Monday, 28 November 2011

Walbury Hill to Bunkhanger Copse (Wayfarer's Walk 1)

I fancied a walk today, after a couple of days of mixed work, personal admin and DIY, but all the local walks seemed too familiar and dull after this year of more exciting walks along the Dorset coast and in the Cotswolds - not to mention the Alps. Then it came to me as I was looking at the map of the area around Kingsclere: I could do a there-and-back walk along the Wayfarer's Walk, which starts at Walbury Hill and later passes south of Kingsclere. 

The Wayfarer's Walk runs for 70 miles from the car park at Walbury Hill to Emsworth near Portsmouth. A detailed account can be found on the British Walks website.

In trying to discover why it is so named, I found that it has been adopted by Macmillan Cancer Support and you could register to support the charity and access a wealth of information about the walk. Unfortunately, when I tried to do so I found that registration had closed. I still haven't found out where the name comes from.

About the walk

The start point is at 267m and the view over Berkshire, with the scattered village of Inkpen in the foreground is very impressive.

You follow a chalky track which initially passes over the iron age hill fort of Walbury Hill. It runs just below the ridge line of the North Hampshire Downs, but briefly you are on the ridge and can see south into Hampshire as well.

After a short stretch along a lane, there follows a long section on a grassy (read muddy initially) with fields on the left great views down to the flat Berkshire farmland below. The path ahead looks very inviting.

A bit further on, behind a projecting section, the Hannington radio mast - a landmark for miles around, can be seen on the horizon.

In this whole section the geometric pattern of the farmland is a fine sight.

It is remarkably quiet and isolated up here, and then all of a sudden you come upon a rather splendid modern house - Charldown. I often take photos of impressive old farmhouses and cottages, but this may be the first modern one.

The path leads down the drive of Charldown to reach a quiet lane and now Highclere House is increasingly clearly visible.

I walked along the lane as far as the point where the path leaves it to enter the unusually named Bunkhanger Copse. There is a handy parking area here, so it will be easy to pick up the route again. And now I turned back, puzzling about the car parked half on the grass verge whose driver was intently studying something, looking towards the fields below us. She had seemed a touch sheepish when I first passed, and drove up as I turned back towards her. What was she up to?

Conditions: cloudy, some sun, cold and windy in the open, but quite warm when sheltered.

Forward distance: 3 miles.

Maps: Explorer 158 (Newbury & Hungerford) and 144 (Basingstoke, Alton and Whitchurch).

Rating: four stars.


I startled any amount of pheasants into flight as I passed by and as I drove back down to Inkpen I must have seen at lest fifty pheasant chicks wandering along the lane.

At least three kites wheeling around the sky, often very low.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Ferry Bridge to Portland Bill (SW Coast Path 14)

The gates of Portland

We had more or less decided to end this year's onslaught on the SWCP at Weymouth, but we saw an opportunity to keep on going, and now we hope to complete the circuit of Portland before Christmas. This would be very satisfying as for a large part of the walk so far, certainly since we turned St Aldhelm's Head, the western horizon has been closed by Portland. It will be great to continue the walk in the new year with open views to the west.

We picked up the route at Ferry Bridge and followed the causeway which links Portland to the mainland for about two miles to reach the gates of Portland above. The gates were funded by the six Masonic Lodges on Portland - a surprisingly large number we thought for a population of around 13,000.

Once on the island proper, we headed for the castle - another of Henry VIII's coastal forts, of 1539 (see also Sandford on the previous leg of this walk and Brownsea Island. This is landside view.

And below is the view from the shore side. In this view the tunnel entrance to the Verne citadel can be seen near the top of the hillside behind. It was initially a prison for convicts who were employed building Portland harbour in Victorian times and then became a military base; is now a prison again. To left is a large block (I first wrote "blot" - a nice slip) of flats, which had apparently been left unfinished.

The path follows the right side of the hill leading up to The Verne and as we got higher there was an increasingly good view back along Chesil Beach, which starts at Chesil Cove on the west coast of the island and forms the west side of the causeway. It was unfortunately rather hazy.

The route then follows the back of the peak, passing the route of railway lines which were once part of the Portland quarries to come to an entrance to the prison - presumably not the only one! Apparently The Verne, a category C prison (for prisoners who cannot be trusted in open conditions but who are unlikely to try to escape), is known for the large number of separate nationalities which are represented there.

The route now heads east with a "family farm" improbably located on one side and a working quarry on the other.

We then followed the East Weares (which I think means cliffs) and passed the Young Offenders Institution to emerge onto an open grassy area, crossed by quarry tracks which led down to the village of Church Ope. We were struck by Pennsylvania Castle which was built by John Penn, the grandson of the founder of Pennsylvania on land given by his friend King George III (who has been frequently mentioned lately). It is has recently become privately owned, but before that was a hotel.

After a short section of road, the path finally descends to the coast. It is wilder and quieter here and there is a good view back towards towards white chalk cliffs of the south Dorset coast.

This whole area was formerly stone quarries and the evidence is everywhere. We had the rather melancholy feeling of walking through a town that has been devastated by heavy bombing, with piles of rubble all that remained.

There were several of these derricks, which were used for loading stone onto barges.

As we approached Portland Bill along a grassy headland, a whole collection of huts came into view. They looked more like garden sheds than the more typical beach huts you see in Mudeford or Weymouth. But beach huts they are. On the way back to the station our taxi driver told us that they were highly prized and changed hands for "silly money". We had more the sense of a shanty town, but no doubt it all looks different in summer.

Then as one of the three lighthouses loomed ahead and we were fading fast, we saw the Lobster Pot restaurant. At first I thought it could not be open, but we were in luck and enjoyed a reasonable, but extremely welcome meal and a bottle of dodgy sauvignon blanc.

Conditions: cloudy, hazy, mostly quite mild.

Distance: about 8 miles, all forwards on the Coast Path. Distance covered now 50 miles.

Map: Explorer OL15 (Purbeck and South Dorset).

Rating: three and a half stars. Penal settlements, military remains, transport links and industrial archeology dominated the walk. Interesting, but not very pretty.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Osmington Mills to Ferry Bridge (SW Coast Path 13)

Looking towards Redcliff Point

Our goal for the year is now in sight: Weymouth. We took the train from Poole to Weymouth and then a taxi out to Osmington Mills to pick up where we left off two weeks ago. The route initially goes inland, but soon you take a left to head parallel with the coast.

We skirted route a large sort of holiday camp for kids and regained the coast path above a long shingle beach, unnamed on the OS map, with Redcliff Point at the end.

As we approached the point the path goes over a grassy area, but is forced inland a bit by erosion of the cliff edge, which becomes more and more evident as the Point gets nearer. Looking further inland, there is a view of the Osmington White Horse. This was sculpted into the limestone hillside in 1808 and depicts King George III. There are lots of white horses, but this one is apparently unique in having a rider. George of course played a large part in establishing Weymouth as a seaside resort. I should really have used a more powerful zoom lens, but we were by now walking into a very strong headwind.

You descend to skirt Bowleaze Cove with the massive white Riviera Hotel (no longer operating, but perhaps being restored), an amusement park and a holiday park in close proximity. This gives way to a grassy cliff below a row of expensive-looking houses, until you reach sea level and the wide concrete walkway which speeds you along at the back of the shingle beach, with a sea wall behind.

I had intended to drop in to see the RSPB reserve at Lodmoor while we were passing, but I hadn't understood from the map that once on the walkway you can't get off until you are some way past it. I contented myself with a photo (the structure on the right is a hide) and a plan for another day trip especially for the purpose.

A little further on there were a number of fine beach huts. One set were in a cast iron structure and another in this imposing terrace. The beach hut evolved from the early wheeled bathing machines used by pioneers of sea bathing, like George III.

Soon you are on the Esplanade and you pass the wonderful Jubilee Clock, erected to mark Queen Victoria's diamond Jubilee in 1887.

A little further on there is the celebrated equestrian statue of George III (again) - Victoria's grandfather. It was erected in 1809 to commemorate his diamond jubilee (he came to the throne in 1760). The statue has only been painted since 1949.

At the end of the Esplanade we walked up beside the quayside, past the Customs House and paused for lunch at the Ship Inn. Suitably restored, we crossed the swing bridge and enjoyed the peaceful view of the harbour.

The path then follows the other bank of the river and climbs up to the Nothe fort - a route we followed when we had a lovely day trip to Weymouth earlier in the year. At the top of the stairs from the quayside, there was a great view through the masts of some ships to the Esplanade with its Georgian and Victorian terraces.

You pass through Nothe Gardens and descend behind a housing estate to get a view of the fort, with White Nothe on the coast behind.

A bit further on you pass the sad remains of Sandsfoot Castle, another of those castles that Henry VIII built in 1539.

The final section followed the Rodwell Trail down to Ferry Bridge, the point at which the long causeway to Portland starts. The Trail was very straight and had a sort of embankment on each side. We must have been getting tired by now, because it was only as we were chatting to the taxi driver on the way back to Weymouth station that we realised it was the route of a disused railway.

Conditions: cloudy, sunny intervals, about 12 degrees, extremely strong south west wind, muddy underfoot in places.

Distance: 7.5 miles, all of which, at last, were forwards on the Coast Path. Distance covered now 42 miles.

Map: Explorer OL15 (Purbeck and South Dorset)

Rating: three and a half stars.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Winchcombe to Hawling (Windrush Way 1)


Last month we completed the Cotswold Way with Merv and Pud. After some research and discussion, we decided to do the Oxfordshire Way next. We are all really looking forward to this, but it struck me that it would nice to join it up to the Cotswold Way - and that this could readily be done by walking from Winchcombe to Bourton-on-the-Water, where the Oxfordshire Way starts. We studied the map and saw that we could leave Winchcombe on either the Wardens Way or the Windrush Way. We decided on the latter, as offering a more lowland route.

The great discovery, made as I started writing this post, is that the Windrush Way is a short self-contained 14 mile walk which simply connects Winchcombe and Bourton. How neat is that?

We set off from the centre of Winchcombe, avoiding the Rememberance Day ceremony, and headed across fields soon to pass close by Sudeley Castle. It looked a lot less perfect from close up (I took a nice photo from a distance when we left Winchcombe on a different angle during the Hailes Abbey to Cleeve Hill leg of the Cotswold Way).

After leaving the surrounding parkland, you pick up a track which meanders through a wide valley bottom, with an imposing ridge to the left. As it started to climb, we looked back at the route of the Cotswold Way climbing towards Belas Knap. We were glad today's walk was less demanding.

Further up the track, we paused again to look back towards Winchombe: Sudeley castle is in the centre, and the town and church tower are to the left.

We passed the wonderfully-situated Spoonley Farm and emerged onto the Hawling-Winchcombe road, which we followed for a while.

We took a right to head south towards Hawling and noticed a clear change in the countryside. Now it was more like downland, with several narrow V-shaped valleys heading to the east.

We turned east  just before Hawling and could see the site of the medieval village of Hawling marked on the map: the line of the former streets is clearly visible. (Well, it was once Merv pointed it out.)

We ended the walk near Hawling Lodge, but not before we had spotted a fairy ring.

Conditions: mild, sunny - rather wonderful for the time of year.

Distance: 6.5 miles.

Map: Explorer OL45 (The Cotswolds).

Rating: four stars. Wide open spaces. Still the Cotswolds, but very different from the Cotswold escarpment.


Still a few butterflies about: we saw a Red Admiral and a Peacock.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

White Nothe to Osmington Mills (SW Coast Path 12)

Looking back from the start

After a gap of six weeks or so, including a break for a holiday in Arezzo, we resumed the SW Coast Path. We decided to abandon our established practice of doing a circular walk in favour of a there-and-back approach. In fact, the only realistic access point was at the end, Osmington Mills, so we did a back-and-there walk. I will just describe the return section.

We picked up the walk about half a mile short of White Nothe (nose) and followed the gently climbing cliff-top path until we reached it. There is not much there: an odd brick structure which may have been a look-out and a terrace of coastguards cottages. It seems to be at about 170m and there are fine views towards the west. Ringstead is in the foreground, with Weymouth beyond and Portland to the left.

We walked down towards Ringstead enjoying a more elaborate view of Ringstead Bay. The most striking thing is how the coast changes here: the limestone cliffs we have been walking up and down for some time have ended and a new type of terrain awaits.

We passed the chimneys of Holworth House hidden in the trees, a little wooden church dating from 1926 and then Burning Cliff. Burning Cliff is apparently so named because the rapid oxidization of iron pyrites caused the bituminous oil shale to spontaneously ignite in 1826 and burn for a year. As we left the village, with its curious straggling mixture of a caravan park and pleasant detached houses, we saw this entertaining sign.

A little further on, we left the path to briefly go down to the beach and enjoy a fine view back towards the imposing White Nothe.

A bit further on, Osmington Mills came into view.

We finished up where we had started at the car park in front of the Smuggler's Inn pub and admired the view towards Weymouth - the destination for our next walk. We then naturally returned to the pub for what turned out to be an excellent lunch.

Conditions: clear, sunny intervals, about 12 degrees, extremely strong north east wind, muddy underfoot in places.

Map: Explorer OL15 (Purbeck and South Dorset).

Distance: about 7 miles, of which 3.5 were forwards on the Coast Path. Distance covered now 34.5 miles.

Rating: three and a half stars.


The circular walk model has served us well so far. We have made slow progress along the coast, but we have also enjoyed exploring the inland areas as well. However, we have decided that the next leg, to Weymouth, we will do as a simple linear walk. We plan to get a train from Poole to Weymouth and then a cab to Osmington and simply walk back to Weymouth - about 8 miles. Then we can have a nice boozy lunch to celebrate the achievement of this year's target and get the train back to Poole. 

As we are now 45 minutes or more by car from our base in Poole, and getting further each time, we conclude that getting a cab or bus back to the start will need to be the model for the rest of the Coast Path. We should at least make faster progress towards next year's target end point: Bridport and the Dorset-Devon border.

Butterfly of the day

We had glimpses of ten or a dozen Red Admirals during the walk, and finally one presented itself for a photograph.