Monday, 25 April 2016

Burwash and Bateman's

The village of Burwash is perhaps one of the most scenic in all of East Sussex and it was inevitable that one of the walks from the Pathfinder Guide "East Sussex and the South Downs" (volume 67 walk 8).  It also appears in volume 24 "Surrey and Sussex" (walk 8).  After a pretty long dry spell of weather we felt safe doing this walk despite a warning of muddy conditions.  It was a dry and slightly chill spring day with no clouds but a slight haze in the air and it was a pleasure being out in a different part of Sussex than we are normally used to visiting.

We parked in the village car park in Burwash, which was rather quiet for such a nice day.  I guess the next door pub wasn't open yet so perhaps we got here before the rush?  We started our walk along the High Street, an inviting looking place with clapboard and tile hung houses and shops lining the main road.  The village sign showing a forge reminded us of the iron heritage of this part of Sussex.  We didn't linger on the High Street for long as our path took us down a side street and past the very attractive looking Rose and Crown pub.  The earlier volume talks about a fire station down here too but that is long gone.

Oast House
Soon the lane gave way to a track that weaved its way through fields with some purpose.  On our left hand side some views of the Weald opened up and the fields had some sheep and lambs although they were rather a long way off.  Soon we were to leave the comfort of this track and head off across the fields and into a wood where we encountered our first mud.  It didn't bode well for later on the walk but for now it was relatively easy to pick our way through.  We headed for a stream and upon meeting it followed it for a short while and then crossed via a small wooden footbridge.  As we climbed away from the stream we headed up towards a largish oast house.  This has become the most fabulous looking house - must be fantastic to live somewhere with so much character!

Dead Orchard?
The oast house was actually part of a small hamlet when we got closer and each one of the houses looked splendid.  The gardens were well tended and resplendent with their daffodils on show.  Just as it looked like we would cross the garden of one of the houses the path took a detour out through what almost be described as a tradesman's entrance!  We entered what at first looked like a dead orchard but on closer inspection we decided that it was alive.  The trees didn't look in great shape though - perhaps they needed some extra tlc to get them going once again?

Franchise Manor Drive
At the other end of the orchard we entered rather a grand looking track that was tree and daffodil lined.  Almost immediately we also came upon the war grave of Reginald Rimmer, a young pilot who was shot down here by a German during the Battle of Britain and crashed here.  He was just 21 years old.  A brief history and his picture can be found at here.  It was rather sobering stuff and a reminder of how widespread the fighting was during the desperate struggle of 1940.  I certainly never realised that dogfights took place over the Sussex countryside as well as in Kent.

Reginald Rimmer Memorial
We walked up the driveway I am guessing away from the place it leads to for eventually we found ourselves at a white gatehouse (which didn't look too shabby itself!).  I later learned that the house the drive led to was called Franchise Manor, but it was out of sight for us.  The dalliance with the road didn't last long as we were soon on Holton Lane, one that looked rather like it could have become part of the highway network but which the authorities never quite got around to surfacing.  The going became sticky for a while and there were patches that were pretty difficult.  Just as we thought we had got through the worst of it we realised how mistaken we were for the mud became impassable about three quarters of the way along.  We managed to scramble our way through using some fairly tenuous looking routes clinging on to banks, tree trunks and even barbed wire fences as we did so.  Beware a winter walk here - it won't be fun!

Woods Along Holden Lane
Eventually we got through the worst of it and crossed a main road.  The last half mile had taken nearly half an hour to walk and had sapped our energy considerably.  The road was a welcome relief in terms of surface but it is also very busy and a great deal of care had to be exercised in walking the sort length to the onward path.  We managed to escape from its clutches feeling very relieved as there is virtually no room to be here.  

On the other side of the road we followed another drive down to another oast house.  This time we didn't just have daffodils lining the route but cyclamen too - rather an unusual sight for the countryside but a welcome burst of colour nonetheless.  Upon reaching the house we crossed into a horses field which was churned up but mostly dry at least.  From here the route took a very pleasant course across fields and through a few small tracts of woodland down to the back of the Bateman's estate.  Along the way we got views of the church in Burwash - a landmark for some miles around by the look of things.  Our first glimpse of Bateman's came at the start of the millstream that fed the estate watermill and which still functions.

Burwash View
Bateman's is famous as being the home of Rudyard Kipling, author of the Jungle Book and one of the most popular writers of his generation.  He certainly was not a penniless writer as the large house demonstrates.  We had intended visiting as part of this walk but in our current state this was out of the question as two of our party had sodden feet and we were all covered in mud.  I don't think the National Trust would have particularly welcomed our visit!  We contended ourselves with a brief look at the water mill and a view of the house from the outside before heading on to finish our walk in Burwash.  We had visited the house a couple of years previously and it was certainly worth a trip then - maybe we will come again soon?

Bateman's Watermill
The onward walk from Bateman's was largely uphill.  The house is not visible from the village despite its proximity.  I imagine this was part of Mr Kipling's thoughts when he was here.  The walk was pleasant but a little bit of a sting in the tail at the end.  At five miles total length though you shouldn't feel too tired at this point, although we did feel like we had walked a lot further courtesy of the muddy conditions!  If you try this walk - do yourself a favour and come in the summer or autumn...


Monday, 18 April 2016

Sussex Border Path Section 19 Ashurst and Bolebroke Castle

Sussex House Farm
This ended up being another day where sunshine was promised that never materialised.  That was a great shame because it put a bit of a dampener on the walk that in hindsight was a bit unfair on the scenic quality of the landscape.  It had been almost 18 months since I last visited this walk and it has to be said that trips out by myself are becoming fairly rare commodities.  Encouraging the family to accompany me on a partially completed project isn't very fair and not a particularly attractive proposition for them.
I pitched up in Cowden and parked once again by the church.  Despite the length of time away it didn't seem like it had been anything like that long.  The church is one of the most attractive I have seen in this part of the country and certainly has an unusual design.  The village was pretty much deserted and I imagine it is something of a dormitory village as it has a railway station on the line to London, albeit some distance from the village.
Dead Machinery
I retraced my steps through the nearby allotment site, which was rather empty looking save for a few rather tired looking cabbages and a couple of pensioners digging over their plot.  They were the last people I saw for some considerable time.  When I entered the golf course that I had had such trouble with before I turned left instead of right and that enabled me to enter an adjacent field and leave the golfers in peace.  The path headed due east through a number of fields and following a stream that formed the boundary between East Sussex and Kent.

Dead Machinery
The path bounced between the two counties for a while along paths that were surprisingly dry considering how much rain we have had over the winter.  It was pleasant if slightly uninspiring countryside and not helped by the stubborn overcast conditions, which did not seem likely to change however optimistic the forecast was.  The highlight though was the sounds in the air - the birdsong definitely suggested that spring was well and truly underway.

Under The Railway

When I came to a main road I cross back into East Sussex by crossing the stream bridge and passed through a horse field that looked very cut up and rather unwelcoming for the various horses that lived there.  No wonder they tried to make friends with me as I passed through - I would have done too if I had had that type of dining available.  They probably wanted to find something else more tasty to eat!
Ashurst Viaduct
I proceeded along the stream valley which seemed strangely quiet and for the south east of England at least rather remote feeling.  I did spot a couple of oast houses along the way reminding me of my proximity to Kent and passed by a golf course rather unsurprisingly.  The number of golf courses in this area is pretty surprising - I'm not sure how they all manage to get enough custom?
Wonky Chimney
I eventually found my path blocked by a railway line and briefly had to follow it before I was able to cross via an underbridge.  This line would once have taken me back to my home town of Lewes but is now truncated at Uckfield.  The frequency of trains has been affected recently as usage of the line has increased enormously and the stations along the way are having their platforms lengthened as a result.  It has also meant that there are no trains during the day on weekdays until the work is completed.  It gave the air of an unused railway as I followed the line for a while.
Primrose Banks
I left the stream I had been following for a while after another half mile or so.  My path across a field was not a particularly pleasant experience through the softness of the turf.  I eventually reached a farm full of old machinery and a small unit that made ice cream.  I've always wondered about the assorted scrap machinery at farms - there must be enough about to provide raw material for a steel works for several weeks if it were all sold for scrap?
I wandered through the farm and turned to head across another field adjacent to the railway.  I was now in the main valley of the River Medway and the river was surprisingly large here considering how far from the sea I was.  As the area between the river and railway narrowed I wondered where I needed to go next and soon discovered that there was a narrow walkway underneath a metal viaduct that enabled me to continue following the river but cross the railway.  The path on the western side of the railway didn't last long for I was soon to meet a main road whereupon I turned left and across river and under railway once again!
Lyewood Common
This was the village of Ashurst, a familiar name for a settlement in these parts (I know of at least two others locally).  There wasn't much of a village to explore but on walking past the railway station I saw the magnitude of the task that the contractors extending the stations had.  There were piles of materials and loud machinery disturbing the peace as the work progressed on making the platforms bigger.  It was heartening to see this largely rural line getting such a makeover.  I hope that would-be passengers haven't been put off by the lack of service while the work continues.

Oast at Perry Hill
I was soon past the station and the peace soon returned.  The path followed the railway for a short time although at arms length.  One house on the edge of the village caught my eye because of its very wonky looking chimney.  Just past here and the path did a sudden turn to the left and headed up the hill along a lane that was flanked by primrose banks on either side.  They brought some much needed colour to a very grey day.  At the top of the hill I turned left and headed down through some rather lovely woodland.  I imagine that on a summer's evening with all the leaves on the trees this would be a delight as even today I derived much enjoyment from this short section.
Bolebroke Lake

All too soon I reached a junction at which I would leave the Sussex Border Path to take my route back to the start.  I had devised a route that would take me back via Bolebroke Castle - not officially on the Sussex Border Path but one that was probably too good to miss.  Sadly the route was rather uninspiring not helped by very bare trees, large numbers of bare fields, little in the way of bird song, muddy paths and a day that was getting increasingly gloomy.  I chalked off the miles with little joy it has to be said.  The only highlights were a very green looking pond at Lyewood Common and the odd oast house along the way.  I walked along a road for some distance and then cut down through Perryhill Farm.  There were some very nice looking houses in the vicinity it has to be said and no doubt command some very high prices when they get sold.

Bolebroke Castle
I crossed the main road shortly after and was thankful for a farm shop on the other side when I could get some refreshments.  This was at the entrance to the road up to Bolebroke Castle.  I wandered up the drive and as I did so I caught sight of some rails in the woodland but they didn't look too healthy.  I remembered then that there was a miniature railway that operated around the grounds of the castle some years ago.  Clearly it wasn't functioning any more and I later learned that it closed upon the death of the owner in 2012.  A sad end to what had looked like a nice little operation.
First Bluebell of the Season

Bolebroke Castle looks to have changed hands too - it was once a hotel that catered for haunted weekends.  Guests would allegedly get the opportunity to look for the ghost of Anne Boleyn who is said to roam the corridors of this former royal hunting lodge of King Henry VIII.  The reviews of the hotel make for pretty grim reading though and so the new owner has perhaps decided not to keep it going but just use it as a residence.  The price was £1.6m - a pretty hefty price tag but there looks to be a lot more investment than that going into the place judging by the works going on.

Golf Course
The onward path disappeared into the woods that were probably home to the quarry being chased by the royal party nearly 500 years ago.  For me this was the most enjoyable part of the day's walking as the woodland was most attractive and the going pretty easy.  There were signs of bluebells already coming up and a few hardy plants were already flowering - I was rather surprised to see bluebells this early in the season.

Cowden Church
As I emerged from the woods the path was rather less pleasant due to the boggy conditions and in places it was treacherous.  I was pleased to reach a main road, which I crossed and headed round a field and through some woods to emerge onto the golf course to the south of Cowden once again.  It was a relief to finish this walk - ground and weather conditions did not make this the most enjoyable of days sadly.  My faith in the weather forecast today was also misplaced - if the conditions had been better I think I would have enjoyed my outing far more.