Blakes Trail

Lockdown has really given me time to explore the local area. I thought I had discovered most trails locally, but this month’s featured trek is circular walk through Felpham and part of Bognor Regis following a trail that tells us more about Felpham’s most famous resident William Blake.

The Blake’s Trail was set up by students from Felpham Community College after receiving a grant from the National Lottery. The route takes in some key sites and follows a series of information boards highlighting William Blake, his contacts and significance in the local area. The FCC have also created a website about the trail and have made videos reciting some of the poet’s work. www.blakestrail.org

The 4.3 km (2.7 Miles) circular trail starts at the westerly entrance to Hotham Park, just off the High Street but can be joined at any point throughout its route. The first information board outside the gates of the park explains a little about Sir Richard Hotham and the land he sold to William Hayley who in turn employed Blake to paint pictures for his library in Turret House.

The trail leads into the park and past Hotham House. A previous featured walk around the park highlights the best of this public space and could be combined with this trail. Leave the park at the far side and take path under subway to Hook Lane which leads to Felpham Recreation Field where cricket is played in the summer. The information board at this location is currently missing.

Follow the path around the recreation field, cross both the B2259 & Aldingbourne Rife and head towards St Mary’s Norman Church built in the 12th Century with its square tower, a key landmark that can be viewed from many places around Felpham. Walk through the churchyard and exit through the lychgate that was erected in 1897 to commemorate the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria.

In Limmer Lane and opposite the Thatched House Pub was the site of Turret House. The poet William Hayley built himself a house on this land and lived there from 1800. The house had a square turret over the entrance with a circular lookout giving fine views towards the coast. Unfortunately, the original house was demolished in 1961 and replaced with flats. An information board can be found on the wall of the pub featuring Blakes friendship with Hayley.

Further along Limmer Lane is Old Rectory Gardens. The grounds of the rectory were redeveloped in the 1950/60s, half the land was used for housing and the remaining garden space has been divided into a private garden for the existing house (now flats) and a public open space that is a real hidden gem in the village. The trail passes right through the gardens that display some formal planting amongst some more mature trees. Take time out in this peaceful garden to count the goldfish in the pond bordered with Yew hedging or take a rest in the story telling corner made up of carved seat and a zigzag bench.

Exit the gardens at Vicarage Lane and turn into Blakes Road. Blakes Cottage is situated on the left and was William Blake’s home for three years from 1800 – 1803.  The board located on the grass verge describes an incident that occurred between Blake and a soldier. Blake was arrested at the nearby Fox Inn after allegedly making seditious remarks to the soldier.

Continue to the seafront along Blakes Road and turn towards Bognor Regis, the next board is sited on the greensward in front of the iconic beach huts. Felpham beach would have looked very different in the latter part of the 18th century when it first developed as a holiday resort and at the time Hayley would have taken regular childhood swims.

The trail continues as a lovely stroll along the promenade, it is worth stopping to look back along the coast and admire the beautiful view whatever the season. The last board can be found on the long straight promenade at the edge of the pebbles outside Butlins. Follow the perimeter of Butlins back to Hotham Park to complete this informative walk.

Around Binsted Woods

This month’s trek is a 6.5 km (4 miles) circular walk around the village of Binsted and nearby ancient woods, situated west of Arundel this parish has an immense amount of history. Parking is limited in the area, but the walk can be started at various points on the route. Sadly, this walk will look vastly different in years to come as it will be altered forever when the A27 bypass is constructed, cutting through this ancient and tranquil landscape.

This trek starts at the 12th century St Mary’s Church, a flint building that stands high and looks across the steep sided Binsted Rife Valley, which is thought to have been formed in the last ice age by glacial water running from the South Downs, it is now a rare chalk stream fed from nearby springs.

Follow the quiet lane northwards keeping the fields to the right and views across the valley to the left. On the far side of the valley are remains of a Roman villa and bath house and barely visible are Iron Age earthworks that run North/South and formed part of the Chichester entrenchments.

The lane passes the popular Black Horse pub which has been at the heart of the community for generations, it sheltered villagers during WW2, has been the venue of Music Hall sing-alongs and today serves great food in a terrific setting. The field opposite has the buried remains of a tile kiln that once produced ‘Binsted Ware’ pottery, traditionally known for its jugs with faces on the handles.

A little further north is a fork in the road where Hedgers Hill meets Binsted Lane. This area was known as ‘All the World’ and would have been a busy junction between other medieval tile kilns situated in the area. Take the lane to the right and head round the bend, the woods to the north of the lane called Hundred House Copse contain earthworks believed to be the remains of a Moot Mound, an Anglo-Saxon meeting place. The mound is also situated right next to further iron age earthworks. If taking a detour into this copse then it is essential to keep to the path as this area is also used by archery clubs. On the bend take the bridleway eastwards known as Old Scotland Lane, so called because the adjoining land may have owed a customary payment (or scot) on it. Scotland Lane was also identified in the 1940s as the route of the Roman road from Chichester to the Adur, but recent surveys suggest that the road may be slightly to the north.

Follow the path along the edge of the field, look towards the middle and see one of the many great oak trees that are scattered around the locality. At the far side of the field enter the 250 acres of ancient woodland that is Binsted Woods. Follow the straight path further into the unkept deciduous wood and keep an eye out to catch a glimpse of its abundant wildlife. Notice the change in the smell of the woodland as you cross the parish boundary into Tortington and enter the pine plantation.

At the road junction you can either head south or stroll through Tortington Common to the Madonna Pond. Much folklore surrounds this pond one saying that it is bottomless and has swallowed up many a person. The Madonna statue was originally erected in 1952 by Lorna Wishart a local artist, unfortunately the original statue was vandalised and has since been replaced.

The walk heads back through the southern part of the woods following ‘Lovers Walk’, part of a 19th Century path that linked the church to Arundel. Leave the woods and head across the fields taking care not to miss the wooden Waymarker sculpture by the junction of four paths at the end of Church Lane. The Waymarker depicts the Green Man, bubbles arising from the Knucker Hole and the dragon/serpent that lived there.

Head back along Church Lane to the church to complete the trek.

Further details on route can be found here: Around Binsted Woods (ordnancesurvey.co.uk)

Further photos and video can be found here: Binsted Woods – YouTube

Secrets of Kingley Vale

Beneath many parts of the South Downs National Park lies a secret landscape revealing the lives of people who resided, visited and worked on the hills. This months featured trek explores the National Nature Reserve of Kingley Vale, which not only is one of Englands most important archaeological sites containing 14 scheduled monuments but also has a unique ancient Yew forest.

This moderate 9km (5.5 miles) trek starts at the West Stoke car park and follows a nature trail route around the reserve. From the car park take the well trodden path passing between arable fields for about 1km where a gate and wooden sculpture marks the start of the special area of conservation that is Kingley Vale.

The nature trail starts by gently ascending through the centre of the Vale, where in the late 1800’s through to WW2 the enclosed hills were used as a military firing range. Evidence of this can be seen by the shrapnel marks in some trees and craters on the ground. In 1990 a clearance of the site removed over 6000 munitions of varying types.

Keeping to the eastern edge of the reserve the path passes through some of the oldest, gnarled and twisted trees, a short way on and the ascent becomes steeper leading you through more ancient Yew woods on the side of the Vale up to Bow Hill. The tangled grove of trees are amongst the oldest living things in Britain, several are at least 500 years old with some claiming to be between 900 & 2000 years old, the oldest of the Yew trees measure more than 5 metres in girth. Very little daylight filters through the entwined branches which gives an eerie feel as you walk amongst them, the ground is very bare and carpeted with dry needles.

At the top follow the wooded trail northwards for about 1km and take the Monarchs Way path downhill a short way to the iron age settlement of Goosehill Camp. The undulating ground hidden in the woods was once a small settlement probably for a family group, who may have only spent time here when tending to their flocks. The views from here in 500BC would have been fantastic across the valley and up to the Trundle Hill Fort.

Double back up the hill and take either path through the open access woodland back towards Bow Hill. Nestled in the woodland just below the summit is Tansley’s Stone, a memorial to 20th century ecologist Sir Arthur Tansley who was instrumental in the campaign to get Kingley Vale registered as a national nature reserve.

A few hundred metres to the west of Bow Hill are the Devils Humps (Kings Graves) the most familiar archaeological feature of Kingley Vale. These large tumuli are superb examples of bronze age burial mounds. There are four barrows in total consisting of bell and bowl barrows, the difference is down to the ditch that surrounds them, the bell barrow ditch is separated from the mound by a narrow step whereas the bowl barrows ditch take the shape of an upturned bowl. Many folklores and legends surround these barrows such as how the men of Chichester defeated a Viking war party in the Vale, the Viking leaders were buried in the Devil’s Humps hence their alternative name of the Kings Graves. Many of the Vikings died where they fell, under the Yew trees and on the slopes of the hill. Their ghosts are said to haunt the Yew groves, and the trees themselves are said to come alive and move at night. This folklore may have had its origin from a battle in AD 894 between the men of Chichester and the marauding Danes.

From the Devils Humps the route descends through Yew Tree Grove on the western edge of the reserve. Look out for the WW2 ‘Home Guard Auxiliary Units’ observation post which would have been linked to an underground patrol base near the bottom of the valley. Follow the same well trodden path back to the car park to complete the trek.

Pulborough WildArt Trail

This months trek features a 4km interactive trail between Pulborough RSPB Wild Brooks and Pulborough Station. It pass through the flood plains of the Arun valley following part of the river, then goes through the town and up to the station.

The trail is great fun for families as it is fairly easy going and is made up of sculptures & signposts that feature local history and wildlife. To complement the walk an app from the ‘Discover Horsham District’ website can be downloaded. There are two parts to the app, one giving lots of information and an augmented reality version for the children and bigger kids alike, use the App at each sign post and the Pulborough Giant will give you an informative guided tour and then quiz you at the end. The route is well signposted and is easy to follow.

If travelling by train the trail can be started at the station or if driving then park up at the other end by the RSPB centre at Pulborough Brooks where there are plenty of spaces. It is worth allowing time to visit the shop, cafe and nature reserve before or after the walk. The RSPB nature reserve covers 256 ha. of wet grassland, woodland, hedgerows, meadow and heath. The reserve is declared a special conservation area that protects the populations of resident and migrating wildfowl along with the specialist plants and invertebrates that can be found in the ditches.

From the RSPB centre car park the path heads north to the hamlet of Wiggonholt which consists of a farm, house and church. The tiny 12th Century church of unknown dedication is built of rubble and remains largely unchanged, it overlooks the brooks and its secluded rural location makes it a lovely church. Keep a close look out for the first sign here then head across the fields to meet up with the River Arun. The river at this point flows much slower and the tranquil environment makes it extremely popular with kayakers and paddle-boarders.

The trail follows the raised bank along the river edge and giving the best opportunities to spot wildfowl both on the river and in the brooks. A Roman Road called the Greensand Way runs right across this part of the Arun Valley, it would have linked Lewes in East Sussex to the Roman Station at Hardham on Stane Street. Although the road is not visible, its route has been traced to just north of Wiggonholt at Lickfold where the remains of a Roman Bath House have also been identified.

The trail leaves the low lying brooks and enters Pulborough via Barn House Lane an older part of the town with many listed buildings. It then follows Lower Street and heads uphill across fields to Old Rectory Lane where the listed 18th century Chequers Hotel is situated at the junction of the main A29. On crossing this road you will be crossing Stane Street, the modern name for the 56 miles of roman road that in 70AD linked Chichester to London Bridge.

The 12th Century St Mary’s Church that stands on a low ridge above the River Arun is on the left as you enter Church Place, although a Norman church the tower and Nave were built much later in the 15th Century, which may explain why they appear to be slightly off centre. Continue along Church Place and the last WildArt trail sign can be found at the railway bridge.

From here you can either take the path to the station and return to the start by Compass bus number 100 (Mon – Sat) or retrace your steps back to the town centre, but rather than following the exact route back i recommend continuing on lower street and taking the path at the most eastern edge of the brooks heading back to the start.

Please note that parts of the Brooks can flood during periods of heavy rain, however the trail would still be accessible in the village of Pulborough and at the RSPB nature reserve.

https://www.discoverhorshamdistrict.co.uk/things-to-do/pulborough/pulborough-wildart-trail

Ouse Valley and Ardingly Reservoir

This months trek is inspired by a screensaver picture that popped up on my laptop recently, usually the many images are of far flung places around the globe but this particular one was in West Sussex. The walk is little further afield but features two incredible trails near to Ardingly taking in one the most elegant viaducts in Britain and also the very tranquil Ardingly Reservoir. 

In total the two routes cover 10km (6 miles) but can easily be split into two. The walk is not circular or linear like my normal treks, but instead back tracks along footpaths walked, which in it’s own way works well by offering different perspectives of the same walk.

The best place to park is the Reservoir car park to the rear of Ardingly College, the first thing you’ll notice here is the steep slope of the 280m long by 17m high dam that was built in 1979 to block a tributary of the Ouse called Shell Brook, whereby creating the 74.5 hectares of reservoir. The valve tower seen here is used to release water from the reservoir either directly into the treatment works or into the River Ouse when water flow is low, this ensures that there is enough water flowing in the River Ouse to protect the aquatic wildlife. The smaller overflow bell mouth, allows storm water to overflow into Shell Brook and stops the reservoir from flooding. The reservoir contains 4.7 million litres and is 14m at its deepest.

To reach the Ouse Valley Viaduct, head out past the activity centre and follow the Sussex Ouse Valley Way which rises up and across the fields. Although not evident this first part actually follows part of the route of the London to Brighton roman road. The path heads down hill where two small bridges are crossed. From here keep the River Ouse on your right and follow along its banks, the river is not very big at this point as it is only 10 km from its source near Lower Beeding but ultimately much wider where it enters the sea at Newhaven. As you follow along the Ouse Valley the first glimpses of the magnificent viaduct come into view.

Built in 1842 the viaduct is located on the London-Brighton line just south of Balcombe, it spans 450m of the lowlands of the River Ouse and at its highest is 29m. It was designed by the engineer John Urpeth Rastrick and its elegance was enhanced by architect David Mocatta who built a stone cornice with balustrade along the top and erected classical pavilions at each end. The grade 2 structure comprises of 37 arches and 11 million bricks with 4/5 trains thundering overhead every hour.

The path passes right underneath and one of the best views can be had by looking down through the arches as they create an illusion of infinity, access can be gained to the river allowing you to further explore the viaduct. 

Retrace your steps to the reservoir and back at the dam take the path known as the Kingfisher Trail along the eastern shore of the reservoir. The kingfisher trail closely follows the edge of the water and passes through many copses both old and new that contain a mix of deciduous and coniferous trees and are home to much wildlife including Bats and Dormice. There are also two hides located at the south edge and north edge of the reservoir where you can see the many bird species that reside here and also that stop off here on their long migratory journeys.

The trail meanders around the shoreline and continues along a causeway that bisects part of the body of water created by the Ardingly Brook and then continues on the bridleway north towards Balcombe. On the Balcombe arm of the reservoir great views can be had looking back towards the dam.

Information boards along the trail provide more detail of the reservoir. Unfortunately you cannot walk around the whole reservoir as the western shore is private property belonging to the Balcombe Estate, so retrace your steps back to the car park to complete the walk.

Further information on the Kingfisher Trail can be found here: http://www.highweald.org/downloads/publications/exploring-the-high-weald/nature-reserves/821-ardingly-reservoir-kingfisher-trail/file.html

Detailed route on OS maps can be found here: https://osmaps.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/route/5983399/Ouse-Valley-Viaduct-Ardingly-Reservoir

Halnaker Windmill Trail

This particular area has long been on my list to explore and I recently discovered a lovely 8km (5 mile) trail showcasing Sussex at it’s best. Established by Boxgrove Parish Council the ‘Windmill Trail’ meanders through tree lined vineyards up to the iconic Halnaker Windmill with breathtaking views across the coast of West Sussex. The trail then returns to the historical priory and village.

Start at Boxgrove village car park and head north on The Street, the entire route is signed so should be easy to follow. Cross the road at the end of the path and into the field. The first sightings of the Halnaker Windmill can be seen northwards across the field, standing at 128m above sea level atop Halnaker Hill it can be seen from miles around.

The trail follows the field around all three sides and leaves on the far side through an avenue of trees that border the edge of a vineyard, at this point you could easily think you were in France.

At Tinwood Lane the footpath is offset and continues across a meadow before going through beautifully golden cornfields.

At the far side carefully cross the busy A283 and turn into Mill Lane. This track was once the ancient roman road from London to Chichester known as Stane Street. The archway of trees here are locally known as the ‘Halnaker Tunnel of Trees’ and are very different in every season, it is a very popular spot for photographers too.

After the magical tunnel the trail heads to the top of Halnaker Hill, where the windmill is sited. The original mill was first recorded in 1540 and built for the Duke of Richmond as the feudal mill of the Goodwood Estate. The exact age of the surviving mill is not known but thought to date from the 1740s, however the Listed Buildings Register dates it as 1850. The windmill was a working mill until it was struck by lightning in 1905 damaging the sails and windshaft. For many years there was also a small millers cottage on the hilltop, but was demolished in 1902 with no trace left nowadays.

Halnaker Mill also appears in a poem by Hilaire Belloc in which the collapse of the Mill is used as a metaphor for the blight of the moral and social system.

Also located around the hilltop are the brick built base remains of four old WW2 timber ‘Radio Direction Finders’. During the war RAF personal stationed in these towers monitored and reported radio messages they picked up from aircraft flying nearby. 

Retrace your steps down the hill and back to Tinwood Lane. Head south down the lane passing Tinwood Vineyard, a 65 acre estate that has been producing quality sparkling wine since 2009, vineyard tours, wine tasting and luxury glamping can all be done here.

To the left of the lane is Boxgrove quarry where in 1993 the shinbone of a man was found that dates back 500,000 years, known as the Boxgrove man this is the earliest hominoid remains to be found in the British Isles. A few years later teeth, animal remains and flint tools were also found. The route back to Boxgrove wanders through the vineyards, along tree lined avenues and enters the village via Church Lane. 

The Church of St Marys and St Blaise is worth exploring as this was the priory church before the suppression of monasteries. The small Benedictine priory was founded in about 1107, originally for just three monks, however only the lodging house and part of the church remain.

The west part of the church was demolished in the 18th century but the chancel, central tower, transepts and easternmost bay of the nave survive as the present-day parish church.

After visiting the church head through an arch to the site of the ruined 14th century lodging house. it is now roofless, but the north and south gable ends still stand to their full height.

Inside the church is a model of how the buildings were set out giving an understanding of the layout of the monastery.

A short walk back past Priory Hall Farm to the car park completes this circular trek. 

Further details of the Windmill Trail can be found on the leaflet provided by ‘Visit Chichester’ at https://www.visitchichester.org/sites/default/files/Boxgrove_Trail_Final.pdf

Map of route can be found by filling this link https://osmaps.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/route/5831042/Windmill-Trail

Around Arundel Park

The walk around Arundel Park is always a popular walk for me and my family at anytime of the year, with each season being different. The 4.5km (2.8 miles) walk takes you through the centre of historic Arundel and then through the beautiful rolling hills of the 134 hectare park between Arundel and South Stoke. The park was created in late 1780’s following the rebuilding of the castle. A hundred years on and the old deer park had nearly a 1000 fallow deer. Indian cattle, cashmere goats, llamas and south American ostriches were also kept in the grounds at the same time. The red deer remained in the park up until their dispersal in 1959.

Starting in Arundel town centre, head up the picture postcard High street with the castle wall on your right, passing the many unique and independent shops, at the top of the hill turn left into London Road following the route of the Monarchs Way.

A short way up is the french gothic style Cathedral Church of our Lady and St Philip Howard, that was built between 1869 – 1873 for the catholic diocese of Arundel. Opposite is the St Mary’s Gate Inn which was named after the nearby gate to the castle. 

Just past the pub and opposite the school is the Old London Road that leads to the modern Arundel Park. The first building on the right is the Butlers Lodge and the cricket ground beyond is situated on the castle’s original ‘Little Park’. Continue along road keeping the old ramparts to the left and pass through the red gates into the park. 

As you ascend glimpses of ‘Arundel Park House’ can be seen to the left, which was built between 1958/1962 for the 16th Duke of Norfolk and his family, to give them privacy when the castle started opening to the public. 

Leave the road and take the footpath by the Hiorne Tower, built in 1797 by Francis Hiorne to prove himself to the 11th Duke of Norfolk in a bid for the contract to rebuild the castle. Hiorne never won the contract and he died two years later, but his tower did achieve great success as it starred in an episode of Doctor Who in 1988, as the setting for the invasion of Cybermen.

Just in front of the tower stands a Greek alter found in the museum at Sebastopol on the fall of the place in September 1855.

Cross the gallops to pick up the chalky path that heads down hill, the top end of Swanbourne lake can just be seen on this decent.

In the valley the tranquil route doubles back towards the lake. However it’s worth taking a detour up the hill northwards that’s facing you. It is quite a climb up to 116m but gives some great views north over Amberley and towards the North Downs.

On reaching Swanbourne lake take the left path that rises above its shores. The lake dates back to the 11th century and started life as a mill pond for the castle. It is fed by underwater springs known as the ‘Blue Springs’, due to the colour of the water as it comes out of the ground. In 1797 the pond was enlarged to form the lake we see today. On 13th August 1940 a German aircraft was shot down by Tangmere based Hurricanes whilst en-route to bomb Farnborough. The plane crashed through trees on the western embankment before coming to rest in the far end of the lake. In 1989 the lake dried up and four unexploded bombs were removed, one can be seen on display at Arundel Castle.

The path leads round to Swanbourne lodge. Built in 1852 it is now a cafe and the area around is a popular place to sit and feed the wildfowl or hire a rowing boat.

Exit through the red gates and head back towards the town via Mill Road to complete the walk. On the way back in the watercourse at the side of the path you might catch glimpse of the rare water vole that was reintroduced to the area in 2005.

https://osmaps.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/route/5446862/Arundel-Park

Chidham Coast Walk

This month’s trek was completed just after the easing of lockdown, it is a walk I have done many times and is a peaceful coastal walk of 9km (6 miles) around the headland of Chidham and Cobnor. Careful planning of this walk is required by checking the tide times beforehand, this peninsula of land cannot be walked around at high tide as the most southerly part of the path near Cobnor Point floods at high tide and is therefore impassable.

The walk starts at the small Cobnor Amenity car park just south of the village of Chidham and is a circular trek taking in both the village and the coast, that also incorporates part of the ‘London’s Lost Route to the Sea’ long distance path too. 

From the car park head towards the village of Chidham on the well-kept path through the fields past Chidmere Pond, a private lake in the grounds of Chidmere Farm. The pond cannot be seen, as it is hidden behind some tall hedging, however I believe the gardens and lake are stunning and have been open to the public in the past as part of the National Open Gardens day. At the village you can either go past St Mary’s church which was built c.1210 and then through fields or you can take the road through the quant village past the 18th Century pub, I prefer the quieter field route.

Approximately 300m to the north of the village, on the left, is the footpath that leads to the western shore of the peninsula, on reaching the raised path at the shoreline head south and keep to the coastline. Just past Chidham point the route will be on the stony shore as there has been extensive erosion of the sea wall, which has had many attempted repairs on it, but the forces of nature have taken their toll and broken a lot of the concrete repairs up. A new path further inland has been created as an easier route that cuts across the fields leading to the southern edge of the peninsula, however keeping to the shoreline will ensure you get great views across the wide mudflats of Nutbourne Marshes. A Site of Special Scientific Interest that covers 956 acres of the harbour, the marshes are not accessible but can be viewed from the path, a very tranquil spot where the sounds of the many feeding wildfowl can be heard.

Continue further along the shore to the tip of the peninsula where a line of ancient oaks cling to the bank, all twisted and battered by the salty winds, sea waves, and sun. It’s amazing how they have adapted themselves to such a harsh environment. A great spot for a break sitting in the shade of these trees that overlook Pilsey Sand and East Head Spit with many pleasure yachts passing through the busy Chichester Channel. There is a hide at this point which enables some additional birdwatching and has some local information which is worth stopping to read.

A further short walk on the pebbly shore past Cobnor Point leads to some steps up to a purpose made accessible path to Cobnor Activity Trust, a centre that has been delivering outdoor activities for youths since the mid 50’s. From this part of the path you have great views up the Chichester Channel and across to Itchenor. The footpath is well signposted and easy to follow past the activity centre, be sure to take a look at the old Thames barge ‘Pride of Sheppey’ that has been moored here since 1963, then head up the eastern side of the peninsula on a high raised bank, it is very evident that this side is more protected from natures elements and therefore has much less erosion. Just before leaving the shoreline you can look across to the far side of Bosham Channel to see the pretty waterside village of Bosham itself, with the houses seemingly all clustered around the village church. A short path inland takes you back to the car park to complete the walk.

Further details of route can be found at:

https://osmaps.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/route/5227499/Chidham-Coastal-Walk

Pico Ruivo

In this difficult time of lock down and the fact that our walking exercise has been restricted to local areas only means it has not been possible to get out to the places that we have had on our list to walk. So the choice was to either write up about a walk round the block or to think back to a trek we did a while.

Two years ago, Susan and I holidayed on the beautiful island of Madeira, a walker’s paradise where many walks can be taken along any of the 200 Levadas (water channels created for irrigation) or across the mountain ranges. I had it on the holiday list to hike up to Pico Ruivo, the highest peak on Madeira. It can be reached only by foot, either by a strenuous hike from Pico do Arieiro (3rd highest peak) or the shorter easier trail that we took from Achada do Teixeira, besides we were on holiday!

Pico Ruivo stands at 1,861 metres (6,106 ft) high and gives some of the most incredible views of the island from coast to coast. We were not disappointed as the August day we chose to do the trek was 30°C+ and clear skies, albeit with a little low-level cloud to the north, it was a hot walk so plenty of water is a must, however being so high means that unpredictable weather conditions can at times make it quite dangerous.

We stayed in Funchal, hired a car and drove round the coast to Santana before taking the narrow winding road inland to Achada do Teixeira which sits at 1582m above sea level, leaving a climb of 304m (1116 ft) to the summit.

On leaving the car park the trail to the top and back is 5.5km (3.4 miles) and steadily ascends along a well-worn track on the ridge that separates the cliffs of Faial and those of Santana. Views from this ridge take in the other great peaks of the central mountain massif towards the south and the coastline of the North including Queimadas Forest park.

Along this first part of the ascent there are several small open shelters where refuge can be taken, as the change in climate can be sudden with the area often becoming covered in a sea of clouds. For ourselves they were ideal places to escape the sun and cool down.

Further along the track is the Pico Ruivo government house, which is now a rest house situated at the junction of three other much longer hiking trails that will take you to different parts of the island.

After a packed lunch and short rest at the government house we headed up the steeper last section to the summit, a bit tougher, but on reaching the viewing platform at the top the views were spectacular and well worth the climb. 

Looking south, the ‘Nuns Valley’ (Curral Das Freiras) can be seen, a huge valley that was either created by erosion or volcanic eruption, however it is so named as the nuns from the Santa Clara Convent in Funchal would flee here with the convent treasure to escape the pirates that attacked the town.

On very clear days the island of Porto Santo lying 27 miles to the northeast of Madeira can be seen and also the uninhabited nature reserves of the Desertas islands that sit 16 miles south east of Madeira.

Looking east the Ponta de Sao Lourenco can be seen and is a headland at the Eastern most part of the island which is also great for walking.

The route back descends along the same track to the car park at Achada do Teixeira where the “Standing Man” can be visited, a basalt formation which can be found down the cliff, just past the Achada do Teixeira government house.

Certainly a place we will return to in the future to explore the levadas and the many other walks the island has to offer.

Centurion Way

Following on from last months Hayling Billy Trail I thought it would be good to feature another walk along a disused railway line, that I did just before the UK went into lockdown. 

The Centurion Way in Chichester runs for 9km (5.5 miles) and follows the old Chichester to Midhurst railway line that opened in 1881 to improve access to London, it once had eight stations and three tunnels. The decline of the railway started when passengers services were withdrawn in 1935 and the line north of Lavant was closed completely in 1957. The line between Chichester and Lavant was used for the transportation of sugar beet and gravel until 1991.

The Centurion Way can be joined or left at various places along it’s route, however i parked up in West Dean and caught the number 60 bus (runs every 30 mins) to the Cathedral which is the nearest stop and walked from the city centre to the start of the trail as it leaves Westgate between the school and railway. 

The first part is very reminiscent of an old railway, straight paths and treelined, with a few remaining telegraph poles that can be seen dotted along the route as well as old brick constructed bridges.

The trail is very easy going under foot which is mainly tarmac leading on to compacted gravel towards the end at West Dean. A couple of kilometres in is Brandy Hole Copse a 6.5 hectare local nature reserve that has three dipping ponds and a diverse range of flora and fauna, it also has a fantastic display of bluebells in the spring. Within the Copse there are two Iron Age boundaries known as the Chichester Entrenchments that contain some examples of WWII defensive structures. The copse also has many smugglers tales as being so close to Chichester Harbour it was a handy place for smugglers to hide their stash. The local stories tell of the secret tunnels, smugglers’ caves and all manner of illicit activity.

Along the route are sculptures which commemorate various aspects of local Chichester history such as ‘The Chichester Road Gang’ situated where the ancient Roman road to Silchester crosses the old railway line, it depicts an army of spade wielding Centurion workers and is made from old gas cylinders and railway fittings. A replica 100m diameter amphitheatre has also been created here on the site of a former quarry.

Further along the line at the edge of Lavant can be seen animal cut-outs hanging from the underside of a bridge. All of the animal shapes were drawn by local school children before being enlarged and reproduced in steel sheet. The route at this point passes the site of the historic Lavant Station which unfortunately is now flats and continues through a residential estate.

On leaving Lavant the trail is very much more rural as it follows the course of the River Lavant, which was in full flow following the recent rains that we have had. Views up to the Trundle are plentiful as you walk towards West Dean. A short way back from West Dean the route splits, the original route of the line continues straight on, but a more accessible route diverts slightly off to avoid steps at the end.

I carried straight on to West Dean and right up to the entrance of the first tunnel which has been blocked off and is the end of the trail. A 100m back from the tunnel are the steps which take you off the line and into West Dean to complete the trek.

Oh and if you are wondering why an old railway line is called the Centurion Way, it was suggested by a local schoolboy who entered a competition to name the route and was inspired by the roman connections in the area.

Detailed route can be see at:

https://osmaps.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/route/5228901/Centurion-Way