Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Brighton to Newhaven – (Sussex) – 25/05/09 – 10 Miles – IVC.

One can understand why Brighton is so popular with Londoners being a mere one hour from Victoria, and offering much of the same trashy cultural fare, with the Sea and some pebbles thrown in as well. Yet given that this was a bank holiday Monday, the train down there was surprisingly quiet (perhaps everyone had gone up there on the Saturday and was making a long weekend of it). Anyway self included there was a grand total of five of us IVC walkers who met at the ticket barriers of Brighton station.

The weather had not looked too promising when we left London, and heavy thunderstorms had been forecast for the South Coast. However whilst the weather was certainly overcast when we came out of the station, it was also very humid. Having made our way down through the town we turned left at the promenade and headed in the direction of the Pier. What immediately hits one as you walk along is not the Sea air, but rather the smell of fish and chips that seems to waft at you from all directions. So although lunch was out of the question at that early point, I certainly knew what I wanted whenever we did come to a stop. The Pier itself looks as tacky as one might expect walking by it, and no doubt needs to be visited to realise its full worth. We didn’t have time for such nonsense however, and pushed on alongside the road. To the other side of us, separating the pavement from the beach was the Volks Electric Railway which apparently has been there since 1883 and whose near continous sevice was only interrupted by the Second World War.

With the Pier some way behind us our next landmark was the Brighton Marina. As we approached it there seemed to be a very small caravan community set up in a car park, several of whom seemed to be either tuning up electric guitars or alternatively belting out Johnny Cash recordings. The Marina itself (approached from the Pier direction) looked an ugly concrete monstrosity, with as much charm and character as your average municipal car park. So after going through a small underpass we then appeared to come out by the arse end of it, with the most visual attraction being the loading bay and rubbish dump of an ASDA superstore. However having cleared that we then came to the more upmarket side of the Marina with an assortment of new build waterside apartments, and various parking spaces for the upmarket yachts and dinghys.

By this time we were now on what is called the Undercliff walk. Now basically this consists of: on the one side a cliff (you don’t say) and on the other side the Sea. What is somewhat artificial about this however, is the concrete walkway that separates the two for some four miles or more (see pictures). Apparently there is some danger of falling rocks along here and the local authority has put in various pegs and nets along the cliff face to offset that danger. However with the day getting ever brighter, and no end to this stretch in sight, I felt more in danger of suffering a form of snow blindness with the glare below me, in front of me, and to one side of me. Also somewhat disappointingly along this stretch, you literally have to lean over the wall to catch sight of the sea, although the occasional bit of spray did remind us that we were still in the right place.

Finally we turned off of this excitement at Rottindean in order to find somewhere to have lunch. There was plenty of pubs and places to eat available, which proved a problem for our two leaders who decided the right thing to do was to check out the menu of every establishment in town. This went on for so long I was then in danger of getting carbon monoxide poisoning (to go with my snow blindness) due to the narrow and traffic packed streets. With no real consensus reached we then split into two groups. Me and one other, joined leader number one in a local café. Leader number one seemed to have cost as his main consideration, so in this establishment fish and chips + half a pint of lager + chocolate fudge cake = £16.50 (Hmmm !).

Following lunch our two parties met up again at the concrete seafront, with the day now at its brightest, and set off again for more of the same. By the time we reached Saltdean however the two leaders were now in disagreement about how best to proceed. Leader one, who doesn’t like steep climbs wanted to continue on as we were. Leader number two however wanted us to go up onto the cliff even if it did mean walking alongside the road at the top. After a vote was held leader number one prevailed and we carried along the Undercliff walkway. However he didn’t prevail for long as we came to a dead end almost straight away, forcing us to go up onto the cliff in order to carry on.

Once up onto the cliff the road soon branched away, proving that this was probably the best time to join it. However replacing it was in effect a never end row of peoples houses. So whilst one could admire the sea view to the right, one couldn’t help feeling you were walking just along everyones front gardens to the left. The light had noticeably darkened at this point and the occasional rumble of thunder could be heard in the distance. Thus the conversation veered between how long before the threatened thunderstorms reached us, and how long before all these houses fell into the Sea. The objective was to make the (hourly) 1705 train from Newhaven Town, but when it had gone half past three, and one of the locals told us we still had three miles to go, this did not seem possible at IVC walking pace. By then however although we could not see Newhaven estuary, we could see much further along the cliff front to Seaford and the start of the Seven Sisters.

As we came to the point where we had to leave the cliff edge, I got spooked by a couple of flashes of lightning and some slight raindrops. Thus convinced that the thunderstorm was virtually upon us, I quickly got togged up in full sweat retaining waterproofs. Needless to say the threatened storm never happened. However with leader number two abandoning us at this point, I didn’t have time to remove any of it lest I lose leader number one at the trickiest part. Thus our now four man group then found itself walking down a mile long housing estate, togged up like wallys, whilst the local kids rode their bikes around in their usual football kits. By the time we came to the estuary time was rapidly running out, with no visible way to get over it to the station. However with an anxious quickening of pace, and with my redundant waterproofs keeping me nice and moist, we finally made the station at 1658. There we were happily reunited with leader number two who apparently had got there some ten minutes in front of us stragglers.

So overall a walk that had few points of interest, but was in its own way interesting enough to do. The consensus on the train back though, was that the walk was certainly a box ticked, but also one never to be repeated.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Grand Union Canal / Osterley Park (circular) – (Middlesex) – 19/05/09 – 7.5 Miles – Myself.

In various different route designs and formats, I have been walking along the Grand Union Canal and Osterley Park for over two years now, since I first tried to impress Helen with my local knowledge. Prior to that I hadn’t been along and around either of them, for around 6 to 7 years since my previous incarnation as a jogger/runner. As such they combine to provide as pleasant and safe a walking area as you are likely to get in London (or any other big city). However the events of last Friday 15/05/09, proved that no route is foolproof, so before I carry on writing about today’s walk, I have to return first of all to that one.

I think the biggest issue to come out of that for me, is having to decide what constitutes acceptable/controlled risk with ones personal safety when walking alone in remote areas. The first conclusion (future policy) I have reached is that it is perfectly acceptable to walk in as remote and far off the beaten track area as you feel comfortable with, providing you tell someone where you are going, and what time you are expecting to be back. For most of us however life doesn’t work like that, and if you had to find someone to give all this information too every time you wanted to go walking (or shopping, or anything), you would never get out the door. Therefore (and this applies to me, others obviously make their own value judgements) I am not going walking in future on my own, in remote areas.

So this brings me to the question of what constitutes a remote area ? Well looking at the complete opposite end of that spectrum first, one could always go walking around ones local municipal parks. There you could guarantee there would be trees, grass, and plenty of people always about. Unfortunately you could also guarantee that there would be a fair smattering of youths, hoodies, pit bull terriers, and all the sorts of other things that walking is meant to provide us with an escape from. So the complete other end of that then is to go walking in an area that people haven’t walked through for days. Unfortunately that was exactly what I was doing last Friday when I came across my ‘incident’ (the irony being that remote part of the walk only constituted some 5% of an otherwise perfectly safe route). So the answer for me then is to find some middle ground. I have therefore decided that the benchmark for me is, provided some sort of walker’s come through an area at least four or five times a day, then it doesn’t constitute remote (the clue being is that area overgrown with vegetation). Obviously this is not an exact science, and one could add that if there are signs of an area being used, but that usage consists of used needles and other drugs paraphernalia then that is well worth staying away from. Anyway that is how I shall play it from here on in.

The other no brainer of course which I failed badly on last Friday, is to always carry ones mobile phone. Not only that, but also to be confident that you can give an exact location point reference to the emergency services, should you need to summon them quickly (otherwise there is no point in carrying the thing in the first place). So armed with all these new rules, let me return to today’s walk.

This being another new route design for me, not just to avoid my problem area, but also to provide a new standard reasonable length walk, that runs from front door to front door, when I don’t have the time to travel out and do something longer. The weather was mostly bright with the occasional threat of rain and as usual the walk began in earnest along the Grand Union canal. The first photo here shows what must be one of the earliest one piece iron bridges in the UK (the inscription which you probably can’t see reads ‘Grand Junction Canal Co. 1820’). One of the things I like about walking along here is seeing the mixture of canal barges of those people on a permanent mooring and those people who somewhat inexpertly handle the locks on their holiday barges. In fact there are six sets of locks to handle in just the Hanwell section alone. Also along this section you see the turn off to the River Brent (which is part of the Capital Ring), and the site of the former St. Bernards hospital. A little further along one comes to the (triple) Windmill Bridge designed by Brunel that carries a road over a canal over a railway, quite a feat of engineering in its day. I didn’t see any Herons or Kingfishers today (I never can tell the difference) but they are not an unusual site along this part of the canal.

An ugly road walking part of this route is when I come off the canal and have to walk about half a mile along the busy Tentelow Lane to take the turn off that leads me towards Osterley Park. However last week having crossed the road in a different place I came to a small gate that takes me into Tentelow Woods and then across a small field, which cuts out at least half of that horrible polluting road. Whooa hang on a minute though I hear you say, are you forgetting the new rules already ? Well the answer is no, because the paths in this small wood are clear of vegetation which suggests to me people do come through here with some sort of regularity (I did get buzzed here today though by a noisy paraquet). Thus once across the field that takes me to the top of Osterley Lane I turned left taking me over the bridge over the M4 and into the meat of Osterley Park (as opposed to last Fridays walk where I turned right down Osterley Lane to thrash my way through the more remote areas of Osterley Farm).

To my surprise both Osterley House, the nearby restaurant, and the gardens were all shut at three o clock on a Tuesday afternoon (not that I required any of these). However there was some National Trust staff about, most noticeably one cutting the grass with his motorised thingy. So basically how I have worked this route now, is to do what I would call a loopback around the park, which does mean covering parts of the park twice albeit in a different direction. However it still makes for some pleasant and green walking, and I have always contended that any walk looks different going the opposite way. Eventually one has to depart the park, and with about half a mile along a not too busy road the walk finishes at my front door. Overall it was an enjoyable walk and a route that is a keeper. Also I can’t tell you how good it felt to be out today following Fridays trauma.
Now it is worth mentioning that this walk will now constitute my bog standard exercise walk, to replace the former six and four mile walks in these areas (and the unsuccessful eight mile one). Therefore this is the only time it gets a write up on this blog, and will instead constitute just a footnote at the bottom of other blog entries. So speaking of which, walks since the blog entry of 11/05/09 (1 x eight mile rucksack walk, and the walk on 15/05/09 which turned out to be approx six miles).

Saturday, 16 May 2009

15/05/09 - Overenthusiasm or total lack of common sense ?

Yesterday when out walking I was caught up in something that I am unlikely to forget for the rest of my life. This is not the place to go into details, as that is not the point I am trying to make, but suffice to say it did involve me having to use someone elses mobile to call the Police.

Whilst mentally processing this incident later on it occured to me that: I was out walking on my own, I was in a remote and overgrown area that had not been walked through by anyone else for days, I was without a mobile phone, no one knew that I was there.

Basically my enthusiasm for walking, has now appeared to overide standard notions of common sense and personal safety. Thus is you go walking on your own I would like you to consider whether my approach applies to you. I learnt a very harsh lesson yesterday which I am unlikely to forget.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Hammersmith to Osterley – (Middlesex) – 11/05/09 – 7 Miles – Helen.

Having negotiated Hammersmith bus and underground station our walk started in earnest as we crossed under Hammersmith bridge and picked up the Thames towpath. Although there was something of a windy chill in the air it was also a bright day, and by the time we had got to Barnes bridge both me and Helen were walking sans her fleece and my body warmer. As Helen is an expert at carrying clothing attached to her rucksack, I decided to follow suit rather than just the usual stuffing it inside effort. All this served to prove however was how useless I was at this, and so I eventually had to stuff the thing in my bag anyway.

Once under Barnes bridge though we found the towpath was sectioned off due to work going on under the bridge. At which point we were left on the ‘far safer’ twelve inch wide footpath, with cars hurtling towards us. One quick leap over the wall and we were back on the towpath, before we both became a pair of accident statistics. Past Mortlake Brewery and just before Chiswick Bridge we both stopped for Coffee. I had a cup and small rocky bar, whilst Helen had a Big Mug as well as a Large Snickers. Thus with refreshments over we set off again and soon found ourselves approaching Kew Bridge, making a mental note to do a river trip to Westminster, from the jetty there on a future occasion.

Once at the bridge we crossed over it joining the towpath on the Brentford side. Now this side of the river was new exploration ground for me (something I don’t usually like), and something I was not convinced about, having looked at the London A to Z map as well as Google. Basically I wanted to stay out of Brentford high street and Half Acre and instead follow the Towpath all the way to the Grand Union Canal (and then home). So having tentatively started off with Helen admiring all the houseboats by Kew Bridge, it transpired that you could actually follow the Thames Path signs and they would take you all the way to the Grand Union Canal. Albeit the signs do this with a few small sections where you are diverted back out onto the road for 50 yards or so. However being me I decided that this was all a little too simple to be convincing, and so I eventually took us both out on to the road walking some 400 yards in the wrong direction. Finally realising my error we returned to where we had come out and where the signage got us back on the towpath 50 yards further on in the opposite direction. To be fair I had got a little disorientated by all the samey new build waterside apartments and run down boatyards. Yet even then I was not convinced, and having finally flipped at a road called Brent Way, it took Helen’s A to Z to convince me that we were heading in the right direction. From there it was plain sailing and we soon found ourselves on the Capital Ring link taking us back to Osterley along the canal towpath.

So overall a nice little walk at a good pace, on a pleasant Spring day. Also providing you follow the signs, you can do 98% of it along the waterside. Ultimately however this is one for me to do in future starting a little bit further out, such as from Putney Bridge (I must mention that to Helen).

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Richmond Station to Richmond Park (outer and inner loops) – (Surrey) – 04/05/09 – 11 Miles – IVC.

So hey, it’s really great to give something back. Which in translation means, it was my turn (I guess) to lead another walk for IVC.

Anyway the day started at Costa Coffee outside Richmond station, where I joined one IVC regular (and the only one from the previous day) with my coffee and chocolate twist. Following which we both headed for the meeting point at the ticket hall in Richmond station to wait for the program advertised 11.00am train to come in. When it came to it, no one got off the train for our purposes, but other IVC people appeared in the hall anyway, until we were an eight strong party (five of whom I had never seen before) including myself.

Cutting across Richmond Green we soon picked up the Thames towpath, traversed Petersham Meadows, and a mile in we were able to join the park at Petersham gate. From there it was a steep climb up towards Pembroke Lodge (or King Henry viii’s mount if you want), and then picking up what I call the outer loop. However what became very obvious almost straight away, was that two of the women were clearly not up to any sort of reasonable walking speed. No doubt they saw the word ‘Park’ in the program and assumed this meant strolling around looking at the flora and fauna. This unfortunately is one of the problems of social group walking, as you can ultimately only go at the speed of the slowest member.

As such the weather wasn’t doing us any favours either, as it continually spat on us, on and off all day. Not only that, but if the previous days Spring weather looked forward to the Summer, the temperature for this one harked back to the Winter. One thing about Richmond Park is that it has an abundance of toilets. Thus given the chill in the air and the constant hanging around for the two women walking at 40 minute mile pace, we barely passed one of them, without someone in the group (self included) wanting to pay a visit. Eventually (and about an hour later than planned) we stopped off at the café that is between the cycle hire shop and the golf club at the Roehampton side of the park. Like the last time here in December, I felt the prices were slightly taking the piss (i.e. £7.10 for: ham salad baguette, slice of fruit cake, and a hot chocolate). However at least we got to sit down indoors and out of the cold. When queuing up the place was packed with cyclists, but as if by magic two tables cleared just when we needed them.

Once off again we were yet again hanging around for the two ladies to catch up. However once we had reached Robin Hood Gate they decided they had done their exercise for the day and thankfully dropped out to go and look for a bus. From here we were able to pick the pace up to something as bit more respectable. I was also keen to keep as much distance between me and one oddball member of the party, who having downloaded his nonsensical one sided conversation on everyone else, no doubt felt it was my duty as walk leader to hear my fair share of it. Thankfully (again) when we go to Ham Gate some 7.5 miles in, he dropped out with the remaining female member to pick up the 65 back to Richmond station.

With four of us guys remaining we at last had something resembling a decent group, to go round the inner loop. However we stopped first of all at the tea bar by Pembroke Lodge, and sat outside drinking it, whilst the rain did its best to keep our cups topped up. Having turned right at Richmond Gate walking alongside the road, we found ourselves with a really widescreen panorama of London (albeit way off in the distance, so forget about photographs) Nevertheless we were able to pick out: Wembley Stadium, The Millenium Wheel, the Gherkin, The Post Office Tower, and Canary Wharf. By this time however it had really begun to get chilly, not helped by the earlier slow pace. So having returned once again to Ham Gate Avenue from the inner loop, and just approaching 11 miles, we all decided we had done enough for the day and gave up on the additional 2 miles back to the station. Anyway to give you some idea of the earlier pace, when I walked this course back in December it took me four hours including lunch and carrying 9kg in my rucksack. Today including a short lunch it took six and a half. The perils of group walking (and leading) !

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Hassocks to Lewes (South Downs) – (Sussex) – 03/05/09 – 11 Miles – IVC + Helen.

On a bright spring day that looked forward to the Summer, there was standing room only on the Brighton train out from Victoria. Fortunately most of these people were actually going to Brighton, rather than crowd us out at Hassocks station. So following a shortish climb up towards the Jack and Jill windmills our group found its way onto the South Downs (our newest National Park doncha know).


Now this really is one of the most easy on the eye walks that you can do. So as we headed in the direction of Lewes we had West Sussex far below us on our left, glimpses of the Sea to our right during the early stages, and straight ahead the green and pleasant rolling Downs. Yet despite this being one of Southern England’s most picturesque walks (well certainly that I have done) that is used by a variety of walkers and cyclists, it never becomes so busy that it detracts from your enjoyment. Also adding some colour and interest to the landscape is a mixed variety of cattle.

Even with the Sun being out, I for one found a slight nip in the air. So when we passed an ice cream van in a car park along the way I decided that, unlike two of our party, I could forego this as it really wasn’t warm enough. Besides as we had been walking for a long time at that point, I did not want to spoil our imminent lunch. So having walked around six miles we began a very long descent down towards Plumpton for lunch at the Half Moon pub. Thus given how long the descent was I was a tad concerned about having to go straight back up it again afterwards on a full stomach. In the event though it was not a problem, as the climb back up seemed nowhere near as long or steep, and also we didn’t get any lunch.

Unfortunately the Half Moon pub had clearly become overwhelmed with the amount of customers wanting food, at the same time as they were obviously lacking in staff, both waiting and in the kitchen. These things can happen I guess and I like to think I am someone who can make allowances. What was unforgiveable however was letting a large number of people queue up for well over half an hour, before telling them there was no more food orders being taken. The moral of this story if you are doing this particular walk, is to bring your own sandwiches; something Helen had originally suggested until I put her off. Thus for the half of our group who had been of the pub lunch mentality, we ultimately had to make do with a drink and a bag of crisps. So making the best of it we set off again up towards the Downs. Helen had taken the lack of food particularly badly, and for the second half of the walk I felt it important not to drift to far away from her.

Once back on the Downs the Sun went in and the light became more hazy. Meanwhile the previous loosely projected tea stop in Lewes, had itself become a quest of mythical proportions. Eventually we came off the Downs encountering yet more trials bikes (see previous blog entry), and partly followed the river Ouse as we made our way into Lewes town centre. Helen pointing out the ruins of Lewes castle in the distance (but checking on Wikipedia this may well have been Lewes priory ?).

Anyway once in Lewes we found the White Hart Hotel, yet another local establishment that becomes completely overwhelmed when confronted with a group of customers. To be fair we did all get our pastries, paninis and refreshments in the end. However nothing arrived on the table at all for twenty minutes. When things finally did, they came in the most piecemeal of fashion over the next ten, along with a large number of silver pots containing only water. Still I suppose at 5.30 on a Sunday afternoon, they could always have pulled the old kitchen has stopped taking orders gag, so one has to be grateful for small mercies.
Walks since last blog entry (2 x Four milers and 1 x Six miler).