Tag Archives: hiking

Walking from Lewes to Winchester on the South Downs Way

Mist in the Weald, South Downs Way

Winchester, in Hampshire, is my home town but now I’m living in Lewes, in Sussex. Between the two is the ridge of chalk hills known as the South Downs, along which runs a path: the South Downs Way.

When we moved to Lewes in summer 2011, we walked a section of the Way to the southeast of Lewes, but since we moved back here this year, I’ve been wanting to walk to Winchester. We finally found a time in September to escape the building site and do the walk, happily coinciding with my birthday. After a cool, wet August, the summer came back in September and we had great weather. Three of the five mornings had thick mists, but these generally burned off leaving sun and views along the hills and north over the Weald, the lowland area between the South Downs and the next set of hills, the North Downs.

The south of England has been populated and manipulated by humans for millennia. The landscape of the hills was defined by centuries of sheep farming, which resulted in a unique ecology, plagioclimax communities featuring amazing selections of wildflowers and other wildlife. Much of this downland has been lost in England with the mechanisation of farming, but there’s still plenty along the Way. The human influence is also evinced by numerous hill forts , old industrial buildings, castles, tumuli (prehistoric burial mounds) and many, many cross dykes. No, not angry lesbians, but prehistoric earthworks that may have been territorial boundaries

Nature, history – and pubs
The other good thing about a walk in a long-populated part of the world is that you can go to the pub, something that’s not so easy on a backcountry hike. There were some great pubs along the way, and some great beers. A few pints of which, I would say, are well-earned after walking 20 miles (32km). We also stopped in a few nice tea shops, which, along with pubs, are – when done well – one of England’s great pleasures.

England’s B&Bs, on the other hand, can be less of a pleasure. There are some great B&Bs out there, and we stayed in a few lovely places, but they’re not the greatest examples of our hospitality. Aside from small, rubbish showers, my main grievance is the so-called “full English breakfast”. It’s all very well to pile a plate with sausages and beans and toast, but when all of that food is industrially produced, it just turns my stomach. Luckily, we stayed a few places that had their own chickens, ducks and pigs, so the eggs and pork products were good, but among the five places we stayed, only one served real bread, and only one offered homemade granola. The other four provided toast and “cereal” made from industrially used and abused grains. These are not good foods for your health in general and preparing to walk long distances specifically. B&Bs of Britain – make the effort! Serving real bread would be a great start.

In total we walked 88 miles / 141km, linking, the old-fashioned way, my current home and my childhood home. Here are some pics.

Day 1: Lewes to Steyning (21 miles / 34km)
Misty morning. Though this dew pond – one of many along the top of the Downs – with its one solitary tree looked handsome and moody.

Dew pond near Ditchling Beacon

Already done a few miles. I love topographic features with devil-related names. The Dyke is the grandest of them along the South Downs.

Finger post, one of many

Tea stop at the Hiker’s Rest, Saddlescombe Farm, before climbing up the Devil’s Dyke. A unique arrangement involving a small food truck serving cakes etc parked in a farm yard, with seating both outside and inside old feeding sheds.

Cake and coffee at Saddlescombe

Cup of tea at eminently cute Steyning Tea Rooms. Yes, it’s green tea with lemon, not your normal British black tea with milk. Cos that’s how I roll. Sometimes.

Tea at Steyning Tea Rooms

First pint of the walk, Long Man Pale Ale from Long Man Brewery, further east in Sussex, near the Long Man of Wilmington. We stayed at the Chequer Inn. Although it was a pretty standard pub, the beer was well kept – they have Cask Marque and SIBA signs – and the 15th century building had a lot of character.

Long Man American Pale Ale at the Chequer Inn, Steyning

Steyning has a very handsome high street, which remains fairly unspoiled except for that most reliable of taints on the modern human environment, the motor vehicle.

Steyning High St, evening

Day 2: Steyning to Bury (13 miles / 21km)
Started the day getting supplies from the Sussex Produce Company, which has this excellent selection of local beers.

Local beers, Sussex Produce Company

These hops were growing semi-wild on the edge of Steyning.

Hops - and convolvulus - Steyning

Wild chicory on the ridge above Steyning. If you like chicory and are interested in the various cultivated forms and their relationship with this wild one, I wrote about it here.

Wild chicory

Paths in the mist – or possibly fret, as a sea mist is known in Sussex dialect.

Tracks in the mist

An unusual WW2 bunker on Highden Hill, just after crossing the A24 London Road. It was apparently built by Canadian forces 1940-42, and was dubbed the “Tin Castle” by local schoolchildren.

World War 2 'Tin Castle', Highden Hill

Stopping at The Bridge Inn at Amberley (or more accurately, Amberley station / Houghton Bridge) for a few halves of  Hip Hop – a hoppy blonde ale – from West Sussex’s  Langham Brewery and some live bluegrass.

Hip Hop and bluegrass at the Bridge, Amberley

There used to be a ferry across the River Arun between Bury and Amberley. Walkers be warned – there isn’t a ferry any more, but there is a fine new foot and cycle bridge.

The old ferry crossing, Bury

Nice little village Bury. We had dinner at the Squire and Horse gastro pub where the food was good and the service very hospitable, so much so that I forget to take photos. I was drinking Sussex Gold, from Arundel Brewery, suitably enough, as it’s just down the River Arun. This light, smooth 4.2% ABV ale, which combined subtle lemon and caramel flavours, was just right for a warm evening, sitting outside watching dragonflies flit. (It really has been an amazing year for dragonflies here in southern England.)

Day 3: Bury to South Harting (20 miles / 33km)
Another misty start coming out of Bury, but it cleared very suddenly when we got back up on the ridge.

Another misty start

The Devil’s Jumps, one of the many wonderful prehistoric sites along the route. They’re a series of five bell barrows, a type of tumulus: that is, a grave (or not) created with a stone construction covered with earth. Fran had been having a bad day with blisters but a game pie cheered her up as did the amazing sight of a hare which ran across the path near the Jumps, closely followed by a stoat.

Devil's Jumps

This memorial is just near the Devil’s Jumps, and another fascinating bit of history. The South Downs Way official trail guide shows its weakness when author Paul just says “A German pilot killed during the Second World War perhaps?”. In fact, it’s a memorial to a 25-year-old airman who was on a Ju88 bomber, shot down by a British fighter on 13 August 1940, “Eagle Day”.

German airman memorial

We spent a very pleasant couple of hours enjoying beautiful late afternoon/evening weather – and Upham Brewery beers, from Hampshire, though we were still in West Sussex – at the White Hart pub in South Harting.

The White Hart, South Harting

Day 4: South Harting to Corhampton (18 miles / 29km)

The day started with mist again, beautiful as we headed back up to the ridge through these woods.

Sunlight through the morning mist in woods, near South Harting

I’m assuming this enigmatic bollard with a length of chain attached marks the county boundary between Hampshire and West Sussex. Why the chain?

Sussex-Hampshire county boundary I believe

The English hedgerows in September are things of great beauty. Among the many plants in these tangled, frequently ancient field boundaries is black bryony, Dioscorea communis. This is Britain’s only native member of the yam family, though unlike its African staple food relative, it’s not edible.

Garland of black bryony

After seeing a 20-year-old book about the Way illustrated with aerial photos, I was intrigued about the landlocked naval base known as HMS Mercury. Sadly, by the time we arrived, it’s all a building site for massive houses in a weird pastiche 18th farm cottage architectural style. This is Fran changing the plasters on her blisters just nearby.

Blister rest stop near the old HMS Mercury

This was our lunch that day. Local Sussex cheese and bread, though the latter was disappointing. My water bottle is a growler from Estes Park Brewery, which we visited almost a year ago.

A lunch

View of Old Winchester Hill from the east. Quite why it’s called Old Winchester, when it’s 18km from Winchester (itelf pretty old, with its own hill fort) is a mystery. One local legend says the Romans tried to build Winchester (Venta Belgarum) there, but every morning they returned to the site and found the stonework they’d laid had been rolled down the hill. So they chose Winchester instead.

Old Winchester Hill, Iron Age hill fort

Quick break on Old Winchester Hill, most of which is a wild flower meadow at the moment, helping mantain species that need grazed chalk downland and also helping the much-ravaged bee population.

Rest on Old Winchester Hill

The villages of Corhampton, Meonstoke and Exton all blur together. Two of them have pubs and ancient churches. Corhampton church dates from 1020. This yew tree may be even older.

Thousand year old yew, Corhampton Church

Exton’s church, St Peter’s and St Paul’s, is slightly younger, 13th century. This is apparently a gravestone (now located in the nave) showing the Angel of Death summoning a scholar from his books.

Angel of death visits scholar, Exton church

We arrived about 4.30pm. The pub, appropriately named The Shoe, didn’t open till 6pm, dammit. So we hung about in the churchyard until it did, then I had a pint of Wadworth 6X. Wadworth is in Wiltshire, so relatively local as it’s the next county to the  northwest of Hampshire. It was a solid, medium-bodied, malty, caramelly ale. Fran had Swordfish, a similar malt ale given a bit of bite with the addition of rum.

Pint at The Shoe, Exton

The Shoe is a great food pub. Desserts included that essential British (gastro-) pub classic, sticky toffee pudding. It wasn’t the best sticky toffee I’ve had (it wasn’t warm enough for starters) but the main coarses we had – venison and scallops – were excellent so we were in a forgiving mood.

Sticky toffee pudding at The Shoe

Day 5: Corhampton to Winchester (15 miles / 25km)
Leaving the lovely Corhampton Lane Farm B&B, where they both grow and clean grain, we scrambled down the back of their property. This vineyard was across the valley. The South Downs are becoming increasingly significant for wine production. I don’t know much about it, but apparently chalk and limestone are particularly good for producing sparkling wines – and that’s what this estate, Exton Park, does.

Vineyard near Exton

Not far to go now, getting back in the countryside I explored as a kid on my bike and on family walks.

Winchester 10

For those who know me, they’ll know I got a bit obsessed with dead bikes while living in Rome. This was a nice variation on a theme. What it’s doing alongside a path on Gander Down I don’t know.

Dead bike, Gander Down

Some more hedgerow bounty. It really has been an amazing year for sloes and blackberries. If we’d been medieval pilgrims of a lowly caste or abstemious bent, we probably could have walked the whole route feeding ourselves on blackberries and hedgerow apples.

Amazing year for brambles.

Reaching Winchester, we stopped at my favourite home town pub, The Black Boy free house, for a quick early afternoon drink. I had a Saxon Bronze from Alfred’s Brewery, founded in 2012 and named after our 9th century Saxon king, Alfred the Great. Winchester was his capital and from there he built the foundations of modern England. The Saxon Bronze is one of those new generation English ales that has the maltiness of a traditional bitter, but is informed by the crisp New World hoppiness so associated with the craft beer revolution.

Black Boy beers

And here is some serious caskery outside the Black Boy.

Casks outside the Black Boor

The end of our walk, on the steps of my folks’ place.

Made it

Now, I absolutely loved this walk. So much history and beauty. Fran had a wobble when her blisters were getting to her, but overall she enjoyed it too. My only regret is not doing one extra mile at the end and going to the Hospital of St Cross, a Norman church and almshouses, where you can request the “wayfarer’s dole” at the porter’s lodge. As we were genuine old-school wayfarers, it would have made sense, but as I grew up just near there, it felt weird to go there to blag a piece of bread and mouthful of ale.

Instead, we paid a visit to this wonderful gravestone in the grounds of Winchester Cathedral. Thomas Thetcher was a soldier who died in 1726, apparently because of his beer choice: “Here sleeps in peace a Hampshire Grenadier, / Who caught his death by drinking cold small Beer, / Soldiers be wise from his untimely fall / And when ye’re hot drink Strong or none at all.”

Small beer memorial

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Filed under Ale, beer, Bars, pubs etc, Breweries

Back on the Mainland

Woodfired oven, Marlborough Sounds

Historically, the South Island of New Zealand has been called the Middle Island (when the southerly Stewart Island was factored in), or more commonly the Mainland (when Christchurch was the country’s main city). I like the latter nomenclature, as the South Island’s always been my main New Zealand destination, my on-and-off home.

It’s also proving to be a place with less-than-modern notions of internet access though. We’ve been down here a while now, and only now am I getting a chance to sit down with some semi-functional WiFi.

When we came over from Wellington a week or so ago, we immediately caught another boat and went deep into the Marlborough Sounds to catch up with my old friend Nadia. She’s living on the side of Mount Stokes, with a woodfired oven and a mighty fine view.

Pizza in oven

She’d made dough, and when we reached her place we had a good session sliding pizza into the oven and chowing down on the results mere minutes later. Gotta love 400-ish-C of woodfired oven.

Nadia cutting pizza

Much of our visit involved working on her precariously tiered hillside garden, and chasing away a weka (a tenacious flightless NZ bird that is the bane of many people who try to have a veg garden in areas with nearby bush), but we did find time to ardently discuss Italian food, cook up some carciofi alla romana (Roman style artichokes), and even attempt a kind of ciabatta. For this, I used the remains of Nadia’s pizza dough as a kind of biga.

Folding dough for ciabatta

I mixed up a new dough, left it to ferment for a day, then stretched it and slid it into the oven. I hadn’t got the oven quite hot enough (hey, it’s my first time), so the spring wasn’t good, but it was still a pleasing exercise.

Taking out ciabatta

… Other than when I tried to make another variant, it got stuck on the peel, and I ended up losing the loaf to the embers. Hi ho. Live and learn.

Oops

Now we’re heading further south on the Mainland, after visiting another old friend, Susie, in the Buller Gorge, catching up with loads of other young old friends (some of whom I’ve know since their infancy – it’s disconcerting to go away for 10 years and come back and find all these adults).

We even managed to fit in a fairly intense tramp/hike/mountaineering scramble in the mountains of Nelson Lakes National Park. It was a route I’d wanted to do for years, but after weeks of summer, the weather turned back into winter and we found ourselves on a very exposed ridge, all rocks and scree, in thick cloud, horizontal rain and cold winds. Fran, who has a kind of mountain-ridges-vertigo, looked like she was about to file for divorce there and then.

We’re still married though, thankfully, and even survived a seven hour jaunt by car today, the start of a Mainland road trip. Which has even involved some slightly frustrating (I’m always designated driver as Fran doesn’t have a license) visits to several breweries, which I’ll write up at some stage.

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Filed under Breads, Pizza

Flapjack action photos

Not really. A certain amount of inaction actually, but here are the flapjacks I blogged about before, being eaten in the mountains around Pescasseroli, in Abruzzo National Park.

Flapjack break, near the ruins of Castel Mancino, above Pescasseroli

Flapjack break, near the ruins of Castel Mancino, above Pescasseroli

Flapjack and wild thyme, etc

Flapjack with wild thyme and other flowers

Flapjack at Rifugio di Lorio

Flapjack at Rifugio di Lorio (1830m), Rocca Ridge, west of Pescasseroli, Abruzzo

If you’re interested in hiking in Abruzzo and the Apennines, I’ve done another post here, on my other, not-specifically-foodie-blog.

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Filed under Discussion, Misc, Other food

Two days of hiking in Abruzzo National Park

We’ve just done a couple of days of hiking in Abruzzo National Park, in the central Apennines of Italy. We stayed at the small town of Pescasseroli, a very friendly place located in the centre of the park and at an elevation of around 1150m.

We followed a couple of routes from the Lonely Planet book Hiking in Italy by Brendan Sainsbury. We caught a bus direct from Rome to Pescasseroli, then just started our walks in the town.

Day 1 – short walk above Pescasseroli

We headed out of the town into a valley to the west. This is path B3, which climbs from pasture and into pine forest on the hillside. On the map we used, the hill and ridge are called Bocca di Forno – “The Oven’s Mouth”.

The path curved around the hillside, continuing through pine forest, with some clearings that were full of flowers and butterflies.

The path then descended into the ruins of Castel Mancino, a mysterious 10th-11th century fortress that fell into disuse then became a source of building stones for the village below. Seeing the first ruined tower among the pine trees was like something out of Skyrim. Fab.

And here’s Fran.

Day 2 – Rocca Ridge

This was our main walk. Sainsbury gives his route at 19.5km, but we finished it by looping back onto part of the path we followed yesterday, heading for a bar by a more scenic route, so we did around 22km (about 13.5 miles).

We headed up a valley due south of Pescasseroli, onto path C1, then, leaving behind a farm, onto path C3. The whole landscape here is shaped by transhumance, and we immediately encounterd a herd of white cows grazing among the beech trees by Rifugio della Difesa. There were guarded by a very professional Maremmano who barked at us until we were a decent distance beyong the herd.

Path C3 takes you up through beatiful beech forest, which reminded me of the Amon Hen woodland where Frodo separates himself from the Fellowship in the denouement the first film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. New Zealand beech (Nothofagus) is in an entirely different botanical family to European beech (Fagus) though.

Although most of these trails are fairly well blazed, especially in the woods, occasionally the markings can be baffling, never mind the fact that the colour coding changes and the route names seem to be being revised. (This pic is probably out of order, can’t remember specifically where it was.)

We continued on, past the slightly sorry church of Santa Maria di Monte Tranquillo (at around 1600m), then up to a high pasture at the fairly derelict, private Rifugio (shelter) di Monte Tranquillo. There, four people on horses passed us, with the leader going all cowboy and chasing a grazing herd higher up the mountainside.

Although it’s hard to capture with a photograph, things got a bit steeper here as we climbed up around Monte Pietroso (1876m).

Fran, who has a kind of steep-slopes-vertigo, suddenly found herself facing one of her worst fears. Even though she’d chosen the route… clearly named “Rocca Ridge” in the book. (Another of her worst fears is formidable dogs. She’s even quite nervous around cows. So, so far, the walk was going well, challenging her fears and phobias!). The path up round Pietroso isn’t clear, but soon you reach the ridge itself.

Shortly after we got up to the highest point of the walk, La Rocca itself, with the 1924m summit marked by a cairn.

We continued along the ridge, heading north along path C5. Fran pushed the pace here as she wanted off. Steep slopes on both sides weren’t an ideal birthday present. (I won’t even mention her anxiety about thunder storms.) It was a fabulous walk though, with flowers everywhere,  including several types of geranium, greater celandine, wild thymes, several types of euphorbia, viper’s bugloss (love that name; it’s great in Italian too – viperina azzurra. Nicer thatn Echium vulgare) and many many others, like wild chives. I never realised chives liked mountaintops that are covered in snow and ice for several months of the year.

And gentians. Such an amazing colour.

There were even the remants of some snow. If you look at one of the pics above, the beech forest seems to be tinged in Autumnal red, but this is actually withered and dying leaves – I suspect the spring growth was hit by some late snow-fall.

And some more rugged mountain horses. I’ve never seen horses as sure-footed and mountain goat-like as these.

Although there are a few dozen brown bears left in the area, wolves, golden eagles, and allegedly even lynx, our wildlife encounters included some raptors (possibly Buteo buteo, the common buzzard), innumerable butterflies and other insects enjoying the flowers, and swifts whistling around our ears on the ridge. Best of all, however, was thisVulpes vulpes specimen, who came jogging along the the ridge path from the other direction.

We thought he’d run off when saw us, but he kept getting closer, until he stopped at our feet, like a pet dog expecting a treat. I suspect hikers do feed the foxes, hence the behaviour, but it was still a wonderful moment, as foxes are among my favourite animals. I even thought about patting him like a dog until the word “rabies” popped into my mind. He was a very healthy looking specimen though, so it was probably just my turn to be paranoid.

We eventually left the ridge at Rifugio di Lorio (padlocked – apparently you have to get the keys from the park authorities. Which seems pretty silly, to have a shelter you can’t access if you’re caught in a storm). I had a flapjack break, then we started the descent.

Path B4, dropped to the east, took us back into the beech forest and onto path B1, though this seemed to be called something else on the blazes (R7?), just to confuse things.

We even subsequently saw a small, weathered sign pinned to a tree that said we weren’t even supposed to have walked C5, the ridge route, without a guide, as part of the bear conservation programme. Maybe having some info on the park website, pinning the signs at both ends of the park, and, oh, opening the tourist office, might have been a better way to disseminate this info. Presumably none of the other half-dozen hikers we’d seen on the path had received this info either. So Italian.

We descended through the forest, past some ski facilities (absurd looking without snow), then back onto part of the path we’d done yesterday, under the castle ruins. I was craving a beer, but when we finally made it to Pescasseroli’s only birreria they only had foreign muck and industrial beer, so I forwent that essential part of any hike and settled instead for an aperitivo later.

We were joined by another Marammano, presumably retired. These guys are ubiquitious in Pescasseroli, wandering to the streets blagging stuzzichini (aperitivo snacks).

All in all, a great walk. Despite Fran’s uncertainties. Soon forgotten, after a glass and a half of prosecco. (Only a half – a big dog barged the table, smashing the glasss, before Fran could finish her second one.)

We concluded the day with one of the best meals we’ve had in Italy.

(Apologies – the pics are mostly taken on my rubbish phone’s 5MP camera I’m afraid. Fran is the real photographer with the proper DSLR. Maybe she’ll put some on Flickr at some point, and I can link to them.)

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Filed under Italy, Main thread