Sunday, 28 June 2009

Shoreham by Sea (Circular) – (West Sussex) – 28/06/09 – 11 Miles – IVC.

You definitely have to check before using the tube at weekends, and in this case there was engineering works on the Piccadilly and District lines blocking my normal route into London. However having discovered on the night of the tube strike the rail station at the bottom of my road, that turned into a better option anyway, as it got me to Clapham Junction in 20 minutes, where I made the Shoreham by Sea connection. Yet that was nearly a potential crisis as the ticket machine at the station wasn’t taking credit cards. Fortunately it did take a £20 note, but then proceeded to give me 15 x £1 coins in change (thanks).

So anyway this may have been Shoreham by the Sea but forget any idea about it being a coastal walk, as apart from a glimpse out of the train window on arrival, that was as much as we really saw of the Sea. Well alright that is not strictly true, as we started off along the harbour, but the tide was most definitely out. However we found plenty to look at in regard to the weird and wonderful house boats moored there, some with really psychedelic exteriors. Of them all though, the most interesting one was a German World War 2 design E-boat. I say design however as a little confusion reigned here, with the info outside claiming it had been made sometime in the Fifties (did Germany have a Navy then) ? I would actually have liked to take some pictures, but given that this was someones home (in residence) I didn’t want to risk some Nazi rushing out at me with a Sten-gun or Luger. So moving past that we instead ‘admired’ a somewhat rusting piece of junk with a price tag of £165,000.

Having left the moorings, our next visual diversion was Shoreham Airport on our left, which apparently is the oldest licensed airport in the UK (whatever that means). Anyway I let the group push on whilst I waited to get the definitive picture of a helicopter about to take off. The pilot however must have known what I was up to, as he basically sat me out on this one, meaning a duff picture and a race to catch everyone up again before I lost them. By this point we had reached the end of the harbour, and came across two World War 2 pillar boxes (now unmanned), which obviously explains why the German E-boat thought better of coming too far along the harbour.

From there we picked up the Downs and I was amazed by how lush green they were, to the extent that the colours were almost as psychedelic as some of the boats we had seen earlier. Having come down from them we then picked up the river Adur (a come down in itself, not being so lush) and headed towards a pub called The Bridge, at Beeding Bridge, at Upper Beeding (got all that or would you like me to repeat). By this time it was gone 2.15pm so we had all worked up an appetite, and I was looking to offload some of those 15 x £1 coins that had been jangling in my pocket all morning. Now this was definitely one of the better pub lunches I have had with large portions, and reasonable prices. For my sins I had the unimaginative choice of sausages, egg and chips, washed down with a pint of cider and a chocolate fudge pudding. However one of our group who obviously felt he had really got his juices going decided to order the mixed grill. What turned up would in olden days have been known as a ‘Medievil Banquet’ and actually took up an entire table. All six of us who were in the pub were basically gobsmacked, and decided that we really should have just ordered that between us, and we would still have had more than enough. For his part though he completely bottled it, ate about one fifth’s worth, and then went and asked for a doggie bag (classy).

After lunch we retraced part of the way along the Rver Adur only this time on the other (East) side. From there we had a challenging climb of sorts onto the top of the South Downs, which really strung out the group on the way up. With our leader struggling more than most at the back, there was a few false claims about what was the summit, with it more a case of reaching basecamp, than the top. Once there however we became even more strung out, with a breakaway group (sans leader) pushing on ahead, and having to be periodically called back every time they made a wrong turn. In the distance we could see the runway lights of Shoreham Airport again, but having watched three planes come in, only one of them actually chose to use it. A slightly tense moment was to follow as we found ourselves having to walk through a herd of cows, especially given their recent penchant for killing dog-walkers, and flattening blind politicians. As we got closer however we were able to breathe a huge sigh of relief as it turned out to be no more than a herd of bullocks with three large bulls standing amongst them. So having survived that we crossed the enormous footbridge that spanned the three lane A27, headed into town and the train home. By this time the heat of the day, which had started hazy and reasonable, had become very sultry and muggy, and I felt close to conking out (which proves I must have got some exercise then).

Walks since last blog entry: (3 x seven and a half miler’s – Grand Union Canal / Osterley Park).

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Putney Bridge to Osterley – (Surrey/Middlesex) – 18/06/09 – 8.5 Miles – Myself.

So this would be my third time along this part of the Thames, in just over a month. The last time was with IVC heading in the opposite direction from further out at Richmond, and before that it was with Helen in this direction only not so far out at Hammersmith. Yet having joined the towpath at Putney Bridge I was disappointed to see the ice cream van from last time out was missing, so obviously not everything round these parts can be relied on (incidentally the Football ground in the second photo, is of course Fulham F.C. of the Premier League, for those non-londoners who follow this blog).

The morning was around about 20 degrees, sufficient to just wear a t-shirt (although it did start to get cooler as the walk wore on).The towpath itself was actually quite busy for a Thursday morning. As such there was the usual cyclists, a large number of female dog walkers, lots of joggers with a ratio of about 80/20 female/male, a fair amount of female walkers, and one male walker (er well that would be me then). Actually this is not the first time I have noticed this phenomena, having also felt rather stand-outish walking through Wimbledon Common on my own once last year. So as I marched along I couldn’t help speculating on the reasons for this. Is it that woman are more health conscious, or have more time on the hands during a weekday morning perhaps ? Or is it something of slightly more concern, namely that there are now social constraints/suspicion attached to any male out walking on his own, along anywhere that doesn’t constitute a high street or residential area ? Answers by email to …………… (well I will set up an address some time for this survey).

What is a problem with the Thames Towpath is that given how busy it is, and hemmed in you are as well, there is nowhere you can answer a discreet call of nature if you happen to get caught a little short. Well I mean it wasn’t a major problem so to speak, but that t-shirt had left me a little exposed to the elements. However I certainly wasn’t going to go behind some barely concealing bush (exposing something else to the elements) only to leap out again onto some female jogger, and thus reinforce whatever prejudices that might exist regarding male walkers on their own. However just past Mortlake Brewery and before Chiswick bridge there is a quiet spot where few seem to tread. Thus the back of some ‘disused’ warehouse provided a concealed doorway that was stacked high with empty lager tins, so that seemed an appropriate spot to resolve the issue.

Crossing over Kew bridge I spotted the newly set up eco-village (see photo) that featured on the local news last week. I had actually seen it before, the last time I was over here with IVC, but then I didn’t know what it was. Now this was the second time I had done Kew Bridge to Osterley on the Middlesex side (the last time with Helen), and unlike before I was able to relax this time and trust in the ‘Thames Path’ signs to guide me. There is however an awful lot of going back out and back in between the path and the road, which does somewhat add to the overall distance. However once I picked up the Capital Ring signs and the Grand Union Canal, I was very much on the home straight.

Now I have to say I was going at a very quick pace today (even for me), to the extent that I am sure there have been times in the past (not many y/hear) that I might have actually jogged slower than my walking pace today. Anyway I did the whole shebang in exactly two and a half hours, which was quite handy really considering that this is a working day.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Richmond Park – Outer and Inner Loops – (Surrey) – 16/06/09 – 11 Miles – Myself.

An optimistic perspective would find me claiming that I have only put on half a stone in weight in one week. However as pessimism seems to be the overiding emotion regarding all things diet, I am far more likely to say that I have put on one stone in weight, in a mere half a week. However with a free day available to me, here was an opportunity to temporarily free myself from my chocolate bondage, and do one of my favourite walks instead. Thus not only was the 70 degree weather in my favour, but also unlike last time round here, I would be unencumbered by much slower walking companions.

The way I like to do this is to get the 65 bus to the bottom of Ham Gate Avenue, and use this as my start/finish point. Those of you unfamiliar with how large Richmond Park actually is, may wonder how can anyone possibly get an eleven mile walk around a simple park. Well to break that down I make it, based on an approximate 20 minute mile walking pace on my own as: half a mile from Ham Gate Avenue to the Ham Gate entrance, seven miles around the outer loop, three miles around the inner loop, and then another half a mile back from Ham Gate to the end of Ham Gate Avenue. In fact if truth be told I actually think it is nearer twelve miles, but we will leave it as it is for now.

I always get the sense in Richmond Park that all the other multiple users, whether they be: cyclists, joggers, dog walkers, sunbathers etc., spend a lot of their spare time there and by implication must live right next door to the place. No doubt that is entirely in my imagination, but being two bus rides away there is a tinge of envy on my part, and a feeling that if I lived next door to it I would probably still be running. Anyway I don’t, so I don’t (if you get my drift). A perfect example of such local users would probably be the ‘(young) mothers and buggies keep fit group’, I came across near Sheen Gate (an excellent location for that sort of thing, and obviously highly convenient for all involved). Anyway it is rude to stare which probably explains a midge (flying thing) crashing into my eye soon afterwards. So by the time I dislodged that I happened to notice a group of deer keeping out of the Sun under some nearbye trees, and took a number of photographs two of which you can see at the top of this blog.

Lunch was at the usual cafĂ© by the Golf Club which was almost empty of customers. Mindful of their penchant for charging lots for little, I made sure I checked out the price list before getting too much of a shock at the till. Anyway a Sausage baguette, slice of Genoa cake, and half a litre (you read that right) of Orange juice, came in at £6.30 (slightly cheaper than last time then, so I must be getting the hang of the place). Following lunch I got off the beaten track so to speak, and wandered along the trail by the stream that set Helen off moaning when I wouldn’t let her walk along it, when we were here last September. Anyway this sort of thing is so much better on ones own anyway, the only thing being that I wasn’t, as there appeared to be a meeting of every Blackbird in London taking place at this very spot (unfortunately the camera showed its limitations here, although for their part they wouldn’t keep still).

Following which it was the usual outer circuit down to Robin Hood Gate, Kingston Gate, Ham Gate (again), and the gate by the Dysart Arms public house. From there it was the very steep climb up to Pembroke Lodge/Henry Eighth’s mound, and the start of the inner loop. Walking along the path heading towards Richmond Gate, I spied a group of very young deer on the kerb of the adjoining road munching some grass. Thankfully all of the motorists were sufficiently clued in to slow right down when going past, otherwise the sequel to Bambi will remain a pipe dream (I haven’t included the photo’s with cars in them here, as they misleadingly look as if they are parked, but you should get the idea). So turning right at Richmond Gate, alongside the road again, the full panorama of the London skyline comes into view, but much better viewed with the naked eye, than a hand held telephoto on a cheap digital compact camera (but the picture showing: St Pauls, the Gherkin, and the Millenium Wheel etc., should give you the idea). Looking around, it is also possible to see at one extreme: the Post Office Tower and a little further on Canary Wharf, and right at the other end the arch of the New Wembley Stadium.

Anyway enough of these panoramic lists. So turning right again I headed off towards ‘White Lodge, The Royal Ballet School’ with Roehampton and a playing field full of deer on my left. With Pen Ponds eventually on my right, I came across the mobile tea stand, who to my shock and horror sold coffee but no chocolate. So with that unfulfilling break behind me there was nothing left but to head down towards Ham Gate, along Ham Gate Avenue, and the 65 bus stop.

So overall a very good days walking which: including my lunch and coffee stops, as well as faffing around taking 45 photos (most being the usual rubbish), came in at around four and a half hours. Also as a bonus when I got home I felt around half a stone lighter, well after I had been home some ten minutes anyway.
Walks since last blog entry (1 x seven and a half miler).

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Richmond Bridge to Putney Bridge – (Surrey/Middlesex) – 07/06/09 – 10 Miles – IVC

Having been woken by heavy crashes of thunder and pouring rain at about 07.32 AM, I decided today’s walk was a non-starter and decided to have a lay in instead. However when I eventually woke up again around 09.09 AM, the rain had stopped and the sun was shining. It then occurred to me I could still do this one. So with breakfast down me, I set off on my two bus rides to the Richmond station meeting point, actually getting there some 29 minutes early (thank goodness for Costa Coffee then). So waiting in the station forecourt I met up with one of the walkers from my Richmond Park circuits, but we weren’t sure who our leader was (as she was not someone I had ever seen on an IVC walk). Anyway we were soon approached by a girl in a red mac wanting to know were we North London Ramblers ? Eventually however our (9 strong) group emerged from the platform, whilst the North London lot assembled some 10 yards from us, looking far more organised by virtue of owning a clipboard.

So Richmond Bridge to Putney Bridge is of course a Thameside walk, and one of the first things you have to appreciate when walking on the towpath at weekends is that there are a lot of other users of it. Most notably (or rather most annoyingly) the legions of macho kitted out cyclists, who come at you from behind at full speed. Now not all of our group are necessarily savvy enough to appreciate this is not the Cotswolds (or wherever), and that you can’t just totally spread yourselves across the towpath oblivious to everything else coming at you. By the same token however these macho dicks on mountain bikes could save a lot of hassle for everyone by investing in something for their bike known as a bell.

Now although the Sun made the occasional brief appearance the day was overall rather gloomy, and having made it to Kew Bridge the rain did start to come down. Just as well then that was where lunch planned. So having crossed the bridge over to the Middlesex side, lunch was at a pub on the snootily named Strand on the Green. Apparently every table was being reserved for someone, but we were told we could have one of the reserved tables provided we buzzed off by 14.00 PM. I had what appeared to be half a bowl of caulifower soup, and a few grudging scraps of bread (superb value at £4.95 – hmm !). As for those who had the fish and chips, they were in something of a dilemma wondering whether to use both hands to handle the cutlery, or whether they actually required all ten fingers in order to count the number of chips on each plate.

So with lunch over and with the rain having stopped as well, we set off again. Unfortunately this where our leader made a major faux pas, by keeping us on the Middlesex side of the river. Basically you can’t walk along the Thames on this stretch as much of it is owned by sports clubs and private residences. So most of the walk down to Chiswick Bridge was spent walking along the road, and assorted back streets. What made it worse was that having reached Chiswick Bridge and a chance to cross over, that was lost and we still carried on as before onto yet more backstreets. Yes I could have made a demonstrative point here, but I wasn’t leading the walk, so I decided to shut up and just follow on rather than undermine the person who was. Yet with all this walking on the roads, it was getting to the point where I wished I hadn’t bothered to come. However having passed Barnes Bridge (still on the Middlesex side) the ‘leader of all leaders’ persuaded our ‘leader on the day’ to retrace her steps, and so we crossed the river there onto the Surrey side and the natural order was restored.

One piece of fun was provided further along the towpath by a minature Paris Hilton type dog (a long way back from its owners and their other five dogs) challenging two pit bulls to a fight (held back by their highly amused owners). Not content with that though, this barking rat type thing then made a minor attack on a female jogger heading towards us, who promptly told us off for not controlling our dog ! Anyway after picking up a twig (probably twice its own bodyweight) it was retrieved by a combination of its owner and its assorted doggie mates.

Past Hammersmith Bridge and noticing the reference points of Harrods depository, Fulham Football Club and the turn off to the Wetlands Centre, we were soon on the approach to Putney Bridge and all the assorted rowing clubs along the riverbank. At that point I then decided an ice cream was urgently required (a Pavlovs dog response basically whenever I see an ice cream van, which other adults seem to have grown out of). However once we made our final assembley outside the Star and Garter pub, I was then too full for the (then) mooted tea stop, and parted company with the rest of the group, to head off for the tube. So overall I would have to say a fairly non-descript walk on a fairly non-descript day (weatherwise), somewhat spoiled by walking from Kew Bridge to Barnes Bridge on the wrong (non) side of the river.
Walks since last blog entry (1 x seven and a half miler).

Monday, 1 June 2009

Upper Derwent Reservoirs (Circular) – (Dark) Peak District – (Derbyshire) – 29/05/09 – 10 Miles – Helen, Luther & Molly.

I have been keen for some time now to try out one of the cut out walks from Country Walking magazine, in order to see how accurate they are. So on this occasion Helen graciously put aside her planned walk, in order to give me my head in the Peak District. Also along to make sure the pace didn’t slacken too much was Lab dogs Luther and Molly.

So having parked at the Bridge End car park on the Derwent Valley road, and applied assorted sunscreen and floppy hat’s, we began a gentle climb up and away from the Ladybower reservoir. Having reached the top and turned right, our reward was some spectacular/breathtaking/stunning (pick your clichĂ©) views of the Woodlands valley on our left. This panoramic spectacular continued for some two miles, until we had to make a descent passing through a local farm that took us up to the A57. Thus interpreting the instructions a little too literally, I was convinced we then had to walk alongside the road. Helen on the other hand knew this was nonsence, and crossed over onto the track directly opposite us on the other side of the road. So lesson number one when using these cut outs: don’t just read the written instructions but refer to the map on the back (which of course showed the route dissecting the A57).

We then passed between the open bird sanctuary at Blackley Hay and briefly skirted the river Ashop. Now I know we heard a Cuckoo somewhere on this walk, but I can’t actually remember whether this was the place, so unless Helen corrects me later assume so. Meanwhile the thirsty doggies tried to get what refreshments that were available at the not so accessible river. Me and Helen were also in need of refreshment, so in due course we took our lunch break on a crumbling stonewall, whilst the doggies had another go at drinking up the River Ashop.
Following lunch we reached the A57 again by crossing over a water strewn concrete bridge, whilst the doggies got some more leisure activity down by the river. Thus once over we picked up a trail for about a mile through Alport Dale, before heading past a local farm. Turning right (and having worked out what constitutes downstream) we crossed yet another bridge, where the doggies and Helen enjoyed even more fun and frolics in the river (if I had known what was about to follow I would definitely have joined them). Thus the ‘cut out’ said we then had to negotiate a steep, long, but well worn climb. In the event it wasn’t steep and long at all, it was Everest. To put it in context, I have never gone up anything before that was as demanding as that: not Snowdon, not Golden Cap, not the climbs at Branscombe, not the walk from the Woody Bay car park on our working holiday in Devon last October, nothing basically. What added to the challenge was that we were now doing this on the hottest part of the day, on what turned out to be (according to the Countryfile forecast anyway) the hottest day of the year. Needless to say we used every excuse to stop, every couple of minutes, mindful of the toll such exertion might be taking on the doggies (Ha !). Anyway having emptied most of our water bottles we eventually spotted the summit, and with one final push got there. Needless to say it wasn’t the summit at all, merely a small plateau and that there was still more climbing to be done. So lesson number two when using these cut outs, if it says ‘steep and Long’, make sure you have in your rucksack the flag of your own particular nationality (especially if you are unfit wimps like us).
So still breathing we got there in the end and having debated whether a pile of rocks below was ‘The Tower’ referred to in the cut out, we took a chance and turned right onto the ‘only’ well worn grass path that we could have turned onto. So lesson number three when using these cut outs: if it looks bleeding obvious, don’t try to prove it is not. Anyway what goes up, needs to come down and we were now in descent mode heading through a wood (where Helen discovered a fairy grotto), all the while stalked by another couple with their dog. Having reached the bottom we turned right onto the road and began to walk alongside the Howden reservoir.

Now this final three and three quarter miles of the walk was my least favourite part of the day. Partly because whilst Helen had now appeared to get her second wind, the effects of the earlier climb had really started to kick into my legs and overall energy level. But also for most of the time whilst we walked past the Howden, Derwent and Ladybower reservoirs there was no other option but to walk alongside (and sometime on) the road (as per instructions). It wasn’t so much that the roads were busy with traffic, as there was more cyclists than cars, but rather keeping the dogs out of everyones way whilst sometimes being forced onto the road was tiresome, and that the view of the reservoirs themselves was often obscured. The upside however was that the information boards told the interesting story of the community that sprung up at Birchinlee at the turn of the century (otherwise know as Tin Town) solely in order to construct the Howden and Derwent Dams before being swallowed up by the water. After a few unofficial off road diversions from Helen, we eventually reached the Fairholme visitor centre (an ice cream kiosk and some seats ?) where I had a 99 and Helen had a Cornetto. Following which we were able to find an actual signed offroad trail that took us back to the Bridge End car park opposite the Ladybower reservoir and the end of our day.
So as walks go it was a good one (subject to the qualification in the last paragraph), and the instructions in the ‘cut out’ proved accurate and easy to follow. If you are interested in trying this walk yourself, it is Route 15 in the November 2008 issue of Country Walking magazine.