Thursday, 19 July 2012

The Serpent Trail Section 1 Haslemere - Liphook

Haslemere Town Hall

With all the rain we have had this spring and summer I am starting to get demotivated for walking even when the weather is decent as I know that underfoot will be so muddy.  Finding places to go walking is becoming almost as much of a challenge as the walks themselves!  A project that I have had tucked up my sleeve for some time is the Serpent Trail, a shortish walk (5 or six days) that weaves its way, snake like (hence the name) joining up the heathland areas of the Greensand in northern Sussex and Hampshire.  Given the sandy soils I thought it would be a good bet for a dry walk J.

Haslemere High Street
I parked at Liphook Station (free on a Sunday) and caught the five minute train journey to Haslemere.  I was immediately struck by how similar the stations were – almost like they were plucked off the supply shelf for that year.  As I wandered into Haslemere I had to dodge some fairly horrendous looking roadworks, it looked as if half the town was being dug up by the gas board.  Fortunately the star building – the fine looking Town Hall, was unaffected and the main street looked very pleasant decked out in its Jubilee/ Olympic Decorations.  Sadly Haslemere is not on the Olympic Torch Route so will not get the experience of seeing the flame pass by.
Swan Barn Walk Flowers

My route started just along the road from the Town Hall, almost opposite the point where I started the Greensand Way so years ago.  It was a rather different day today, with heavy clouds overhead threatening rain at any moment although the forecast suggested I would see some sunshine eventually.  Almost immediately I left the High Street and my battle with the mud commenced.  It was fairly unpleasant going as far as Almshouse Common but I slithered along as best as I could, passing the Belted Galloway herd of cows that I had seen on the nearby Sussex Border Path section last autumn.

A River Runs Through It
In fact at Almshouse Common, I virtually reprised my route to Black Down in the opposite direction from my Sussex Border Path excursion last autumn.  Today’s walk wasn’t nearly so pleasant, with no sunshine, mud underfoot and no autumn colours L.  There was nothing for it but to put my head down and get some miles under my feet hoping that things would come good when I got up to Black Down, a viewpoint that I know well and deserves some time and a clear view.

Black Down View
I actually made good time and got up to the top of Black Down fairly quickly.  Although I had met few people on the lower slopes when I got to the top things were rather different.  A friendly family of cyclists passed me, dropping the little lad’s helmet as they tended to his needs just past me.  They looked very grateful when I went over to pick it up for surely it would have been quite a struggle to do that themselves!  Next I passed by a woman with very different needs – in fact I was surprised she was up here at all, so old, crooked and wizened was she.  She flashed me a nice smile though – perhaps these outings keep her going?

Spotlight Sun
From the car park it was a straightforward walk to the viewpoint at the wonderfully named ‘Temple of the Winds’.  Right on cue almost the sun came peeping out from the clouds and shone shafts of light over the countryside ahead of me.  The view was superb – a result of all the rain we have had washing any vestige of mist away.  Black Down must surely be one of the best viewpoints in Sussex yet is rarely spoken about.  From here I could see the sea at Littlehampton, Chanctonbury Ring and even Malling Hill in Lewes.  These are places between 25 and 35 miles away from the point at which I was standing.  Through the binoculars I could see incredible detail and there was a part of me that wished I had just come for this view alone and not worried about the rest of the walk.

Pine Silhouettes
The early evening light got much better as the clouds parted a bit and eventually I had to tear myself away from the fabulous view I had been looking at.  The skyscape then began to take on more importance as a feature in itself as the clouds jostled around leaving clear spots here and there.  I wandered down through the Scots Pines and heathland seeing only one chap who was desperately searching for the viewpoint (he sounded German).  After that – no-one for quite some time as I headed down the slope back towards the outskirts of Haslemere.  Undoubtedly the Serpent Trail could not have missed Black Down, but in terms of progress made so far I had barely made any onward distance towards Liphook.

Early Flowering Heather
As I got to the bottom of the hill I had to pick my way through some serious mud once again.  In fact I remember this section being fairly muddy when I came this way on the SBP.  I eventually came to the A286, a very busy road that took some time to cross before heading up onto the sandy heathland of Marley Common.  After all the mud of the previous twenty minutes (some places it was almost ankle deep) I was very pleased to come across some well drained paths once again and I could step up the pace.  More of the cloud had shifted by now and the evening sun was very pleasant indeed. 

Sunlight Burst
On top of Marley Common, the Serpent Trail takes a different route across the heathland towards Liphook that the SBP.  In fact I was most relieved it did, for much of the day’s walking so far had been on very familiar territory and I was eager to see something new.

Foxglove Colour
I would say that the route taken by the Serpent Trail across Marley and then Lynchmere Commons is superior to the Border Path Route, but then it isn’t bound by the artificial line that is the county boundary.  Yet, despite the wonderful scenery I didn’t enjoy this section as much as I should have done.  I think that a lot of woodland walking, while enjoyable, gets a bit disorientating after awhile.  I found it quite difficult to match what I was seeing on the ground with how the route looked on the map and that made me feel decidedly uncomfortable. 

Marley Common
Strangely I also think that the summer is possibly the most boring time of year for heathland for foxgloves apart, the landscape was devoid of the colours that make it so special.  Every now and again I got a splash of purple from the early flowering heather but mostly the only colour in the landscape was green.

Peeping Out
Eventually on Lynchmere Common I rejoined the Sussex Border Path and started getting anxious about the remaining light for the day.  At Lower Brookham the path takes a big detour around a school set in the woods and it sounded like a very loud end of term party was going on somewhere in the depths of the woods.  It certainly wasn’t the peace and quiet I had become used to earlier on the walk!  I also found there was a dearth of signage along this section of route and wondered whether the two were related (school and lack of signage).

However, I eventually stumbled onto the road heading into Liphook and was pleased to have some tarmac under my feet again.  It was a short and pleasant walk back to Liphook Station from here.  Overall I found this walk slightly disappointing, but probably because I had been spoiled with much better conditions when I had mostly done this walk in the opposite direction on the Sussex Border Path route.  Having said that the view from the top of Black Down was as good as I ever remember it and the spotlight effect created by the sun through the meagre gaps in the clouds was quite special.  I might wait for autumn tints before tackling the next section of this path though.


  1. Hi Paul

    Yes it has been an awful summer for dry walks but at least you are getting out regularly even if the paths are muddy.

    I keep a record of my weekly mileages and have only done around 60% of the mileage I did last year due to the weather.

    I have just come back from a trip to climb Kilimanjaro where at least the weather was dry, if the climbing was a little hard.

    It's nice to read your posts about parts of the country I have never visited.


    1. Thanks - I too have struggled for mileage and my bike has gone unused all summer. Still, thanks to the Olympics and a couple of trips while on holiday overseas I have quite a few trips 'in the can' that I hope to bring forward in the next few weeks as life returns to normal for the autumn. I am also plotting a big trip this weekend - somewhere a little further afield

  2. Hi again Paul

    Just thought I would check with you if it was OK to link to your post on The Micklehurst Loop 28.03 10. It's for a post I will be publishing in August about a circular walk in Saddleworth.


    1. Hello Bill, sorry I missed this while I was on holiday. Of course you can link to my post on the Micklehurst Loop - I would be delighted!