Thursday, 31 March 2016

Shroton to Ibberton Hill (Wessex Ridgeway [Dorset] 2)

View towards Stepleton House

After a year's break, we resumed the Wessex Ridgeway in Dorset. A chalk path leads up to Hambledon Hill and after a short while there are glimpses of Ranston, an 18th century house, substantially rebuilt in the early 1960s by Louis Osman. I wish I could have got a clear picture.

At a slightly higher vantage point, you can see Stepleton House, whose presence forces the busy A350 road into a massive detour. I have made this detour many times and often wondered why. Now I know. The house is 17th century according to Pevsner.

At the end of the pleasant climb you go through a gate and turn left onto the sprawling Hambledon Hill. The ramparts of the Iron Age hill fort are away to the right.

You walk along the ridge, surrounded by sheep, and then turn right downhill, to soon have an excellent view across to Okeford Hill, with the town of Shillingford over to the right.

At the bottom, left and right turns take you the hamelt of Hanford, which appears to consist of a farm and a school. The school is in Hanford House, described by Pevsner as "a major Jacobean house", dating from 1623.

Now across fields to suddenly meet our old friend, the mighty Stour (we walked the Stour Valley Path in 2014, although the route went further to the east at this point.

Soon afterwards, in Cliff Coppice, there was a lovely display of Primroses, Celandines and Bluebells - our first of the year.

 And shortly afterwards I saw my first Peacock of the year. We now walked under a former railway bridge, now carrying the North Dorset Trailway ....

 ... and crossed the A357 on the outskirts of Shillingford. Shillingford Hill and Okeford Hill towered ahead.

This next filed led to a long walk uphill through mixed woodland, mainly Beech and Silver Birch, to Okeford Hill. This is the entry to the last section.

The route now goes downhill to cross a minor road with lovely views to the south.

The next section is on a classic, albeit shallow, ridge: there is too much foreground for worthwhile pictures and the sun is in the wrong place too. However, these trees offered some drama to the view backwards.

On the right, above Bell Hill, there was some serious pig farming and the track became trying with enormous muddy puddles in the tractor ruts.

We descended gradually to the high path above Ibberton which offered fabulous views past Woolland (where a walk in December 2014 helped us form the desire to walk the Wessex Ridgeway) towards Hazelbury Bryan.

We ended our walk at the small parking area here.

Conditions: generally sunny, gradually warming to reach 12 or 13 degrees.

Distance: 6.5 miles.

Maps: Explorer 118 (Shaftesbury and Cranbourne Chase) and 117 (Cerne Abbas & Bere Regis).

Rating: Three and a half stars.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Watership Down and Cottington's Hill

St Mary's church, Kingsclere

This lovely walk starts in Kingsclere. We parked in the village car park and walked around St Mary's church. The church was founded in 1130, but the flint faced exterior is the result of "ferocious restoration" (in Pevsner's phrase) in 1848-9. The fine north doorway (below) is early Norman and the reddish patches are apparently the result of a fire in 1402.

A slightly tortuous route over a stream and along a road leads to open country and a set of gallops heading towards the ridge of the North Hampshire Downs and Cottington's Hill with its landmark mast.

You leave the gallops and climb a path towards the ridge which doubles back above Watership Down. We were pleased to see some deer and, more importantly, some rabbits.

Many people will associate Watership Down with Richard Adam's wonderful 1972 anthropomorphic novel about rabbits, so it was great to see some. By coincidence, there was report on the BBC website to the effect that if the 1978 film of the book was released today it would carry a PG certificate, rather than the U one it was awarded at the time. This is apparently because of the violence and strong language it contains.

At the top we joined a second set of gallops along the top of the ridge. I thought this isolated set of railings were quite photogenic.

Heading east now, along the Wayfarer's Walk, which I completed three years ago, we passed Combe Hole and The Warren to our left.

We crossed the B3051 and left the Wayfarer's Walk to head towards Cottington's Hill. Behind us it was desperately dark and already raining.

Quite soon the rain overtook us and we struggled along a very muddy path chasing sheep before us, before turning sharp left and making a very muddy and slippery descent. We were shocked by the extent to which the sheep had chewed the bark off the trees.

At the bottom a straight path beside a third set of gallops led back to Kingsclere and mercifully the sky had cleared. More sheep could be seen dotted over the hillside to the right. There was also a beautiful rainbow, but my camera couldn't seem to see it. I must check out how to address this.

By the time we got to the far side it was a lovely late afternoon.

It remained only to cross the recreation ground and walk downhill back to the car park.

Conditions: sunny - rainy - sunny. April weather.

Map: Explorer 144 (Basingstoke and Alton).

Distance: 5.75 miles.

From: Rambling for Pleasure: Kennet Valley and Watership Down (East Berkshire Ramblers) 1999 - and a little hard to follow at first.

Rating: four stars. Lovely wide open country.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Spencers Wood, Three Mile Cross & Shinfield

A new housing development in Spencers Wood

The village where I live (Spencers Wood) is undergoing substantial development and it occurred to me that it might be worthwhile to capture what it is like now before it is changed out of recognition. The village had a population of just over 4,000 in the 2011 and the strategy of Wokingham Council is to build about 2,500 additional houses in the area just south of Junction 11 of the M4 (which also includes Three Mile Cross and Shinfield). Attention has focused on this figure and nobody seems to  have asked how many houses there are currently. I don't know either, but a reasonable guess might be 1600-2000, so a significant expansion is projected.

I walked down the hill towards Three Mile Cross, passing the new Crest development off the Basingstoke Road. Access is new road between existing houses and 100 houses are to be packed into the field behind them. 

At Three Mile Cross a small plot of land which surrounded a disused chapel has just been redeveloped with six detached houses miraculously packed in. The chapel itself has been ingeniously altered to provide two storey accommodation.

Turning right into Church Lane, after a few houses there are fields on both sides of the road, although the hedgerow on the left has been cut down in preparation for development. This pretty thatched cottage, one of very few in the area, will soon be surrounded by a modern estate.

Turning right into Hyde End Lane, an area on the right has been set aside for a public green space. With all the wooden fences and no other features at present it looks a bit over-engineered.

Further along the road, past a farm and a school there is Ryeish Lane on the right, a quiet narrow, winding lane I have often strolled along on an afternoon or evening. Sadly, there are going to be houses on both sides in due course.

Opposite is the field path to Shinfield where trees have already been planted to help create some small sense of separation as the two villages expand towards each other.

I walked across the open space to the edge of Shinfield. It looks more barren than hitherto, with next to no wild flowers - it was never very exciting visually, but at least you could expect to see some colour and a few common butterflies at the right time of year.

On the far side, the narrow hedged path into Shinfield was temporarily closed and part of the hedge had been torn down.

I turned left towards Shinfield church, it dates from the 14th century, although the tower was rebuilt in 1644 and there were alterations by Sir George Gilbert Scott in the 19th century. Opposite the church is the brick and half-timbered Farm Farm of 15th century origin, rebuilt in the 16th century.

Just off to the left is the former rectory, a rather splendid construction of 1847, now L'Ortolan restaurant.

This little group present an oasis of traditional building in the desert of new houses than surrounds it. From here I walked down to the School Green and the pleasant red brick primary school founded in 1707 and extended in 1860 and 1889.

Walking down Millworth Lane and turning right brought me to another new public open space. Langley Mead, again rather bare and over-engineered, but already attracting some dog walkers.

I merged onto Hyde End Road and headed back into Spencers Wood, turning right just before another large new development, Croft Gardens, on what, last year were grassy meadows.

Conditions: a lovely sunny day.

Distance: about five miles.

It was good to be reminded of some nice local buildings, but obviously it was far too late to do what I set out to do - development has already had a massive impact and the shape of things to come is all too clear. It was however a worthwhile, but rather depressing, thing to do.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Aldeburgh and Thorpeness

The Moot Hall, Aldeburgh

We started this lovely walk along the Suffolk coast at Aldeburgh's Moot Hall, strangely located just behind the sea front. It dates from 1520-40 and the ground floor was originally an open market. The term "Moot Hall" dates only from the nineteenth century as part of the Victorian restoration - building is referred to in earlier documents as the "Town Hall".

We walked along the path at the back of the beach past the profusion of fish shops and headed north. It was so misty that we could scarcely see the sea. Soon we reached the wonderful Scallop - a four-metre high steel sculpture conceived by Suffolk-born artist Maggi Hambling, and made by Aldeburgh craftsmen Sam and Dennis Pegg. This photo comes of course from an earlier visit. The Scallop was intended as a memorial to the composer Benjamin Britten, who spent much of his life in Aldeburgh and nearby Snape. When it was first unveiled in 2003 a 500 signature petition was gathered to support its removal, but it seems to now be accepted as a fine piece of public art.

As we neared Thorpeness a straggle of houses appeared at the back of the shingle beach in a whole miscellany of styles. We rather liked this glass and wood one with its oddly shaped roof. We were momentarily concerned when someone came out seconds after I took this photo - was he coming to complain about invasion of privacy? Happily not, he greeted us cheerily and proceeded to fly a kite.

A bit further on, having still not seen the sea, we turned inland along a wooden path into Thorpeness. This has a remarkable history and is one of only two planned seaside resorts in the UK (Portmeirion in North Wales is the other) developed by Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie from 1910 onwards. The first building you see, The Boathouse, was one of the first to be completed, in 1912

Behind The Boathouse is the Meare. This was once a muddy marsh fed by the Hundred River. Ogilgy stopped the river and had the Meare created as a man-made lake by hand-digging to a depth of 2.5 feet. It is still used for boating.

We headed onto into the village and were transfixed by the huge Westbar in Westgate. The top section conceals a water tower. The other houses in the street are in a sort of mock-Tudor / arts and crafts style.

We went through Westbar and turned left and left again the reach the Margaret Ogilvie Almshouses of 1928, built originally as accommodation for workers. The central section jars rather with the half-timbered wings.

Almost opposite is the Workmen's Club, which makes sense given the original function of the almshouses. A sign revealed that it has recently been converted into five separate dwellings under the collective name of Thorpeness Hall.

We returned to the lake along The Whinlands and turned right into Lakeside Avenue which led indirectly to the amazing House in the Clouds (1923). Like the Westbar, this too once concealed  a water tower, but after mains water arrived, it was converted in 1977 into a wonderful dwelling, which can now be rented as holiday accommodation.

Nearby is an old post windmill, moved here from Aldringham in 1923 and converted to pump water, which it continued to do until the advent of mains water.

We headed now towards rather strange gold club building ...

... and walked along a path parallel to the coast back towards Aldeburgh. There were woods to our right and marshland to our left. On reaching Aldeburgh we passed a holiday home site and headed towards the town centre passing All Saints church. The base of the tower, the south aisle and the unusual porch all date from about 1300.

At the bottom of the hill we turned right into the long High St: charming and full of character, although no single building is especially distinguished. At the end on the right, we enjoyed this charming and fairly typical group, although the steps up to the door of the former Customs House were rather unusual.

We carried on to the edge of Aldeburgh, in sight of the Martello tower at Slaughden and concluded by retracing our steps to the Moot Hall.

Conditions: grey and misty.

Distance: 5 miles.

From: a new site for me, Go for walkies (though it lacked a map).

Rating: five stars.


 Shire Hall

On the way back from a trip to Suffolk, there was just time for a short walk around Chelmsford, a city only since 2012, when it was awarded the status on the occasion of the Queen's Jubilee. I started at Shire Hall in Tindal Square at the top of the High St. It dates from 1790-2 and was designed by John Johnson. It is, said Pevsner, "a thoroughly civilised public building". The facade is very harmonious and well-composed.

Just behind Shire Hall lies Chelmsford's other main architectural treasure, the Cathedral of St Mary.

It is all too obvious that this is a parish church later elevated to cathedral status, in this case in 1913. The tower is the oldest part, dating from the 15th century, and there were significant additions and alterations in late Victorian times and in 1923.

Inside the cathedral is light and surprisingly colourful, with a wonderful Tudor style ceiling in the nave dating from 1899. The late 15th century piers were rebuilt by John Johnson, mentioned above, in 1801-3.

The church is surrounded by an irregularly sized church yard, with Victorian or late-Georgian houses on the New St side.

I headed up New St and crossed the inner ring road to reach the offices of the former Marconi works of 1912, once one of Chelmsford's principal employers. The whole site is now being redeveloped as apartments, having I think been empty for some long while.

I turned back towards the centre and then right into Victoria Road and on into Victoria Road South, where I found this imposing 1908 building, also recently done up. It was apparently the Law Building of the former Anglia Ruskin University central campus.

Back up Victoria Road South and into Duke St, to find the red brick County Hall of 1909. Clearly the years before the First World War were an important time for Chelmsford. Surprisingly it is not even mentioned in Pevsner.

It is in any event dwarfed by the newer stone County Hall next door, dating from 1935. It seems the earlier effort was soon found to be inadequate. This is in Pevsner, and he is scathing about it: "a sad anticlimax ... classical motifs handled loosely and without distinction ... it might be a bank in any city bigger than Chelmsford".

It is indeed curiously unimposing, but a closer look reveals that quite a lot of effort has gone in to the decoration of the facade.

Further along the street I enjoyed these nice sunflower panels on the first floor of a Victorian shop.

Duke Street leads back into Tindal Square where the 18th century Saracen's Head stands, surely a one-time coaching inn.

Conditions: grey.

Distance: about a mile and half.

Rating: three stars. My researches hasn't led me to expect much, and I wasn't wrong. I may have missed some other worthwhile buildings, but most in the central area are modern. In truth it doesn't really feel like a city and interestingly the road signs in from the A12 still refer to "town centre".