New Years Day

Considering all the wet weather that the UK has experienced in recent weeks, we were very lucky to have a fine sunny day for our traditional start of the year ramble in the Chiltern hills. We set off from a car park in Cobblershill Wood, a few miles to the south of Wendover in Buckinghamshire, then walked to Wendover for lunch, returning along footpaths to the west of our outward track. Within a mile of setting off we found evidence of the recent rains - the lane below was flooded to a depth of about six inches and there was no obvious way round without trespassing on private property. This meant that those of us who were not wearing wellingtons had damp feet for the rest of the ramble. I was wearing my nice new waterproof running shoes, I have found these good for most muddy footpaths but this puddle was too deep and once water came in it was not going to drain out. Yes, I could have taken my shoes and socks off, but I didnt know it was so deep until too late!

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An annoying puddle

Lunch at a hotel in Wendover proved to be good value, then from Wendover we climbed Coombe Hill, a high point on the escarpment that defines the north western edge of the Chiltern hills. The summit of Coombe Hill is at 260m (852feet). The massive monument at the top honors men of Buckinghamshire who died in the Boer war. As you can see from the picture below, there was a good crowd of people who had taken the opportunity of the fine bank holiday to climb Coombe Hill.

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Folk enjoying winter sunshine at Coombe Hill

There is a good view from Coombe Hill, looking to the north west across the relatively flat land of the Vale of Aylesbury. Aylesbury is the town visible a few miles distant in the photo below, Wendover is a little round to the right.

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View from Coombe Hill

Thanks are again due to Geoff for organising yet another New Years Day ramble for the HSC - and for the tea and cakes which rewarded our efforts when we stopped off at Geoff's house in Berkhamstead on our way home

Visit to Greenwich - 20 January

Report from Mark S.

Thanks to Gerald for organising an interesting trip to see the Cutty Sark and the Naval College at Greenwich - and for getting us into the Maritime Museum free - they were shutting early due to the snow.

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On board Cutty Sark

As you can see conditions on deck were a bit harsh for us to want to go to sea and it was even a bit cold for the underwater tea shop. We learnt a lot about tea and the history of HMS Inplacable. (Cutty Sark was a tea clipper -Ed.)

Specially interesting for me as I'd just come back from a visit to South Spain where we walked to Cape Trafalgar (no mention of a battle there though!)

[Note from Editor: - due to the weather only a few of us were able to get to Greenwich - I for one would be interested in another HSC visit to Greenwich sometime.]

South Downs rambling and DCA Southern Area meeting - 16 & 17 February

We based this weekend at Wetherdown Lodge, the hostel accommodation provided at the SUSTAINABILITY CENTRE near Petersfield in Hampshire. The Sustainablity Centre is owned by the charity Earthworks Trust and it aims to show how it is possible to live with reduced adverse effect on the environment. The extensive site was once a Ministry of Defence establishment and a former barracks block now provides hostel accomodation for people visiting the Sustainability Centre. The South Downs Way long distance footpath passes adjacent to the site, so this hostel would be well suited to anyone walking this route. The accommodation is fairly similar to that you would expect to find in a typical YHA hostel - small dormitory rooms, a well equipped communal kitchen and a lounge area. It is kept very clean and tidy.

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Wetherdown Lodge - The hostel accommodation at the Sustainability Centre

Nine HSC members met on the Saturday at the carpark on Harting Down to the south east of Petersfield. Harting Down is National Trust property lying on the ridge of the South Downs escarpment, it is a mixture of woodland and open chalk grassland. We set off in an easterly direction following the South Downs Way along the top of the ridge with views looking north to Petersfield and beyond. Then we dropped down the steep slope of the escarpment, finding the footpath a little treacherous where the rain we have had this spring had turned the chalky soil to sticky grey mud. We then crossed a few fields to a nice pub at Elsted for lunch. After lunch, we picked a different route up the escarpment to rejoin the South Downs way to the east of where we had left it in the morning, this allowed us to include Beacon hill, the high point of Harting Down, on the way back to our cars. From the top of Beacon hill there are long views to the north and also to the south looking across Portsmouth and Spithead to the Isle of Wight.

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On the South Downs Way, heading west towards Beacon Hill

We drove from Harting Down to the Sustainability Centre and settled into Wetherdown Lodge before driving off to the DCA meeting and buffet supper at Emsworth. The main event of the evening was a most interesting presentation by Gavin Millar about his part circumnavigation of Britain by sailing canoe last summer. The original intention was to make a full circumnavigation within a 3 month sabbatical from work, but he ran short of time so he now plans to complete the rest of the circumnavigation during summer holidays over the next few years. The craft used for this trip was an unusually wide canoe with a sail, or alternatively you might possibly describe it as an unusually narrow sailing dinghy with a point at both ends.  It has two stabilising floats carried on outriggers but it is intended to be sailed using crew weight to keep these floats both more or less clear of the water, the floats are only an aid to stability. Auxiliary propulsion is by canoe paddles worked inside the floats. Gavin explained that the high mounting of the floats enables their buoyancy to aid righting the craft after a capsize to 90 degrees, this is an idea familiar to myself since I once made a small hydrofoil sailing boat that also used small floats in this way to aid righting from capsize. Gavin started his voyage from his garden near Southampton, he lives right by the water and has a crane at the end of his garden to launch his canoe. At the end of Southampton water he turned left, although, with hindsight, he considers that the weather he experienced would have better suited a clockwise circumnavigation. We followed his progress round North Foreland to the Essex and Suffolk waters so familiar to HSC members, he travelled from Whitstable to Brightlingsea in a single hop. He then worked his way across the Wash and up to Scotland and through the Caledonean canal before turning south, terminating the voyage, for the time being at least, after about 1000 miles. There is lots more about this voyage  on Gavin's web site .

It was  fascinating for me to compare Gavin's approach to cruising in a small open boat to the way that Josephine and myself tend to go about it. Gavin took with him a boat cover that he could use to sleep on board, but he never used it. Instead he either camped on shore at night, or found B+B/hotel accommodation.  By contrast, Josephine and myself nearly always stay on our boat when away sailing, using our boat tent for shelter. This saves us having to spend time each day seeking out shore side accommodation and carting gear to and from the boat. On the other hand, because we are sleeping on board, we have to plan our cruising to find sheltered water each night, or even better a place where we can allow our boat to dry out on the tide overnight. If we are making a coastal cruise this often means that we sail extra distance at the beginning and end of each day in order to find somewhere suitably calm and sheltered to spend the night. By contrast, it seemed that Gavin often kept sailing along he coast until close to nightfall then he just ran his boat up onto the nearest beach rather than seeking a harbour or turning into an estuary. I can see advantages and disadvantages both ways, but landing on an exposed beach, other than for a picnic stop in calm weather, is something I would consider only as a desperate last resort. However, Gavin does carry a wheeled trolley that fits under his boat and his boat is light enough that after removing gear from it he can haul it up a suitable beach to leave it clear of the water overnight. 

As well as Gavin's talk and slide show, this DCA meeting included the presentation of the Hayling Island Challenge Trophy, this year won by our very own Mark S! - photo below.  

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Mark receives the Hayling Challenge trophy from Cliff M.

The Hayling Challenge Trophy is won by the 'best' sail round Hayling island (i.e. through both Langstone and Chichester harbours) to be carried out during DCA Cobnor week. Entrants submit logs of their passages and these are judged for sound seamanship, good planning etc. It is not supposed to be a race. I dare say that the route could make an interesting race, but that would not be very DCA. Mark's winning passage was made with his Comet dinghy which is similar to a Laser dinghy but smaller.

For our Sunday ramble we started directly from Wetherdown Lodge, heading north past Butser Hill where we optimistically hoped to find the snack kiosk open for morning coffee, but predictably for February it was closed. The day started with mist hanging in the valleys of the South Downs although it was clear higher up the hills. I took a few photos with the early sun starting to penetrate and burn away the mist.

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The sun breaks through morning mist on the South Downs

Later on we had a clear sunny day, we have been really lucky with the weather for the last few HSC rambles, despite generally wet and windy weather this winter. We found a very nice pub at the picturesque village of East Meon, then returned south to the Sustainablity Centre passing a pond that is the source of the River Meon. One final cup of tea at Wetherdown lodge before making our various ways home.

Easter at Beer - March 29 to April 1

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Beer YHA

Good Friday: Nine members of HSC travelled from various parts of the country to meet up within minutes of each other to start a walk from a point near where the river Otter flows into the sea in east Devon.  We followed the river down to the sea, much of the river water seeming to dissipate into the shingle of the beach before it actually got to the sea. We then headed west into the small coastal town of Budleigh Salterton for a cafe lunch.

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Beach at Budleigh Salterton

In the above picture of the beach at Budleigh Salterton, the wooden structure to the left is a capstan for pulling boats up the beach, although I dosent look like it is still used.  A slot through the vertical wooden shaft would take a handle to wind a rope onto the bottom of the shaft.    

After lunch we did a circuit of about 5 miles to the east of Budleigh Salterton, re-crossing the river Otter. We noticed that an aqueduct carries a tributory stream accross fields to join the river Otter. Presumably this aqueduct is needed because the land near the river is lower than the level of water in the river, so the tributory stream needs to be raised above ground level to flow into the river. 

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Concrete aquaduct carrying tributory to the river Otter

After our walk we drove to the YHA hostel at Beer, photo at top of this page. Beer is a tourist village on the  East Devon coast (the 'Jurassic coast') a couple of miles west of Seaton. The hostel is a lovely old house on the edge of the village, it has a nice garden and a view across a small valley.

Saturday: We wandered down through Beer village to take a look at the seafront. A bit of a bay offers some shelter and there are a number of small fishing boats that are hauled up the beach with power winches. There is also a sailing club and a few sailing dinghies on the beach, but no one was sailing - perhaps they had gone walking like us!

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Fishing boats hauled up the shingle beach at Beer

We followed the coast path through Seaton, then took the Seaton tramway which took us three miles inland to Colyton. The tram route, which was originally a branch line railway, runs past nature reserves alongside the river Coly. The first trams used on the route were brought to Seaton from Eastbourne, additional trams have been added since. I think there are about 14 trams available for use, the oldest dates from 1904 but others are only a few years old but built in traditional style. We rode on a double decked open top tram and although the sun was shinning, it was a bit chilly! 

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Trams at passing loop on Seaton Tramway

We puzzled over the arrangement of overhead tramwires at Colyton terminus, as picture below. We worked out that it is to allow the articulated pole that collects the current to turn through 180 degrees as the tram changes direction at the terminus.

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Overhead wires at Colyton tram terminus

Colyton is an interesting small town, with stone and thatch buildings and a church with an unusual octagonal top section to its tower. We walked through the town then followed a footpath through meadows alongside the River Coly. We did stray from our planned route at this point and had to double back to find our way up from the river to a wooded ridge, Rams Park Copse, then back down to Beer. 

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Lamp post at Colyton


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Old houses and church at Colyton

Easter Sunday: We took a bus to Weston, a few miles to the west of Beer, then followed the coast path back to Beer, pausing at the tourist villge of Branscombe where we looked at the restored water mill and took lunch in the adjoining Old Bakery Tea Room, a National Trust cafe.   

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Water wheel at Branscombe Mill

A moment after the above photo was taken one of the National Trust volunteers opened the wooden sluice to let the water through and the mill started to turn, slowly at first then quicker as the water troughs progressively filled. They were grinding coarse grain that will be used as animal feed. Although the mill could still be used to make bread flour, we were told this is no longer permitted due to the dreaded health and safety rules.

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Food processor at Branscombe Bakery

The old bakery near the Mill has a collection of old equipment, no longer in use. Above is a heavy duty dough mixer belt driven from a vintage electric motor. The shaft that slopes down into the bowl is about 2" thick, solid, with an iron paddle bolted to the lower end.

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Cliffs above coast path
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Looking west from coast path between Branscombe and Beer

The coast path between Branscombe and Beer is attractive. The cliffs are chalky and studded with large flint stones. The view above is looking west towards Exmouth.

Monday: On Monday morning, prior to departure, we visited the mine (undergound quarry?) at Beer. Beer stone, a quality limestone suitable for fancy masonry, was mined here from Roman times until the early decades of the 20th centuary. Much of the stonework of Exeter cathedral is from here. Our guide explained how rectangular blocks of stone, typically weighing about 4 tons, were cut from the seam of rock and brought to the surface. There were quite a few bats in the mine, still in hibernation. At one point we saw something like a couple of dozen of them hanging from an electric cable as though they had been put out to dry.

Beale Park Boat Show - 7 to 9 June

Several HSC members attended the Beale Park show this year. As before it was a pleasant weekend and an opportunity to chat to people in other boating groups including the Dinghy Cruising Association, the HBBR (Home Built Boat Rally) and the Amateur Yacht Research Society. All the Cordless Canoe Challenge races were won very easily by the same boat as won last year, this using several cordless drills all geared to a single propeller shaft. I noticed that the drill batteries were smoking at the end of the long distance (600m) race.  I think entries for the CCC competition were down, I wonder if entrants were discouraged by the rules which allow multiple powerful cordless tools to be used, so tending to encourage complex and expensive engineering. 

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Cordless side car

This entrant in the CCC had no chance to win the races but it was a nice idea - a cute little boat that doubled as the side car for a vintage motorcycle and side car combination. I am not sure it really needed the extra float bracketed to the side.

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This is the DCA pontoon at Beale Park - John and Josephine's boat with the light colored tent is on the left side of the pontoon

The HBBR people started a cruise on the final afternoon of the show and John and Josephine joined in with this. The idea was to head from Beale Park down the Thames to Reading then turn into the Kennet and Avon canal and see how far along that canal we could get in a week. The fleet included a mixture of canoes and small rowing/sailing boats, also Alastair's Paradox which could be described as a miniature cabin yacht propelled by a lug sail together with a 'yulo' (a single oar waggled over the stern). There were some other unusual boats - Timmo's canoe was propelled by a Hobie 'Mirage' drive with pedals working 'flippers' under the hull and Chris W.'s boat was propelled either by conventional oars or by a yulo, but in this case the yulo was worked by strings connected to foot pedals (picture below). Timmo's boat was the fastest boat in the fleet - the Mirage drive is impressive. Utilising legs rather than arms, the Mirrage drive is more powerful than canoe paddles and not having the width of oars it could be used to manouvre quickly in an out of locks which was a considerable advantage on the canal.

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Chris W's boat with a yulo connected to pedals - it works well. The boat can also be rowed but the yulo gives a forward view.

The cruise started with about a dozen boats, but several dropped out within the first couple of days and a few more stopped at Newbury. At about the midweek point a few people decided that they wanted to make a big push to get right through to Bristol and three of them did make it the whole way, a great effort. John, Jo and Alastair chose to make Pewsey rather than Bristol our destination so at that point we dropped back for a more relaxed cruise with time to walk to pubs in the evening and to spend a morning visiting the Crofton steam pumps - the oldest working steam engines in the world. For John and Josephine this was a first experience of canal cruising in the UK (the canals in Holland are on a different scale to the UK ones) and we found it interesting but quite hard work, both rowing and constantly climbing in and out of the boat at locks. The eastern section of the Kennet and Avon canal, from Reading to Newbury, carries the flow of the River Kennet along much of the distance and this flow was stronger than we expected, we had to row pretty hard at times just to get through places where the river narrowed, e.g. at bridges.

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The Kennet flows quite fast through the centre of Reading, and also along quite a few stretches further east

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In a lock in Reading, Timmo's elegant Mirrage drive canoe on left

Travelling as a group, or later in the week as two or three groups, we were able to share a lock with several boats and everyone helped with working the lock gear and manouvering the boats in and out of the locks. This made it quicker and easier than it would be for a boat working the locks alone. 

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The rush of water into some of the locks was alarming at first, but we got used to it.

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 Some of us at a lunch stop

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One morning we found that part of a lock gate hinge had broken. An engineer from the Canal and River Trust very promptly arrived with a spare part and the lock was mended within an hour or two.

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The Crofton beam engines

These beam engines pump water from a lake up into the summit level of the canal. They are still run on demonstration days, electric pumps now serve the purpose the rest of the time. CROFTON BEAM ENGINES - well worth a visit.

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Beautiful old machinery

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Bruce Tunnel

There is a tunnel on the summit level of the canal - going underground in a boat was a new experience for us. Alastair in his Paradox towed our boat through using his electric outboard motor, the tunnel was not wide enough for oars. The safety notice on the left says 'stay within the profile of the boat' - I guess that means don't lean out over the side of the boat, even though the chains along the side of the tunnel that were used to pull boats through by hand are still mostly in place.

By now Alastair and ourselves were cruising on our own, the other boats having either dropped out or gone ahead in a quest to make it through to Bath or even Bristol before the end of the week. We carried on as far as the Pewsey, where we hauled out one very wet morning at the slipway by the pub, then made a train journey to recover our cars from Beale Park.