Thursday, 7 June 2012

1066 Country Walk Section 3 Battle - Winchelsea

Battle Abbey

It has been almost a month since my last walk, with the brief spell of good weather coinciding with a busy time for me and the return of awful weather just as my calendar is free again L.  A glance at the weather forecast immediately following the Jubilee weekend suggested that I might be lucky if I headed to the east of the county, so with a full afternoon and evening at my disposal I thought I would have time to finish the 1066 Country Walk that I started a couple of years back with my wife.  We seem destined not to finish the walk together as the logistics are too difficult, so I decided this might be the best opportunity.

Battle Church
The weather on the way over to Battle wasn’t great, but the odd glimpse of sunshine through the clouds suggested that I might just get lucky.  I parked up at the station and within minutes the sun came out!  I decided that I would head to the town centre first to have another look since the last time I was here the weather wasn’t great.  The sun obliged this time and I managed a few decent shots before getting on my way.  Battle is quite a touristy town of course and one of the few places in England where it is commonplace to see signage in French as well as English, courtesy of its place in the respective histories of the two countries.  For it is here, rather than Hastings, where the real action of 1066 took place (hence the name of the walk!).  Battle Abbey is at the heart of the town, marking the point where the erstwhile King Harold lost his life in the famous Battle of Hastings.

Battle High Street
The high street of Battle is full of interesting shops but sadly suffers from far too much traffic.  I can remember this being a problem for as long as I can remember and even today on Wednesday lunchtime it was choked.  I didn’t linger too long, wanting to get some miles in while the weather was good.  According to the forecast I expected conditions to get better, but with all the rain around the country I couldn’t be certain.  The clouds certainly cleared away quickly as I left Battle along the flower lined Marley Lane, passing an old school built in the Dutch Style and looking as if it has recently been refurbished.  A little further on, past the level crossing, I passed the first oast house of the day, Blackfriars Oast.  As with many of these old places the oast house had been turned into the centrepiece of a grand home, a far cry from the original use of drying hops for the brewing industry.

Wildflower Bank
Just past the oast house and I headed off into the woods, initially along a squelchy path through what felt like a tree lined tunnel.  Once across the main stream at the bottom though the path opened out into a large ride through the trees and took a very straight route through Great Wood.  The going underfoot was rather easier and this section was really enjoyable as the sun popped out now and again, giving rise to some real warmth as it did so.  I wondered about the need for my rain coat and long walking trousers at such moments, but I kept them on just in case of a passing shower.

Great Wood Rhododendrons
The woods were full of wild flowers – inevitably the rhododendrons were the most obvious with their big blousy purple blooms, but also the show of common spotted orchids were pretty impressive too.  It was an enjoyable section of the walk so early in the day.  Eventually I came out into Seddlescombe Golf Course, which was curiously empty save for a couple of old ladies that seemed to have trouble hitting the ball more than a few yards.  Luckily they had a golf buggy on hand to try and speed things up, as if they were walking I fear they would still be on the course!

Clouds Breaking Up
Shortly after I passed through Norton Farm, the scene of the next oast houses and the first that I managed to get up close and personal with.  The cowl vane at the top were decorated with a farmer and horse drawn plough, a familiar adornment to these features.  The main house at the farm looked like it had been a victim of the ‘windows tax’ of a couple of hundred years ago but strangely the house didn’t look old enough.

Common Spotted Orchid
I crossed the main road just ahead and headed down a path to the side of a house that had a very annoying barking dog that seemed determined to ‘see me off’.  Meanwhile the path was a bit weed choked and my trousers soon got very wet from all the moisture that the vegetation had clung on to.  Thankfully the sun dried them off a bit, but I was glad that I hadn’t been tempted to remove the lower legs as I would surely have been very uncomfortable from stinging nettle rash.  The onward path continued through some wet meadows flushed with the bright yellow of buttercups and thronged with damsel flies buzzing around.  Despite my best efforts I had a hard time getting any pictures of them – I have come to realise that the new camera really doesn’t handle such shots very well.

A Good Drive Spoiled
I crossed another road and the route now seemed to definitely follow a small stream as it wound around the countryside.  This made for nice flat walking and was nice and easy going through fields of sheep and cattle that didn’t seem to bother me too much.  The path wound around the landscape a bit before finally making an entrance into the edge of the village of Westfield.  Houses in this section of the village were still sporting their Jubilee decorations from the weekend just passed.  I was just starting to enjoy the decorations when the path suddenly turned right and headed down into a dark valley below.  This was only a short cut though and I soon came up the other side of the valley into a separate part of the village.

Norton Farm
I popped down to the shop to get some refreshments before heading on.  I caught sight of a couple of scarecrows as I passed through the village & I remembered these from Battle a couple of years ago.  I guessed they were part of the same festival, although I was surprised not to have seen any before this.  The first was of a gold medal winning athlete, while the doctor’s surgery inevitably had a doctor and nurse outside.

Westfield Approaching
The path didn’t give a lot of opportunity to look at the village, heading out across fields and past the cricket pitch.  Given all the rain we have had I did wonder how much cricket they have managed so far this year?  Just the other side was Downoak Farm, complete with oast house.  This one had a cowl decorated by a group of lambs.  Across the way from the main farmhouse was a large house hidden behind a very overgrown looking garden that was starting to escape into the surrounding fields in the shape of some very lush looking rambling roses and honeysuckle.

Winning The Gold
My onward path took a rather unwelcome course across a rapeseed field, now virtually devoid of flowers.  The developing seed pods had intertwined, making for a very difficult route across this and the next field.  In fact the second field at the top of the hill seemed to have developed quicker than the first.  This made the field even more difficult to cross as the plants had drooped over under the weight of the seed pods.  The interlinking between the plants meant that it took all my strength to push through!  I was very pleased to make it through eventually and was pleased that these were the only two fields like it today.  I wandered through yet another farm and then passed a very beautiful chestnut tree with bright pink blossom rather than the usual white. 

Escaping Garden
Once past Pattleton’s Farm I got a view of sorts as I passed through a couple of sheep fields.  The view was of Doleham valley, with the outskirts of Hastings creeping over the hill in the distance.  I made my way to the bottom of the valley, where my path was joined by the link from Hastings.  This will be a future section, probably to finish this walk completely.  The signpost told me that it was 6 miles, while Icklesham, the next village en route was a couple of miles further on.  Shortly after I crossed the Marshlink Railway just south of Doleham station.  Any notion of breaking the journey here is now virtually impossible for this little remote station now receives little more than a ‘sulky service’ with trains only calling at rather impossible times of the day.  These are clearly not for the benefit of passengers, but just a means of ensuring that the station doesn’t have to be closed.  Almost immediately after I crossed the line a train ran past, something I couldn’t have planned better if I had tried!

Walking Through The Rapseseed
I climbed up and away from the railway getting a great view back across the countryside that I had walked across as I did so.  At the top was a secluded pond, a fairly common sight throughout the day.  I wondered whether they were dug to provide a water supply?  Certainly most of them were now unused for that purpose and indeed many were so surrounded with trees that it was impossible to believe that they had any use at all.

Pink Chestnut Blossom
I joined Doleham Lane and had a short stretch of road walking, passing the most remote post box I have seen for many years.  In fact it was difficult to understand why it was provided at all as Doleham was at the bottom of the hill and in any case only amounted to a dozen houses.  I continued around the lane enjoying the activity in the hedgerow including all manner of insects servicing the flowers and the odd rabbit scarpering into the undergrowth as soon as they caught sight of me.

Marshlink Train
I left the road at Lidham Hall and after passing the farm next door I came upon a conundrum when I reached the end of the track.  I faced five gates and no sign showing me the onward route!  Luckily after some scouting I discovered the signs were buried in the hedgerow and managed to get the right gate.  As soon as I opened it, the three horses in the field came galloping over to greet me.  I wasn’t sure whether they were friendly or not as they came sniffing round me, but as I tried to close the gate behind me they spooked and ran away almost as quickly as they had come.  I was certainly very wary of them as I crossed the field. 

Being Reclaimed by Nature
The path at the other end of the field was almost as difficult to find as the sign was hidden behind a bush.  Thankfully I made it through and wandered across a corner of Brede Level, which was suitably marshy.  I was pleased to resume a course of higher ground at the other end and was surprised at the rather stiff climb to the top through yet another farm.  As I passed through the farmyard the clouds, which had been thickening up for the last few minutes started to release the odd drop of rain.  This seemed to provoke a couple of lambs into action and they yelled as loudly as they could as I passed by.  I guess they thought I was the purveyor of bottle!

Icklesham Village Shop
The ridge walking was quite pleasant as I pushed along a stony track.  Icklesham, which was my next destination was now coming into view.  Along the ridge were some interesting sights including a commercial vehicle from the 1960s that looked as if it had been parked here for decades rather than years.  Nature was slowly reclaiming it, along with the junk that scattered the adjacent field.  Further on and I came upon a broad bean crop that had been picked and put in baskets but left abandoned by the side of the field.  It was all decidedly odd!  I passed through the latest farm and headed downhill once again crossing a small valley before ascending once again into Icklesham.  I had a small break half way up the other side of the hill, thinking that the rain was well and truly stopped now.  A quick check of the weather forecast suggested that the sun would return shortly.  I hoped so, for the finale of this walk looked quite promising…

The Duchess of Cornwall
I found the shop in Icklesham, although it wasn’t exactly where I expected it to be.  In fact it was rather unlike any other shop I have ever seen – it appears to be set up in the annexe of one of the houses along the main road!  The inside resembled one of those shops that you find on a camp site.  The choice of drinks wasn’t great but I took what I could get and hoped that this obviously new venture makes a go of things.  When I came out the spots of rain had come back.  I casually looked at the bus timetable on the offchance there might be one back to Hastings but discovered that I would have a 40 minute wait.  My weather forecast was still suggesting better things so I pressed on.  I continued on my way, passing another scarecrow – this time one dressed as the Duchess of Cornwall!

Icklesham Church
As I reached Icklesham Church the rain stopped and I had a good look around the church yard.  The church itself seemed rather shy, being completely surrounded by trees and not really visible from outside the churchyard.  I pushed on, seeing the rather strange sight of a woman pushing a mobile clothes hanger along the path towards me, the kind you might see in a clothes shop.  It looked rather awkward and I offered help but she declined politely in a strong Italian sounding accent.  Not something you encounter very often & all rather surreal.

Icklesham Mill
The rain started coming back, a few drops at first but after a few minutes it got steadily heavier.  I passed by a field with some very distinctive markings – especially their black bottoms!  They seemed to have aroused the curiosity of a couple of young girls, who were taking lots of pictures of them and were completely immersed in what they were doing.  They certainly weren’t dressed for rain!  As I approached Icklesham windmill the rain got heavier still and by now I was getting quite wet.  Sadly I didn’t have the inclination to pause to look at the windmill in any detail and continued my journey to the road ahead.  I paused under the trees for a few minutes and consulted the weather forecast, which stubbornly suggested that we were due bright sunshine within the next couple of hours.

Winchelsea New Gate
When the rain eased a little I pushed on, through a field full of rabbits and then some nervous looking bullocks.  They looked as fed up as I felt especially as it was clear to me now that the rain had set in for some time.  I passed Wickham Manor, a wonderful looking old building and down to Winchelsea New Gate.  This curious edifice is all that remains of the town walls of this ancient town, one of the original Cinque Ports.  It was difficult to enjoy all this though as the rain continued to come down heavily.  When I got to Winchelsea proper I took a quick look around the old church yard and then decided that I would simply wait for the next bus, with no prospect of the weather getting any better.  From what I had seen since Icklesham, I felt this section deserved far better attention than I was able to give it and decided therefore to abort and come back on a more benign day when I could look around properly.  There certainly didn’t seem much point in pushing on to Rye for the end of the walk.

Winchelsea Church
Thus I had a frustrating end to the day, but the bus and train combination back to Battle worked pretty well and by the time I got back to Worthing the sun was out again!  I shall be back for more of this route – perhaps to try my luck from Hastings rather than Battle.  The last section from Icklesham in particular looked very interesting!


  1. Hi Paul

    I haven't been over for a while, being busy with my site and walking holidays.

    Great photographs as usual and now WW2. I didn't realise you were limited on Blogspot. It won't be long before you are on WW3!

    I will follow you on Twitter.


  2. Thanks for your kind comments Bill! I didn't realise that space was limited either until I got an error message! Was rather a nasty shock. I had to set this account up with a new e mail address too...

    Good to see you on Twitter - that will give you a sneak preview of where I am headed next, along with all the other nonsense I tend to spout!

    Keep up the good work

    Kind regards