New Year Day

Seven of us took part in our traditional New Years Day walk, this year held the day after the event. Starting from Berkhamstead, we headed to Aldbury for lunch, passing the interesting tree below. Presumably it is a tree that fell down but carried on growing horizontally along the ground, then turned through ninety degrees on the ground before making an upwards turn and carrying on up as a normal tree.

crooked tree

Strange tree seen on the way to Aldbury


Aldbury village pond and pub

There was just a little ice on the village pond at Aldbury, photo above. From Aldbury we climbed well trodden paths up to the Bridgewater monument, where we paused at the National Trust teashop, but not for too long since we wanted to be back befor dark. From there we followed the long straight ride that leads from the monument to Ashridge House, now an American run business college, then back down to Berkhamstead for Christmas cake and mince pies - many thanks to Geoff.

ice house

Ice house entrance in Ashridge Park

Passing through Ashridge Park, Geoff pointed out the rough stone entrance hole above. It might look like the entrance to some ancient tomb but is in fact the entrance to an ice house. You can read more about ice houses on Wikipedia and elsewhere, there is a good example open to the public at the London Canal Museum, just down the road from London's Kings Cross Station. I find it amazing that in the 19th centuary it was considered worthwhile to cut ice from lakes in the USA and Canada, transport it across the Atlantic in sailing ships insulated with straw, then on by horse and cart to ice houses where the ice that hadn't melted on route was stored so that the very wealthy could enjoy cool drinks and ice cream all the year round.


Day Walk from Winkworth Arboretum, Surrey - 5 February

Report from Frank and Richard

The day didn't go according to plan but I hope everyone enjoyed it anyway [writes Frank]. Mark S and I went to Godalming on an earlier train than expected and had time for a coffee in the High St. before Herman and Esin picked us up. Winkworth Arboretum teashop didn't open until 11.00, but by the time we were all ready to walk it was almost 11.00 so a couple of dehydrated people had a quick cuppa before we set off.

We took the public footpath across the Arboretum, past boat house and lake. The only flowers were a few snowdrops, but lots of trees of course. The best times to go here are the end of April for bluebells, or autumn when the leaves of maples and other trees turn colour. Along a quiet lane then a busy road, and then on to a rather wet footpath.

Where are Mark S and Esin? I went back to the road, no sign, so presumed they had continued along the road and would reach The White Horse in 20 minutes or so. Tried the mobile phone - no signal here.  We continued up through the woods to the edge of the hill. I took a wrong turn but we decided to continue down a shorter way to the village to meet up again with Mark and Esin at the pub. So only Len went up Hascombe Hill.

white horse 

Outside the White Horse

Richard writes: I met up with the group at the pub, having had an engagement in the morning. I also tried the mobile phone, but got no signal: what is it about deepest Surrey? We headed off towards a spot called Hydon’s Ball on the map, after Len said goodbye. Frank says Hydon's Ball is possibly one of a chain of ball time signals. (Another is Palmer's Ball near Liss).

The 'hanger' wood where we were photographed joining hands around a tree, on a steep south-facing hillside, is good for early bluebells. Local Morris dancers celebrate first day of spring here.  The invasive plant here is gaultheria shallon, related to bilberry, from western North America with berries that are edible but small and without much taste.

Alfriston - 5/6 March

alfriston yha

Entrance to Alfriston Youth Hostel

A party of martial arts enthusiasts arrived at Alfriston hostel before us and they were using substantial wooden poles to practice swordfighting moves in the hostel garden. They also had some very real looking swords, but we did not see those in use, I can imagine that could get messy.  These enthusiasts did seem to be taking their pastime quite seriously, as I am sure we do our walking and sailing.  The sword practice gave us something to watch as our members gathered outside the hostel, then we headed off to the Cuckmere River, a couple of hundred yards from the hostel and followed the river bank path upstream to Alfriston village. It's a popular tourist village, with plenty of pubs and cafes. Pic below shows some of us approaching Alfriston Church.

alfriston church

Alfriston Church  

From Alfriston we found our way onto a section of the South Downs Way, following the ridge of the escarpment over Bostal Hill, with a steep slope to the north east. This slope is popular for hang gliding and paragliding and several paragliders were circling above us. The picture below shows what looked to my untutored eye to be a pretty sophisticated hang glider, but like the other hangliders present it remained on the ground, only the paragliders were airborne while we watched. A quick internet search indicates that this machine has a glide ratio of about 19:1. I wish we could achieve such nice cloth aerofoils on a sailing boat, but a practical sailing boat needs to be capable of reefing and furling and sailing on both tacks, which for an aircraft is equivalent to flying either way up. 

alfriston hang glider

Hang Glider near Bostal Hill 

We dropped down from the South Downs way to lunch at the pub in Alciston village, then took a lower level route back to the hostel via Berwick village. Our total distance was a modest 9 miles.

On Sunday we started with a short drive to the car park at West Dean, then followed the bank of the Cuckmere River down to the sea. We then turned east along the foreshore, views of the Seven Sisters cliffs behind us, as the picture below. (In 2013 John and Josephine sailed into Cuckmere River from the sea - after finding and negotiating the narrow entrance we carried on up the river to the pub by the bridge)

seven sisters

Seven Sisters Cliffs - the entrance to the Cuckmere River is hidden among the shingle banks this side of the cliffs 

Continuing east, we followed the coast path up over high ground then dropped down into the town of Seaford where we found an Italian cafe for lunch. The picture below shows the view from the coast path, looking to the east across Seaford, with the small port of Newhaven in the distance. After lunch we returned to West Dean car park by a route a little further inland, then went our various ways home. Total distance was again modest, about 8 miles by my GPS gadget - is this really good enough training for our proposed mountain walking at Easter!?


View East over Seaford

Fitting Out - 2 April

Report from Richard

Mark S, Frank and Richard went down to Paglesham to check out the boats, and to put Merganser on her mooring. Herman turned up after his night shift to help us briefly. We got Merganser down to the boatyard, and then found out that the padlock to the gate had been changed, and the RSA key in shed wouldn't open the lock. Mark sought out Gary, the new yard manager, who was able to let us into the yard.

We slid Merganser off her trolley onto the slipway and loaded her gear as the tide was rising and she began to float. Mark thought we had ample time to go off to the Plough and Sail for lunch, but when we got back to the slip afterward, we found that she had already taken the ground, and it took a great deal of heaving to slide her over the muddy slip into the water: where was H when we really needed him? Frank, having his wet-socks on, held her afloat, while Mark got his gear on to row her out to a mooring, while Richard took the photo - see below.


Launching Merganser at Paglesham

We had a cup of tea brewed on the campervan stove before heading home. It was a warm summery day, and swallows were already flying about the yard, which gives hope for fine sailing weather to come.

Easter in the Lake District - 22 to 25 April

Report from Richard


Our party in front of Wastwater YHA

Seven members travelled to Cumbria for Easter this year, all arriving at Wastwater YHA (Wasdale Hall) by Thursday evening. The hostel is located near the southern end of Wastwater with the hostel grounds extending down to the lake and with a view across the lake to the steep scree slopes on the far side. Our evening meal on Thursday was so good, we had all our evening meals at the hostel for the rest of the stay.


Cooling off in the stream flowing from Greendale Tarn

Good Friday: a sunny day, probably the warmest of the weekend, and we did a "limbering up" walk over Buck Barrow to Greendale Tarn (picture above), descending through Greendale Gill in the afternoon. On the way back we walked into the village of Nether Wasdale and had a pleasant drink in the sunny pub garden. Some of us spent the evening playing board games in the hostel library, others reading and dozing. It is a lovely hostel building, kept in excellent condition, the picture below shows that it has charachter that few hotels could match.


The library at Wastwater YHA

Saturday: an overcast misty morning, but we had planned to go over The Screes and circumnavigate Wastwater anticlockwise. When we got up onto Whin Rigg (or possibly Illgill Head), across the lake from the hostel, we were in misty low cloud, but managed to find a path. We gradually descended to Wasdale Head where we had afternoon tea in the ale house. After a look in the outdoor equipment shop we walked back along the minor road to the hostel.

Easter Sunday: bright sunshine from the start and it was felt we should now test our mettle on Great Gable, but some of the group thought otherwise. Frank took himself off for a walk on lower ground, while the rest made their way by car to Wasdale Head car park. Arriving at the car park it became clear that hundreds of other ramblers also intended to spend this very fine Easter Sunday on Great Gable and the surrounding fells.

We began a gentle walk up to Black Sail pass, stopping to study the map as we contemplated Stirrup Crag to the west. At mid-day we stopped to eat packed lunches, looking down on Black Sail hut at the head of Ennerdale valley below. Esin and Mark T then decided to make a gradual descent, while Richard, John, Jo and Mark S started a steep rocky ascent to the top of Great Gable itself. When we got to the top there was the usual crowd including young children and dogs. Descending the rocky path we eventually met up with Esin and Mark who had been cooling their feet in a spring.

great gable 01  

Near the top of Great Gable - studying the Wainwright Guide

great gable 02  

From the top of Great Gable - the high plateau of Kirk Fell at left, Ennerdale centre, Buttermere right

Monday: To make a change from hill walking we did a coastal walk, starting by driving to Whitehaven via St Bees. Parking the cars, we were tempted to the cafe at the harbour for coffee then eventually we were moving again on the coast path south. We paused at the mining museum where we seemed to spend far too long staring at old bits of machinery, but the engineers in the party were enthralled. (I thought the MINING MUSEUM was very interesting, it is run by volunteers and entry is free, although naturally they would appreciate a donation - Website editor)

whitehaven engine  

The pit head winding engine at Whitehaven mining museum. The white springs and yellow levers apply the brakes to the black winding drum, steam pressure releases. Built as a steam engine, but later adapted to run on compressed air.

Continuing along the coast we reached St Bees Head where we saw some razorbills and guillemots on the cliffs. By now we were a bit behind the schedule we had set to catch a train from the village of St Bees back to Whitehaven, so John heroically volunteered to run to catch the train and drive his car back to collect the other driver. The rest of us passed the time in the café above the sands which were thronged with Easter holidaymakers enjoying the fine weather. Eventually we all got back to the hostel in good time for dinner.

Semaine du Golfe Sailing Festival in Brittany - 31 May to 4 June

John, Josephine, Mark S and Herman took two boats to the fabulous Semaine du Golfe sailing festival in southern Brittany. Following on from this event, John and Josphine sailed west along the southern coast of Brittany then participated in a second sailing festival, the Route du Sable, which takes place each year on the River Aulne, a river that flows into the Rade de Brest. I have added accounts of both events - SEE HERE FOR SEMAINE DU GOLFE 2011 and SEE HERE FOR ROUTE DU SABLE 2011.