Saturday, 30 March 2013

Hambledon to Ports Down (Wayfarer's Walk 16)

 Church St, Hambledon

I had set aside yesterday and today to finish a report for a client, but a great effort yesterday nearly completed the job and I decided to go out for a walk today as a reward. Angela suggested doing the penultimate leg of the Wayfarer's Walk and off we went in two cars to do so. It was actually last November that we did the leg from Corhampton to Hambledon, in bright, warm sunshine - it seems hard to credit it.

We picked up the route in the pretty village of Hambledon and walked along the street opposite Church St to climb the short, steep Speltham Hill. From the top there were excellent views down over the village, nestling in its valley.

The route now led across brown, recently plowed fields, to the outskirts of Denmead. It then followed a straight line through housing developments to emerge on the southern edge of the village and cross a golf course. All pretty dull. Only at Closewood House did we see anything to catch our interest - these lovely curved upstairs windows, pushing through the line of the roof.

Now past a pig farm, a stream, more fields, a copse or two and a road to reach Purbrook Heath. At the entrance to the heath - seemingly actually more farmland - was the wonderfully restored Tudor Cottage.

 Now we followed a track between fields and then a path at the back of a housing development to emerge onto the high ridge of Portsdown (well, at 116m it is not really very high, but it does a commanding position over Portsmouth). We admired the delicate birds on this gable.

Soon we reached today's end point: the car park above Collyer's Pit with fine views, albeit very hazy in the late afternoon, towards Portsmouth. The Spinaker Tower which we climbed on last year's city walk around Portsmouth can just be made out on the right. The Isle of Wight is clearly visible in the background.

Slightly to the left, was a fine view over Langstone Harbour, with its surprisingly narrow mouth.

Conditions: not as cold as of late, maybe 5 degrees. Cloudy, but some sunshine.

Distance: 7.5 miles, so 64.5 now covered. The end is in sight.

Map: Explorer 119 (Meon Valley, Portsmouth, Gosport and Fareham).

Rating: three stars. A difficult time of year: the brown fields and leafless trees and hedgerows made for a walk that lacked visual stimulation.


We saw some clumps of Lesser Celandine, offering the proof that many people are demanding of the end of this long cold Winter and the arrival of Spring. I didn't take a picture this year, but I was pleased to find that last year's rather good one was taken on almost the exact same day, on a earlier leg of the Wayfarer's Walk.

We also saw a fine, bold Mistle Thrush on the golf course and heard the remarkably loud drumming of a Greater Spotted Woodpecker in a Newlandsmoor Copse.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Royal Leamington Spa

All Saints church

We joined our friends Sally and Malcolm for this walk around Leamington which I found on the Discovering Britain website. The description makes it clear that Leamington was a small village until the water from its well was recognised as having medicinal qualities at the end of the 18th century. Its dominant character is Regency and Victorian and it owes it all to the spa.

The walk begins at the church of All Saints. The architect was officially a local man, J C Jackson, but the driving force was the long-serving vicar, John Craig, who is said to have been his own architect. It was begun in 1843 and the grand tower was added in 1898-1902 by Sir Arthur Blomfield. Pevsner describes it,  justly, as "in a Continental Gothic style, not correct in the details". It is very big. The stained glass in the apse is lovely.

You go round the back to seek, in Church Rd, the two oldest houses in Leamington, which date from the late sixteenth or early 17th century. They are timber-framed, but have been re-fronted at a later date.

Now you return to the front of the church and turn right to cross the river and reach the Pump Rooms, with its impressive Tuscan colonade of 1813-14. Everything behind it dates from the 1920s.

The walk now takes us onto the grassy area that was once the Pump Rom Gardens. The walk guide does not comment on this handsome Italianate church on the far side.

It is St Peter's RC church, by Henry Clutton (1861-5). We cross the river again and head towards the station where our commentary focuses on the station garden. We are more taken with the stripped down classical front of the station building, with its minimalist pilasters. We enjoyed the art deco style lettering of the station name

We now walked along a short, undistinguished, section of the Grand Union Canal and emerged near the Apollo Rooms, once one of seven competing pump rooms. It operated under the wonderful name of Smart’s Imperial Sulphurous Medicinal Fount and Ladies Marble Baths. There was too much traffic unfortunately to permit a photo.

Not much further on, we reached the Leamington Spa Mission in George St. This was built in 1828 as a Roman Catholic chapel, the first in the town. It eventually fell into disuse, but was taken over by the Seventh Day Adventists in the 1990s and restored.

We crossed the river for the third time by the blue suspension bridge to enter Jephson Gardens, named for the town's most famous doctor and an advocate of taking the waters. Our walk guide had explained that the delightful prevalence of public open space by the river was the result of it being on the flood plain. It does give this part of the town a pleasant spacious character.

In the gardens there is a tiny, rather  unconvincing Clock Tower, a nice little tempietto providing a monument to Jephson and a fine new hothouse.

After a break for lunch, we walked up Regent Grove, a wide spacious road with a grassy central area and a path up the middle. We were now entering the "new town" of Leamington, developed after the Spa boom started to take off - the original village was to the south of the river. The new town was planned mainly on a grid pattern, but with some curves to give it a more rural feel.

On the right, Hamilton Terrace, was lovely brick chapel of a rather unusual design. It is now offices. It is not mentioned in Pevsner, but some Googling reveals it was the Congregational Church and dates from 1849.

At the top we found our way to Lansdowne Circus, a group of semi-detached villas laid around a circular communal garden. It lacks the sheer grandeur of the Circus in Bath, but the houses with their balconies and wrought ironwork make a lovely group. Pevsner describes them as "sweet cottages". It is interesting that they are actually built of brick and faced with stucco. The Circus was the work of W Thomas. It is apparently one of the best addresses in Leamington.

Round the corner is Lansdowne Crescent, a classic terraced Crescent, again with fine ironwork.

We now passed the lowest point of the walk: the Chandos St car park. This was an unlovely parking lot which forms one block of the grid system, and might be redeveloped. This just crystallised our feeling that the author of the walk description was slightly too fascinated with every detail of his home town.

We had now sadly run out of time (our Italian evening class beckoned) and we forwent a visit to Clarendon Square, built on three sides with substantial houses of 1825. Instead we walked down The Parade, a wide impressive thoroughfare of about the same age.

At the bottom, after the Regent Hotel, once one of the largest in Europe and now a Travel Lodge, you come to the Town Hall, which marks the end of the walk. It dates from 1884-5 and is by J Cundall. It is an impressive building, but as Pevsner says "quite out of keeping with Leamington".

Conditions: bright, but quite cold.

Distance: about 3 miles.

Rating: three and half stars.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013


Arundel Castle

I was in Brighton on business, but I decided I would take myself off for a morning to do this walk around Arundel which I had found on the AA website.

You start at the Mill Rd car park at the end of the High St and follow Mill Rd as it curves under the watchful eye of the castle. Pevsner berates Arundel Castle for the unhistorical rebuilding, in imitation of Windsor, which took place in the 1890s. The overall effect is chaotic, but the range at the south end is quite impressive.

When Mill Rd meets  a stream you turn right and follow the bank to meet the River Arun, now straight and wide between reedy banks. You follow the river for a while, with the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust centre on the left. At the Balck Rabbit pub a left turn onto the road brings you to the entrance to Arundel Park.

You follow the edge of the steep-sided Swanbourne Lake and gradually it becomes clear that it was made by damming one end of a long ravine. You walk on up the ravine. This is the view looking back (into the sun). The remains of the recent snow create an interesting effect.

Soon you double back, climbing the left side of the ravine, with a nice view down to the path crossing where you turned.

At the top of the climb there is an even more panoramic view. This is still Arundel Park, but it looks surprisingly wild.

At the the top of the climb, you turn right to cross a horse gallop and pass in front of Hiorne Tower. The walk description simply names it, but it is a delightful structure, worthy of more. From Pevsner, I learn that it dates from 1790 and was built by Francis Hiorne. He describes it as "a serious and sober piece of Gothic", although it looks like a folly.

It reminds me somewhat of the Broadway Tower, which was built in 1799 - we passed it on our first encounter with the Cotswold Way. Further research reveals that Hiorne built the tower to demonstrate his architectural ability to the Duke of Norfolk, but it not clear whether His Grace was impressed.

From here you follow a drive to emerge into the town near the RC Cathedral. It is enormously high and looks very impressive from a distance perched at one end of a ridge, with the castle at the other. It was built in 1870-3 to the designs of J A Hansom (whose most famous design was the cab that bears his name). It is in a reconisable French style - I thought of Beauvais and was thrilled to find that Pevsner agreed. He finds the detail unconvincing however and there is certainly something mass-produced about the spacious interior.

Walking along the road towards the centre of the town you glimpse this extraordinary wooden pavilion in the Castle gardens. I haven't been able to find out anything about it, but the gardens are clearly a fine sight.

A bit further on you come to a genuine piece of old Arundel. The church of St Nicholas was built, says Pevsner, "all of piece after 1380" in the early Perpendicular style. I was running out of time by now and did not go in.

Now you are in front of the main entrance to the castle with its impressive sky line.

And a stone's throw away is the Town Hall of 1836 - "gloomy" says Pevsner and it is hard to disagree.

Now finally down the pretty High St and back to the car park at the bottom.

Conditions: bright and not too cold.

Distance: about 3.5 miles.

Rating: four stars. Worth doing again and combining it with a visit to the Castle.


I was entertained to see these Mandarin ducks on the bank of the stream near the start of the walk.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Paris art nouveau

Castel Beranger

On the second day of our short trip to Paris we met Brian at a cafe in Place de Costa Rica and enjoyed the novelty of breakfast outside in the sunshine. The plan was to do an art nouveau walk, focusing on the buildings of Hector Guimard in the 16th arrondissment. Guimard is France's leading art nouveau architect and was also responsible for the celebrated bouches de métro - the métro entrances.

We began by walking along rue de Passy and then turning into rue Raynouard where we were soon delighted by a large block of flats on the left, dated 1931, with delicate gold squares decorating the balconies. An unknown art deco gem!

A bit further on you pass Balzac's House, although it is not very distinguished architecturally, and then on the right another delightful deco building of 1931.

At last we arrived at the beginning of rue de la Fontaine and we enjoyed the brickwork of one of the first houses on the right.

Just a few doors further on we came to Guimard's masterpiece, the Hôtel Béranger, at 14 rue de la Fontaine. Most photos you see are of the main door - and mine is at the head of this post - but the facade is immense and full of dynamism, variety and interest.

We especially liked the stylised art nouveau flowers under the oriel
windows on the right of the facade, but you could equally well single out the extraordinary blueish bricks in the upper centre, the ironwork and the curious ironwork creatures on the corners which looked more than seahorses than anything else.

Surprisingly, when you go round the side, you find that there is a second block joined to the first on one side, making a open courtyard. This has other interesting forms and elements.

Apparently, there is so much variety of materials because the budget was not enough to support the use of superior ones like stone, so Guimard used whatever he could get cheaply.

A little further along the road on the opposite side is another block by Guimard, seemingly without a name. This is much more restrained, but again the main door is very striking with its characteristic art nouveau curves and startling finial below the first floor window.

On the right hand side of the ground floor is the tiny Café Antoine, with an glorious interior, seeming unchanged since 1900. The walls and ceiling are all of painted glass and inset into the wooden floor there are groups of lovely tiles.

Just a few steps further is this superb street sign for rue Agar.

We missed another Guimard building in rue Francois Millet (number 11), one of the side turnings, but soon reached 60 rue de la Fontaine, the Hôtel Mezzara.

This low-rise building with another fine front door and otherwise symmetrical construction - apart from the servants' quarters on the left - was built for a textile manufacturer in 1910-11. The ironwork of the first floor balcony was especially fine.

We now turned right into rue Georges Sand and, emerging onto rue Mozart, saw this later, and rather untypical building by Guimard on the corner or rue Henri-Heine. Some of the rhythmic quality of Hôtel Béranger is still there, but the overall appearance is much more restrained.

Fortunately, Guimard's own house is nearby at 122 avenue Mozart. This wonderful building is unique in the Guimard's work in Paris as being stand-alone. The overall effect is molten, liquid.

The main door is again very dramatic, with a curious, but very effective, sort of pediment.

At the end of rue Mozart, we turned back into the trusty rue la Fontaine to see the handsome Studio Building at number 65. It was built by Henri Sauvage and features duplex apartments with 7m high ceilings and dates from 1927-8. It designed for artists, but apparently actually used as luxury apartments.

We marked the end of an excellent walk through the 16th with a very good lunch at one of Paris's several "oldest restaurants", Le Mouton Blanc.

We decided to then cheat and see a few other art deco buildings with the aid of the metro. We started by going to the Etoile metro station, which offered an excellent opportunity for a close look at the Arc de Triomphe, which celebrates France's victories during the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. On this side, the names of the victorious battles are on the medallions at the top.

We walked up the suitably named ave Wagram (commemorating Napoleon's great victory over the Austrians in 1809) in search of the celebrated Ceramic Hotel at number 34. This tall, narrow building dates from 1904 and is decorated with ceramic flower and leaf motifs.

It is the work of Jules Lavirotte, whose authorship is visible in this close- up of the first floor.

Another short metro-ride brought us to the Pont de L'Alma, named this time after a battle in the Crimean War. From here, it is a short walk down ave Rapp, to see Jules Lavirotte's other great building. As we walked down, the Eiffel Tower suddenly loomed over us from a side street on the right.

29 avenue Rapp is another wonderful building, with its six storeys clearly arranged in pairs. It dates from 1901 and won Lavirotte an international design prize

The wonderful door frame was designed by the sculptor Jean-Baptiste Larrive and was described by Salvador Dali as part of the most erotic facade in Paris.

Finally, we turned the corner into Square Rapp to come on this fine structure, which houses the Theosophical Society of France and, and appropriately enough since we began at Place Costa Rica, the Costan Rican visa office. Another, less distinguished, block by Lavirotte is opposite.

Conditions: cloudy after a sunny start, but quite mild.

Distance: a couple of miles in the 16th.

Rating: four stars.