Friday, 27 September 2013

The Serpent Trail Section 5 Petworth to Midhurst

Setting Off From Petworth

After all the excitement of the mascots I was keen to get back to some real walking and progress along one of my outstanding projects.  Since September is now fully underway I thought that a good early autumn route might be an exploration of the next stage of the Serpent Trail.  Since it was a Monday I was in a position where it was possible to complete the return leg from Midhurst back to Petworth by bus; something that isn’t possible on a Sunday, which is my normal walking day.

Lost Geese
I parked up in Petworth at the free car park that has become my friend for the Serpent Trail and made my way back along the track that I had used six months earlier on my last outing on the trail.  How times have changed since that outing.  Gone were the early spring buds and the daffodils to be replaced by rosehips and blackberries.  The fields had largely been harvested now and most were left as stubble, the ploughing still a week or two away.  The start of the day was a grey one, although every now and again I got glimpses of sun behind the clouds suggesting that the weather forecast of a fine day might come to pass if I were patient.

Plump and Ripe Blackberries
Everywhere around me were signs of the end of the summer and perhaps the most telling were the large flocks of geese honking as they passed overhead to possibly head for warmer climes.  In fact I did think that one group had a faulty satnav as they wheeled around from field to field, seemingly not knowing where they were going!  I crossed the River Rother and on the lane that led past Kilsham Farm I admired the huge crop of blackberries that were seemingly untouched by foragers.  I’m not even sure that the birds were paying much attention to them.  I was somewhat thankful that I had forgotten my containers for I probably would still be there now, so heavy was the crop.

Birch Woods
I passed by Petworth Station once again, thinking how lovely it would be to stay there one night (it’s a luxury hotel these days).  I walked a short way along the busy A285, disappearing into the woods that would be a feature of the day by a petrol station now turned farm shop.  As I headed along the path I could hear lots of machinery as on the other side of the fence but out of sight is the rather unusual instance of a still working sand quarry at Duncton.  I never did get to see any of the activity but fortunately the sound soon faded as I headed further into the woods.

Early Flowering Gorse
At the first opportunity I stopped and had my sandwiches for lunch and could see that the forest floor was already starting to become peppered with fungi, mostly an orange variety that I’m not expert enough to know, but may have been a common rustgill.  The fungi were perhaps the best feature of this section of the path, for the weather continued to be relentless grey and the woodland through Duncton Common was quite dense, not allowing much in the way of any view to the surrounding countryside.  Nonetheless, being a big fan of this type of countryside I was quite happy to plod along and enjoy the earthy smells of the pine forest.

Belted Galloway
I crossed a small road by a picnic area, passing by the first people I had seen since setting out from Petworth some considerable time earlier.  They looked like they were packing up a large number of dogs in the back of their van and I was rather relieved to have missed them.  On the other side of the road I was pleased that the countryside was a little more open for a time and ahead of me I could see the line of the Downs again, much as I had done on the last outing near Fittleworth.  I was rather surprised to see that gorse was already flowering but disappointed to see that I had largely missed the heather, with only the hardiest flowers still showing.  On the heathland were a small herd of Belted Galloway cattle and I felt for sure that I must be on National Trust land, for I know this to be a breed favoured by the Trust.

Dereliction in the Woods
Strangely for a sandy heathland I had to dodge quite a few puddles on this little stretch and yet the water was clearly permanent enough to have attracted the attention of quite a few dragonflies.  I watched them flit about for awhile, thinking I might be lucky enough to get a picture but sadly it didn’t happen.  I negotiated my way along what was a fairly poor stretch of path and was quite relieved to wind up on the road I had previously crossed.  I got my pace going again when on the road but fortunately it was fairly short lived and I dog legged back around a deserted house and back into the trees once again.

Busy Forest Floor
Graffham Common seemed more artificial in its planting than some of the other commons I had seen earlier in the day and it was criss-crossed with firebreaks, suggesting that this was a plantation and not a heathland left to its own devices.  Yet it was no less enjoyable for all that and the fungi continued to provide the best interest.   I came out by the huge white Millborough House, impressive but I don’t think of any great antiquity (unless anyone can tell me otherwise?).  It was a short trudge along another road before disappearing into the woodland once again.  In fact the pattern of this whole day was one of zig-zagging between stretches of heathland.

Sun Out!
As I heade3d along through the next stretch of heathland though the moment arrived that I had been waiting for all day, the first shaft of sunshine penetrating through the clouds.  Amazingly within half an hour the cloud had completely melted away and I was left with glorious blue skies and warm sunshine, to the point that I had to disrobe for I was far too hot!  The sunshine made all the difference though – it seemed to transform the countryside and woods from a drab dark green landscape into a vibrant one almost immediately!

Ambersham Common
With the sun out I had a spring in my step and my pace quickened considerably.  I skipped from heathland to heathland, enjoying how the berries and leaves were transformed by the late September rays.  I even saw some deer and a lizard that scurried away as I crossed Ambersham Common.  I was by now looking consciously at the time for I wanted to try and avoid a long wait for a bus at Midhurst.  Perhaps luckily for me although the onward countryside was beautiful there was no outstanding things to look at along the way that might have detained me.  I did pause briefly at the former railway bridge that crossed over the railway that had once joined Midhurst and Petworth and would have made a fine way to travel between the two small towns.  Sadly no trains have passed along here for nearly 60 years, so it is perhaps something of a miracle that any of it remains.  My peace was shattered by a young woman riding a horse here who seemed to be telling the whole world about her social life down a mobile phone.  Discretion was clearly not her strong point!

New Pond, Midhurst

I soon left the heathlands and pine forests near Cocking Causeway and had rather more road walking than I would like.  I had decided to go for broke and try and complete the day’s walking without taking a short cut and make the bus, which made for a rather tough couple of miles walking.  In truth I probably should have slowed down a bit, but my quick pace for once paid off, for I did make the bus in Midhurst, just!  The driver got in the vehicle after his cigarette break just as I arrived.  It was a tough slog to get there but I was relieved for once that it worked out.  Did I miss much as a result?  Maybe the journey was a bit more fleeting than I would have liked but it did mean that I got some better exercise & that is probably no bad thing!

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Gromit Unleashed

May Contain Nuts (and Bolts)

After the success of the Rhino Trail we decided to postpone our planned next visit to the Kennet and Avon Canal and instead head for Bristol to try out another mascot trail, this time featuring the character Gromit, from Wallace and Gromit fame.  The trail was set out to raise funds for Bristol Children’s Hospital, a very worthy cause and fitting for Gromit to be involved for the Aardman HQ is in the city.  We only just managed to get there in time though, for it was the last weekend before all the mascots were to be taken away.  Sadly, from our point of view, we also had to acknowledge right away that we were never going to see them all. 

Crowds around Bunty
Unlike the other mascot trails we have visited thus far, the Gromits were scattered right across the city and beyond.  I suspect it would have taken someone several days to have managed to find them all, since there were some placed as far away as London Paddington Station (the rail gateway for Bristol), Cheddar Gorge and Westonbirt Arboretum.  Since one of the aims of the project was to bring in tourism I can understand the logic of these placements, but it did mean that we would be restricted to only about half of all those available on our walk around the city (there were 80 in total).

Queen's Square
Remembering how fearful traffic in Bristol can get I boxed cleaver and parked outside the city at the Parkway Station and we took the train.  As soon as we got off the train at Temple Meads we found the first Gromit known as May Contain Nuts (and Bolts).  Given the number of nuts and bolts that must have been used in the building of the Temple Meads Train Shed it was an appropriate one to start with.  Being by the ticket barrier meant that it was mostly ignored by those passing through, but the same could not be said about the one outside the main entrance to the station (Isambark Kingdog Brunel – a tribute to the great man himself).  A large queue had formed to get a picture of the dapper looking dog and any chance of me taking anything more than a hurried snap was surely impossible.

Once out of the station we then had to decide a route.  Knowing that we couldn’t possibly see them all we decided upon a route that would enable us to see the best of the city as well as maximise our chances of seeing as many as we could.  We devised a route around the harbour that then took us up to Clifton and on a loop back through the city centre to the station once again.  Essentially this combined the three suggested routes that were devised for walkers, but also added another loop up on the hills overlooking Bristol.

MV Balmoral
The measure of our task soon became clear as we walked along the streets, seeing dozens of families all with the same idea and at each of the Gromits we were faced with short queues as people politely waited for each other to get their shots away.  We quickly found the next two, the rather colourful looking Blazing Saddles and then Bunty.  The second featured a rather whimsical panorama of the city complete with bunting and lots of flowers.  It really appealed to the girls a lot.

Watch Out Gromit!
We crossed over into Queen Square and decided to have a lunch stop by the very impressive looking statue of King William III, which had been there a surprisingly long time having been erected in 1736!  The statue was interesting in its detail, not least because the horse he sat astride of, looked to have caught its foot on a mole hill.  This incident caused the king to fall from his horse and contributed to him contracting pneumonia, from which he later died.  The statue was given to the city to give thanks for its loyalty towards the king.  It was supposed to be joined by a modern day Gromit, but sadly all that remained was the plinth on which it had once stood.  ‘Bark at Ee’ had sadly been vandalised the week before and would not be making a return to the trail.  Although it was disappointing not to see that one, or Groscar nearby, Queens Square was nevertheless a lovely peaceful place in which to stop for a picnic lunch.

National Treasure
Feeling fortified we headed off in the direction of the docks.  Of course Bristol Docks is not the teeming hub of commercial activity that it once was (in common with many other port cities in the UK).  However, to think it isn’t busy would be completely misleading for it was buzzing with people!  On the north east corner of the dock we spotted the pink and purple Zodiac while inside the adjacent shop was Hound Dog, a homage to the King of Rock and Roll himself (although he wouldn’t be the last).  The paintwork of both of these showed why the medium of fibreglass is so good for these statues – it really gleams!

We crossed to the south side of the docks via the lifting bridge and went into the M Shed, a rather interesting museum that we didn’t really have time for this visit but which will surely be on the agenda next time we come this way.  We caught sight of ‘Watch Out Gromit’ designed by one of my favourite artists, Gerald Scarfe, inside the entrance.  This one featured poor Gromit with a can of paint that had been dropped on his head.  Also inside the museum tucked away in an otherwise unused corner was ‘National Treasure’, completely adorned with coinage even to the extent that his eyes were a couple of antique coins!

Hitching a Ride
With another place to visit added to our bucket list we headed outside.  The MV Balmoral is moored here and is starting to look in a sorry state, having apparently not moved since my last visit here in December 2011 (although I have since learned that she has only been out of service this year).  Alongside were appeal notices asking for desperately needed funds to get her sailing once again.  Let’s hope they are successful in that venture.

Being Gromit Malkovitch
Further along a number of historic vessels were moored, notably a replica of John Cabot’s vessel that he sailed in more than 500 years ago to ‘discover’ Newfoundland.  Perhaps inevitably the ship had a very special passenger, ‘NewFoundLand Gromit’.  This was a very interesting design showing an antique map and was certainly an early contender for being our favourite.  Not surprisingly it was hugely popular with the visitors to the museum and again we faced a queue to get our pictures snapped.

SS Great Britain
We wandered along the dock front to find the Aardman HQ set back from the main docks.  Outside was ‘Stat’s the Way to do it Lad’, a rather lurid pink one.  Inside was another that was unpainted; a spare for a vandalised one perhaps?  The next one, outside the SS Great Britain was very colourful but was lost on my children.  “Being Gromit Malkovich’ was a very clever idea and based on a quirky and amusing film that I saw many years ago.  I wonder how many of the Gromit hunters got the joke?

Heading Towards Clifton
From the SS Great Britain we had a fairly long walk around to the next one, which was at the far end of the docks on the edge of Clifton.  The sun was fully out now and the temperature felt pretty hot.  This was perhaps the most interesting and attractive part of our walk for we were free of mascots for awhile and could concentrate on the city itself.  The docks were full of a different kind of activity as alongside children were playing in play areas and on the water sailors were making the most of the breezy conditions. It all added up to a scene of pure pleasure!

Leisure Time
At the far end of the dockland area we passed through a traditional boat builders yard.  It was interesting to see the various techniques at work and had we not agreed to meet a friend for a cuppa near the University I would have liked to linger here for awhile.  However, the girls were keen to get on and spot the next Gromit, the one that was my personal favourite for the day, Gromberry.  Here Gromit was dressed up like a giant strawberry and stood outside a very busy looking pub.  As we stood to take pictures there were quite a few bemused looking pub customers looking at us.  We seemed to be off the main trail now and no queues!

From Gromberry we climbed up the very steep hill into Clifton.  Sadly the one at the top of the hill, Patch, had been vandalised and taken away. Rather poignantly Gromit fans had set up a memorial for him instead!  It was slightly surreal…

Patch Memorial
Clifton village definitely look worth exploring.  Sadly small legs were quite tired from the long climb and their focus was very much on the refreshment stop that we had promised.  We did manage to clock a couple more on the way, with Golden Gromit being accompanied by some morris dancers which added a little extra entertainment to proceedings!

Golden Gromit
We stopped for drinks with our friend and this was a good tonic for tired legs. Sadly the weather had deteriorated by now and time had also marched on, which meant that many of the onward mascots were no longer available as they were placed indoors in buildings that closed for business for the day.  We did manage to get inside the museum, where TutanGromit and Newshound were placed.  The latter one was the only one we found that also had Gromit’s long term sidekick Wallace involved.  I guess being designed by Nick Park himself he was allowed that indulgence.  The museum was so interesting looking that we also indulged ourselves by looking around for a bit to stay out of the worst of the rain.

From the museum it was fairly clear that the children weren’t going to manage much more and with only a couple hours more of daylight remaining we took a snakelike route back to Temple Meads Station, taking in as many of the Gromits as we could along the way.  For much of the way the rain kept coming and going so it wasn’t so easy to enjoy the walk as we would have liked. 

Bristol Cathedral
College Green is the civic heart of the city at the bottom of the hill from the University and Museum. Here the enormous City Hall stretches around in a semi-circle still oozing power even in these days where civic pride has long since gone out of fashion.  Directly opposite is the nicely proportioned and understated cathedral – a real beauty even if it isn’t one that immediately comes to mind when thinking about the great ecclesiastical buildings of Britain.  Sadly the Gromits stationed here were off limits as one was inside the now closed central library while the other was behind a locked gate of the also closed cathedral, although we could catch a glimpse through the cage.

We pressed on through some new shopping areas passing the Union Jack decorated ‘Jack’ and then ‘Gromit-o-Matic’ which was rather clever as it appeared as a blueprint for a robot Gromit complete with a number of gadgets such as a Kornflake Digestion Unit and a Wag-Ometer.  It was rather fascinating to look at and we spent some time here checking him out
Cary Grant at Millennium Square

In Millennium Square just beyond were a number of famous Bristolians immortalised in Bronze such as Cary Grant (yes, really!), William Penn (founder of Pennsylvania), William Tyndale (translator of the Bible into English) and Thomas Chatterton (Georgian forger of Mediaeval Works).  We enjoyed looking at them but sadly none of them got as much attention as Astro-Dog at the far end of the square.  Just inside the adjacent museum was Steam Dog, almost the antithesis of the one outside.  The Aquarium, also in the vicinity, was sadly shut so we could only glimpse the diving Gromit inside.

A Grand Day Out
By now it was hosing down so we didn’t linger too long for the remaining ones in this area and we quickly picked off Salty Sea Dog, Hero, The King and Carosello on the way back through to the River Avon.  We walked along the river bank back to Temple Meads picking off ‘A Grand Day Out’ as the last one on the way back. It seemed a fitting one to finish with.  It truly was a grand day out and we managed to see more than 30 of the Gromits along the way.  We thought this was a creditable achievement in an afternoon and we thoroughly enjoyed the artwork of each and every one of them.  Our only disappointments really were that we didn’t have more time and energy to look for more and that we didn’t learn about the trail until it was almost too late to do it.  Bristol is a fascinating city and we were thankful of the opportunity to explore afforded by the Gromits though.  We hope that the charity appeal on which the trail was based manages to raise a huge amount of money!

Friday, 6 September 2013

Go! Rhinos

We had a walk with a difference this time out.  Following the success of the mascot trails last year when we went to the London 2012 events we discovered another along similar lines this year but in Southampton.  The Rhino Trail has been set out to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of Marwell Zoo and similar to other mascot trails the exhibits will be sold off at the end of the season for charity.  With 32 main mascots along the way, there was a lot less walking between rhinos than we had experienced on the Olympic Trails.  Additionally there were a whole lot of smaller rhinos that had been decorated by schools and community groups as well as a few full sized ones outside the city at selected locations.

Our walk started at Town Quay, which is the passenger terminal for ferries to the Isle of Wight and the Hythe Ferry.  It was a hot day and as a result there were plenty of tourists about, with the bars and cafes full.  My guess though was that everyone was waiting for a ferry to arrive as that seemed to be the only thing missing from the equation!

Our first rhino was particularly pleasing.  Rika was decorated with a snakes and ladders board with a twist.  The ladders were replaced by giraffes and the snakes by slides.  It made for a colourful spectacle and was rightly popular with visitors to the pier. I noticed many of the admirers clutching maps in hand suggesting that we would see many of them on the way!

Perhaps the surprising thing about Southamptonfor those who don’t know the city is the concentration of old buildings and a fairly intact city wall just north of the ferry terminals.  We passed through the City Gate and past the remains of some old buildings into the small area of Town Quay Park where we found the second rhino known as Rita.  This one was dedicated to outdoor activities and depicted walkers and cyclists.

Holyrood Church
From here the rhinos came thick and fast as we headed around towards Mayflower Park.  Next up was my personal favourite, Reggie, which showed a scene from The Solent with some colourful sailing boats complete with spinnakers fully unfurled.  This was perhaps the most popular of all the mascots we saw on the day as it was thronged with crowds, making it quite difficult to get a decent picture.  Will was the next, dressed up like a lifeboat and that was equally popular.  For some reason though we managed to lose the worst of the crowds by the time we reach Docks, which depicted rhinos being unloaded from ships.

St Michael's Church
Following the numbers of the rhinos seemed a little counter-intuitive at this point for we could see what we thought was the next one further along the street, only to discover that there were several more that we should see before that.  The trail took a zig-zagging course through the narrow streets of the Old Town and back on to the QE2 Mile for a short distance, catching three more rhinos along the way until we got to the rather astonishing Holyrood Church.  This 14th Century Church is now a reminder of the horror of World War II as it remains a ruin after being bombed during the Blitz in 1940.  In 1957 it was dedicated as a memorial to the sailors of the Merchant Navy and makes for a magnificent tribute to the bravery of those men.

Remarkably a little further away is the church of St Michael’s, which emerged from the destruction of the city completely unscathed.  It is now the oldest building and the only one of the original churches that remains intact within the walled city.  Outside was a rather lovely purple rhino called Rosie, which we had plenty of time to admire since we seemed to have lost all the crowds that had bedevilled us earlier on the trail.

Southampton City Walls
We passed by the Tudor House and down a narrow path through the City Walls to reunite ourselves with Newton, the rhino we had seen from afar when we were at Docks.  After the flurry of rhinos (we had already seen 10 at this point) our thoughts now turned towards lunch and we headed towards the West Quay Shopping Centre where we could get some refreshment before tackling the remaining part of the trail.  The route from Newton took us along perhaps the best preserved section of the City Walls, which date from the 14th Century and were built on the orders of Edward III, perhaps inevitably to repel the French.  Given how much modern building there is in Southampton it was surprising but pleasing to see the old walls still taking pride of place in the urban landscape.

Within West Quay we took the opportunity to find our first indoor rhino, a very multi-coloured and busy looking one called Ringo.  This was out of sequence as far as numbering was concerned but it did seem to make more sense visiting this one before as the route would have been unnecessarily messy otherwise.  We took the opportunity to break from the walk once inside the shopping centre to have a bit of a look around.  For the girls the window shopping was a welcome distraction for a short while.

Where's Ralph?
Feeling fortified by lunch we continued our route along the city walls, which had been knocked about a bit to accommodate modern developments.  However, the magnificent Bargate is still intact and nicely restored to take pride of place on what is now the main shopping street. I wonder what mediaeval forces would have thought of that?  Sadly not all seems well with retail in this part of Southampton for adjacent to the historical gatehouse there is the surprising sight of an entire shopping centre that has gone out of business.  The Bargate Shopping Centre was only opened in the late 1980s but following a chequered history it has finally closed its door for good and is boarded up.  Given the current economic climate I can’t see it being taken over as retail space again and it has every chance of being a blot on the townscape for some time to come.  On a happier note the two rhinos on either side of the gatehouse were receiving a good deal of attention from passing shoppers.

Marlands Shopping Centre
From shopping to the park, our next rhino was said to be in Houndwell Park.  Sadly when we got there we discovered a concrete plinth but no rhino as it had been taken away to be repaired.  Despite the signs asking people to stay off them, much of the damage to the rhinos appeared to be caused by people ignoring the notices and posing for pictures on the backs of the mascots.  Others have been damaged particularly around the horn area I imagine by vandalism.  It is very disheartening when people ruin other people’s enjoyment…

The play area in the Park was absolutely rammed with children and families. We stopped for some time to allow our girls time to enjoy the equipment before moving on. I have to say that it was a particularly nice looking play area – I wish I was young enough to be able to enjoy such a facility!  We crossed the road into the next park (Palmerstone) and found Sunny Rhino, a rather lovely sunny design.  We didn’t hang around in this park too long though as the happy atmosphere created by the children playing in Houndswell was sadly replaced by a more threatening mood created by a few groups of drunks.  We escaped back into the shopping street and to perhaps the most intriguing of all the rhino’s, ‘Where’s Ralph?’.  As the name suggested it had a number of identical and repeating designs on it (penguins), with one different from all the others.  It took some time to find the different one, but we did manage it in the end.
Dahlia Show in East Park

From the shopping street to another shopping centre – it seems that Southampton is remarkably well served by them.  In this one (Marlands), we seemed to hit the mother lode, for not only were there two of the original rhinos but they had been joined by a number of the smaller ones painted by school children and community groups.  To be honest they were as good and imaginative as some of those painted by professional artists.  We spent a good deal of time in the main concourse of the centre and then in the Go! Rhinos HQ, which was in a shop at the back and where one of the rhinos from elsewhere had been brought back (Stylo Rhino from Southampton Airport).
Southampton City Hall

We still had more than one third of the rhinos to find after leaving the shopping centre but the remaining ones were concentrated around the civic heart of the city, being in and around the Civic Centre and the adjacent parks.  It was a short task looking for them and we were fascinated by all the themes that had been depicted including nods to Southampton based gifts to the world such as the Spitfire and the Ordnance Survey.  Others such as Beauty and the Beast were just purely decorative.  The parks were well manicured and full of lovely planting schemes and the rhinos looked most at home in these environments.  Sadly not all were weathering well though and Cosmos in particular was looking a bit worn out from too much handling.

Any notion of us following the numbering system completely went out of the window through this section.  Essentially we just devised a loop around taking the quickest route to see all of the remaining ones and ended up at RhinOSeros, the one celebrating the Ordnance Survey, which has its headquarters in Southampton.  From here it was a hop, skip and a jump back to the railway station to head home


With all the many distractions of shopping, lunch etc along the way this turned out to be a most enjoyable and surprising walk.  The people behind the trail really had done their very best to show off the best of Southampton City Centre.  We particularly enjoyed seeing the historic buildings at the south end of the city and the manicured and colourful gardens at the northern end.  On the whole the trail was a great advert for the city and the rhinos kept the children entertained along the route.  I think we would try and do another of these mascot trails if we come across one.