Thursday, 29 March 2012

The Sulham Valley Part 1

This I discovered was to be the best explore I have had to date. The Sulham Valley runs from Pangbourne on the River Thames to Theale on the River Kennet it comprised of around 23 Type 28 twins  a few Type 28A’s and Type 22’s little of which I knew about at the time.  After seeing some photos on the Internet of the Pangbourne area I decided to set out for myself and log what I found. The valley was done in two parts this is the first one I did on my own. If you wish to follow on Google maps look here Google Map
Looking on the DOB (Defense of Britain) database I have on my laptop’s digital mapping which showed a whole host of green squares indicating some form of defense was there. I knew of a Type28 which was the other side of the rail embankment but left that for another time as it was not on the route I would take.
The first stop was a Type22 just along from the allotments this had what looked like the sluice from a ditch attached to it. No entry was possible as the doorway was bricked up probably due to complaints about youngsters getting up to no good in there but from the outside it looked good condition.
Pangourne Type22
Damaged Type 28 Twin
  From here I walked along the footpath to find a bridge which spanned an old ditch, this may have been part of the deference ditch that was here. The bridge had been replaced with a new one so on to the next pillbox. This was found by following the footpath and turning right by the hedge and following it till you could see the pillbox. On getting there I had thought it was a bit damaged which turned out to be an understatement. One of the embrasures was visible along with a side but had a huge crack in it.  Going round the back was the shock, it was just a pile of rubble in fact one of the embrasures (which I thought was the entrance) was facing 180 degrees out. I wondered how the pillbox became it such a state but have come to the conclusion that it like many others was used for target practice. Not far from this pillbox is another sluice in what is left of a ditch.
Infantry Box
Going on from here you need to set off across the field towards pillbox you can see in the distance, this is an infantry box which looks like an extended Type22. The external part is in good condition which is more that I can say for inside as the cattle have used it. The big thing for me was that next o the pillbox was the base of a second which was easy to see on the ground let alone on Google Earth.  Scanning around I wandered along the River Pang and looked across the field and spotted what I thought was a pillbox. Getting a bit closer confirmed this so it was off in the shortest direction. Not easy as I found myself on the wrong side of a ditch and stream. I managed to get over the fence to be confronted which these rather large hairy beasts with long horns over the field looking at me. Hopping over a second fence gets you to the pillbox, the field is inhabited with our equine friends. There may be a way to visit this one from the road but I have not looked as of yet. The pillbox is also featured in the book Ironsides Line and looked in good condition but when you look through the entrance you see great holes ripped in it and a huge one in the roof, the holes are going into the box as though like I have already said it had been used for target practice.
Type 28 Twin near Tidmarsh

Damage in
I did wonder if they had been experimented on prior to the D Day invasion. Looking from this one I noticed another across the fields but any thought of crossing them went out the window after looking at the horns on the beasts grazing there. I took the footpath round the long way. The place I went to was near Tidmarsh. I walked into a field spotted a pillbox then looked round at another then another and another I did not know which way to go first I was so spoiled for choice so the natural thing to do was follow the footpath.
first of the Type 28 Twins at Tidmarsh
 This lead to the first Type 28 twin which had both embrasure blocked up and had been used by cattle otherwise in good nick, From there I could see another that turned out as I got nearer a pair of Type 28A’s back to back. This again looked in good condition till you go near and you noticed lumps missing and cracks, one even had a hole where what looked like a shell had passed through. Lots of crap found in them including some kids porn.
Tidmarsh Back to Back

Second Tidmarsh Type 28 Twin
It was time to find the next which I could see over the field and as I got nearer I could see it was another Type 28 twin.
More damage could be seen on this one but from there you could see the one over in the horse paddock. Going on from there it was off towards a copse and another Type 28 twin beside a fence like the others it was blocked too even the inside had what looked like shelving in.

Third Type 28 Twin
That done I dithered wondering if it was worth looking for more but by then I had enough excitement for one day and headed off to the car in Pangbourne the second half would have to wait but I will say this it was worth the wait as it held more surprises to come.
More photo's from this  area can be seen here  The Sulham Valley 
You can also read my article on Geograph  

Monday, 26 March 2012

Pillboxes along the Thames

How does one start on this epic journey not how I did  which was in the middle and work out. I spent a couple of years compiling this along with other areas and I have plotted them on the Google maps so the route can be followed on there. Google Map
They are also plotted on Google Earth
  The Pillboxes ranged from Pangbourne to Abingdon at least that is what I thought but looking into it they went further up and were part of which I found out was the Red line. Part of a defense line built to stave off invasion should it have occurred.  I had decided to try and find what was left after I noticed some road blocks in the village I live in had been demolished. I had thought at first it would just be a few photos but it turned out into a bit of a marathon which I have yet to finish.
I will start the journey at Pangbourne beside Whitchuch Bridge. At this point the Red Line turned towards Theale along a defense line called the Sulham Valley (more of that on another Blog) On the Downstream side used to be a pillbox which has been demolished. Going upstream to the weir and a little way along you can see a pillbox of the Type22 verity sat under a tree.

Along from there about half a mile sits another that can just be made out on the trees. I have not visited these two yet but the intension's are there.

 Walk on along the towpath towards Lower Basildon and on the right beside the Child Beal Trust is Hartslock Island. On one end is a gun pit which is sloping towards the river and filled with silt due to flooding, this is easy to see. The opposite end used to have a Type 22 Pillbox which was either not finished or demolished after the war. The base is the though badly cracked and eroded and there is Rebar protruding for the walls.

Hartlock woods
At this point you need to be over on the so called Thames path across the river as you will need to get to Gatehampton woods where there is a rather nice type 22 set in the bank. The pillbox is in good condition though as the entrance is in the back it is getting filled with debris of leaves and soil through erosion of the bank.
Walk onto Gatehampton viaduct and as you reach it you can see another type22 which is at the base of the rail embankment. Take care it is filling with stones and the fishermen use it as a shithouse. What you cannot see from here is the gun emplacement that was built onto the rail viaduct. You can see this from a train and from underneath. It still had the holdfast studs protruding.

Streatly (Island)
Walking on towards Goring you pass an island which until recently was overgrown with willows, over the winter they have been pollarded and now reveal a type22. Going on from here and just before the bridge at Goring you can spy another type22 in a garden but it is well over grown and I still have to ask the owner if a visit is possible.
On the other side beside the weir stood another type 22 I can remember but in recent years when the weir was refurbished it was removed.
Now you need to get back on the path towards Moulsford before the next pillbox. On the way you pass Cleeve and Runsford hole where two more pillboxes are marked on the DOB, both these do not exist, one may have and was supposedly buried in the garden of a house but I do need to confirm this.

Four Arches
As you get to Moulsford there used to be another pillbox which I am assuming was removed when the new water or gas main went through. As you get into Moulsford near the Beetle and Wedge you can see a Type22 in a front garden. Carry on along the Thames path till you reach the Moulsford Viaduct or Four Arches as it is locally known, Look across the river and you can see a type22, this is messy inside but in good condition it is also on the rail embankment.
Walk through the arch and as you come out on the left is a fence, if you look through carefully you can see a pillbox in the shrubbery. It is built as the base of the embankment and the fence is a Network rail one. It is possible to view the pillbox (type22)  but take care how you do it, I suggest you have a good look around first; the fence is a wicked pointy one and could do some real damage if you slip whilst climbing over.
The side of the one is very clean as if someone took the trouble to clean it out.

Cholsey Gun Pit
From here follow the fence to the field then across the field till you reach a paddock, if you look through the fence to the left you should be able to see the gun pit. It’s been filled in with soil but was open once as my mate used to play in it as a kid.

Cholsey Fairmile
Back to the path and you will come across a type22 under a tree partly sunk. This was the one I used to play in as a kid, then it was fully exposed but over the years soil has been built up round it from waste dumped they by Fairmile hospital. The pillbox has also been partly bricked up now for use as a bat roost. As you walk along from the pillbox in the Ferry lane direction remember what you walk on to the bank is the waste from successive years of Fairmile from Victorian times to when it closed in 2003. Just along from the bank is a boathouse and almost opposite is a Type 22 in the garden on the Littlestoke side of the river.
Head on along the bank towards Wallingford and as you get to a bend in the river (second field) if you look to the right on the opposite side of the Thames you can see the North Stoke pillbox (not so easy in summer). This one is sandy inside from silt and tilting slightly due to erosion of the bank. Over to your left is another type22 and the second of the Fairmile ones. It’s a step up inside and the ricochet wall is damaged due to the local kids braking chucks off.  The next place along here is Bow Bridge where Cholsey book enters the Thames, just past the bridge on the left is Type22 well hidden just off the path. The two photos show here the past and present. My Father shown in the old one is posing by the bridge with the pillbox clearly in the background, in the second I am stood in the same place in recent years and the pillbox is hidden from sight.



Carry on towards Wallingford and as you catch sight of  Winterbrook Bridge you should see on the far bank a Type22 which is in the grounds of Mongewell Park or the old Carmel College site. Unfortunately it is totally blocked up, most likely by the college when it was open. Not far away you will notice a boathouse, look at it carefully it is not what it seems. The flat roof part on the side is a defended building and the end has been opened up to fit doors taking out an embrasure, part of which can still be seen.

Mongewell Defended Building
Newnham Murren Type 28A
You need to cross the bridge now and take the footpath towards Wallingford, look to the left near the old church at Newnham Murren and you will see a Type 28A which is a bit messy inside due to cattle using it but it was the First 28 I took notice of. As you come to Wallingford just before the bridge is another Type22 which is blocked to allow Bats to roost.
Walk on under the bridge towards the swimming pool and at the end is a Type 28A which is used as storage by the swimming pool. Up until recently I did not realise it was there even though I used to go swimming in the pool as a kid.
Back over Wallingford Bridge and along the Thames path you bass Howbury Park and another Type 22 which I’m not sure if it is possible to see in the winter, during the summer it is not. This is one I never knew about till recent times and I spent four years there as an apprentice when it was Hydraulics Research Station. I did manage to visit when the Thames run was on and it is on Good condition.The next ones are at Benson where you will see a Type 22 and Type 28 in the river frontage of a couple of properties on the opposite side to the Thames path. Not had a chance to ask to view them yet but the Type 28A you see in the field to the left of the Lock is viewable if a bit boggy to get to in the winter. Don’t stop at the lock walk to the end of the chamber and there is a second Type 28A at the end covered in Ivy (I was told about it by a fellow Flickr contact) it is possible to get inside and it’s in reasonable condition though the ivy is taking its toll on the outside. Head back to the Weir now and cross then walk along to the Thames again, you pass through a boatyard and holiday home site. Up on the right is a Type 22 which was one of the hardest to find due again to Ivy and being party surrounded by a fence. I spotted the top on the way past and it has now been cleared of ivy a bit but the inside is full of wood from the boatyard.
  Walk on along the Thames path towards Shillingford and around 500 meters away you will see a Type 28A facing the bridge, this is full of rubbish mainly from the flooding it gets. Over to the right and beside the road in a copse is a second Type 28A which faces the road and looks towards Benson. Admittedly this one is clean other that debris from trees.
As you get to Shillingford you pass along a hedge, I had walked past peering through to see if there was anything there and on the way back I spotted concrete. I managed to find my way in and to my delight there was a gun pit partly filled with leaves and debris from the surrounding trees.

Carrying on along the Thames path over the bridge and you walk down a private road and turn right along a path, if you carry on along the road you find a gate leading to a riverside field and another Type 22 which again is in reasonable condition. Back to the Thames path and follow along to Dorchester. The next pillbox is along the A329 and faces the river, it’s a Type 28A and I might add the hedge is the same height as the pillbox so not easy to spot. It is in good condition though again used by farm stock from time to time. Now get along to the Dike Hills at Dorchester for the Next two Type28A’s

Dorchester Dyke Hills
Hard to say how to visit these, I parked up in Dorchester and walked down to the Dyke Hills where you find the first Type 28A facing the A329. It’s in very good condition in and out. You need to follow the footpath along the hill which is an Iron Age relic to the river Thames where you find a second Type28A. This faces across the river at another Type 28A. Now you are on the wrong side for the next set of pillboxes so I’d drive to Little Wittenham and park up. Walk past the Manor and on the wall is a loophole you can see. Carry on till you come to a footpath which if you follow will bring you out near a farm. You need to get to the farmyard and look to see if there is any one around you can ask before looking for the pillbox which is over in the far right hand corner of the farm in a copse of elder and singers. Not the easiest I have gotten into but it’s in good nick. It faces another Type 28A so back to the road where you turn right at the gate and follow the field boundary as you reach the end you should see the Type 28A on the right beside a ditch. This one is in good condition but watch out for deer they seem to live in the area. The pillbox faces across a field towards Northfield farm and another Type 28A. There is a footpath going across the field on the map but I can’t see it in reality. If you walk up the track from Little Wittenham the pillbox is on the corner. It is used as a store and partly covered in ivy but looks to be in good condition. There was going to be a second pillbox built nearby and the base is incorporated into one of the barns there. The Pillbox faces down the road towards a set of roadblocks which are hidden in the hedge.

Northfield Farm

Clifton Lock
If you head towards Clifton Hampdon then just as the Thames flows near the road you can see another Type 28A in the garden of the Lock keepers house. This faces the road and some roadblocks beside it. There was a ditch running from that point towards the other set at Northfield Farm. If you walk along the Thames path again from Clifton Hampdon Bridge you will pass the lock where the type 28A is walk on from there along the cut and near the end is a second Type 28A. It is blocked up so not worth the effort of visiting plus you could run afoul of the tattooed man who owns the fishing rights along there and threatens trespassers. As you walk past the weir look across to the left you will see a Type 22. I might add both the pillboxes are better viewed from the other side of the weir but you need to walk up from Long Wittenham. The next pillboxes are at Appleford bridge where there are two, one Type 28A by the rail embankment and a Type 22 across the field a bit further towards the Abingdon road. Both are in good condition.

Appleford bridge
 There is another Type 28A up in the garden of Zouch Farm nearby. It looks in good condition but is another used for storage. You need to carry on along the Thames path to Culham and just before you will see a fenced off area (might be a shooting range) follow the fence uphill and go into the field the pillbox is along there a Type 28A facing Zouch Farm, there is also a trashed ROC post beside it and I think the pillbox was used by them at one time as well.
We are coming to the last of the pillboxes now for this section so walk over Sutton Bridge and look across the riverside meadow you should see a Type 28A facing the bridge, it’s another in reasonable condition. From there head towards the causeway and walk towards the bridge over the cut, there is a Type 22 along the causeway and the last time I visited it had 2 foot of water inside. Now for the lat pillbox go across the bridge and follow the footpath to the village, head on out towards Abingdon and as you pass the old post office you come to a field where a Type 22 is well hidden in the undergrowth, looked very messy in there when I visited.

Old Culham Bridge
That’s it for Pillboxes though if you go to Old Culham bridge you can view the bases of where two used to be built right on the bridge., they even build an extension off the bridge to accommodate one which was a Type 28A facing towards the river, the second could only have been a Type 28. You can see where the gun outriggers would have fitted in the slots as they are still in the bridge filled with soil. The last pillbox would have been in Abingdon but that has been removed years ago. The photo's shown in the blog are only a taster to give an idea as to what I was up against, if you want to seem more photos then go to Flickr where I have posted more. For a more in depth read have a look at my article on Geograph. 
Since writing this blog a guy I work with showed me a You Tube film made in 1944 & taken along the Thames near Abingdon it shows a Type 22 on the bank near some houses. This was the last one on this section of the Thames Stopline. It can be seen around 3.44 min in.
I have now added the Upper Thames and have split it into two Blogs, Part One and Part Two I might add this is not the whole thing. The line starts at Theale and runs through the Sulham Valley where there are some serious pillboxes built, then at Abingdon the line runs to Appleford where another large amount of pillboxes were built. I intend to update this blog at a later date