a couple of miles, until it intersects with the Wayfarers Walk.

The one-time Burghclere station

The majority of this section is beside rather than on the rail bed, but the final stretch follows the track and under a bridge.

Turning left onto the Wayfarers Walk, you begin the long climb towards Ladle Hill, first passing through a narrow defile with hills on either side.

Looking back along the Wayfarers Walk

The sides of the hills were thronging with rabbits. They were invisible when stationary, and then all of a sudden my presence would propel half a dozen of them into a flight for safety.

Further along the climb I saw a fox stalking a couple of rabbits in a field. When my passage startled them, the fox loped off in search of further prey.

As Ladle Hill approached, the route veered off left on a delightful downhill track towards Sydmonton. This section was shared with another lovely walk we did recently: Sydmonton and Ladle Hill. From Sydmonton a short final stretch along the Highclere-Burghclere Road led back to the start.

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

Rating: Four stars. Delightfully simple. It's hard to beat the "walking on top of the world" exhilaration you get from a ridge walk.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Ashenbury Park, Woodley to Wokingham (Berkshire Way 11 )

One of many flooded gravel pits

We return to the BBC's Berkshire Way for our penultimate stage: 8 miles from Ashenbury Park in Woodley, on the edge of Reading, to Wokingham. Odd - quite arduous - walking conditions: snow, ice, freezing puddles, occasional patches of mud. But at least it's not raining or snowing, and in fact the sky is blue.

You walk through the park and then along a lane to cross a stream and after a short stretch of road, join a snowy path alongside the River Loddon.

In due course this passes Sandford Mill. Pevsner refers to the "pretty" mill complex, but unusually gives no detailed historical information.

You next pass through the Dinton Pastures country park and emerge again on the banks of the Loddon. We saw a black swan on a nearby lake and thought it worthy of note. Then we saw a sign to "Black Swan Lake" and concluded that perhaps it was to be expected.

The sun was out by now and the Loddon looked surprisingly picturesque as we approached Winnersh Triangle.

Continuing along the bank of the Loddon, the route passed Sindlesham Mill, where the mill itself has been absorbed into a hotel, and on to Sindlesham village.

We walked up the road towards Barkham and past the gatehouse of Bearwood, once a great Victorian mansion, but for many years now a school. The house was designed in 1864 by Robert Kerr for John Walter, the owner of The Times. The estate at that time was 7,500 acres and included Finchampstead, Barkham and Sindlesham.

Opposite the gatehouse, we were struck by these splendid estate cottages with their diaper brickwork, elaborate chimneys and ornate porches. The bricks to build theses houses and Bearwood itself were dug and made on the estate.

A lane, then a field and then a small patch of woodland and a residential street lead to the A329 and a mile or so further to Wokingham. Approaching the town, you first see the lavish church of St Paul, which dates from 1862-64. It was designed by Henry Woodyer and paid for by John Walter.

Finally, as you enter the central part of the town you pass this Victorian school with its splendid tower and cupola.

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

Rating: three stars. Too much road. Difficult to avoid of course in this part of the county.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Shinfield and Three Mile Cross

Shinfield School

Driven by the desire to keep my step count up, I go out on a short (4.5 mile) local walk. The walk starts by the green in Shinfield, overlooked by the school. According to Pevsner, the middle section is the original school, dating from 1707. The extension on the left dates from 1860, and that on the right from 1898.

From here you walk, rather needlessly really, through some rather mixed housing developments, along a narrow path overlooking fields at the back of the village and eventually re-emerge on the main road.

Crossing this, you walk through the long-derelict huts of the National Institute for Research in Dairying. It feels more like a disused prison camp than a scientific centre.

However, you soon emerge into the churchyard of St Mary's Church...

The church was founded in the twelfth century, while the brick south chapel (on the opposite side) was added in 1596. The splendid brick tower was built in 1664.

I detoured from the official route at this point as the path opposite the church now goes through a new housing estate, and instead followed Church Road all the way to Three Mile Cross. This also involved ignoring a path which would have led to a tramp through a muddy field right beside the M4 - why would anyone want to do that?

Just along from the church stands the former vicarage, now L'Ortolan restaurant, one of Berkshire's finest.

From Three Mile Cross, the route leads through fields, skirts the playing fields of Ryeish Green school and follows a winding lane back towards Shinfield. I surprised a heron here in a flooded ditch by the roadside.

The final section leads back to Shinfield across open fields.

The new housing development can be seen beyond the fields and beyond it is a glimpse of the stalinist former County Hall. These fields are the subject of a planning proposal for 2500 houses, which would significantly reduce the separation of the currently discrete villages of Shinfield, Three Mile Cross and Spencers Wood - and end this as a country walk.

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

Map: Explorer 159 (Reading).

Rating: Two stars. I did rather enjoy the walk, but there are too many boring or disagreeable bits.


It is easier to reflect on walking when there is nothing else on your mind! Fairly adverse conditions and a walk with inherent limitations, but still enjoyable. Why? Shinfield school green is a delightful spot and the church has some character. There is always the potential for a chance encounter with nature - I don't know if my heron was more surprised or I was. But mainly today it was the just the joy of being active and being out in the fresh air.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Three Mile Cross and Woodcock Lane

The Wesleyan Chapel

A short (3.5 miles), local walk for a snowy afternoon. The walk starts in Three Mile Cross, just near Junction 11 on the M4. At the end of the walk you see the pretty Wesleyan chapel of 1878.

The initial stage of the walk involves a mile and half along Woodcock Lane, a delightful track, spoiled only by the new housing estate after a few hundred yards and by the close proximity to the traffic on the busy A33. However, it looked nicer in the snow.

You then take another track, Kiln Lane, and move away from the road into woodland, heading towards Spencers Wood. After a short while, you head diagonally across a field, known locally as "The common". This too looked more interesting than usual.

At the other side of the common you pass through part of Spencers Wood (and a few yards' detour reveals one of its nicest buildings: the 1890 school building, now split into a library and a private house)

A footpath across fields leads back to Three Mile Cross and its chapel.

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

Map: Explorer 159 (Reading).

Rating: Three stars.


I can't remember the last time I went for a walk in the snow. It is hard to dispute the magical properties of slowly falling snow. Certainly snow covers up the unsightly and changes the familiar. It also increases contrast and highlights the shapes and silhouettes of trees. The evening light was also fascinating, with the setting sun fleetingly breaking through to lend a yellow hue to the snow-filled clouds.