A Box Hill hike

Friday 03 April 2015 – Box Hill, Surrey.

Easter Friday, a long weekend, Yay – and made even longer by having a much needed day off from work yesterday. Sounds pretty damn good to me !

I am part of a four person team that has signed up to do the Oxfam 100km walk on the South Downs in late July. With work being so busy and the weather not always being in my favour I, and the rest of the team, have not done a whole lot of training, and apart from one meet up in hotel bar to do some planning we have not actually done any walking together.

With this in mind we took the opportunity of a long weekend to get outside and do some walking in the hills just out of London, and Box Hill in Surrey ticked all those boxes. For some unfathomable reason the crazy people I am teamed up with decided that we would meet at Box Hill Station at 10:00 am, though it is not too far away it still meant an early rise on a day off work.

With public transport running reduced services and maintenance work going on all over the network I decided – wisely, to leave early and catch a tube to Vauxhall and get the train from the there to Box Hill, it was a slow journey but surprisingly reliable. I arrived at Box Hill to find one of my team mates already there at the station/cafe/bike shop. I availed myself of coffee, much needed coffee and a bit of cake while we waited. I really liked the station, yet for some reason I have no photo of it, I particularly liked fact it had a bike shop in it, and coffee was served surrounded by bikes

We were on the way soon after the others arrived, and immediately took the wrong turn out of the station. We were going to do the Box Hill Hike, there was a map on the internet with directions and everything nicely laid out, but all from the car park at Box Hill, no mention of the station at all, and no signs from the station either. I though this was rather poor. We realised fairly quickly we had gone the wrong way and were soon heading off roughly in the right direction.

It is a reasonable walk from the station to the official start of the Box Hill hike at the centre car park. It is a nice walk though. It is really nice to be out in the country!

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The walk starts at the bottom of one of the many climbs up and around the hill, though we were soon heading up, and I surprised myself and had no issues with the climb at all. Ok, we are not talking Everest here, but it does go up a couple of hundred metres and when the escalator out of Holborn Station is your biggest regular climb, then even half that ascent that can be a challenge. I do not take prisoners on a climb either, so I did have a wait at the top…

There was not much of a view though.

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We soon found the car park and the official start of the walk, and once under way the clouds started to lift and the day became quite reasonable. There was a point as we were walking to the start when I was wondering whether we were going to be able to remove woolly hats and rain coats at all, but the cloud eventually lifted and it turned out to be not too bad a day – and it even warmed up a bit.

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Before we left I had done a bit of research into the park and definitely wanted to see Broadwood’s Folly, built in 1815 on the hill above the Broadwood family home. The Holm Oak growing through the middle is not native to the area and the seed may have been dropped by a passing bird. I thought it was quite cool…

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There was a lot of up and down on the walk, as you would expect from a walk with Hill in the name! I liked it, I am not really a fan of all the flat stuff, and it was really nice to not be walking on roads or surrounded by cars either. This would be a great run, and we did see a few runners out as well as a lots of other walkers.

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The church at Mickleham Village.

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Back up on the tops again there was some quite nice forested areas, nice and mossy after the winter.

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There was also this long stretch called the Mickleham Gallops, where horses were trained for races at the nearby Epsom track.

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And at the bottom of the hill, and the start of the next climb – a rather nice cottage, the sort of place I used to fantasize about living in until the realities of living in an old house in the country sank in. Though this one I think would make a good location for a haunted house story.

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And then it was back up the hill again….

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Once over the top of this climb we were almost back to the start, and a slow wind down back to the station. We arrived just before the train so ran up and over the bridge and for some reason the train didn’t stop like it was supposed to. It was then back over the bridge and into the cafe for coffee and cake while we waited for the next train. The walk took just under four hours, including a stop for some lunch, and the odd break at the top of the many short climbs.

It was a really good day out. I took my Garmin watch and recorded that we did 68kms and we walked back to London. I must have forgotten to turn it off… 

My quads ached the next day !!

Ruined villages, WWII tragedies and some nice scenery.

Tuesday 23 December 2014 – Dartmouth, Devon.

After all that walking yesterday and feeling quite weary when I turned the light off at 10:00 I fully expected to get a pretty solid sleep in, but sadly that was not to be, and I just dozed off and on all night. Maybe it was the two hours of photo editing I did before sleep!

I was up at 8:00 again and spent half hour writing part of a blog post on yesterday after breakfast before I packed up and headed out the door. My plan was to catch the bus to Torcross and walk to Hallsands and back. The B and B host could not find a bus timetable before I left which turned out to be a mistake as I missed the once an hour bus by five minutes because I detoured on a walk around Dartmouth on the way to the bus stop. Which meant forty five minutes in a cafe waiting for the next one, at least I got to drink a decent coffee.

My B and B is next to the Cherub Inn, the only surving medieval house in Dartmouth, being built around 1380. My B and B next door was considerably newer being built in 1635….

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I took the long way to the bus stop, walking up some of the narrow streets in the middle of town with the aim of getting a decent view of the Britannia Royal Naval College, a very large building that looms over the western end of town – and is off limits to most. The building itself is quite recent, with construction starting in 1904, though naval officers have been trained in Dartmouth since 1863. It is a mighty impressive building, though through the light drizzle it did take a rather poor photo.

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It took me a while to find a vantage point, walking up and down some of the many steep streets, my legs were feeling it at the start, but once they had stretched out I felt pretty good, which I was pleasantly surprised at.

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Dartmouth is a famous old town, with a long tradition of sailing, voyages and battle ships. From as long ago as 1147 when ships set sail on the crusades there have been vessels moving in and out of the Dart. The Mayflower left England for the last time on its voyage to America in 1620 – and landed in what became Dartmouth in Massachusetts. Sadly the museum was closed. But the bus stop had a nice outlook.

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The bus journey over to Torcross took about thirty minutes and I snapped a few photos out of the slightly grubby windows on the way, the first overlooking Dartmouth.

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There are some lovely beaches along this stretch of coast. Blackpool Sands for instance.

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I would really hate to be a bus driver, anywhere to be fair, but it must be extra tricky on the narrow roads of rural Britain, especially driving a double decker bus. I raise my hat to all who do it.

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Torcross Beach is about two and half miles long and is a narrow strip between the sea and Slapton Ley; a marshy lake, wetland area and scenic reserve. I got off the bus at what I thought was the half way point, into a howling gale and then a sudden downpour of rain. It then drizzled virtually the whole way along the beach to the small town of Torcross at the end. With its massive sand and pebble beach Torcross was used significantly during the second world war as an American training ground for the D-Day landings. The local population were all moved out of their homes during the training time and this memorial is a reminder of that forced evacuation.

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The beach itself is really nice, vast and almost deserted, and looking quite imposing under threatening skies.

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I remembered this is as the place where I almost lost my phone when I was last here, It had fallen out of my pocket when I had snuck into the bushes for a wee, and didn’t realise I had dropped it until a few minutes later. I was very relieved, and quite amazed, to find it again.

One of the many sad and terrible events of World War 2 took place in Torcross and I did not know anything about until It was mentioned to me over breakfast this morning. Operation Tiger was the name of the D-Day landing trials and the extra activity attracted the attention of the German navy and two boats were sunk by torpedo boats at the loss of over 700 US lives. To add to the pain, on the trial landing itself there was a mis-communication resulting in over 300 deaths in a poorly timed shelling. Over 1000 troops killed, just in a trial. A real tragedy. This tank was dug out of the sand and set up as memorial in 1984.

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The road runs between the beach and Slapton Ley and was severely impacted by the winter storms last year, the storms also changed the lie of the beach to a degree where the long term future of the wetlands, the village and the road are all in doubt. Nature can be a hard mistress, not that humanity is helping that much.

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The rain had stopped by the time I got to the village and started up over the hill to my next stop of Beesands. I spent ages trying to work out what the start point was far, and finally realised it was the name of the far headland and this was Start Bay. I had a mental doh moment when I realised.

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It was only a short walk over the top and blessedly not too steep either.

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Beesands did not really have any great redeeming features, it has been severely impacted by the downturn in local fishing, and is pretty much reliant on tourists passing through between Torcross and the more well known Hallsands – pretty much what I was doing.

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Beesands main claim to fame is the Cricket Inn, where Mick and Keith first performed to an audience, as a teenage duo before the Rolling Stones were started. Keith’s family had long holidayed here and the young Mick often joined them on their trips.

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You know a place is windy when the trees are all growing sideways!

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Hallsands was my final destination for the day, it had been a small fishing village for a couple of hundred years, growing to a population of just over one hundred and fifty in the late 1800s.

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In 1890 the building of a new naval dockyard was started further along the coast in Keyham near Plymouth. Too supply the sand for the construction dredging took place just off shore and within ten years the beach had been so undermined that the residents complained to parliament. Two years later dredging was stopped, but the damage was done and in severe storms in 1907 most of the village was washed into the sea. The build of the naval base was subsequently stopped – not due to the destruction of the village though.

Though a small village has been built since there is constant damage done during heavy storms, and you can see where the road has been partially washed away, as recently as 2012.

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These houses were left almost stranded in 2012 as well.

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There is now a small path and a viewing platform over looking the remaining houses from the first village, the reason why tourists come to Hallsands. The area below the houses used to be a sandy beach until the dredging ruined it.

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As the buses from Torcross to Dartmouth only run hourly I decided to try for a quick walk back and get an earlier bus, so I power walked back over to Beesands, stopping to take a photo of the clouds coming down over the hills – luckily it didn’t rain again!

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And this really cool football pitch with its drop off into the far corner!

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I decided to take a punt on being able to walk on the beach around the headland between Beesands and Torcross. I had seen dog walkers heading that way and it sort of looked possible, and it would save a bit of time as well. It was also nice to walk on the beach, two days on the coast and I had not actually set foot on the beach yet….

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The beach did go around to Torcross and luckily there were steps up the cliff and over this stream else it would have been a pointless short cut!

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I arrived back in Torcross with five minutes to spare, so I took a photo of this nice old farmhouse for sale – El are you tempted ?

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And a view up Slapton Ley. I wonder what it will look like if I make it back down this way again. So many broody dark skies….

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The bus ride back to town was good, I was the only person on the bus, I can see why they do not run more frequently. I had a really nice soup for a late lunch and then spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening editing photos and watching some TV before heading out for a very nice fish and chip dinner at the Rockfish Cafe. 2013 winner of best fish and chip shop.

And that was it – holiday over. I had a good time, I really enjoyed the hills and the walks and weather, which was much better than I expected. All those spare clothes I brought down with me where not needed, thankfully. I think next time I go away I will bite the bullet on the cost and rent a car. While I like buses and trains, off season they can be restrictive and costly. There were a couple of other things I would have liked to have seen in the area too, but time and energy were in restricted supply

I am now on my way back to London on the train, after a bacon sarnie and a not unreasonable coffee at the Totnes Station Cafe.

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Looking forward to Christmas, but will miss seeing my kids, my grandchild, my mum and the rest of the family.

Brixham to Kingswear – a walk on the South West Coast Path.

Monday 22 December 2014 – Dartmouth, Devon.

Seeing as I am back on the road again, if only for a couple of days, it seems only fair that I continue with my traveling tradition of starting each blog post with a mention of how I slept the night before, poorly in this case. My room in the Cherubs Nest B and B is nice, comfortable and warm, I was (am) tired, but I did not sleep much at all and was awake before 6:00 as usual. I did not get up though. I was the only guest so enjoyed a really nice breakfast on my own, fueling up for the day ahead.

The forecast was for a cloudy day with no rain, so I decided to go west and walk from Brixham back to Dartmouth, via the ferry at Kingswear, a ten(ish) mile walk on the South West Coast Path. As is usual I woefully under-prepared for the walk, I did not take anywhere near enough water or snacks to munch on and perhaps should have tossed my head torch in my bag as well.  On the plus side though, I did have warm and waterproof clothing. Ten miles is not that far in flat London with corner shops every few hundred yards, but on a remote, muddy and often steep coast it is much harder going. I also did not fully realise how unfit I am for this sort of terrain, yes I can knock off an eight mile run on the flat without too much bother, but wow I have missed doing hills.

I left the Cherubs Nest about 10:00 and headed down to the nearby waterfront to catch the ferry over to Kingswear. There are a few ferry services crossing the River Dart, but the lower car ferry is the most frequent, crossing every few minutes, and it does take foot passengers.

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It is also a good spot to get a photo of some of Dartmouth old town. I really like towns on steep hillsides!

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The ride to Kingswear is only five minutes and the bus stop is just up from the ferry, luckily there was a bus about to leave as I arrived.

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The journey to Brixham was interesting, a bit ’round the houses’ as they say, and some of the houses were not exactly ones you would want to go round either. I have this rather romanticised view of what remote coastal villages and towns look like, all olde world stone and wood, with a thatched or tiled roof, occupied by wonderful friendly folk. Unfortunately the real world is not like that and outside of the original ‘old town’ part of these places, partly hidden from view – unless you are on a local bus, there is the usual swathe of cheap housing filled with those less fortunate than I. Brixham was like that.

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Brixham is a commercial fishing village and I did see a sign that said it was the birthplace of trawler fishing, I marched on through. Though I did love these tiny old crabbing boats.

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One of the things I recalled with little pleasure from supporting Mal on his run of the South West Coast Path was how poorly it was sign posted in and on the fringes of towns, and I definitely remember Brixham was no exception. I headed in the right direction, but ended up at a swanky hotel at the start of the headland, I wandered up a side road and just happened to come across the path again at Berry Head.

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As I wasn’t planning on sticking religiously to the coast path I was going to walk across the headland rather than around it, but once I was up there I was surprised to find an old fort. The forts that remains – there are two of them, were built around 1800 – sadly on top of Iron Age forts, to defend Torbay against the French. All that was left of the first fort was the very solid external walls and a (surprisingly open) coffee shop and information centre inside the walls.
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Berry head is also well known for migrating birds, and there are a couple of hides, but this was very much out of season.

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The second fort has a few more ruins in it, and I had a few minutes of fun trying to get decent photos before I realised with a minor sense of panic that it is almost the shortest daylight day of the year, I have ten miles to walk and it is 12:00. I have four hours to get to Kingswear before it gets properly dark, this seems like an extraordinary amount of time to walk ten miles, but there are no villages between Sharkham Point and Kingswear to exit the path and get a bus from, plus I want to take pictures on the way. So I left.

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St Mary’s Bay is very picturesque, though I did hurry past, casting my eyes in land only quickly.

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Just past the bay I came across a sign that almost made me turn back enjoy more of St Mary’s Bay and the old forts and then catch the bus back.

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I was worrying a little about time as I had not planned on having to take a detour, understandable as half the cliff face had fallen away. This detour took me back inland and around a recently built and monumentally hideous housing estate, and then dumped me on a street with no indication of which way to go. I headed back towards the coast and fortunately found the path again. I suspect the temporary signs had long been removed.

I slung my camera bag back on my back, fastened the straps and started jogging on the down hill sections, I wanted to try and recoup some of the last time faffing on the detour, and soon enough I was well on my way, back on the path – and at the top of one of the in-numerable climbs.

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Soon I was heading down towards Mansands Bay.

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Where I came across a sign telling me I had 6 miles to go, at this point I realised I was probably going to be fine, getting back an hour before sunset, though I did not slacken my pace that much.

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The climb out of Mansands was pretty tough, not long but really steep, and this was just preparing me for the climb out of the next bay which felt like it was near vertical in parts. But the view was worth it…

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What made the climb out of the next bay worse was that it had been used by live stock recently so it was completely chewed up, really muddy and a bit smelly.

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And the steep grassed section was quite greasy in parts, I was almost crawling at the top.

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For the next hour or so the track moved across the cliff tops, dropping down to small bays here and there and generally offering a constant array of beautiful scenery to gaze at.

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The track was quite cut up along the tops and I could see horse shoe prints in the mud, I was getting a bit pissed with the person that decided riding a horse up here on these narrow trails was a good idea, and then I discovered the source – a bunch of Dartmoor Ponies had been released here. That made much more sense!

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I think this is Old Mill Bay.

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A last look back west.

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I reached Froward Point about 2:45 and was thinking how well I had done in getting to Kingswear so quickly, before I saw a sign advising me I had two more miles to go. By this time I had only a couple of mouthfuls of water left and had long eaten my two muesli bars. Even though it was a little windy on the tops I had gotten a lot warmer than I had expected with my mix of light jogging and power walking had subsequently sweated more than a small bottle of water was good for. I was thirsty!

Mew Stone and Shag Stone from the point.

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The walk from the point into town seemed to take forever and my lack of hill fitness was showing on the climbs as I got quite slow. There was a good view of both Kingswear and Dartmouth Castles through the trees at one point, which I ruined with a bad photo.

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I was hoping to walk past the castle, but discovered that it is privately owned and is not accessible, or even readily visible to the public. Shame…. I did find this small tower though, which partly made up for it.

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Soon after that the path ended and I was on the edge of town.

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I found a tap outside some flats that were empty so I refilled my water bottle with some rather earthy tasting but very refreshing water, said a small thanks to the absent owners and carried on marching into town.

It was nice to find even rural Kingswear has the same issues as NE London…

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Just down by the ferry I found a sign pointing back the way I came, and for the first time I had an indication of how far I had travelled, I was not 100% sure at the start.

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And then I was on the ferry back to Dartmouth.

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My first stop was one of the few cafes that was open and serving food for a very late lunch and a much needed coffee. I was a bit rank, a bit muddy, and very hungry! I ate and left (for the benefit of the other customers) and headed back to the B and B for a shower and a sit down before tea. I was knackered….

I will say it was a really good day. Followed by a really good pizza!

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A visit to Sarfend.

Sunday 14 September 2014 – Southend-on-Sea.

While El and I were away on the Isle of Wight last weekend we started discussing the possibility of buying a small holiday home somewhere. This conversation carried on during the week and we talked about what we would want from a holiday place. It seems that in a perfect world we would be able to buy somewhere near St Ives in Cornwall, but that is just way to far away to be practical right now, but is definitely a future consideration.

Much as I am very happy living with El in her house I had become fairly used to living alone and occasionally feel the need to escape to my own pad, with my own things and just chill out. When I moved in after I returned from NZ in July it was intended that once I was working I would look for my own flat and move out. Living together has not raised any alerts and we have pretty much agreed that it would be silly for me to spend 1500-1700 pounds a month renting a flat I would only stay in half the time. This basically means I have some money to invest. So a buying a cheap flat or house somewhere on the coast but near enough to London so we could easily and cheaply visit at the weekends, or I could commute to and from on occasion, seems like a sensible thing to do.

We just need to find somewhere we like. Southend-on-Sea is not going to be one of those places, but it is close by and well worth checking out as it will give us some idea of what is out there, and what seaside towns near to London can be like.

After Steve and I did our Leigh-on-Sea to Southend photo walk back in April I had  been thinking about doing the final leg of the walk from Southend to Shoeburyness, so, as it was a nice day, El and decided to make the trip in reverse.  We caught a train into Liverpool St, walked over to Fenchurch St Station and caught the train out to Shoeburyness. Shoeburyness was interesting, the tide was out, seemingly almost as far as France, and we could see kite surfers way out on the horizon, they were so far out that at first I wondered what they were – and you cannot even see them in this photo taken on my phone. It was a nice enough place, there were some very nice apartments near the sea, but that tide is just too much for me.

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There was a short section of coast with the ubiquitous beach huts on it before we hit a  long section of much nicer beach that was closed to the public as it was/is an MOD testing site, there were numerous signs warning of unexploded shells and other ordinance possibly lying around. Sadly this section of coast was quite long…

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I did love this sign – ‘deep water’ !!! – You can barely see the water.

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It took us about thirty minutes to walk to the outskirts of Southend, and as soon as the MOD area was over, the beach huts appeared. Quite a number of them had people gathered inside and out and there was a bit of a part time sea side community going on. Not my thing, but nice to see people getting out and about, even though the view of the estuary to the power station was not the most attractive.

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I liked this end of Southend, there are some quite nice houses, and as there is no entertainment at this end of the beach it was all very quiet. You can see Southend Pier in the background, the longest in the world apparently – mainly because the sea goes out so far !

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After about an hour and a half of walking we arrived in Southend central, and like before I knew it was just not my place, far too busy for me. We walked through town, heading for the Westcliff area that I wanted to have a look at. We stopped at the famous Rossi’s ice cream shop, a long standing feature of Southend, and one my mum asked me about after she read my blog post from back in April. She used to visit here when she was young and was interested to see if it was still here. The ice cream was very nice too, as I believe it was  in my mum’s day.

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After Rossi’s it was time to go so wandered up through Westcliff to the station and headed back home.

Did I learn anything about buying property on the coast, not really. But I did learn that buying somewhere near the sea, means I want to hear the waves. So that rules out this section of coast!

A Mt Te Aroha micro-adventure.

Friday 11 July 2014 – Te Aroha, New Zealand.

When I decided I should visit New Zealand a couple of weeks ago I also decided that I would try and squeeze one day of adventure into a very tight time frame. This is not something I would ever normally say, but I was sort of sick of the Waitakeres, so I was looking for somewhere I would not normally go to. I floated a couple of ideas over my friend Vicki, and as she was not working today we decided to head south east and walk/run or ride the Karangahake Gorge. I love K Gorge, I did not go there that often when I lived in New Zealand, so it is always fresh. It has a nice mix of rock strewn stream, native bush and some ruins left over from New Zealand’s ‘historic’ mining past, so is great for walking, riding and photography – all things I love.

That was the plan anyway. Once I arrived in NZ I discovered that I could not find any of my riding or running gear, except my bike and my trail shoes. The plan was then changed to walk K. Gorge and explore the open tunnel networks, I did find my head torch – bonus !

That was the plan anyway…. On the way down, Vicki floated the idea of doing Mt Te Aroha instead, as it was a similar distance away. She had never been up it before, though most of our running buddies had. I suspect that that was her plan all along, knowing I would agree very quickly – and she was right. I had been here once years ago and had ridden some newly open mountain bike trails in the lower slopes of the hill so was keen to revisit, and head to the summit.

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Mt Te Aroha sits at the far southern end of the Kaimai Ranges, where the hills meet the Hauraki Plains, it does look quite bizarre, shooting up so abruptly from the flat expanse below. Sadly the top of the hill and its mast was obscured by the clouds.

We drove down to the small Te Aroha town-ship and parked just outside the domain area, the walking and mountain biking trails are quite clearly marked though I had to ask someone where the trail to the summit started. It was quite a windy day and we were advised it would be very windy and cold at the top.

As the sign says the hill is 950 metres high, but what it does not tell you is that the trail is just over 4 kms long… That makes the walk quite steep !

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The trail started off with a fairly gentle gradient, and it was warm under the trees as well We soon reached a reasonable height and the view over the planes was long and reasonably clear. We could feel the wind a little bit on this side of the hill, and as we were standing taking photos of this rainbow a rain squall past round the side of the hill, we could see it but not feel it , and we stayed perfectly dry.

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Vicki is the New Zealand editor for a trail running magazine and was looking for some action shots for a trail review, not that we were really running anywhere – especially up hill, I am way too unfit at the moment and long pants are not really conducive to running. Where ever there was an opportunity to grab a couple of actions shots we did – I used the opportunity to take a rest!

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As we got further up the hill, the gradient got steeper and steeper and as we drifted further round the hill the wind got stronger and stronger. We were a little nervous of some of the large trees that were creaking very loudly – and with the amount of trail litter – including some quite large branches, it was a well founded nervousness. There was also another rain squall that blew past by the side of the hill, but again we were sheltered from the worst of it.

The only bloke walking up Mt Te Aroha in an old Ramones t-shirt 🙂 (Tommy Ramone, the last remaining original member of the Ramones, passed away last night)

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As we approached the summit we could hear a roar overhead, it was incredibly loud and sounded like a jet engined plane just sitting above the top of the trees – though we could clearly see there was nothing there – intriguing! Just before the final push to the top there was a small ridge where there were no trees to provide shelter from the wind, as it was so strong we ended up sort of half crawling half stumbling across to avoid getting blown off the top – or that is what it felt like anyway.

Naturally the last section was steep! My legs were pretty shot by this stage and I was glad to stop and take photos every now and then, and even gladder to get to the top.

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Wow ! The wind was incredible on the summit, and we found what was making all the noise, the wind through the mast was just incredibly loud. You can see how strong the wind was, not often you see hurricane fencing blown over. It was a lot colder on the top, though it was cloudy up there it was not really wet, though we put coats on for the wind.

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We took turns taking photos at the trig, we were both hanging on in the fear of being blown over – I have never ever felt wind that strong before, it was incredible – and it had calmed down a bit from the previous days as well.

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I think this advice should have been posted at the start of the trail, given today’s conditions!

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We did not stay long on the top before heading back down into the relative shelter of the trees were we took a snack as we started on the way back down. As we were reasonably high the trees were very different to what we get in the Waitakeres, short scrubby trees covered in ferns and moss, it was a lovely section of bush and I have failed to capture it very well sadly.

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Once we were clear of the steep, rocky, rooty, slippery section closer to the top I managed to break into a light jog for most of the rest of the way down to the bottom. Needless to say it was a short trip back down ! I slipped over once on the way down, my leading foot hit a large leaf and shot out in front of me, over extending my leg. I had a small flash of pain and really thought I had pulled my groin muscle. There was a nervous limp for a while, but it soon worked its way out, much to my relief.

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I felt good after the walk, and only seized up a little on the drive back to Auckland. The next three days however….. lets say I avoided walking down steps!

We were lucky with the weather, a couple of strong squalls passed us by on the hill, but we managed to stay dry both times. It was drizzling as we walked back to the car, but stopped as we did a quick change into some clean clothes on the road side. In the domain there is a thermal spa and some thermal swimming pools, with naturally heated water. If we had known we were coming here before we left Auckland I would have brought some swimming gear and dropped into a pool after the run to soak the legs.

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I am so glad we did Mt Te Aroha rather than Karangahake Gorge. The gorge would have been fun, but Te Aroha was an adventure, a microadventure, especially in that wind ! Thanks Vicki 🙂

I bought the book ‘Microadventures‘ by Alistair Humphreys to read on the plane and to get some adventure ideas for when I get back to London, a great read so far.

Following the Ching.

Good Friday 18 April 2014 – River Ching, Chingford to Highams Park.

Last weekend El and I took a walk up to Highams Park, which is two train stops north of where she lives in Walthamstow. There is a lake (read large pond) in a small woodland extension of the much larger Epping Forest and as it was a nice day it was a good place to walk to, and around. Plus El got to show me where she used to live – in a house long knocked down to allow a part of the North Circular motorway to be built.

When we walked around the lake we saw a track heading off into the distance and decided that we should come back and have bit more of an explore – but armed with a bit of information as to where track was likely to go. Not that you can get too lost in this section of the forest – it is completely surrounded by suburban streets. I have been keen to explore a bit more of Epping Forest and had bought a map of the area a while back, so after a map referral we decided to catch a train to Chingford, head up to Connaught Water and follow the River Ching back down to Highams Park Lake. It was not a long walk, only a few kilometres, but in theory it should all be off road and maybe in the trees – it sounded pretty damn perfect to me.

We arrived in Chingford late morning and found Connaught Water fairly easily, it is only a km or so from the station which is on the southern edge of Epping Forest. It was a reasonably sunny day, but there was quite a cold wind blowing and out on the open areas of the forest park it was quite chilly – so we were looking forward to getting into some shelter from the trees, plus a forest walk really should have trees!

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Connaught Water is called a lake but really it is just a large pond, but it has fishing and boating and at twenty five minutes from Liverpool St station on the train – it is pretty damn cool !

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It also appears to be the source of the mighty River Ching, and this is the headwaters… It is hard to believe that when this flooded back in 2009 it actually caused damage!

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The river flows from here down to the River Lea closer to Walthamstow, though we were only walking the forested section.

The first section of the path was well formed, though there is absolutely no signage at all at any stage and this was a bit frustrating, especially matched with a map last printed in 2010. Things had changed a bit since then.

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The path is shared with walkers, runners, bikers and in some sections – horse riders, we saw a few of walkers, runners and riders on the way, though once we were out of the main section of the forest it was very quiet. The path was pretty dry, but you can see where it has been heavily cut up in winter by bikes, horses and loads of runners from the nearby Orion Harriers. Some parts look like they could be quite fun to ride on as well – unlike this open and smooth trail.

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After crossing the main road north from Chingford we were off the clearly defined path and followed the river more closely.

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The forest was really nice here, though we were really in a small section of parkland in the middle of suburban London it was beautifully quiet and there was an amazing amount of bird song to provide some background.

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We crossed another road and the track followed the edge of a golf course for a kilometre or so, crossing the fairway at one stage, which was a bit disconcerting as it was not sign posted, we were not really paying attention and there were people were playing the hole. Fortunately they must be used to walkers as they waved us through without any aggravation.

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We got a bit misplaced at the end of the golf course, but with a quick look at the phone we found the entrance to the top end of Highams Park, and a nice little area full of late spring blue bells.

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Again the forest here was really nice, some lovely spring foliage on the trees and a nice windy and clean ‘river’ to follow.

P1030535At one point there was even a rope swing, though I am assuming you are not supposed to drop into the river from it !

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After an hour and half of walking we popped out on to the ‘lake’ at Highams Park.

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We could have continued on for another couple of kilometres of forest through to Hollow Pond** but finished the walk here and headed to the nearby supermarket (they had Picpoul de pinet wine on special) and then caught the bus home…

It was a really nice walk, and hopefully the start of a summer of Epping Forest walks.

** Hollow Ponds is the title of a new track by ex Blur and Gorrilaz vocalist Damon Albarn who was brought up in nearby Leytonstone. I like the song and it is cool that something as small and local as Hollow Pond gets name checked by a fairly big star.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwfsV50m7Dg

Castles, beaches, views and almost a sunset.

Monday 03 March 2014 – Swanage.

After a fairly solid sleep I was up pretty early again, but the view out the window had me back in bed for a while with a cup of coffee and yesterday’s paper. It was raining and there was no way I was heading out early with absolutely no hope of a sunrise. I waited till the dot of 8:00 am and was down in the restaurant for breakfast, this time I asked for a break between my fruit and my eggs on toast. I think I introduced a whole new level of stress to the staff with that request…

I had another big day planned, with a shorter coastal walk as well as a visit to a couple of castles. I love castles, and have done since I was a child when I visited some with my family. If you have followed my blog for a while you will have probably worked out I am a fan of all things old. Coming from New Zealand where anything over a hundred years old is considered historic it is great to be visiting places that are ten times older and more.

My first stop was nearby Corfe Castle, I had driven past it a couple of times and had been really looking forward to visiting it, it was one of the many reasons I chose Swanage as a base.

I parked on the far side of Corfe Castle village and walked through the town, the village is dominated by the castle on the hill. The whole village is built of the same locally mined sandstone as the castle, they love their rock around here!

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The sun was shining when I entered the castle and thankfully the wind had dropped significantly from yesterday, so I was in for a nice walk around.

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Corfe Castle was developed over a five hundred year period, starting from the early twelfth century. Sadly it was destroyed by an act of parliament during the English civil war in 1646 as one of the final outposts of royalist resistance. What I saw today was pretty much as it was at that time it was blown up.

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I love how the walls are sagging over the steep side of the hill, I guess one day they will just roll down to the stream below.

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I really enjoyed walking around and exploring the place, but as I started walking up to the top keep the clouds were gathering on the horizon, so I picked up the pace a bit.

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And the rain started to fall just as I made the exit gate, a shame for the people arriving as I left, sometimes it pays to be up early!

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I stopped for a coffee in one of the small coffee shops and the rain stopped soon after I finished my coffee, and I got to carry on with my day. The clouds over the castle looked amazing from the car park though.

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My next stop was Lulworth Cove, not too much of a drive away. The roads here pass through a large military camp which has a live firing range for tanks and cannons and all sorts of things. I sneakily stopped on the side of the road just before the range as I saw some (I think) wild ponies in the light flooding among the trees, I should have grabbed a better lens, but figured outside a military base was not a place to be stopping with a camera…

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I parked at Lulworth Cove at walked up the hill and over to Durdle Door. As I started out the weather was lovely compared to yesterday – I was in a t-shirt and unzipped hoodie and worked up a bit of a sweat walking up the coast path , though a shower moved over once I was over the top and the rain jacket was soon on again.

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Man O’ War Bay.

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Luckily it didn’t last and by the time I was down at Durdle Door the sun was shining again. The seas were looking pretty good here, nice even, though large swells – and no, I was not tempted to swim…

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Durdle Door is a large hole in the limestone rock and is a major tourist and photographic attraction. Surprisingly it is part of a private estate owned by the Weld family, who also own Lulworth Castle – plus about fifty square kms of Dorset. At least visiting the site is free, though of course parking isn’t!

The steps down to the beach have been destroyed in a recent land slip, as there were a few people down on the beach I made my way down as well. The way down was incredibly slippery and very muddy and I was lucky to have my trail shoes on as I didn’t fall over – looking at the state of some other people’s trousers, I was a fortunate one. I am really glad I ventured down though.

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Once back up the bank I walked down the steps on the other side and visited Man O’ War Bay.

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On the way back up to the hill top walk to Lulworth Cove, I spotted the lovely Durdle Door Holiday park, a bit of a blight on the English countryside !

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Lulworth Cove is lovely though, as are the numerous cottages in the village. When I visited here two years ago it was absolutely rammed with people, so it was quite pleasant to visit when it was empty – though not much was open for coffee and lunch.

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After a very average sandwich, but a spectacular ice cream cone I jumped back in the car and drove over to Lulworth Castle.

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The castle was built as a hunting lodge in 1610 and was purchased by the Weld family in 1642 (it is still in the family !) It was the residence of the family up until it was sadly destroyed by fire in 1929. The exterior has been fully renovated, but the interior is just a large shell, but interesting nonetheless. The whole time I was at he castle I could here gunfire in the background, I guess it must be what a fire-fight over the next hill sounds like. Something I have no desire to hear.

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Next door is the Chapel of St Mary, built in 1786 once the persecution of Catholics ended in Britain. It is a lovely building and I would have liked to have seen in-side, but it was all closed up.

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It was getting to be late in the afternoon and the sky was still looking good so I decided to go o Kimmeridge Bay and see if I could catch the sunset I missed on Saturday. I stopped just outside the town of Wareham and took some photos of the flooding there.

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I made it to Kimmeridge reasonably early and took a walk around the beach as the tide was out, it was a good time to play with the camera as the sun slowly set. I took a load of photos.

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The storms have created a massive pile of sea weed on the shore.

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As the sun was slowly setting I watched the big thick clouds move their way slowly across the sky towards me, and with a sinking feeling I knew that there was going to be no sunset again !! I guess, to be fair, the sun was still going to set, just not in a spectacular display.

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I made my way around to the point anyway and met another photographer there who pointed me to “the” spot for sunset photos, he had been there a million times before so was out today photographing the surfers. Surfing in that cold water – madness!

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I lurked there for a while and then moved down to the waters edge for a bit, but then the threatened rain started to arrive so started making my way back towards the car.

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I got back to the good spot and the rain stopped so I lurked there for a bit and took a bunch of photos of the clouds that were going to block the sunset, and left again as another shower hit. The clouds were damn good though !

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Once I made it back up to the car the rain stopped again, so I hung around and watched a very light sunset struggle through the gloom, though the sky did get very colourful and a little liquid at times.

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Once dark settled in I packed up and went back to the hotel for dinner and a glass of wine before collapsing into bed nice and early with my book.

It had been a long but very enjoyable day. Great to see so many lovely places and with much relief I really enjoyed taking photos again.

A walk along the coast

Sunday 02 March 2014 – Swanage.

The hotel definitely seems to cater for the slightly more ‘delicate’ market, my room is about a hundred degrees and I spent most of the night on top of the covers as it was too hot to sleep underneath. I had the window open to let some cool fresh air in as soon as I woke – my inner Englishness meant I could not open the window all night and waste the power from the central heating ! I had no means to turn it down either.

I had chosen to stay in Swanage for a number of reasons, price being one – but one of the others was it was facing east; with good weather forecast when I booked my trip I was hoping for a good sunrise or three.

I was up early and after swallowing an instant coffee I was out the door to see if the sunrise would appear from under the large blanket of low cloud. I was to be pretty much disappointed! I went down to the waterfront anyway and had a play with some ND and ND grad filters to see if I could at least get some good cloud and sea action.

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I took some rather unspectacular photos for a while before deciding to walk along to the pier and Peveril Point for a look around before heading back to the hotel for breakfast. I was just taking this picture when a local photographer appeared behind me and we wandered off together to the cliff tops at Peveril Point to see what would happen as the sun finally attempted to rise.

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We were rewarded with a small glow on the far horizon, peering out from under the clouds that took a slight hint of the suns glow.

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We hung around and chatted for a while before gave up trying to take photos on a tripod in the wind, so I thanked him and headed back to my hotel to get breakfast as soon as the kitchen opened at 8:00 as I had a big day planned.

Luckily breakfast was served at the same breakneck speed as last night so I was out the door soon after 8:30, camera bag loaded with camera, rain coat, gloves, hats and everything needed to cater for the weather turning wet and cold later in the day. I planned on walking along the coast path to Worth Matravers, a section of the coast I had travelled with Malcolm in 2012 and one worth returning to with a camera. I knew I had about three hours before the rain was due to arrive, though it was incredibly windy, at times I was almost blown off my feet – luckily the wind was blowing in off the sea.

I headed back up over Peveril Point, there was a lot of damage caused by the recent storms – a story across both days of walking, large chunks of the cliff had fallen into the sea and signs new and old where everywhere.

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I walked up to Durlston nature reserve via the old Isle of Wight Road, a wee bit muddy and I was glad I had my trail running shoes on – a bit of tread was very useful! I remembered Durlston Castle from the run, and the fact there was no signage for the coast path here and Malcolm and I spent a bit of time faffing trying to work out which way to go.

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Durlston Castle was a rich man’s folly built in the 1800’s, not particularly old compared to some of the places I plan on visiting tomorrow, but it is kind of cute and I did notice a coffee shack out the back which I planned on visiting when I returned.

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As I walked along the path from the castle I took one of many pictures throughout the day looking up and down the coast.

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This region has had a long history of limestone quarrying and there are a number of old quarry sites along the coast. The first one I came across was at the far end of the Durlston Reserve just below Anvil Point Lighthouse.

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Past the lighthouse the wind really picked up and gusts were blowing me sideways at times. It was almost hard to walk, thankfully I was not planning on a run today, though I did jog on the odd occasion – trying to be gentle with the bag load of camera gear I had on back.

The limestone has been used for the dozens of stone walls used by the local farmers.

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I walked for a while to my first scheduled photo stop at Dancing Ledge – so called because at certain tides as the water washes over, the rock appears to be dancing. I was utterly amazed to see a group of climbers there, playing on the small ledges. Not that people would climb there per se, just that anybody apart from me was out on this miserable windy day. I would not want to be climbing about on ledges, no matter how small on a day like this !

It is a really spectacular spot and I would love to visit with big clouds – but no wind !

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As I left the area and started walking further along the coast the rain started to come down so it was camera away and jacket on, some of the rain gusts were so cold I ended up having to put gloves on and had my hat down as far as it would go on my head.

It wasn’t far to my final destination and I thought I would stick it out and hope the rain stopped as it wasn’t forecasted to arrive for another couple of hours. Though it was not raining that hard it never did stop, and the wind made it quite unpleasant. I jogged a bit more.

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I was disappointed when I got to where I thought the old village of Worth Matravers was, I remembered there being some old ruins of quarrymen houses on the coast, which was what I wanted to see but I could not find them, all I found were some old, fenced off, mine holes. I saw a sign to the village, pointing up a really muddy cow track and it was a mile away and the weather miserable I decided to return to Swanage. I had had a good day out so far and there was no point in just hanging around and maybe getting sick.

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I had met some people on the way that had come down a hilltop track so decided to walk up there and avoid some of the spray that was coming off the sea on the cliff top Coast Path. The bad weather has had a real impact on paths along here with numerous slips and this was typical of them.

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At the top of the hill I was really unsure of which way to go as there were a few paths, I ended up following narrow cow paths for a while before I found what appeared to be the proper path. An hour of walking later I finally caught sight of Anvil Point Lighthouse and made my way gingerly down the hillside towards it and then back to Durlston Castle.

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Sadly the coffee shack outside was closed so wet, a little cold and a bit muddy I went into the castle cafe and joined some shiny and clean people for what was a welcome and damn good coffee !

On the way back to Swanage and my hotel I saw this rather out of place bollard in the castle grounds.

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It took me a further hour to get back to the hotel, I was glad I had layered up properly as I was pretty damp when I got back, but not overly cold considering the wind and rain. I was out for six hours and had missed lunch in the hotel, so I took a bath for a while before heading to the pub for a beer…

I had sort of known, but it had never been top of mind when I planned the trip – a late winter Sunday night in a small rural town is never going to be a great place to find a meal ! Virtually everywhere was closed. I had my heart set on a nice pasta meal but ended up with a burger and chips in another pub. Good burger and chips though and the beer was good to.

Another good day !