Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Earlier this week I was up on the High Weald near East Grinstead. A couple of hours to spare and so a walk over unfamiliar ground was on the cards. Leaving the car in the care of Felbridge football club, I took this beautiful bridleway heading south towards a low ridge. The scene looks like spring but the runnel by the side of the path was crusted with an icy rime.

The path took me across Felbridge Water which, although an insignificant steam in this dry weather, has in the past been strong enough to wash these tree roots clean.

Signs of spring were not immediately obvious, although close inspection of the hedge banks revealed green shoots, and above my head the catkins trembled in the easterly breeze.

The striking feature for me was the magnificent oak trees that dominate this area. I love seeing trees in winter when you can see the wood. As a worker of wood I inevitably think of the silky figure of a cleft billet of English oak, of old church doors and Nelson's ships. This beech tree caught my eye, standing as it did by the Jacobean house of Gullege with its Horsham stone roof and fabulous chimneys. The trees just here were full of goldfinches,chaffinches and greenfinches. As I watched them moving from branch to branch my attention was drawn to the bright pink breast of a bullfinch. Heard, but not seen, nuthatches were numerous in the tree tops.

And so I reached the objective of my walk, the old branch line from Three Bridges to East Grinstead. Abandoned in the 1960s it is now a path and cycle way and little remains to indicate that this was ever a railway. By the side of the old trackbed the concrete posts of the old railway fence remain and every so often the galvanised stays that supported telegraph poles are to be found . Cut into the embankment, the remains of an old gangers hut; just the foundations remaining. Much of Britain's rail network was abandoned after the famous Beeching report. Dr Beeching retired to a spot a few hundred yard from this line, and within sight of the derelict cuttings and embankments. As a child I imagined that railway lines were completely level but here the line pulls up steeply towards East Grinstead.

There was no mistaking this as a piece of railway infrastructure. The single line would have passed through the central arch. When you look up at the brickwork you notice that it is still covered with soot from the old steam engines.

My path took me past Imberhorne Farm with the North Downs behind. Overhead a jet was taking off from Gatwick. The path, beautiful but impossible to photograph, drew me back towards Felbridge. Just to one side of me on the woods edge I spotted a dead pheasant, its head slumped forward, resting forlornly on a tree stump, and its eyes unseeing. I moved closer to take a picture of its beautiful plumage and was startled when it leapt into the air and whirred off into the safety of the woods. I must learn to distinguish between death and sunbathing, but a happy end to the walk nonetheless.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

The undercliff walk at Ovingdean starts in a spectacular way with some steep steps down from the cliff top to the walk below. The beachscape is always changing here as the pluck and the knock of the shore continuously move stones and water one way and another.

The main purpose of the walk today was to photograph the fulmars which nest on the cliffs. This was the only pair I could find and they were being uncooperative. There are 2 in the picture.

Looking east towards Rottingdean and on the far horizon the cross channel ferry can be seen. I remember coming here as a child and hunting in the rock pools around the concrete bases of the old Volks railway that was built along the foreshore. Now at low tide it is much harder to spot the course of the railway, as the years of tides and storms have eroded the concrete away to nothing. I suspect that when I do the walk in another 40 years time all traces of this Victorian folly will have gone.

The guy on his bike from Brighton stopped and looked bewildered as he read the notice. Calling out to his partner behind him he said 'What do you think about this darling?'
His companion, who I think might have been a Health and Safety officer replied, 'everyone else is ignoring it so it's probably OK'.
How can people be so stupid I thought as I heaved myself over the barrier. My reason for ignoring the notice was more logical; 'it simply didn't apply to me'.

My walk finished at Ovingdean cafe on the Undercliff walk itself. The cafe is run by Jane and Liz and this morning Jane (or Liz) was wearing a faux fur coat and looking as though she'd had a very late night indeed.They supplied me with a coffee and a piece of fruit, marmalade and almond cake that was, in the words of our young people, awesome.