Sunday, May 29, 2011

Walking in England, The Nickey Line

April 2011 was an especially fine month to visit England. The big story of the month there was the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, but I was there to visit friends and family as well as to take on a series of rail trail walks. My third and final English walk was the 7-mile Nickey Line (map shown below). I began my walk by taking the train to the Harpenden end of the Line before heading south-west towards the town of Hemel Hempstead.

The Nickey Line follows the route of a railway spur that once ran off what is generally known as the East Coast mainline, shown below, that connects London and Edinburgh. Lots of trains to watch before starting off on my walk!

So it's down the stairs and onto the path, and away we go. Spring had arrived nice and early in England, and by mid-April everything seemed very lush and green. Warmer weather was to follow, but on the day of my walk the temperature was a very comfortable 17C.

The Nickey Line's former life as a proper railway line is evident here as the path follows the cutting below an old stone bridge. I saw lots of fellow walkers and the occasional cyclist along the route.

More railway history here, as we see the leftovers of a station platform.

It wasn't long before I left both the town of Harpenden and its adjacent woods behind, and reached some proper English farmland. This fellow was enjoying the day, and yes, pigs do snore!

Fortunately, our daydreaming hog had a buddy to keep watch just in case a truffle wagon happened along!

The farmland soon gave way to some open countryside views and a hydro right-of-way. It was a very pleasant walk.

Some more animals enjoying the outdoors. These horses seemed to be quite a distance from any barn that I could see.

At about the halfway point of the Line, the pathway plunges under a major motorway, providing a rare bit of man-made noise. Thousands of vehicles speed over this tunnel each day oblivious to the pleasures to be had in exploring this bit of countryside by foot or by bike.

More sleepyheads! They hardly gave me any notice as I wandered by.

Approaching the Hemel Hempstead end of The Nickey Line, the path returned briefly into some woods before ending at the sidewalk of a local road. There was a pub nearby to offer refreshments to happy travelers, but I opted to hop on the bus at the conveniently located stop and head directly onwards to catch a train.

What a great walk! Some lovely Herfordshire scenery bookended by a pair of easy to access railway lines. My English walks were a big success, and if I had known just how wonderful the weather was going to be throughout April, I would have perhaps planned for a couple of additional rambles.

Here's a final look back at The Nickey Line, from the northeast end of the trail at Harpenden.

NEXT: Fish and Chips...and Fish...and Chips!!!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Walking in England, The Centurion Way

What a wonderful place England is for walking, as long as the weather cooperates. I was lucky this past April to get in three superb walks without getting rained on at all! My second medium-distance walk was The Centurion Way, which follows a disused railway route north from the city of Chichester in West Sussex for a little over 6 miles to the hamlet of West Dean.

First things first: after leaving the Chichester railway station (after a scenic ride south-west from London's Victoria station), you have to follow the signed route towards the north.

Walking and cycling paths in Britain are very well-signed, so it was easy for me to find my way to the start of The Centurion Way.

Here's the map of the route I wanted to follow. No worries about getting lost here.

It's a bit of a low bridge here for trains nowadays, but it really was a railroad many years back!

The Centurion Way was named by a local student to reference the pathway's history as part of a route used by Roman soldiers some two thousand years ago. Now the line is marked with sculptures representing the history of the region - these chaps with spades, for instance.

More artwork! Showing critters of the area, I guess!

It's mid-April, and spring had really sprung in England by this time. The path has turned from asphalt to grass, but the scenery has opened up to reveal some lovely West Sussex farmland.

From grass to gravel and dirt, Centurion Way continues north for several miles before making a sharp west towards a main road. A clue to the path's railway heritage is seen here with the remains of an old bridge over the original train route, now used as a bridle path for riders.

What a wonderful walk this is! It's easy to turn the walk into a stroll, and hang about here and there to admire the scenery, enjoy the stream and listen to the sheep.

The northern portion of The Centurion Way runs parallel to an "A" road.

It's the end of the pathway, but it's well worth continuing north for just a little bit further. Do you see that white building in the distance?

Here we are: my destination. Nothing like a nice pub at the end of a fine English walk, and this one is a gem. It's The Selsey Arms, they feature Real Ale and Real Thai Cuisine, and it just so happens to be five minutes past noon. Yippee!

The pub owner married a cook from Thailand, and the menu offers some wonderful authentic dishes. I love Thai food, and this plate of spicy rice noodles with chicken was a delight after nearly three hours of walking. The Tom Yam soup was excellent as well.

I didn't forget the Real Ale either. This is a pint of Wadworth's 6X, highly recommended by locals in the pub. Yes, it was delicious! I could quite happily have spent the afternoon sipping this and chatting with the friendly folks there about the area.

Here are the Real Ale taps. I could have slummed myself down to Stella or Carlsberg, but hey, I'm on holiday here. Goddard's is a brewery from the Isle of Wight. I tried a half-pint of Scrumdiggity, but the 6X was the winner for me. I would return to a Goddard's product later in my visit, and enjoy their Fuggle-Dee-Dum with cousins during a very nice evening in Lymington. If I recall correctly, the Wadworth 6X originates in nearby Wiltshire, or "just down the road" as a fellow imbiber told me.

I recommend doing some research before you set out on these wonderful walks. Such as, is there a pub I can visit afterwards. And is there a bus I can take after that? Happily, a double-decker stops right at The Selsey Arms every half-hour and makes the trip back towards the Chichester railway station an easy affair. All in all, a really super day out and I hope to come back here again one day!

Last but not least, for those out there with speakers and video access, here's a clip of the sights and sounds of West Sussex from The Centurion Way!

NEXT: Hertfordshire Hogs and Horses!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Walking in England, The Alban Way

I'm back from a wonderful April visit to England and France, and am still floating in happy memories of walks, pubs, fish and chips, and get-togethers with friends and family.

I thought I'd post a few photos from my overseas adventures, and begin by concentrating on the Rail Trail walks I accomplished in England. I managed three in total, and the first one took place in Hertfordshire, north of London. It's the Alban Way, which I visited from west to east, beginning in St. Alban's and heading six miles or so eastwards to Hatfield.

Here's the map showing the Way...

The Alban Way's western end starts quietly enough, as a sidewalk drifting to the right of a hedge around the corner and down the street from St. Alban's Abbey railway station.

You have to be careful at the railway pedestrian crossing. St. Alban's Abbey station is just up the tracks a bit to the left. This spur line connects to the main line at Watford Junction, where you can transfer to trains for London, Birmingham or elsewhere.

Way in the distance is a view of the Abbey at St. Alban's, with some garden allotments in the foreground.

You can see how this was once a railway line in its own right. Also note how GREEN it is! It seemed to me that the mid-April spring season in England was a good six weeks in advance of Toronto. It was a wonderful day for a walk.

Further evidence of the Alban Way's past life as a railway line appears with the remains of a station platform on the left.

Towards the Hatfield end of the path, the route curves slightly upwards and crosses yet another main line railway. It's an easy ramble down to the train station, where there are frequent trains back to London.

I happened to make a special trip back to St. Alban's later in the week, specifically to visit this highly-rated brewpub called The Farmer's Boy. If you were walking the Alban Way from east to west, this London Rd. pub would offer a tasty reward for your efforts!

The reward? Some outstanding chips and a tasty home-brew called Farmer's Joy.

It was a real pleasure to have added The Alban Way to my list of Rail Trails, and I highly recommend it as an excellent day trip out for anyone visiting London. I felt physically energized and mentally refreshed after my walk, and was looking forward to the next path, wherever it may be!

NEXT: The Centurion Way and another gem of a pub!