Monday, 28 July 2008

Wimbledon Park to Osterley – (Surrey) – 26/07/08 – 11 miles approx – Helen

This particular walk is part of the ‘Capital Ring’ and is an exact repeat of the route I did with the ‘Walk London’ people on 31st May. So given the fact that I had done this one less than two months before, had a print out of directions to hand, as well as any number of handily placed ‘Capital Ring’ signs to guide me, I shouldn’t have expected to have too many difficulties – correct ? Okay well this is me we are talking about, but fortunately help was on hand in the form of the lovely Helen, who was able to explain what things such as ‘triangular wooded clearings’ and ‘right fork’ actually meant. If that wasn’t bad enough her knack of smugly spotting route signs at a hundred paces, whilst I was still contemplating the directions and wondering whether I had suddenly caught dyslexia was a tad disconcerting to say the least.

So suffice to say no sooner had I started us off in Wimbledon Park then I immediately lost the plot and actually had to make an unplanned diversion in order to rendevous with the boating lake. However having found a bench for us to scoff our provisions I was quickly able to regroup, and in no time at all I had located the exit from the park.

Next up was Wimbledon Common and the famous Windmill. Things were going well here direction wise, until I insisted I knew what a triangular clearing looked like, and rapidly had to backtrack when it became apparent that I didn’t. However with my guide patiently putting me back on the right road, it was soon time to cross the road (namely the footbridge over the A3) and enter Richmond Park via Robin Hood Gate. By this time the temperature was starting to pick up, and after cutting across the park, and climbing our first gentle gradient alongside Spankers Hill Wood, it was time to sit down and stare at a family who had brought a table, radio cassette, and any number of other modern essentials with them, for their outdoor picnic experience. We eventually moved on passing through the two Pen Ponds and up another gradient (where this picture of Helen was taken).

Our time at Richmond Park was rapidly drawing to a close however, but not before I had actually managed to remember where King Henry VIII’s mound was, and impress Helen (Hmmm ?) with the hole in the bush telescopic view of St. Paul’s Cathedral, a mere ten miles distant. So leaving by the Dysart Arms PH exit we crossed Petersham Meadows where I believe Helen commented on the insect noise coming from the grass. However I had long since stopped listening to her by that point as I assumed it was just another one of her sad pleas to be fed again. Yet needs must and I decided I had to do something to jivvy her along, and therefore condescended to buy her a Cornetto and allow her a few minutes break by Richmond Bridge in order to eat it. I know I am too soft, but it was a hot day.

From this point the walk became far less picturesque, and having crossed Twickenham footbridge, we found ourselves being pushed further away from the Thames and out onto the main road’s round Isleworth. After cutting through the unimpressive Syon Park, and negotiating a pedestrian crossing in Brentford, we came down some steps to the very start point of the Grand Union Canal, and had a nice time discussing what would be the most suitable type of barge/riverboat for our needs. However we were only on the Grand Union a short time, before we had to leave the Capital Ring to go and do whatever it does, and climb up onto the Great West Road modernist dystopia, and then get home for some coffee and cake.

A nice day, a nicer walk, and the nicest of company.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Seaford to Eastbourne – (East Sussex) – 16/07/08 – 13 miles approx – myself.

Having already filled up on my ‘Oats So Simple’ for breakfast (porridge for those who haven’t yet tried it), I was pleased to find a man outside Osterley tube station handing out bananas. Obviously he had come along specially to see that I was fully carbo loaded for the day’s exertions (alright then some lackey doing a promo for a health club). So that was a good start anyway, which soon went downhill on the train out from Victoria, due to some tiresome woman dumping two of her three brat kids onto the seat beside me (yes I know what she wanted me to do, but sorry if they are going to bring a curfew in for kids, then there shouldn’t be a lower age limit to it). Whilst that irritation did eventually resolve itself, I then found myself getting more and more concerned with the very threatening black clouds out of the window. In the event I needn’t have worried as the moment I stepped off the train at Seaford, the day turned into a lovely sunny 70 degree one.

Now this walk was straight out of ‘Time Out Country Walks Volume 2’, and the reason for doing it on my own midweek, was in order to check it out before leading the IVC group on it in a couple of weeks. Now I must say at this point that I found the book very accurate (once I got the hang of what they called 60 metres), and didn’t go wrong at any point. However I do have to temper that with the reality, that in the main this walk can be done easily without much guidance, if you can remember to keep the Sea to your right.

That is not to say everything went according to plan. Thus no sooner had I got out of the station and onto the cliff face, then I had to have an encounter with the village idiot. Alright that might be a bit harsh, as basically the guy was a retired fireman walking his two dogs who wanted to have a chat, and the thing is I am always happy to exchange a few friendly words with anyone. However this guy just went on and on and on and on about his life of sporting achievements on his bike and on his feet. The problem with boring twits like this you see is that they are not interested in having a two way conversation, but instead just want to download their entire life story on you. All I wanted was for him to draw breath long enough for me to say: “I have to go now”, but on and on he went. I kid you not he must have kept me there a good half hour. Fortunately and eventually some OAP’s distracted him and his dogs long enough for me to say “I have got to be going now” whilst I was literally moments away from having my entire life force bored out of me.

Anyway shot of him I was able to carry on and it wasn’t long before the (deceptively close) Seven Sisters came in sight. However once one had come down to beach level at Cuckmere Haven, the route ahead was barred by the Cuckmere River, necessitating a long inland diversion, crossing the river at the Exceat bridge and onto one of the suggested lunch stops at the Exceat farmhouse tearoom. This being around 4 miles and approximately a third of the walk. However having looked in there hoping to grab a quick dog roll or something, I found it full of OAP’s sitting at quaint little tables, whilst some sort of school party milled around at some sort of visitors centre a few yards away. I therefore decided there and then, that lunch was for wimps.

So having found my way back onto the South Downs Way cliff edge, this was where the walk and the Seven Sisters began in earnest. Thus no sooner had you got to top of one climb and in oxygen debt, you were then faced with a steep descent, and the opportunity to do it all over again on the next climb. This middle third of the walk being harder than the other two thirds put together. However seven notches on my rucksack later, and I was at the near 8 mile point of the Birling Gap hotel, where I decided I had earned a pint of Strongbow and a packet of crisps. Yet even then another school party of kids came out of nowhere, to harrass my sensibilities. What was worse, was that they were foreign kids as well.

So off I went again on the last and longest third of the walk. Whilst the section that took me on to Beachy Head (and another Ice Cream) was still rather up and down, it did not quite have the severity of the middle section, and from that point on it was an overall downward trajectory towards Eastbourne. Speaking of which, Eastbourne has a very underwhelming beach and promenade I must say (or maybe I was just getting tired), and the walk itself finished in a disappointing near mile trek through the local shopping area, in order to get to the station.

That quibble aside it was an excellent walk (though not one for a total beginner) and an excellent sunny day as well. What impressed me as much as anything, was the fact that there was public toilet facilities at miles: 0, 4, 8, and 10, as well as what you could find in the various cafes/pubs in Eastbourne (if you plan to lead a walk you need to know these things).