The South Downs Way is a 100-mile path for walkers and cyclists and extends from Winchester to Eastbourne. We have now traversed 7% of that path. While that may not sound like a lot, it really has taken us some time. That’s because we do the round-trip (return), not the one-way (single) path. We might cover more ground if we took advantage of public transport to deliver us to one spot and pick-up at another.
The second phase of our South Downs Way walk also started at the Jack and Jill windmills. However, this time we headed east towards Ditchling Beacon. The beacon, a small post in the ground, formed part of a chain of bonfire signals used to warn of the approach of danger. Back in the Georgian/Regency days, this could mean the possibility of an invasion from the French, or even the coming of the Preventive Officer, depending on who used the site.
After the strenuous walk of the previous week towards Devil’s Dyke, we decided to take it easy. This part of the South Downs Way encompasses the Ditchling Beacon Nature Reserve. Parts of the reserve can be quite steep, but we only stayed at the top where the path is relatively flat. But it afforded wonderful views. From where we were, we could see out to the sea (English Channel).
Cows and sheep were grazing contentedly all around us. The cows didn’t bother us, but we tried to avoid attracting their attention as we’ve heard the warnings about people being trampled to death. The sheep and little lambies were, well, “sheepish”. But our eldest managed to sneak up on a lamb and touch its fur before it ran away.
It was not the best of days in terms of weather. It was quite windy and there was a slight chill, which did not help. The kids had not been very willing to go for a walk because of the Devil’s Dyke experience, but after chasing lambs, they were in a better mood. The younger one started to have a tantrum by the time we approached the beacon because she thought daddy and sissy were leaving her behind. When told to run ahead and catch up, she started throwing hysterics and crying, “I can’t. I can’t breathe.” As we took a few steps forward and an ice-cream truck came in to view, that was the end of her histrionics.
Today was another glorious late spring day with the temperature in the mid 70s, the sky cloudless and a gentle breeze rolling off the Sussex Downs.
To make the most of the good weather, we headed down to the Forest Way. The Forest Way is a bridleway, walking, and cycle path (part of the National Cycle Network Route 21) which runs between Groombridge in Kent and East Grinstead in West Sussex. It is a section of a former railway branch line which ran between Tunbridge Wells and Three Bridges. The line was closed in the 1960s due to government cut-backs.
We decided to tackle the section of the path between Withyham and East Grinstead. There is limited free parking where the path crosses Station Road in Withyham, so we left the car there and headed west.
Much of the path is lined with tall trees and other flora which offered welcome shade from the sun, and ample attraction for many butterflies and dragonflies. Various small tributaries and brooks pass under the path, running in to the River Medway as it snakes through the fields to the north. Perfect landscape for young explorers!
Before long, we reached the former Hartfield Railway Station which has retained much of it character, front and back, and, today, seems to be a nursery or daycare centre. After a short rest at a bench in the shade by Hartfield Station, we continued to Forest Row, some three and a half miles farther on.
Approaching Forest Row, between the trees on the north side of the path, we noticed a mansion among the hills and pastures which, at first, we thought was Hammerwood House, but later found out was Ashdown House School (see picture).
At Forest Row, we branched off to the left on to the former Station Road which brought us out to the familiar village green. The Co-op for ice cream and the public conveniences behind the Forester’s Arms Pub were our principal ports of call before heading back to the path.
It is difficult to discern exactly where the station once stood at Forest Row as both the land where it once stood, and the area where the line previously crossed the A22 have undergone significant development.
Crossing the A22, the path rises on to an embankment and remains mostly shaded before reaching East Grinstead close to Sackville College about 2 and a half miles distant.
We chained the kids’ bicycles outside East Grinstead library, (metaphorically) raided the local candy store and took the 291 bus back to Withyham to collect the car.
This weekend we decided to make good use of the present spell of good weather to navigate part of the South Downs Way in West Sussex. We started at the site of the twin windmills, Jack and Jill, atop a hill in Clayton overlooking much of Mid-Sussex. There was ample free parking, so we left the car and headed west along the Hassocks Link Trail to pick up the South Downs Way towards Devil’s Dyke. Jill, the white restored windmill, was open to visitors but we decided to see it another time.
Heading west, we came first to a series of stables and paddocks where piebalds and bays grazed in the surrounding pastures. Beyond the stables, the trail joined the South Downs Way at a four-way junction. To the left was a bridleway, ahead the South Downs Way went towards the Ditchling Beacon, but we chose the right branch which bisected Pyecombe Golf Course. This picturesque trail, flanked by heather and wild flowers, seems to be popular with mountain bikers. Several passed us before we reached the PGC club-house at the foot of a steady descent over half a mile. Here, the South Downs Way crosses the A273 and loops right to the village of Pyecombe. We stopped in to look at the Grade I listed 12th century stone church which offered a cool respite from the heat.
Both our daughters took the opportunity to read sections from the church guide from the 17th century pulpit. As their voices echoed back across the empty nave, I pondered who else might have preached from the same pulpit to the many generations of the faithful to have sat in the church over the last 800 years. One such may have been the Reverend Lewis Beaumont whose marble headstone sits in front of the altar (see picture below).
Leaving the church grounds through the centrally pivoted Tapsel gate, we followed the path parallel to the graveyard as it sloped down towards the A23. For anyone duplicating this walk, the Plough Inn is nearby and would make a good place to stop for refreshments and a rest before tackling the ascent on the west side of the A23.
We continued over the A23 and, after passing a farm entrance, turned right away from the road, past an elegant 17th century cottage to commence the slow ascent to the top of West Hill. It was about this time that little legs began to tire and piggybacks to the top of the hill were the order of the day.
On reaching the top of the hill, we expected to see our destination, or at least some sign of it. We looked, and looked, and looked! Then, faint on the horizon we spotted the outline of a building we thought might be the inn at Devil’s Dyke.
I was tempted to title this post “Getting Lost on the South Downs Way between Jack and Jill and Devil’s Dyke” for there were brief moments when we felt completely adrift among endless hills and dells. However, a little later, and a good deal more tired, than anticipated we did reach the Devil’s Dyke Inn to enjoy a much deserved dinner.
This weekend, Audley End House re-opened its stables for the first time in about 60 years. To celebrate, they reenacted a visit by Queen Victoria to inspect her troops with “All the Queen’s Horses”. Having horse lovers in the family, we had to attend.
Unfortunately, the weather and the traffic did not cooperate well. We had another one of those Arctic spells move in, so the skies were overcast for most of the morning and it was raining hard at times. That made for a frustrating drive, as traffic always gets jammed through the Dartford Tunnel, even on a good day.
By the time we arrived, the rain had moved off, but the grounds were wet and muddy, and the skies were still overcast. But the setting was so wonderful that I think we managed some good pictures regardless. Essex and Cambridgeshire are truly beautiful counties. You could almost forget that a road cut through part of the original estates of Audley End House. Set in a valley with rolling hills around it and the river Cam in front, it was amazingly picturesque.
The English Heritage Society did a good job with putting together a show, and even though the turnout was low due to the weather conditions, the actors did not appear to grumble. Army encampment tents were sent up on the grounds with the Corps of Drums of the HAC, the 17th Lancers and the Diehards Company giving talks and displays during the “Grand Arrival” and the “Grand Parade”. Being a family event, they also had stalls for games for the kids.
Needless to say, we spent most of the time getting up close to the horses. But, the wind picked up and it became quite cold. Our younger daughter started fussing, so we decided to go indoors. Unfortunately, it was too late to view the inside of the house, but the servants’ quarters were open. You cannot but feel overwhelmed by the immense wealth of the aristocracy.
This weekend was the warmest we’ve had this year. It was too beautiful to be indoors, but we didn’t want to be going out too far, so we settled for a walk at Ardingly Reservoir. This was next to Ardingly College, a prestigious private school. What a beautiful setting for a school!
We arrived rather late in the day, so we didn’t have time to make it all around the reservoir. The parking lot, charged at a pound a day, closes at 7PM and has a barrier to prevent people from hanging out after hours. The reservoir was much bigger than we had expected. We regretted that we had not thought to come out earlier and bring along a picnic.
It didn’t turn out to be such a good walk, though. Not that the place was not conducive to a walk, but the kids just wanted to goof-off, giving each other piggy-back rides and rolling around, etc. Our pace could only be described as an intermittent leisurely stroll. We only picked up speed when they spied a small pig farm. Unfortunately for them, the pigs were far too comfortable wallowing and did not come over.
There were small paths for birdwatchers, but we did not enter as the kids were too loud and we didn’t want to interrupt any serious birdwatching. There was also a small area all around the reservoir that was fenced off for anglers. I’m not sure if there’s a private angling group that the place is reserved for. We’ll definitely have to come back later in the summer to spend the day.
I took a week off during the Easter holiday to spend some time with the family. We didn’t have much time or money so we could only do small things. Plus, the kids still had gymnastics most of the week. But the highlight for them was visiting the National Stud Centre in Newmarket.
The girls love horses and have done so since they were babies. They have not had formal riding lessons (as they are so expensive) but they have gone riding and the guides have always noted that they sit well on a horse.
We had watched the Grand National the week before. One of the horses in the race came from the National Stud Centre and had not returned when we visited. But it did not detract from the kids’ enjoyment of being around the foals and seeing other former prize winners.
They also learned a little about breeding. I must admit it was a bit uncomfortable when the older girl started asking questions about how it all worked. I wasn’t exactly ready to discuss sex and breeding, even if it was about horses, especially in front of other people. Luckily, she didn’t pursue the subject in detail as her younger sister would have done. She was more interested in the fact that the workers lived in houses on the grounds. She hopes to join them someday.
The National Stud Centre has a racecourse next to it and they run races during the summer. There is also the Newmarket racecourse, which was not too far away, so we drove over to see what Newmarket was like. It was rather small, still retaining some of the old village character.
From there, we decided to go over to Cambridge, as the younger girl hopes to go to King’s College someday. After walking around the town (it was late afternoon and most of the shops had already shut) and around the colleges, we stopped for ice cream and watched the punters going down the Cam. As we walked around the back, we took pictures of her and her Pooh Bear with King’s College in the background. It will serve as a memento, in case she doesn’t go to Kings.
Our English Heritage membership came up for renewal this month and what better way to celebrate than to take our first trip of the year to Down House, home of British scientist Charles Darwin.
Down House is a little south of the village of Downe (the spelling of the village seems to have acquired its ‘e’ ending about the turn of the 19th century when still a Kent parish) and can be accessed by country lanes leading from the A21 or A233. It is a little off the beaten track and for us on this chilly February morning, the brown heritage signs on the roadsides provided better navigation aids than our Yahoo! driving directions.
The self-guided tour (using provided audio-visual devices and headsets) is divided in to two sections: the interior and the grounds.
The grounds include the gardens, a greenhouse, the barn (where usually there are active colonies of bees which, sadly – for us, not them – had been shipped out to warmer climes for the winter) and the remains of the tennis court. Extending beyond the gardens is a trail of about a mile known as the Sandwalk. Apparently, Darwin would walk this trail daily when taking a break from his work. Some nice views of the south-facing rear of the house can be had from the Sandwalk.
Inside the house is where this location comes in to its own. Much of the downstairs interior has been expertly restored to appear as it did during Darwin’s life (after Darwin’s death, the house was a private girls’ school, and later was given to the Royal College of Surgeons as a research facility before it was bought and restored by English Heritage in 1996.) Darwin lived at Down for 40 years, and wrote the full text of On the Origin of Species in its study.
With many original pieces of furniture and other items loaned from Darwin’s family or from private collections, the restorers have commendably created the look and feel of a lived-in Victorian house. From the decorative grand piano, slate billiard table, full Wedgwood dinner service (Darwin’s wife, Emma, was grand-daughter of Josiah Wedgwood the renowned potter; Darwin inherited the service from his mother, another of Josiah Wedgwood’s prolific progeny – the Darwin/Wedgwood tree is a little complicated, as you’ll see) down to pens and ink blotters, parlour games and distractions, maps and period magazines, it is all there offering a very vibrant feel of what it may have been like to live alongside the Darwins.
The upstairs is structured like a museum, with several rooms exhibiting artifacts, a games room where vital aspects of Darwin’s theories are described in games, videos and puzzles, and a room to rest in where children can dress up in period clothing.
This was a great half-day trip and we hope to return again in the summer to see the gardens in bloom.
Our biggest trip of the summer was going to Scotland. We wanted to get to Inverness, and possibly all the way up to John O’Groats. But, the amount of driving finally took its toll, and we didn’t even make it to Inverness. It didn’t help that we only had one driver. And, it didn’t help that although the kids begged to go to Scotland (because everybody was going somewhere far for the holidays), their primary goal was Build-a-Bear Workshop.
We realised early on that if we didn’t go to BABW, we would never hear the end of it. There are several BABWs in Scotland and we really had no clue where they were. After perusing the map, we decided to head towards Edinburgh. As we approached Edinburgh, taking the scenic route and passing through some quaint little towns and villages, we saw signs for Park-n-Ride. We opted for this, since we didn’t want to get lost in Edinburgh. We parked up and took the bus. Luckily, the bus driver was well-informed enough to tell us exactly where BABW was, and even took the time to make sure we got off at the right stop. It was a very hot day and the BABW was stuffy. I was very disappointed that they used all their money to get a bear. And, instead of dressing it up in traditional Scottish dress (since we were in Edinburgh), our younger daughter spent her remaining money on a simple T-shirt. After that trip, we thought they’d focus on seeing a bit of Scotland, but all they wanted was to get home as soon as possible to log their new friends into the computer. Uugh!
We walked around the square, took some pictures of the castle and the Scott (Sir Walter Scott) monument. There was music coming from the castle and we wondered if there was a festival or some event going on. We didn’t see any advertisement anywhere, though. The streets were crowded, and it didn’t help that they were doing construction work on a light rail in the city. The heat was making all of us tired, so we go back to the car and drove out of town.
Since we saw Edinburgh Castle, we thought, “Where is Balmoral?”. We had just purchased a new map book, and it showed the location of Balmoral, so we decided to head in that direction. We headed out towards Perth, crossing the Firth of Forth bridge (the Forth Road Bridge, that is), one of the longest suspension bridges in the world. At Perth, we took a wrong turn and started heading towards Dundee, but we eventually found our way to Braemar, in the middle of the Cairngorn Mountains. Balmoral is in the heart of the Cairngorn National Park, near Braemar. Though the mountains of Scotland may not be as rugged and high as the Alps or the Rockies, we could sense the desolation of the High Country as we drove through. Besides the ski resort, we saw no signs of habitation for miles and miles. The only living things were sheep, some grazing right next to the road, and some birds of prey flying overhead. Nearer to Braemar, some campers had pitched their tents near a river. It was quite cold, but we regretted not bringing a tent.
We stopped in Braemar for a bit and walked around the town. Then, we got back on the road towards Balmoral. At one particular bend in the road, a few miles away, we saw the top of what looked like the tower of a castle. But, we couldn’t see it again, so we couldn’t be sure. When we drove up to the road to Balmoral, we discovered that the castle had been open to the public, up until two days before we arrived. We drove down there to see if we could see it, but the gate was closed and a guard was nearby, looking rather laid-back and playing with his phone. We drove on down and turned around again, and the guard looked up at us questioningly (we must have disturbed his texting). Back on the main road, we were just about to turn onto the road to Inverness when we decided to start heading home.
The kids half-heartedly protested. But, they had been asleep on the drive through the Cairngorns, so we told them they missed the tortuous, hilly roads that made their stomachs turn. It was like a roller coaster ride for them, and by the time we reached Perth, they wanted to go through the mountains again. We stayed at a B&B in Perth and spent the next morning looking around the town. It was quite nice. After that, we headed once again for England.
It’s August Bank Holiday weekend. We are avoiding going out today. The traffic report on Friday was enough to convince us that this is the biggest travel weekend. Of course, the 35-mile traffic back-up outside Bristol was not related to an accident, but to a man on a bridge, yet the amount of traffic speaks volumes.
Nevertheless, we opted to head for the beach yesterday. This time, it was to Camber. We figured it wouldn’t be as packed as more popular places, like Brighton or Eastbourne. And, we were right. The traffic was pretty bad in a few spots on our way down, but it was very clear on our way back. We wanted to stop first in Rye, but couldn’t find a parking spot, so we went on into Camber instead. It would have been nice to stop and look around. Maybe next time.
Camber is located just to the east of Rye, a small medieval town. It is in the Walland Marshes and very nearby are “Danger Areas” that are fenced off. From what I understand, it is where they did some testing during WWII and there may be landmines still in there. But, Camber itself is just a small seaside village. There is a Pontins there. To those Americans who may not know what that is, it’s like a chain holiday resort.
Camber is the first beach we’ve been to with sand dunes. I’ve seen images of beaches with sand dunes and I’ve been to some with one or two dunes, but this is the first one I’ve experienced with dunes stretching the entire length, with a golf course on the dunes at the very end. It was also very low tide, so the beach stretched out very far. We went wading in the water and found lots of shells. Even in the small shallow pools in the sands, my husband and kids spotted little fishes. And, guess what? The water was lukewarm. On the opposite end to the golf courses was a shingle beach and the people there were engaged in parasurfing. It seems to be a very popular sport along the southern coast of England, but there were many more people doing it in Camber than we have seen at the other beaches.
The kids played horse and camel in the sand dunes. They had crawled up the dune and down to the beach. They did not change into their bathing suits and got their clothes very wet while they went wading (they wore capris). Afterwards, when they got down on all fours again to play in the dunes, they were extremely filthy. But they had fun doing so.
They have a parking lot at the beach, though there really are no marked parking bays. Pretty much, you park somewhere on the grass and try to keep some order. It is gated, you pay at the front, and they lock up after hours. Considering that you have to pay everyday, including Sundays and Bank Holidays, we were surprised to find that the entrance was closed before closing time, which is 6:00pm. We didn’t park there, objecting to having to pay to park everywhere we go. We parked on the street outside Pontins and walked down. I don’t understand why the area had to be gated. Do they not allow anyone in after 6?
The kids’ holiday is almost at an end. Because it is so short, compared to what they are used to, we really had to take them to a lot of places to compensate. Yesterday, was probably the most jam-packed day we’ve had. They wanted to go to Scotland and the Isle of Wight this year. We already did Scotland and northern England (I have yet to write about it) and yesterday, we went to the Isle of Wight.
The weather forecast had said “sunny intervals”, which usually means a mix of sun and clouds. We were supposed to have rain Monday and Wednesday. Well, it didn’t rain on Monday. It came in early Tuesday morning. However, it cleared up by the time we arrived in the IOW. Driving through the downs of West Sussex, however, the clouds were worrying.
We took one of those humongous car ferries over. When you see the number of cars and lorries crossing, you think to yourself, “How in the world will all these get on there?”, but once you drive through, it looks a little like a multi-storey car park. It also explains why it takes 40 minutes to cross the Channel. The kids have been on boats before, but not on a ferry like this, so it was a new adventure. It was quite windy sitting on the deck, so we moved inside. The rain came and went, forcing people in and out, several times.
Our first stop of the day was Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s family retreat, now an English Heritage property. Parking was free, even for nonmembers. We didn’t see all of it, because we wanted to make our way around the island, but we could have stayed all day. The house was absolutely wonderful, though many rooms were unavailable. But, like many of these stately homes, you have to line up as you walk around all the open rooms. You cannot just view things at your leisure, and it would have been difficult with so many people. Although, I must say it was not as crowded as when we went to Windsor Castle over 10 years ago. We also went inside the Walled Garden. Though the blooms were on their way out for most of them, it was still very nice. I loved being around the fragrant flowers, especially the lavender. They had several kinds of apples and pears growing in alternate trellises. The highlight of this garden was when I spotted a hummingbird. It was so small I thought it was a large bee at first. But it made no buzzing and as I approached I could see the fluttering of the wings as it flitted from flower to flower. My husband took several pictures and I hope at least one turns out well. It was very difficult keeping up with it. We did not take the little carriage ride, nor visit the Swiss House or walk all around the grounds. The views across the Solent were absolutely wonderful. Parts of the ground have been given over to a golf club. We also learned that as members, we could book a cottage on the grounds, but there is an 18 month to 2 year waiting list. Wow! Like we can ever plan that far in advance.
We took the main road that forms a ring around the island. We did not stop in Yarmouth, though it looked like a very nice town to visit. Instead we went on into Alum Bay. That was a mistake in a way, but we learned for next time. Alum Bay is very touristy. That says it all. We paid to park – not too bad if you planned to stay all day, but with “one price fits all”, it was not ideal for us. From there you could walk up a steep hill and get a great view of the entire place, or even visit the old Battery at the end, which is now a National Trust property. They have monopolised the area, so that if you are a member, or willing to pay, you could get in and get good views and good pictures. The kids did not want to do much walking, so we went into the center of the little tourist hot spot, where they had amusements and shops. We wanted to walk down to the beach, but the kids saw the chairlift and wanted to ride down on it. It was again more money out (we always like to limit our expenditure on unnecessaries). At first we couldn’t see a footpath to the beach (it was cleverly hidden). On our way down the chairlift, we could see the path and it may have been arduous, but it looked like a nice walk. Anyhow, the kids enjoyed the little adventure and the thrill as we made a steep drop down. It was quite windy at the top (several people lost their hats) and they both got a little scared. The view of the Needles as we rode on the lift was amazing, but we couldn’t get any pictures. we were told there was not much beach because it was high tide. There was very little room to move, but we saw the coloured sands of the cliffs – shades of red/pink/yellow/white/green. After riding back up (we had a moment when the lift stopped and we were at the very top), my husband went on his own to the top of the hill and took some pictures, while I stayed in the car with the kids while they ate some hot soup. I should mention that every time I passed the candy shop there, I could smell the candy. They must make it on site. I didn’t want to explore it because I know the kids would have wanted some, and we really have to cut down on their sweets. Next time, we would park in the free car park in Totland and take the bus up to the top, explore, and walk back down into the town. It would have been more of an adventure and encouraged the kids to do more physical exercise. Of course, we would need better walking shoes.
The older one wanted a sandy beach to play on, so we drove on, enjoying the wonderful scenery of countryside and seaside as we went from the western edge to the southern tip and around to the east. We stopped in Shanklin and they ran around the sand like crazy kids just released from bondage, making sandcastles and digging for treasure. Despite the chilly wind and the late afternoon/early evening hours, I was surprised to find that the water was quite warm. When we lived in New Hampshire, I don’t think the water ever got warm. And, in England, I have found that the water may not be very cold, but I couldn’t describe is as warm. Afterwards, they played in the amusements, had a bit of dinner and we were on our way again.
It was getting dark, but our ferry was leaving very late. We stopped at Ryde and while the kids played on the sand, my husband took some night shots of Portsmouth, lit up across the channel. Then we walked around the little paddling pond where they had swan boats and literally, dozens of swans making their residence. The swans swam towards us as we walked (they must have hoped for food) and our younger daughter got scared. She is easily frightened. It didn’t help that we saw a big rodent walking along the edge of the pond, then running into the grass. We also saw another rodent popping its head in and out of one of the holes in the grassy verge along the pond. I wouldn’t want to be that person we saw sleeping in one of the benches.
We were tired but the kids wanted to continue playing on the sands. We debated waiting out for our ferry or arriving early and seeing if we could cross. Either way, we’d be arriving home very late, but it was a two-hour difference. We tried to call the ferry office, but they had just closed. They allowed one free change of itinerary, but after that there was a small administrative charge. We chanced it and arrived early. We had no difficulty getting on. This time, we were aboard a newer designed ferry with TV screens showing ads for the Isle of Wight. It seemed to help pass the time. The kids were still playful, but by the time we got out of the port, they were asleep. They were tired and a little sad that the little injured butterfly, that they picked up in the grounds of Osborne House and named Leopard and tried to revive with a piece of grape, finally died. They had carried this butterfly all around with them all day and refused to let it go. We reached home at about the same time we would have arrived at the port had we waited for our ferry. We were exhausted and went directly to bed, after carrying the sleeping kids in, nearly 19 hours since I woke up.
We didn’t do everything we would have liked, but we had a little taste of what the island offered. Next time, we’d need several days, possibly a week.