The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Thursday, 29 January 2015

A Curtailment

Our trip became curtailed yesterday morning when an intermittent fault on Colin’s engine returned again, causing us to decide to head home to get it fixed, rather than ploughing on and potentially finding ourselves stranded even further away from home. We only needed two more days to visit our final five Marilyns which fall within the South Downs, and it’s going to be a big old journey now to go back just to walk them. The other two hills which were on the agenda aren’t such an issue, as they’re in locations where we know we will find ourselves nearby at some point in the not-too-distant future anyway.

As I wasn’t able to post any photos as I went along (I did finally get a good 3G signal one day, whereupon I discovered that I hadn’t got enough credit to buy any data (and no, I can’t top up the dongle from the dongle)), here’s a selection now, in order of the hills visited:

Walbury Hill, by Newbury

It was a cold, sunny day when we went up Walbury Hill, but not one of those crisp winter days with great air clarity. Even with the haze, we could still appreciate the views as we walked along the escarpment, past Pilot Hill and over to our objective:

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From the top the only features we could see were the nearby lumps:IMG_8158-001

In the directions where flatness lay below us, all that was visible from the top was haze:IMG_8157

Conrad has video evidence on his blog that you can, on a clearer day, see out over the flat plains below, but we can’t complain about the conditions we had. Better curtailed views than liquid mud! (For us, the extensive muddy wallows on our path were frozen solid.)

Swyre Head, Isle of Purbeck

Another gorgeous sunny day, although not as cold as the previous day. Having arrived at the Isle of Purbeck in the dark, I had no idea what our surroundings would be like. Twenty minutes after leaving Colin on Saturday morning, this was the view we were enjoying, looking west along the coast from atop Swyre Head:

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I’m intrigued as to when a man-made feature becomes so accepted in its surroundings that it becomes the recognised top of a hill. The stated top of this hill is the tumulus clearly visible in the snap below. I’ll come back to this point in respect of Butser Hill.

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Nine Barrow Down, Isle of Purbeck

Corfe Castle turned out to be an excellent choice of start point for our next hill. As well as the prominent feature of the castle, the village centre is as picturesque as they come (and the cakes from the baker weren’t too shoddy either!). This was my snap of the castle, in which it’s a pity about the blue tank in the foreground:

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Mick went all out to get modern stuff in front of the historic feature:

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The gorgeousness of the day gave far better views (including over to the Isle of Wight) than this snap of Poole Harbour suggests:

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I do acknowledge that whilst the approach and the views were superb, the summit itself was a little lacking in the wow-factor, being a completely-ordinary grazing field, containing an oil tank:

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Brighstone Down

Sunday saw us travel over to the Isle of Wight, where the morning was lovely and sunny. By the time we had drunk tea and chatted with Mick’s brother and sister-in-law, and found somewhere to park in the vicinity of Brighstone Down, the afternoon was marching on, and clouding in with it. The top wasn’t dreadfully interesting, and the surrounding woodland was okay, but nothing special:

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However, once out of the trees and walking along the ridge of the down, the views opened up and it was all prettiness:

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The lump on the left of this photo is Brighstone Down; the lump on the far right is the other Marilyn, St Boniface Down.

St Boniface Down, Isle of Wight

What a murky morning this was, but with a lunch date with Mick’s brother, we could only wait for so long for it to clear … and it didn’t. Here I am, in the murk, standing atop the highest grassy point I could find, albeit it was clearly man-made:

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This is that grassy mound from a different angle:

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There was plenty of man-made stuff up there, although the masts were trying very hard to hide in the cloud:

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The weather did clear as we descended, giving us a better feel for our surroundings:

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And as we made our final descent the air clarity had improved so much that we could clearly see the east side of the island, and Portsmouth across the water:

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It was on this walk that we came across something I’ve not seen anywhere else, and which I thought was an excellent idea:

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Butser Hill, by Petersfield

This one was a popular rounded grassy lump, with fine 360 degree views, but one which had me confused as to when a man-made feature becomes acceptable to be considered the summit. The ground I’m standing on in the snap below is a linear mound, which has clearly been placed there (rather than occurring naturally) and is equally clearly a few feet higher than the trig point. However, the trig point is stated to be the summit feature of this top. I’d love to know what distinction is made between this mound, and the tumulus atop Swyre Head (to take just one example); is it purely a matter of age or historic importance?

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It’s pretty irrelevant, really, and (of course) I did visit the trig point too:

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I seem to be lacking in photos of the view from this top, although I do have a 360 degree video snippet.

Black Down, by Haslemere

I really liked this one, even if the walk-in was ridiculously muddy. It’s a wooded top, which obscures the views, but it’s a lovely bit of woodland (and here’s some evidence that Mick was with me on this trip!):

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There were some views to be had, particularly from the Temple of the Winds, which was worth the few paces of detour from our approach path:

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Did I mention the mud, though? Handily, just after the last bit of deep mud, we were able to scamper down to this stream, where the water was deep enough for a clean-up:

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Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Butser Hill and Black Down

Tuesday 27 January

There was a disturbance in the middle of the night in our sleepy little car park, when (according to Mick) I started screaming like I was being attacked. The first I knew about it was when Mick leapt up to defend me, only to find that I was asleep and that no-one/nothing was attacking me. I've no idea what that was about and hope it doesn't become a regular feature!

The disturbance might have warranted a lie-in this morning, except that we had a ferry to catch, and catch it we did, over to Portsmouth, which positioned us nicely for today's hills.

Butser Hill was first and I'd opted for the car park at the nearby Country Park, immediately adjacent to the A3, for ease of vehicle access. I had anticipated that there would be a fee to park there, and so there was: a badly structured one which gave us the options of 1 hour or all day. The walk being 3 miles long, we only needed a maximum of 1.25 hours, so I didn't really want to pay for the whole day. The solution? To pay for one hour and walk very quickly.

It was a fine day to trot up the grassy slope of this little hill and it was a fine day to be on the top too. The views were extensive (even if it was yet another hill with a mast on top), and all evidence was that it was a good day for hang-gliding up there too.

By the time we reached the top it was clear that we had no time issues. It was also clear (from the display on my Garmin Gadget) that the distance wasn't as far as I had thought. Even so, we descended at a pace too, and arrived back at Colin less than 45 minutes after setting off, with 2.5 miles walked (400' of up).

A bit of a drive took us to our next objective or, at least, to a place reasonably nearby, as this time I had opted to park in the car park in Fernhurst (free = no time constraints, just off the main road = no tiny lanes).

Our route to the summit gave some pleasant and interesting walking. They were also memorable miles, although not for a positive reason; the mud levels were most firmly in the category of 'ridiculous'. Thank goodness there was a handy stream near the bottom for a clean up of our boots!

Views weren't a feature of this summit, as it is heavily wooded, but not far from the top is The Temple of the Winds, which is a grand half-circle stone memorial bench and a topograph, in front of which the trees have been kept in check in order to give stunningly extensive views. We were very pleased that the morning's fine weather had persisted into the afternoon.

Back at Colin (after 4.5 miles walked with 800' of up), we didn't go on to the next hill, which logistically would have fitted in well at this point. That one has been juggled in the schedule in favour of spending more time with friends in Crawley this evening.


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St Boniface Down

As we drove east this morning it was disappointing to see that the cloud was down over St Boniface Down. At only around 750' high, I hadn't expected to find its top fog-bound, but I did have some optimism for it clearing, as we could see finer weather coming in from the west.

Alas, delaying our start by half an hour or so didn't do the trick and the fine weather was looking no closer, so off we set regardless. By the time we were three-quarters of the way up visibility had been lost.

The paths were, however, all good and obvious so there was no problem in finding our way to the top (which wasn't simply a matter of 'head uphill' and the top of the down undulates meaning the highest point isn't an obvious place).

As it goes, I knew that I would not be able to visit the place stated to be the summit by the majority of the resources to which I had referred, as it lies within the high-security radar station which sits up there. We were able to step through a bit of missing fence around the old radar station next door and I declared the high point for my purposes to be the top of a grass-mound-covered-bunker, which was higher than the natural-but-inaccessible high point.

For completeness we did then visit the trig, before making our way along the south side of the radar station fence. Finally, along there, the clear weather started to come in and we could see that we were on a gorse-covered down, with fine views over the east side of the island and northwards over to Portsmoth (if we'd had visibility at the top I'm sure the views would have been 360). We saw no evidence of the feral goats that a sign told us graze the area.

With the sun beating down on us as we made the steep part of the descent down to The Landslip (where Colin was waiting for us), it was feeling positively warm; most unjanuaryesque.

2.1 miles were walked with 450' of up.


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Sunday, 25 January 2015

Brighstone Down

Sunday 25 January

Walking must be my favourite form of transport. Ferries are my least favourite. Today started with a ferry.

By good fortune, the Solent was like a millpond, and our destination (the Isle of Wight) was clearly visible in front of us before we set off. Forty minutes after boarding, we were rolling back off the other side and heading towards Mick's brother's house for tea and chat.

It was early afternoon before we headed off towards our hill, but we were thwarted in our intended route by other people already filling the parking area I had intended to use. The next car park was closed, which left us with the nearest one to the summit, which threatened to curtail our outing down to just a couple of miles. By taking a circuitous return route (more circuitous than intended, as it turned out) we more than doubled that, and introduced more interest into the walk into the bargain.

The top itself had been disappointing, with trees severely obscuring the views. A chunk of the rest of the walk was pleasant-but-unspectacular, being through drab winter woodland. The redeeming sections were those which followed the ridge, outside of the confines of the trees, looking down on the south coast of the island. Had we been able to park in our first-choice location, we would have enjoyed almost the whole of that ridge - but that's the downside of going for a walk in a popular location (with limited parking) on a sunny Sunday.

The stats were 4.2 miles with just over 600' of up.

(Mick pointed out to me, when I booked the ferry for this bit of the trip, that the two Marilyns on the island are costing approximately £50 apiece and expressed his hope that the average cost of the other 1575 Marilyns will not be comparable. Maybe I should have had the foresight to plan to visit the extra four HuMPs whilst we were here, to improve the £-per-top ratio...)


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Saturday, 24 January 2015

Swyre Head and Nine Barrows Down

Sat 24 January

We woke up on the (not-really-an-island) Isle of Purbeck this morning and it didn't take us long to realise that, in spite of the gusty wind that had rocked us during the night, it was another glorious day. Little time was wasted in springing out of bed and marching towards the coast.

It took about five minutes for the sea to come into view and not an awful lot longer for us to reach our first objective of the day: Swyre Head.

Gone was yesterday's heavy haze and the views from the top of the tumulus, which forms the recognised summit of this hill, were fine - along the coast and over to Corfe Castle and our next objective beyond.

Time constraints had cut down the distance of this first outing from 9 miles to just over 2 miles, so it wasn't much longer before we had completed our circuit and returned to Colin.

Not knowing what the parking situation would be in Corfe Castle on a sunny Saturday, we didn't pause before heading off there and by luck more than judgement, we found ourselves in the village car park. That was not the most cost effective solution, but at £2 it proved to be money well spent as it caused us to walk through the village - an incredibly pretty picture-postcard sort of a place. I imagine it's heaving in summer.

Out the other side of the village, a permissive path was taken on impulse, which took us brutally straight up the hillside. We certainly gained height quickly and, once at the top, it was just a gentle walk up the broad, grassy ridge to the top of Nine Barrows Down.

Our objective, on this occasion, was a tuft of grass lying 55m ENE of an oil tank which sits in the middle of a field. A tiny bit of trespassing was required to get there and, although a field housing an oil tank may not sound attractive, it provided a fantastic vantage point, giving views of a large tract of coast, including Poole Harbour. I was rather taken with it and the landscape wasn't at all what I had envisaged that area to be like.

We opted to retrace our steps most of the way along the ridge (the alternative was a path along the bottom of the hill, but the views from up high wholly justified the repetition), by which time it was getting busy - mainly with horseriders and mountain bikers. The only variation on the way back was a gentler (non-knee-killing) descent. Oh, and we detoured the few steps into the bakers in the village and rewarded our efforts with baked goodies :-)

The stats for the second outing were 7.3 miles with 850' of up.

(I'll post photos in due course, when the quality of mobile signal warrants the purchase of data on the laptop.)

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Walbury Hill

Friday 23 Jan

Walbury Hill, lying to the south west of Newbury, happened to be conveniently near to our route to the south coast today and, being a Marilyn, there was no question of not detouring to visit it. This is another Marilyn-bagging trip after all.

The obvious place to park for this hill would be in one of the two car parks which lie within a 10-minute walk of the summit. To have done that would have given a rather uninteresting outing as it's not a stunning hill top; it's a sheep field on a plateau large enough to mean there are few views, as the surrounding land is largely flat and low-lying.

Fortunately, my route choice wasn't the 20-minute outing from a nearby car park. Instead, from a nearby village, we took a 7.6-mile out-and-back, with the main feature being the walk along a long escarpment, which provides an excellent viewpoint onto the lowlands. It's just a shame, on an otherwise perfect, sunny day, that the views were so curtailed by a heavy haze.

The haze didn't stop us admiring the plentiful population of red kites in the area and it seems that some of them had a good feast during our outing; a pheasant sitting on the path looking very sorry for itself on our outward leg was just a freshly stripped carcasse, surrounded by feathers, on our return.

By the time we were within minutes of being back at Colin, the day had warmed up such that the very top of the mud was starting to defrost. Earlier, along a green lane and up on the escarpment, we had been thankful for the 'crisp' conditions, which had frozen solid the extensive muddy wallows. It could have been heavy going (and dirty) on a different day.

The only downsides of the longer route was that it put us in heavier traffic for the final section of our journey south and meant that we arrived in the dark. I'm eager to see our surroundings in the morning, as we're in an area with which I am not familiar, so as I sit and type this I have no idea what lies outside waiting for us.


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Monday, 19 January 2015

Why Is The Sun Ahead Of Us?

In response to my post about The Wrong Hill, a few people responded with stories of their own about heading off on a walk in completely the wrong direction. Whilst I’d like to think that if we had set off for the wrong hill, we would have headed in the right direction (i.e. we would have navigated to it flawlessly, I’d just identified the wrong hill), the stories brought to mind our best navigational mishap to date:

It occurred whilst we were on our way from Land’s End to John o’Groats, and we were approaching Hough in Cheshire. Passing through some fields, I said “At the end of this field we’ll hit a road and we need to turn right.”

As we hit the road, our need to turn the map over was hampered by a sudden sharp shower. No great problem: we crossed the road, climbed a stile and hid under a tree for the necessary map-faff.

With the map now correctly folded, we returned to the road and duly followed the directions I had given from the opposite side: we turned right and thus were heading 180 degrees in the wrong direction.

Within a couple of minutes, having examined the map quite carefully, I said to Mick “How far away do you reckon that church is, over there?”. The reason for my question is that, no matter how hard I looked, I couldn’t find on the map a church I could see to my right. Even then, alarm bells didn’t ring and as we continued onwards we discussed possible reasons why we couldn’t see the church on the map.

It took another ten minutes before Mick stopped in his tracks and asked why the sun was in our eyes. Sun in our eyes … church not on the map … Doh! Suddenly we realised our error – and the fact that the only thing we could do to put it right was to back-track.

Thank goodness it was a sunny day, or goodness knows how far we would have gone before we noticed!

Saturday, 17 January 2015

The Wrong Hill

Wrong Hill Illustration

The black arrow is where we parked; the red arrow is the wrong hill; the blue arrow is the right hill.

“How could you possibly have confused two different hills, three miles apart and in opposite directions?” asked Mick when I realised that I was on the verge of leading Mick up the wrong hill in Shropshire last week.

At a glance it was a truly ridiculous mistake to have so nearly made, but I do know how it came about:

I had planned the outing using OS mapping on my laptop (nice big screen, giving a good view of not just the objective, but also the surrounding area), combined with Google Maps for aerial photos and StreetView, which had allowed me to identify a Colin-sized parking area in Kempton. What I recalled from the planning was:

1) we were to park in Kempton;

2) we were to follow the Shropshire Way for much of the walk; and

3) the hill-top in question was marked on the map as a fort and surrounded by woodland.

On the day I was using OS maps on my phone, which gives a rather restricted view. Having found Kempton, I duly followed the Shropshire Way until I found a Fort marked. The hill I found looked about the right distance away and of a suitable height with a suitable amount of prominence, so no alarm bells rang and it didn’t occur to me that I should check to see if there was another (very similar looking!) hill in the opposite direction.

I’m sure that the wrong hill would have been a perfectly good walk (and it would have put a tick on the HuMP list – not that I’m collecting HuMPs), but from a point of view of embarrassing incidents, I’m very glad I had the last minute thought to mark the exact position of the summit on my map before we set out. I did that to avoid a repeat of Monday’s missed-summit-by-60-paces incident; in the event it saved me from missing my intended summit by 3 miles!

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Callow Hill and Brown Clee Hill (Again)

Here’s a snap I took as we headed off up View Edge yesterday morning:

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There was still a full blanket of snow, albeit clearly thawing, when we arrived at last night’s campsite, but by the time we awoke this morning not a bit was left, even on the higher ground. Significant amounts of rain in the night, combined with the quick thaw, meant that the theme of today was mud.

Conveniently, last night’s campsite was located such that we could tackle this morning’s hill without having to take the trouble to drive anywhere. Up the adjacent lane we headed where we soon found ourselves faced with a ‘footpath legally diverted’ sign, from where we duly followed the new waymarks. That was fine until the clear marking of the new route disappeared and the direction we chose proved not to be the correct one. Or, at least, it proved not to be the legal route. It did, however, place us on a track which gave us a (trespassing) route to the summit which was definitely superior to the intended route, as it avoided both the tarmac and descent-to-reascend which would otherwise have featured.

Callow Hill is a notable and interesting hill for the presence of Flounders’ Folly on the top, which was built in 1838, fell into disrepair about 100 years later and which was bought by a local group in 2001 (for the princely sum of £1), who subsequently raised funds and restored it. I imagine it makes the hill a popular one, and apparently the folly is open to the public at least one Sunday a month, but on this windy Thursday morning we saw not a single person.

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Blue skies had accompanied the first part of our walk, but by the time we approached the summit it was clear to see that we weren’t going to stay dry for long. Sure enough, just before the top the first of the sleet hit us, robbing us of views which, I’m sure, would have been excellent and far reaching an hour earlier. 

We were back at the campsite by 10am (the trespassing route had cut the distance down to 3.5 miles and the ascent down to 750’), where I pondered the map over a cup of tea.

The final hill of this trip, per my plan, was to be Caer Caradoc Hill, but that one can easily be picked up when we return to Shropshire for the final hills in this area, so I used that (plus the strength and direction of the wind) to justify a change of plan.

Now, I’m not such a purist that I will search out the tallest tussock on a big flat plateau, but I was annoyed that I’d (very carelessly) missed the true summit of Brown Clee Hill on Monday and returning to it today would put that right. Moreover (to further justify the revisit), we would approach Brown Clee Hill from the east (giving us shelter from the keen wind for most of the outing) whereas my planned route up Caer Caradoc Hill would have been exposed.

Disappointingly, there was no discernable difference in height between where I stood three days ago and where I stood today (a photo I took on Monday suggested there was; it was obviously just the camera angle). However it was a perfectly pleasant walk, even if the wind was positively throwing snow at us on the top (it had been sunny on the way up and was sunny as we got back down, but for the second time today we were robbed of complete views from the top).

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We didn’t repeat the full circuit of Monday; it was just an out-and-back of 3.1 miles with 700’ of up.

And then we came home, where (hopefully) a nice man is going to fix our oven tomorrow so we can bake some goodies for our next trip :-)