Walking the South Downs Way with children: Part 2 Buriton to Amberley

Welcome to the second instalment of our South Downs Way walk. At the start of April we walked the first stage between Winchester and Buriton. Rather belatedly I’ve written up the next section of the walk, which took us from Buriton to Amberley.

This time our dependence on public transport was even more complicated than before. Mainly because I’d booked an Airbnb room in Petersfield. Not an ideal location given the walk route and dearth of weekend public transport, but it was the only place with triple room availability. (Eagle eyed regulars may notice the absence of a child on this walk; my daughter was away at Scout camp).

South Downs Way: Day 3 – Cocking to Buriton (11 miles + 3 miles to Petersfield)

Our day started with a drive to Petersfield, a bus to Midhurst and another connection on to Cocking. From here we’d walk the route (in reverse) to Buriton and on to Petersfield. The one benefit of our public transport shenanigans was that we only needed to carry provisions for the day, no need for overnight gear.

Walking up Cocking Down, South Downs Way
Walking up Cocking Down, South Downs Way

With temperatures forecast to reach 28C I’d remembered water bottles, hats and suncream. At 9am the sun was already hot; how would we cope in the hours ahead?

When we finally stepped off our second bus, near Cocking, we were in for a weather shock. The sun had been replaced by drizzle and mist. And it was cold! OK, perhaps not Arctic conditions but we were dressed for summer. As were most of the other walkers we saw shivering in shorts and vests.

Devil's Jumps round barrows
Devil’s Jumps round barrows

We warmed up a little with a long steady climb up onto the Downs. Our first stop was the Devil’s Jumps, a series of five Bronze Age mounds. Local folklore suggests the devil used to jump between the barrows; strangely this story is also attributed to similarly named burial mounds in the next door county.

Near Beacon Hill on the South Downs Way
Near Beacon Hill on the South Downs Way

We continued onwards towards Pen Hill. Given the weather it was typical that our guidebook was full of praise about the extensive views we would see that morning. From Chichester cathedral to the Isle of Wight. Not to mention the sunlit glades we were going to walk through. Instead we walked under dripping trees, views completely obscured by mist. As we walked near Monkton House we heard the distant sounds of peacocks through the gloom.

Walking towards Beacon Hill (in the mist)
Walking towards Beacon Hill (in the mist)

We climbed Pen Hill (splendid panorama from the crest, evidently) and traversed around Beacon Hill. Although it’s possible to take a shortcut over the next summit, Beacon Hill, it’s not strictly the South Downs Way so we kept to our longer route.

Misty Millpond Bottom, South Downs Way
Misty Millpond Bottom, South Downs Way

After lunch, we headed uphill again, tackling Harting Down. Past Harting we found ourselves on a quiet road bordered with a long row of copper beech trees. I don’t think I’d registered the existence of different coloured beech trees beforehand but everywhere I go now I see them.

Orchids at Coulters Dean Nature Reserve
Orchids at Coulters Dean Nature Reserve

Just before Buriton the track passes close to Coulters Dean Nature Reserve and I couldn’t resist a short detour to go orchid spotting. The rest of the family don’t share my passion so they took a break. If only they knew what they missed! Hundreds of orchids cloaking a realitively small patch of chalk downland. I was in heaven.

The ducks thought they'd get fed!
The ducks thought they’d get fed!

As we arrived in Buriton the sun finally broke though the mist. We sat by the village pond and teased the ducks before tackling the last three miles (off the official trail) to our evening accommodation in Petersfield.

South Downs Way: Day 4 – Cocking to Amberley (12 miles)

After an overnight stay in our first ever Airbnb we left early to drive to Midhurst, our car parking spot for the day.

From Midhurst we returned by bus once more to the car park near Cocking. There was no repeat of the previous day’s weather. Instead we were greeted with glorious sunshine.

The start of our fourth day on the South Downs Way
The start of our fourth day on the South Downs Way

Our day started, as usual, with a climb. That’s the thing about the South Downs. The villages and facilities are generally off the route so walkers will often find themselves adding an extra mile or two (down and up) to gain access. Still, what’s an extra mile or two when the views are so lovely? Ask me that again at the end of the day!

Plenty of flint in the fields on Westburton Hill
Plenty of flint in the fields on Westburton Hill

Much of the morning’s walk took us through or beside woodland. We found more burial mounds on Heyshott Down. Whilst on Graffham Down we passed several meadows protecting chalk downland (and yes, more orchids).

Lunch stop after Bignor Hill descent
Lunch stop after Bignor Hill descent

Later on we walked across large open fields, full of flint. I don’t envy the farmers growing crops around here. We followed an old Roman route, Stane Street, towards Bignor Hill. I was sorely tempted to detour off to Bignor Roman Villa.

That’s my only regret with our tightly co-ordinated weekends. Losing the ability to head off the track and visit nearby villages and attractions. Of course, there’s plenty to see on the route itself. But how I wanted to visit the villa!

Looking back towards Westburton Hill
Looking back towards Westburton Hill

We ate our lunch sitting beside the path. People watching. The South Downs Way was much busier than on our previous weekend. Aside from the ubiquitous cyclists we were in awe of a group of army lads carrying a 16 stone dummy on a stretcher and bemused by an elderly backpacker pushing his dog in an all terrain buggy.

Single poppy on the South Downs Way, near Amberley
Single poppy on the South Downs Way, near Amberley

The last stretch was a race against rain clouds. Unusually for the SDW we found ourselves following a tidal river embankment. With impeccable timing we managed to reach Amberley just as the heavens opened.

The gathering clouds! View from Westburon Hill
The gathering clouds! View from Westburton Hill

From Amberley it was a short train journey to Pulborough and a long wait for our bus to Midhurst. The rain turned torrential and I thought of all the people still out walking. Whilst we sat in a cafe, eating cake and staying dry!

More info:

  • We relied on the Cicerone Walking the South Downs Way guidebook. It’s perfect for us as it describes the route in both directions.
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Our holiday explorations in and around Ardnamurchan, Lochaber

I almost don’t want to publish this blog post. After spending four amazing days in the Ardnamurchan area I am hesitant to recommend it for fear of it becoming too busy. But, as my favourite part of our Scotland holiday how can I not write about it?

Ardnamurchan Peninsula is a 50 mile square area of land, famous for its remoteness. We stayed in a neighbouring district, Sunart, and explored both the peninsula and surrounding areas. So what did we do?

Strontian, Sunart

This was the base for our stay. It’s about 12 miles from the Corran ferry, which itself is 6 miles from Fort William. The ferry, which runs every 20 minutes or so, only takes a few minutes to cross Loch Linnhe. But on the other side you feel like you’re a world away from the busy A82.

Corran ferry
Corran ferry

We found the village of Strontian an ideal holiday base. Located at the northern end of Loch Sunart, there’s a couple of shops, cafe, hotel and campsite. There’s even a police station but I cannot imagine they’re very busy!

View from Strontian
View from Strontian

We stayed in a wooden cabin at Sunart Camping. Although small it was cleverly designed and included a small kitchenette and toilet. It’s not luxurious but a definite step up from camping and the kids loved staying in a fairytale cabin.

Our wooden cabin at Sunart Camping
Our wooden cabin at Sunart Camping

Garbh Eilean Wildlife Hide, Ardery

A few miles from Strontian, and overlooking Loch Sunart, this hide is evidently one of the best places in the country to see otters. That said, we visited on four occasions and still didn’t see an otter. Gorgeous sunsets though.

View from Garbh Eilean Wildlife Hide
View from Garbh Eilean Wildlife Hide

Aside from otters, you are near enough guaranteed to see seals and herons, both of whom live on the rocks opposite the hide. The seals can do a pretty good impersonation of an otter so they livened things up for us a couple of times. There’s a telescope but bring binoculars if you have them.

Drive to Ardnamurchan Point

Single track road on Ardnamurchan
Single track road on Ardnamurchan

A notice on the Strontian tourist office window states a driving time of 1 hour 30 minutes to cover the 35 miles from Strontian to Ardnamurchan Point. Hard to believe until you leave Strontian and discover it’s a single track road with passing places all the way to Ardnamurchan Point.

View of Ben Hiant and Camus Nan Geall
View of Ben Hiant and Camus Nan Geall

That said, it’s a fabulous drive. The road winds its way along the shore of Loch Sunart, curves around Ben Hiant and crosses an ancient volcanic landscape. It’s as spectacular as it sounds!

Ardnamurchan Point
Ardnamurchan Point

We stopped en route for morning coffee at the Ardnamurchan Natural History and Visitor Centre. Primarily a shop and cafe there’s also a small exhibition on the local wildlife. Golden eagle sightings appear to be common here. But I think they were off playing with the otters during our visit.

Ardnamurchan Lighthouse

Accessed via the most westerly set of traffic lights in mainland Britain Ardnamurchan Lighthouse is one of a handful of tourist attractions in Ardnamurchan (aside from the amazing scenery of course) so near enough everyone ends up here. There must have been at least ten cars in the car park.

Most westerly traffic lights on mainland Britain, Ardnamurchan lighthouse
Most westerly traffic lights on mainland Britain, Ardnamurchan lighthouse

The lighthouse was automated in 1988 and is operated remotely but visitors can climb both the tower and visit the slightly dated exhibition centre (check opening times first). We had a short wait before our lighthouse tour so temporarily retreated to the cafe to hide from the rain showers.

We worked off our cafe excesses with a climb up the 140 spiral stairs to the top of the lighthouse. Followed by another ten steps up a ladder. At the top we were treated to views out to the Small Isles, including Eigg which we visited a couple of years ago.

Ardnamurchan lighthouse
Ardnamurchan lighthouse

Ardnamurchan is one of the best places in the UK to see basking sharks and minke whales. The lighthouse guide pointed out a whale watching boat and we followed its course  in the hope of spotting whales, dolphins or porpoise. Anything really. Once again we were unlucky with our wildlife sightings. To add insult to injury our guide told us he’d recently watched an orca take a seal from the nearby colony, flip it in the air and eat it. Oh well, at least we saw the seals.

Walk from Portuairk to Sanna beaches

The weather had brightened by the time we left the lighthouse, which was fortunate as I had a walk planned.

Portuairk, Ardnamurchan
Portuairk, Ardnamurchan

Starting from the nearby crofting village of Portuairk we walked along the coast to the sandy beaches of Sanna.

Sanna beaches, Ardnamurchan
Sanna beaches, Ardnamurchan

You know those photographs which look like the Caribbean but were actually taken in Scotland? Well, this is where you’ll find some of those amazing beaches. And there’s hardly another person to be seen.

Beach at Sanna, Ardnamurchan Peninsula
Beach at Sanna, Ardnamurchan Peninsula

We walked as far as the car park at Sanna before returning to Portuairk via the same route. The beaches at Sanna are spectacular but be aware there are no facilities. No toilet, no cafe, no shop. Bring a picnic or stop off at the Ardnamurchan lighthouse cafe first.

Ariundle National Nature Reserve, near Strontian

The native oakwoods near Strontian offer a variety of easy walks. We followed the marked 3 mile Ariundle Trail which took us through the moss and lichen covered trees before we crossed the river and returned to Strontian.

Ariundle Trail, near Strontian
Ariundle Trail, near Strontian

In hindsight we should have walked the route anti-clockwise for the best views up the glen. But it was easy to turn round every few minutes to check out the mountain views behind.

Singing sands walk, near Kentra

This was an out and back walk of three distinct parts.

The first part of the walk follows a good track around the edge of a tidal mudflat.

Kentra Bay walk
Kentra Bay walk

The second stage took us though a rather eerie forestry plantation. We followed a large stony path through the middle, rather baffled at the seven foot wooden fence protecting one side. I later found out this was the location of a Channel 4 reality programme (Eden) where contestants spent a year living in the wilderness. Given the clouds of midges we encountered whenever we stopped to shelter from the rain I didn’t envy them in this location.

We finally reached the beach and the rain stopped sufficiently for a rainbow to form. There are, supposedly, otters on the beach but you can already guess we didn’t see any!

View from Singing Sands at Gortenfern
View from Singing Sands at Gortenfern

Castle Tioram, near Acharacle

Castle Tioram is a ruined castle on a tidal island. The castle itself is off limit to visitors as it’s awaiting restoration but we walked across the causeway for a closer look. We didn’t hang around as the weather was against us.

Castle Tioram
Castle Tioram

Fortunately we found a great tea room at nearby Acharacle. Perfect for drying off, eating cake and using Wi-Fi.

Despite the lack of wildlife (excluding midges) we loved our few days on Ardnamurchan. One of the highlights so far on my UK bucket list. And just for the record, we finally saw a golden eagle on our last afternoon!

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Tyneham village and Worbarrow Bay walk, Dorset

A couple of years ago we visited the ghost village of Imber which was requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence in the Second World War. Tyneham is a similarly abandoned village, taken over by the military in 1943 and used as a training ground for the D-Day landings. The Army compulsorily purchased the land after the war and its 225 residents were never allowed to return.

Although the Army still own the land the village and range walks are open to the public most weekends and holidays. We combined a visit to Tyneham with a walk to Worbarrow Bay.

Tyneham village

Tyneham village
Tyneham village

Whilst there are obvious similarities between Tyneham and Imber there are differences too. Although the houses have succumbed to nature the school and farm house have been restored at Tyneham. The village is peaceful and no longer used for active training, unlike Imber where Army training continues.

We wandered around the ruined houses, stopping to read the poignant display boards with their stories and photographs of the families who once lived there.

Tyneham school
Tyneham school

The recreated schoolroom harked back to a different era. There’s a nature table and exercise books, filled with records of flower and butterfly sightings. Not a fronted adverbial anywhere, how times have changed.

Gad Cliff

The best part of the day was the walk up to Gad Cliff and along the South West coast path.

Looking towards Worbarrow Bay, Dorset
Looking towards Worbarrow Bay, Dorset

Leaving Tyneham we followed the yellow posts that mark a safe route through the firing ranges. There are plenty of signs telling visitors not to pick things up off the ground; a timely reminder that this is still a live firing area.

Cliff top flowers, near Worbarrow Bay, Dorset
Cliff top flowers, near Worbarrow Bay, Dorset

You almost forget how close you are to the sea. That was until I reached the top of the hill and realised I was standing on the edge of a cliff. The coastal views are incredible but it’s hard to ignore the Danger signs on either side of path. One warning of cliffs, the other of a military firing range!

Worbarrow Tout, Dorset
Worbarrow Tout, Dorset

Pondfield Cove and Worbarrow Trout

The path dropped steeply down to Pondfield Cove, its small stony beach tucked into the promontory of Worbarrow Tout.

We walked onto the beach past several concrete structures. I later found out these were tank barriers, constructed in World War II to make it difficult for invaders to leave the beach.

Pondfield Cove, Dorset
Pondfield Cove, Dorset

I’m not sure why anyone would want to leave it. I could almost imagine I was on a Greek beach. Blue skies, crystal clear waters and sun, it was almost perfect. Pity there wasn’t a taverna!

Worbarrow Bay, Dorset
Worbarrow Bay, Dorset

Worbarrow Bay

We eventually dragged ourselves the short distance from Pondfield  Cove over to the shingle beach of Worbarrow Bay. Sea mist rolled in over the cliffs, an unexpected sight on such a warm and sunny day.

There were a few people sunbathing and picnicking on the beach, but nothing like the numbers we experienced at Durdle Door later that afternoon.

Paddling in Worbarrow Bay, Dorset
Paddling in Worbarrow Bay, Dorset

I couldn’t resist a paddle out to a large rock a few feet offshore. The water was freezing! Yet further down the beach a couple of brave souls were swimming.

I’d originally planned to walk along the beach and up to Flower’s Barrow hill fort before returning to Tyneham. However heat and hunger got the better of us so we cut short our route. Instead we took the direct path back to Tyneham, passing lots of families heading in the opposite direction. From our track we could see the rusty shells of military vehicles littering the hillside, an indicator that it’s not always a peaceful place to visit. Fortunately we’d had a great morning; particularly as I managed to tick off another place on my UK bucket list!

More info:

  • Check the Tyneham website for opening dates before you visit. It’s free to visit the village and beach, car parking costs £2. There are no shops or refreshment facilities.

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A family walk up Yr Eifl, Llŷn Peninsula, Gwynedd

I’d never heard of Yr Eifl before our recent holiday to Anglesey. It was only as I stood on Newborough Beach looking over to the hills on the Llyn Peninsula that I knew I had to visit.

A couple of days later I discovered the range of hills that comprise the three summits of Yr Eifl make a great half day walk. We only climbed two of them, missing out Garnfor (Mynydd Gwaith). I’d been put off by its granite quarry and telecoms tower; of course I regretted this decision part way through the walk.

Yr Eifl

Our walk started from the car park on the road leading to the Welsh Language Centre at Nant Gwrtheyrn.

Looking towards Yr Eifl from the car park
Looking towards Yr Eifl from the car park

The track, initially alongside moorland, to the summit of Yr Eifl was obvious. This was fortunate as I’d taken a cavalier approach to route finding and hadn’t bought a map with me; not something I’d recommend. In my defence the day was clear, the walk straightforward and I had a screenshot of the route on my phone.

At 564m Yr Eifl is the highest of the three hills; technically a few metres short of a mountain. That said, it became progressively rockier as we climbed and that’s always a mountain sign for me.

Looking south from Yr Eifl
Looking south from Yr Eifl

The best thing about Yr Eifl? The solitude. We’d driven through Snowdonia a couple of days previously and it was incredibly busy. Drive a few miles south and you’re alone again.

Ascending Yr Eifl
Ascending Yr Eifl

In fact, we only met four other people on our walk. The first two were descending Yr Eifl. They’d set out to climb Tre’r Ceiri but somehow ended up on Garnfor instead. Not sure how but I’d guess they were also without a map!

Trig point on Yr Eifl
Trig point on Yr Eifl

We had no problems finding our summit. It’s hard to miss the trig point when there’s a large metal number four on top of it. Google doesn’t have an explanation for this but I found a comment suggesting it was a local blacksmith declaring his love for his partner (H 4 A). A sweet story; I wonder if it’s true?

Aside from the trig point there’s plenty to see with Cardigan Bay to the south, Caernarfon Bay to the north and the mountains of Snowdonia just a hop, skip and jump away.

Descending Yr Eifl
Descending Yr Eifl

We descended off the summit in a westerly direction, picking our way across the rocks. The path wasn’t always clear but fortunately our next hill, Tre’r Ceiri, was easy to see.

Descending Yr Eifl towards Mynydd y Ceiri
Descending Yr Eifl towards Mynydd y Ceiri

Tre’r Ceiri

Tre’r Ceiri is one of the best preserved Iron Age hill forts in Britain. An impressive feat given its exposed location. The fort is surrounded by stone ramparts, inside are the ruins of around 150 houses. At its peak, during the Roman occupation, up to 400 people lived here.

There are, evidently, information boards. I looked in vain for them. How did we manage to miss them?

From the summit of Mynydd y Ceiri
From the summit of Mynydd y Ceiri

We ate our lunch perched on the edge of one of the hut circles. Thousands of people had probably sat there before us. Indeed, one of them had left a banana skin. My pet hate.

Descending Mynydd y Ceiri
Descending Mynydd y Ceiri

After lunch, and with added banana skin, we explored the fort before heading back downhill. There was an assortment of paths criss-crossing the heather but with good visibility it was easy to follow one heading in approximately the right direction.

Nant Gwrtheyrn

Back at the car park my eyes alighted on the sign advertising a cafe at the Welsh Language Centre. Only a few minutes away.

Beach path at Nant Gwrtheyrn
Beach path at Nant Gwrtheyrn

A word of warning. Unless you are in dire need of more exercise do not walk from the car park. It’s a steep downhill trek so you know what that means!

Sensibly, we drove and after cake and coffee found some extra energy to walk to the beach. A fine beach with lots of stone skimming opportunities. Followed by a drive in second gear up an incredibly steep road!

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