Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Brown Candover to Abbotstone (Wayfarer's Walk 10)


The weather forecast strongly indicated that this would be the one non-rainy day this week so I thought I had better get our for a walk. I picked up the route a mile south of Brown Candover (2 miles along the Wayfarer's Walk) and headed uphill along a farm track. There was a chance of a photo looking towards Northington church, but a black cloud came overhead at just the wrong moment.

I realised that I was now following a section of the Three Castles Path (Upper Wield to Abbotstone), which we did on a nice sunny day in April 2009. This has the Northington church photo and some brief information about it, so nothing was lost.

The path carried on along past Swarraton Farm to cross the B3046 and go along the edge of Abbotstone Down. The OS map also shows the track as being also part of the Oxdrove Way. It seems clear that one hedgerow has at some time been removed and this is now a field-edge path. You pass a derelict concrete structure, possibly intended as a farm house and approach Abbotstone Farm.

Abbotstone is a very elusive place. The map shows the site of a medieval village, but now thee are just a few scattered houses. As you approach the only road junction the slopes opposite seem white: surely not localised snow? Heavy fertiliser maybe?

It is only when you get right up close that the odd white strips are revealed as sheets of clear polythene spread flat over the earth, no doubt to aid the germination of seeds.

You cross the pretty, but seemingly unnamed stream, to reach the signpost which now marks Abbotstone. I decided to call a halt here.

Conditions: cloudy with some sunshine, a few hints of rain

Map: Explorer 132 (Winchester)

Forward distance: 3.5 miles; distance now traveled 35.5 miles. Almost half way!

Rating: three stars. Good to get out, but fairly basic. 


I decided to make a real effort with my bird observation and was rewarded with a reasonably rich haul: Buzzards, a Red kite, a flock of Yellowhammers, a Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, Wrens, a Kestrel, Canada Geese, House Martins - not counting garden birds, crows, pigeons. Also loads of Pheasants and Red Legged Partridge.

Flower of the day

Ground Ivy. It looks more interesting and exotic photographed at ground level.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Brown Candover (Wayfarer's Walk 9)

Rape fields near Northington

I was a bit desperate to get our for a walk after a wet week in which I had anyway to be at home to supervise the installation of  a new central heating boiler. The weather forecast promised more rain at 1300, but I thought I could get most of a walk in before then. It did not entirely go to plan.

I picked up the route at Brown Candover at 1015 and headed off along a lane, bearing left after a while along a track in the direction of Northington. Just outside Tortford the track, by now a field-edge path, meets a road and you turn left to cross the A3046 by the Woolpack pub.

This tree-lined track winds uphill and emerges on a road by rather derelict looking farm buildings. The picture above was taken here, looking back. Much later, I discovered that I had missed my turn here. I knew I should turn right around this point and did in fact take a right, but not the right one. On the way back, I realised that the arrow indicating the turn had been placed on the back of the short sign post, rather than on the front, so I felt a bit less incompetent. I did of course fail to notice the absence of WW sign on the next post, so I can't really avoid responsibility.

So instead of continuing on the Wayfarer's Walk I walked along a very pleasant track, the Ox Drove, with birdsong all around, for another mile or so. I stopped at a road crossing when it started raining and sheltered in the middle of a bush when the rain turned to hail. All this was earlier than expected and when the hail eased I decided to turn round. Back at the derelict farm, I had planned to take a short cut back to Brown Candover and when it wasn't in quite the right place relative to the Wayfarer's Walk I gradually came to understand that it had all gone wrong.

I walked about five miles, only two of which were forward along the WW. And because the route does a curious dog leg, I ended up only about a mile away from Brown Candover. Must try harder next time! 

Conditions: cloud, rain, hail, a few brief bursts of sunshine, about 9 degrees C.

Forward distance: 2 miles; distance now traveled 32 miles.

Map: Explorer 132 (Winchester)

Rating: three stars. Good to get out, but fairly basic.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Sandbanks to Bournemouth Pier (Bournemouth Coast Path 1)

View from Sandbanks across the mouth of Poole Harbour

We found about the existence of the Bournemouth Coast Path quite by accident: we noticed a guide book in the Poole branch of Waterstone's. (More information can be found here.) It seemed like a great idea to do it: it would help us to gain a greater understanding of Bournemouth and, having now walked SW Coast Path from South Haven Point to Lyme Regis, it would mean we would have walked the whole of the Dorset coastline.

The book offers a sort of pre-stage from Swanage to Sandbanks, but as we know that area well we decided to dispense with it and begin at Sandbanks and walk to Bournemouth Pier. We got a cab to Sandbanks (having found to our surprise that there are no buses on Sunday) and looked out across the harbour mouth to Shell Bay, with the Chain Ferry on the right.

You start by walking along Banks Road. And as ever, we wondered about the cachet of living on Sandbanks. The houses on the right have nice sea views, albeit with a public beach in front, but those on the left could be anywhere. After the shops, Shore Cafe and mini-roundabout, there are houses only on the right and to the left is the shallow expanse of Whitley Lake, popular with windsurfers and kite surfers.

Just past the Sandbanks Hotel you turn right into Shore Road and get the first view of the beach at Poole Head. There is a fine view to the right of the length of Sandbanks Beach and then round to Old Harry rocks.

While to the left, there is the long sweep of beach that stretches through Bournemouth to Hengistbury Head (out of shot).

You start out along the promenade, but quite soon turn left up Flaghead Chine, the first of no less than seven chines encountered on this walk. So what exactly is a chine? Wikipedia has a succinct answer: "a steep-sided river valley where the river flows through coastal cliffs to the sea. Typically these are soft eroding cliffs such as sandstone or clays."

At the head of the chine, a couple of roads of rather plush houses lead to the clifftop, with fine views over beaches and coastline, with the Isle of Wight also very clear. Now you go further inland along Canford Cliffs Chine to reach the main road through the village and then turn to come back to the cliff at Pinecliff Gardens.

The walk book says that the coast here was thought to stand comparison with the French Riviera. This carefully constructed photo provides support to that idea.

The route now descends and offers fine views of the beach, with newish-looking groynes and Hengistbury Head clearly visible in the distance.

You reach the substantial Branksome Chine and then follow the promenade for a while to turn into Branksome Dene Chine. This had the most attractive beach huts so far and the eroding sandstone cliffs mentioned in Wikipedia

After steep steps out of the chine, you cross the unmarked Poole-Bournemouth border and follow roads around Zetland Court (once the seaside home of Lord Wimborne, now a residential home) to reach the suspension bridge over Alum Chine.

This was mercifully much more solid that we one we recently crossed near Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand, but still wobbled a little towards the end.

You now stay on the road to pass the Tropical Garden planted in the 1920s and the road bridge over Middle Chine, far below. You cross Durley Chine by going down and then up steps and emerge onto the West Cliff, where there is a fine view towards the Pier, with Hengistbury Head and the Isle of Wight behind.

You now descend to the pier. Thereafter it becomes clear that the green Gardens which lie inland of it, with the tiny River Bourne running through, are in fact Bournemouth Chine.

Conditions: generally sunny, but there was a cold wind.

Distance: 6 miles.

Rating: four stars


We had expected to spend much more time walking along the promenade, but the trips inland helped us to fully comprehend the meaning of the Chines and to gain a much better feel for the geography of Poole and Bournemouth. We were staggered to discover just how far Poole stretches to the east.

Apart from continuing this walk eastwards, I have it in mind to design a city walk around Bournemouth to try to explore its Victorian heritage.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

The South West Coast Path - Dorset: A review


We started the 630 mile South West Coast Path in January 2011, having recently bought a holiday flat in Poole. We decided we would approach it as a series of circular walks, so as to also get to know the interior. At the start we thought we might eventually reach Weymouth or perhaps even Lyme Regis.

What happened is that we have gathered momentum as time has gone on, and we have finished 2011 having already reached Weymouth and then gone on to complete the circuit of the Isle of Portland and push on to Lyme Regis. As we approached Weymouth, we decided to shift to doing linear walks and used a combination of train and taxi to do so - which of course greatly accelerated our progress along the coast. We are now thinking that perhaps we can do the whole thing over the next several years. In a nutshell, we have been hooked! 

The total distance we have walked so far - which is of course also the official length of the coast path in Dorset - is 86 miles.


We had previously done next to no walking along the coast, just one memorable walk in Crosby and others on holiday in Cap Ferrat and the Costa Brava (Llafranc to Cap Roig and to Golfet). At first there was the novelty of a few miles along the beach to Studland and then the already-familiar area around Old Harry Rocks and Ballard Down. After the interesting town of Swanage comes Durleston and what feels like the beginning of the Coast Path proper. Certainly one of the striking things is that there is very little development actually on the coast - Weymouth and Lyme are the only major settlements. So one of our abiding impressions is how quiet and rural it is.

From about Dancing Ledge onwards the coast becomes much more dramatic with the spectacular chalk cliffs that extend as far as White Nothe - where there is a dramatic change to red sandstone to Weymouth and then Portland Stone around the gigantic quarry that is Portland.  Towards the end you climb Golden Cap, the highest point on the south coast, although not by much. The climbs and descents of the chalk cliffs will live in the memory. And there is no doubt that we are fitter as a result and more confident of our ability to tackle anything else that the Coast Path may have in store.

We were pleasantly surprised that for the most part the Coast Path is not crowded. The section between the car park at Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door is the only real exception, but even here as soon as you pass Durdle Door things quieten down straight away.

Wildlife sightings were relatively limited, but quite interesting. Fulmars, a Short Toed lark, a Serrin, a Clouded Yellow butterfly and a common seal were the highlights.

There was a noticeable theme of war: from the castles built by Henry VIII when he feared attack by the Spanish, to the pillboxes, radar research and preparations for D-Day 500 hundred years later.

There was also constant evidence of erosion of the coastline and several places where the path had been temporarily or permanently moved inland. The most dramatic example was the Clavell Tower which had been moved 80ft inland in 2005. I suppose walking the Coast Path must increase the rate of erosion, but as both erosion and walking are fundamentally natural processes, I think this is acceptable.

The stages in which we did the walk are listed below. Flowers Barrow to Lulworth Cove was the most demanding and Lulworth Cove to White Nothe probably the most pleasing.


1 South Haven Point to Studland Bay

2 Studland Bay to New Swanage

3 Swanage to Anvil Point

4 Anvil Point to Dancing Ledge

5 Dancing Ledge to Winspit

6 Winspit to Chapman's Pool

7 Chapman's Pool to Rope Lake Head

8 Rope Lake Head to Kimmeridge Bay

9 Kimmeridge Bay to Flower's Barrow

10 Flower's Barrow to Lulworth Cove

11 Lulworth Cove to White Nothe

12 White Nothe to Osmington Mills

13 Osmington Mills to Ferry Bridge

14 Ferry Bridge to Portland Bill

15 Portland Bill to Ferry Bridge

16 Ferry Bridge to Langton Herring

17 Langton Herring to West Bexington

18 West Bexington to Eype Mouth

19 Eype Mouth - Golden Cap - Charmouth

20 Charmouth to Lyme Regis

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Charmouth to Lyme Regis (SW Coastal Path 20)


When we started the Coast Path in January last year we thought we might eventually get to Weymouth or perhaps even Lyme Regis. Here we are 15 months later about to do the short leg from Charmouth to Lyme and finish the Dorset section. Basically, we are hooked.

We picked up the route at Charmouth's beach car park and admired the immaculate line of six tastefully-painted beach huts. Then we spent a few minutes locating the departure point of the Coast Path (pass the Visitor Centre on the seaward side and turn half right up the slope), pausing to admire the sweep of the beach.

The route to Lyme is rather odd, involving a long-standing, but erratically signposted, inland route. You walk up from the beach to find the main street, The Street, well-named, and follow this west to turn left on the road to Lyme. Just as you think it may be road all the way, you turn left by the Fernhill Hotel uphill through woods and across a golf course to regain the road much nearer to Lyme. After a bit more road and cutting a corner through a bluebell wood, you descend into Lyme down a grassy hillside. Soon, there is a fine panorama, rather misty today, over the town with the famous Cobb to the right.

You rejoin the  road again to enter the town centre and pass the rather odd-looking church of St Michael the Archangel. There is evidence of Saxon and Norman construction and the nave dates from 1531. The rather unfinished look is due to a restoration of 1933 which was left incomplete due to lack of funds.

Round the corner, the narrow Church Street is closed by the Guildhall, with the Marine Theatre on the left.

And round the corner is the Museum, an exuberant building of 1901, built on the site of the home of pioneer fossil collector Mary Anning, whose life was novelised by Tracy Chevalier in her novel Remarkable creatures. Rather delightfully, the architect was Thomas Philpot, nephew of Elizabeth Philpot who also features strongly in the novel and in Mary Anning's life.

We followed the Coast Path along the back of Marine Parade, detoured for a wonderful celebratory lunch at Hix Oyster and Fish House ...

... and completed our walk by going to the end of the Cobb.

Conditions: cloudy after early-morning rain and never quite managing to clear.

Distance:  3 miles. Distance covered now 86.5 miles.

Map: 116 (Lyme Regis and Bridport).

Rating: three and a half stars.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Eype Mouth - Golden Cap - Charmouth (SW Coast Path 19)

Thorncombe Beacon

We returned to the Coast Path after a two month lay-off and picked up the route at Eype Mouth. The path almost immediately begins to climb towards Thorncombe Beacon. There is a sort of brazier at the top (157m) and it turns out that its use as a beacon dates back to 1588 as one of the chain which brought news of the Spanish Armada to London. The beacon was restored in 1989.

The view back along the beach clearly shows the twin piers of West Bay.

We then descended a little and climbed to the next high point, Doghouse Hill, where the view back dramatically illustrated the extent of erosion on Thorncombe Beacon.

A bit further on we began the descent to Seatown (not to be confused with Seaton, further along the coast in Devon).

Here you are forced a bit inland, along a lane, across a field and through some woodland before the way opens out to Golden Cap, well-known as the highest point on the south coast at 191m. The name derives from the distinctive outcropping of golden greensand rock at the top of the cliff.

When you get to the top there are first of all fine views back to the east, with the beach to both sides of Seatown in the foreground.

One of the nice things about Golden Cap is that the top is quite extensive, so having made the climb up you stroll along a wide flattish area for a couple of hundred yards before you have to descend. Just as you do, there is another fine view to the west over Lyme Bay.

Soon you spot the ruins of St Gabriel's church a few hundred yards inland. It apparently dates back to 1240. This is all that remains of the lost village of Stanton St Gabriel. I have read that the main road was moved a mile and a half inland at some point, because of coastal erosion, and that this was the cause of the village's demise.

Around this point we saw a sign saying 2 miles to Charmouth. This proved to be inaccurate and created  a sense of the final stage of the being an unending series of ups and downs - a pair of later signs showing a mile and half in each direction confirmed our suspicions that it was really three miles. Still, there were many fine views back to Golden Cap.

Also including this one, which dramatically illustrated Tristan Gooley's (author of the Natural Navigator) concept of the "comb-over" effect of prevailing winds on tree growth.

Finally, we gained a good view over Charmouth and Lyme Bay.

We had followed the original line of the coast path all the way, but only right at the end did we discover that it had been diverted inland as the result of a landslip in December 2010. Fortunately for us, people coming from Charmouth had created a desire path at the back of the landslip, so we did not have to retrace our steps. It seems that somebody had missed an opportunity to sign post the diversion. It is very clearly indicated coming out of Charmouth.

Conditions: cloudy, sunny intervals, threat of rain.

Distance:  6.5 miles. Distance covered now 83.5 miles.

Map: 116 (Lyme Regis and Bridport)

Rating: four stars.


Three Speckled Woods. And possibly a warbler of some sort - I will have to get my bird DVDs out when I get home. It had a distinctive song, but a drab appearance.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Bourton-on-the-Water to Foxholes (Oxfordshire Way 1)


Last year we completed the Cotswold Way with our friends Merv and Pud. Since then we have done the Windrush Way in two stages to join up with this year's project: The Oxfordshire Way. It starts right in the centre of the exquisite Cotswold town of Bourton-on-the-Water, with the river Windrush running through the centre, crossed by several low bridges.

You walk along a track to reach water meadows, cross the narrow fast-flowing river Dikler and then cross fields to reach Wyck Rissington. This lovely village has a wide central street with large grassed areas on both sides. Pevsner says that most of the houses are 17th or 18th century.

Towards the end you reach St Laurence's church. The church dates from the 12th century, and was sympathetically restored in 1879. The chancel and tower are 13th century (Pevsner)

You turn left here and enter open country behind the church, climbing a series of fields to get increasingly good views back towards Bourton.

Eventually you reach a road, which you follow for a while then turn left between fields of sheep with their new lambs. The particularly well-organised farmer had numbered the lambs to match their mothers, but we still saw one lamb who had become separated. I just loved the way the lamb at the front looked at us in such a frank and open way.

Now we went through Gawcombe Woods and saw our first bluebells of the year.

The woods led into the well ordered grounds of Gawcombe Park and past some of its outbuildings. Here we had a surprising and pleasant chat with its owner, who explained how the area around the path had not been farmed for 20 years in the interests of wildlife.

The map seemed to suggest a more or less straight route across open country to Bledington, but somehow we veered off course until some other walkers put us right.

After some pleasant, what felt like common land with scattered bushes we reached Bledington to be  presented with the intriguing church of St Leonard. We were immediately struck by the clerestory - the row of windows above the nave - with their square-headed windows. According to Pevsner, the church is of 12th century origin, while the clerestory was added in the 15th century.

We walked down Church St to the village green featuring a stream and this fine row of cottages, with a 1741 date stone. The central building is named the Old Bakery.

We had lunch at the excellent King's Head pub across the green. It is as good a pub as you could dream of stumbling on in the middle of a walk.

After lunch, it was a short walk to the edge of the village and the a path across fields and beside a cope to return to the Foxholes nature reserve in whose car park, accessible only by shoickingly bad roads, we had left the car.  On the way we spotted a wonderful clump of Snakeskin Fritillary.

Conditions: sunny and quite warm, although the air was cold at first.

Distance: officially 7.5 miles. ignoring the detour.

Rating: four stars.


Apart from the flowers mentioned above, we saw a few Peacocks, a couple of Commas and a lone Speckled Wood.