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

Hayling Billy Trail

A linear route of 8 km (5 miles).

This months trek is a beautiful and very scenic 5 mile route exploring the lost ‘Hayling Billy’ railway line that used to travel from Havant to South Hayling along the western edge of the island. The old line has since been made into a trail that can be walked or cycled in either direction. We chose to catch the number 30 bus down to West Town and walk back northwards along the trail to Havant, with the wind behind us.

On 28th June 1867 the first passenger train arrived at South Hayling Station. The station here consisted of 2 platforms, a large goods shed and three goods sidings. The trek today starts in West Town at the beginning of the Billy Trail, just off Station Road and the first building to be seen is the old goods shed with its distinctive look, that has now been restored and converted into a 144 seat theatre. There are plenty of information boards at the start here, describing the history, showing the route and displaying some great pictures of the past.

Heading north on the trail, the straightness of the track is very reminiscent of an old railway line; it passes alongside the waterfront to one side and cattle fields the other, so can be quite exposed to the elements on windy days. Looking out across the harbour gives great views towards Portsmouth.

Hayling Island and the Billy Line soon became a popular holiday & day trip destination and by the 1920s the trains were carrying up to 7000 passengers on peak days. However during WW2 the island’s priorities changed and many of the holiday camps were used to house troops. The Billy Line became crucial in transporting soldiers and heavy equipment to the island, particularly as the old timber road bridge was not even strong enough to carry a bus full of passengers. Pillboxes were also constructed to form a line of defence on the island and there are around a dozen that can still be seen, a fine example of one will be passed roughly halfway along the trail. 

The trail is very easy to follow and continuing northwards the old site of the North Hayling Halt is now a small car park and unfortunately not recognisable anymore. Farmers transporting their goods off the island would have used this interim station, it was designated as a request stop for anyone wanting to get on and off. A further information board situated here shows what the halt would have been like. 

Just a little way up the trail from this halt can clearly be seen the oyster beds. Oyster seeds imported from France would spend the winter here before being transported to Whitstable for the summer, the train played an important role in transporting the oysters back and forth, a platform and siding was built to cope with the 700 tonnes of oysters every year, however this ceased in 1925 and active farming ended in the1970s. The area is now West Hayling Nature Reserve and an important breeding ground for seabirds.

A little further north and the trail comes to an abrupt end as the old swing bridge that would have carried the trains across the harbour is now only a series of struts in the Langstone Channel. The last train to journey down the line was in 1963 and in 1965 the old bridge was deemed unsafe and beyond economic repair. An old signal at this point has been restored and stands proud on the old route.

After walking to the remains of the bridge you’ll need to back track and take the small path around the harbour to the road bridge, the route uses this bridge and crosses the small channel here, caution is required as this is a very busy road. Back on the mainland is the village of Langstone where the Old Station Masters cottage was sited, unfortunately it was burnt down in December 2018 and only the two chimneys remain.

The trail crosses the road and the final stretch enters the suburbs of Havant. Just before Havant Station the track passes under an old bridge and passes original level crossing gates by the station. 

Further Detail and Map can be found at:

https://osmaps.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/route/5229267/Hayling-Billy-Trail

Fira to Oia Hike – Santorini

10.5 km (6.5 Miles)

During January and February Some of you may have seen that Julia Bradbury featured in a television series which took her back to her ancestral roots in the Greek islands where she has been discovering places ‘Off the beaten track’. In one of the episodes she visited Santorini and sought out the best alternative places to see the world famous sunset. It is great to see such a programme on these cold dark winters nights and it took my mind back to an amazing hike we did last year whilst visiting Santorini. If any keen walkers should be visiting the island in the future then this trek is a must.

Santorini is part of the Cyclades islands in the southern Aegean Sea. It was devastated by a volcanic eruption in the 16th century BC, creating its shape, the underwater caldera (crater) and the small islands around it’s rugged landscape. Whitewashed towns and villages cling to the cliffs, which from a distant gives the image of snow.

The trail we followed is one of the islands top walks and a well trodden route between the two principal towns of Fira and Oia, where some of the most magnificent views of the island and it’s caldera can be had. It will take you through the small whitewashed villages of Firostefani and Imerovigli as well as across the rugged landscape that forms the rim of the caldera high above the sea below.

The path is made up of a mix of pavement, cobbled streets and dirt tracks so good shoes are a must. We visited the island in April when it wasn’t so busy but this walk should be started early in the morning so that the midday sun is avoided, take plenty of water with you as it will take about 4 hours.

We stayed in Fira and our hotel was ideally situated directly on the route of this trail about 100m in from the start. The route starts at the Atlantic Hotel opposite the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral and first takes you through the narrow walkways of Fira with its many jewellery and gift shops, although well signposted it’s easy to get a little lost here but any detour is well worth exploring. A walk descending the 587 steps to the Old Port for trips over to the volcano park on Nea Kameni Island is also a worthwhile detour. There is also a cable car that carries you up and down should the steps prove to much.

Continue through the narrow streets to Firostefani, although a different village it tends to blend in to Fira, so you probably won’t realise that you have walked in to the second village. Stop at the much photographed Virgin Mary Orthodox Church with its whitewashed walls, iconic blue domed roof and unique three bells, with great views across the caldera. 

The route heads uphill winding through the narrow streets to Imerovigli, a village at the highest point of the trek at 370m. Imerovigli has panaramic views of both towns, Fira and Oia.

A detour to Skaros Rock will add approximately an hour to the trek but is definitely worth visiting the ruins of the settlement that incredibly once consisted of 200 homes, many eruptions of the volcano and earthquakes was the demise of this town, but a monastery known as the Chapel of Panagia Theoskepasti survived and remains in use today.

Heading out of Imerovigli the hotels become more exclusive and sparse and many more iconic churches will be passed. From here the route changes from pavements to stoney tracks that pass over the rugged landscape that reaches a peak with more terrific views of Oia on the descent. 

As you enter Oia the stoney track turns into pavements and tiled walk ways. The pinnacle of Oia has a ruined castle which is the end of the trek. Oia has many restored churches, handicraft and jewellery shops and the recognisable windmills that sit amongst the roof lines.

However Oia is most famous for the uninterrupted sunsets over the sea. Watching the sunset can be very busy and is the most popular point on the island to watch it go down. For the more adventurous other quiet locations can be sought.

The bus back to Fira can be very busy with long queues, particularly after the sunset, so careful planning is key or take advantage of one of the many restaurants before returning.