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.