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

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