Kilmeston Circular via Beacon Hill

Saturday 25th February 2012

OS Map Explorer 132 - Winchester, New Alresford & East Meon
Car Parking ref: SU589258
Distance: 7 miles approx.

(photographs to follow)

This is a walk from the Southampton Ramblers programme, led by Pete. There were 23 of us altogether, all counted out and all counted back.

I declare today officially the first day of Spring. The sun came out in glory with plenty of warmth in it already, although the air was chillier in the later stages of the walk.

The walk starts from the lovely village of Kilmeston, just south of Cheriton and Hinton Ampner. There is a parking area beside the road, or it is possible to park on the green beside the road coming up from Bishops Waltham.

The way we were led today included a little lane walking through the village, which I personally quite enjoy, turning on to track left  where the road bends round to the right at the bottom of the slope. The paths are all excellent, through woodland and across fields without cows - a major bonus from my point of view as regular readers know by now.

There's a DEFRA nature reserve just south of Kilmeston where the path across a field emerges on to a fenced grass track between green meadows. The path climbs to a copse of pine trees and turns left towards woodland where the waymarkers lead the walker around a back garden converted into a mini golf course that even has a bunker or two! The path emerges on to a drive which comes down to the road and the way continues across the road into a field where it dodges left beyond a hedge and across a large field uneven underfoot.

We had a short break in a copse of trees before descending towards Wheely Down Farm for the climb up the north face of Beacon Hill. On the way down we saw a hare racing up a neighbouring field.

There is a steeper way up Beacon Hill from the village of Exton to the south east, but this side is a pretty good work out for the legs. The climb accomplished, across meadows, past a field of Highland cattle with their hairy Thelwellian calves, and up through Beacon Hill Beeches, following the Monarch's Way, we took our rest at the car park. Photos were taken, and photos of the photographer, while we variously ate bananas, drank water and basked in the sunshine. Other walkers and cyclists passed to and fro, and a lady with three large young Airedales.

We were called to order and set off again, eastward along the South Downs Way towards Lomer Farm and the site of the mediaeval village of Lomer. The trees that line the track being denuded of leaves, the view south opens out across freshly ploughed fields of sun-gilt dark-brown and green meadows, all folding into each other.

Past Wind Farm paths diverge. The South Downs Way continues north-west towards Winchester. Monarch's Way runs south and The Wayfarer's Walk goes down to the north back towards Kilmeston.
(Note: two and sometimes three LDPs can run together for some way before going their separate ways.)

Before descending the Wayfarer's Walk, it is worthwhile to pause by the stile and take in the stunning, extensive views out to the north, east and west. It's a hard choice when you start walking again between watching your feet and watching the diminishing view as you descend.

The first field we came into was being freshly ploughed, by a tractor with its attendant flock of inevitable seagulls. Through a gap in a hedge the path continued firmer underfoot across another field and beyond this the path descends to a track alongside paddocks. Here, there is a programme of planting young hedgerow stock to encourage wildlife.

There are two or three stiles along here which are something of a challenge for those not blessed with supermodel leg length.

Across a final small paddock and over one last stile on to the road in Kilmeston where we parked.

We were blessed with the weather, and this is another walk I will definitely put this route on my list of walks to revisit solo.

Water Vole Way

Distance: 5 1/2 miles
Start from: Bishopstoke Recreation Ground
Charges: None for first 3 hours. £4.70 thereafter for the whole day
Maps: OS Explorers 132 and OL22
Car Park Grid Ref: SU463192

This walk is based on The Water Vole Way and Waterside Walks in Hampshire plus modifications of my own.

The day alternated between sunny-blue skies and layers of indeterminate cloud. There is already some heat in the sun when the air is still. However, standing in the car park, changing boots, a stiff breeze turned the milder air cold again. Once in the shelter of the trees lining the path the wind was cut off and it was pleasant walking. The first half of this circular walk follows the Itchen Way that follows the old Itchen Navigation, once a busy canal that fell into disuse when the trains arrived.

The countryside was the pastel shades and arboreal skeletons of winter but for all that a welcome rest from the city.

The path crosses the Navigation over a tumble of rushing, frothing water full of bubbles and wanders alongside the water past fields and houses until the trees close in. Further on the Way passes through a brick tunnel (above) over which runs the rail track from Southampton to London, and beyond the tunnel the gardens of houses come down to the water in increasing levels of steepness. Some of the gardens are well-tended and have decking and rails, benches and pot plants alongside the water; other gardens are left to run wild down to the water, or given over to small woodlands with benches at the waterside. One garden in particular stands out. Its fence panels are studded with advertising plates and place name-plates. There is a modern bus-stop towards the end of the garden, and a red telephone box nestles up against the house. A metal stand near the bus-stop advertises The Black Cat Café. I would guess that someone enjoys collecting odd things from reclamation yards.

As the path winds on the houses become grander and the gardens finer. One particular house that stands out for me is a three-storey building, presumably Victorian or Edwardian as the rooms all appear to have immensely high ceilings. There are two or three like this, but this one catches my imagination as it is half-screened by trees and the windows look particularly dark; it appears for all the world like a haunted house, or a house with secrets out of a novel.

The trees being to thin out to the right and the water meadows come into view. The path crosses a stream over a wooden bridge and the path rises to Brambridge Road. There is a blind corner by the railway bridge to the left, so best to be quick getting across to the continuing Itchen Way straight ahead. At the start of this section of the Way is a tiered weir where the water again tumbles in a frothy mass of bubbles. Once this noisy water feature is left behind the surrounding area becomes more rural and the water and the path become more serene, making pleasant walking in the sunshine, up to the next road.

Across the road rises the imposing grey Brambridge House which was home to Mrs Fitzherbert, the unacknowledged wife of King George IV. The route leaves the Itchen Way and turns right along the road and over the bridge past Brambridge Garden Centre. There is a restaurant here and picnic tables in the grounds. I only stopped to buy a Mars Bar; next time I'll take a snack with me! 85p for a Mars Bar???

According to my guide "Waterside Walks in Hampshire" by Peter Carne, the route goes past the Garden Centre and goes right at the next footpath fingerpost. There were two horses on chains in the field (I was very glad to see they had big water buckets) but in the one after was a large black horse running free. You may call me a wuss, but I prefer where possible to avoid large animals in open fields. In my experience, they can be unpredictable and petted horses can be a nuisance.

So, I consulted my hand-made map - when I say hand-made, I've taken two OS Explorer maps, placed the parts of the two maps that overlap together and photocopied them to make one easy to follow map.
I was about to retrace my steps along the Itchen Way but there is a new footpath being laid alongside the road that runs past the Garden Centre and being a curious walker ("where does this path go?") I decided to follow it to Brambridge Road, cross over and go along the undesignated road past the Dog and Stick, a hairdressers' and a row of cottages. There is a choice of footpaths beyond the cottages and I chose the one through a broken metal fence, over a stile and uphill across a green field with a large tree in it. This comes out through a kissing gate at the top on to Bishopstoke Road. I turned right along here. The traffic was light but I had to take note of blind corners and walk on the side of the road I was most likely to be seen by all.

As the road slopes down a white house comes into view further along the road, and modern homes atop a rise to the right. The hedge stops and a footpath goes to right and left of the road across open fields. I turned right towards the modern houses, over a step-stile on to a tarmac path which is easy to follow down and around until it runs parallel to a woodland where a track goes off into the trees. I wasn't sure whether this was what I required or whether I should keep to the footpath. My choice was decided for me by three large guard dogs which came hurtling across a drive way to run up and down the (inadequately high, in my opinion) fence, all doing their duty with unwarranted enthusiasm. I like dogs, I don't like big barking dogs with evidently fine white teeth!

I went back and took the woodland track where I met a nice lady with a large black friendly dog. We commented on the day and the barking dogs, as you do, and went our separate ways.

The track heads down clearly through the trees to a metal access gate which opens in to a conservation area. Straight ahead are the river and wooden gate and fencing. To the far right a path emerges from behind houses; to the immediate right another path comes out through a metal farm gate. There appears to be a path going off to the immediate left but this is an illusion. The path required to complete this walk goes off half-left across the meadow heading towards some pylons. There is another metal access gate and a wooden bridge over a stream into another field across which the path runs clearly to a wooden gate into a woodland.

The woodland rises steeply and the path, which heads diagonally right, is inset with steps where the way is steepest. Excellent stretching for the legs. As a thought, it might be interesting to do the walk in reverse next time …

Eventually the path levels out and runs between fence and trees to another gate which comes out on to Bishopstoke Road once again. The route is right out of the gate. There is a pavement on the east side of the road but I chose to walk along the narrow verge on the west side. Little blue and white water vole stickers on lamp-posts mark the way along the road, past the church and an old white walled and black-timbered thatched cottage on the left, round a corner and turns right on a path between a retirement home and an open green. There were some old tombstones lined up against a wall on the far side of the green when I walked along here; a bit insensitive so close to a retirement home …

The path continues on beside a concrete wall decorated with graffiti, for which someone has apologised in white spray paint, with the message: "Sorry about your wall." There is something amusing and rather disarming about that, I thought.

And from here the way re-crosses the Navigation back on to the path where it runs long beside the Recreation Ground and comes back to the car park.

South Downs Way - Petersfield to Cocking (the public transport method)

4th June 2010

Waiting for the bus to Bishops Waltham. I'm not just punctual, I'm early. About 30 minutes to go before the bus arrives …

From my portable journal:

"Let's see. The walk is the easy bit. I have to make bus and train connections. I've checked and re-checked everything. It's now up to whatever comes along to complicate matters. I can get money for cabs if I absolutely have to. You can't plan for absolutely everything, but I can have a damn good try. And here's hoping there are no cows along the Hangers Way, otherwise it'll be road walking or back to Petersfield for another bus! You simply never know!"

The bus to BW arrived on time (Brijan 7 09:23 £3.90). I got talking to an elderly couple who were on a morning's busabout: Bitterne - Bishops Waltham - Petersfield - Winchester - Eastleigh, and back to Bitterne. Changed buses at BW in good time for Petersfield (Brijan 17 10:10 £1.75 - yes, that is correct. Possibly reduced fares through the South Downs National Park?)

Arrived at Petersfield pretty much on time. A few minutes in the Information Centre asking for directions to the start of the southern part of the Hangers Way. No problems. Very well sign-posted.

First through a field full of some scrubby stuff. I guess it's kept like that to encourage wildlife. The path was well-kept however and pleasant to walk along. Came soon to a gate. The gate goes into a mobile home park. Through the park and nip through a narrow gap to a stile into a sheep field (no sheep. Or maybe invisible stealth sheep remembering those non-cows in the Lake District). Notice on the fence - "Dogs found among sheep will be shot". Now, where's the exit? Half way along the far side of the field through a gap in the hedge and over a stile into a cropfield. Came upon man drinking water and looking at map. "Hello". Walk on.

Through a gap in the hedge at the bottom of the field on to a greenway between high hedges and down to a simple plank bridge over some mud into another field, also left to go wild. Nice view however past a lone tree over cropfields towards Butser Hill.

At the end of the field over a stile, across a strip of narrow rough ground, and over another stile on to another simple bridge over some mud into a suspicious-looking field. There is evidence of ancient cow activity here but nothing recent. The chalky path is perfectly visible; however, there was a line of tamped down grass going uphill. Not quite sure which was the correct path to take, I went up the hill to no exit, so came back down again to the clear path. This of course follows the trail (!) The path passes between a windbreak and a copse of trees, although another narrow path runs alongside the fence and stream at the bottom of the field.

All these fields are V-shaped. They have steep sides and narrow bottoms with a small stream running through.

Through the exit at the far end of this large field, either a gate or a stile, I can't remember, and into another small field with a sewage works on the far side of the dip. Soon houses began to appear on the far slope - very nice homes, too. One of them was having a roof replaced. In that moment of envy I thought "I hope it rains". I didn't mean it really.

Eventually the path comes to a gate on to a grassy footpath and the waymarkers lead you round to the right and through a drive, past a stone house called the Hop Loft, I think. The drive comes out on to a lane. Turn left down to the main road through the village of Buriton. On the other side of the road rises the church and in front of that is the duck pond. Ducks milling everywhere, on the water and on the paths.

I checked out the footpath that goes through the fields past the church but as before when I thought to use that way, coming from the other direction on a previous visit, there were cows. Deciding against that footpath, my first option had been to follow the road round past Buriton House and then turn along the Milky Way. In the end, I chose instead to continue along the Hangers Way up South Lane (past the row of cottages called Toad Row). The lane becomes a bridleway and passes under the railway, beginning to rise steeply through the trees. Buriton Chalk Pit Nature Reserve is to be found on the way up with several gates leading into the enclosure. My way lay ahead and ever upwards. Thank goodness I brought my poles!

The Hangers Way emerges at a crossroads and continues through a gate into Queen Elizabeth Country Park. When I reached the crossroads, I turned left up the lane, which is waymarked for the South Downs and for Staunton Way. There were two female cyclists ahead of me. They soon coursed ahead although I caught up with them a couple of times. They were cycling uphill, never mind walking!

I was now following part of a previous walk I had done here. Up the lane and soon on to a dusty track which leads past a cottage and goes up and down between green fields of either crops or grass. I found all the green is very restful.

I was starting to get into my rhythm now. On the up slopes using shorter strides and slowing as the demands of the gradient dictated, lengthening stride as the path levels out and increasing pace on the down slopes.

Past Coulters Dean Farm, which I had passed on the previous walk, with its lovely rolling cropfield, the young crops that deep turquoisey green that will later turn to gold. The house sits among trees at the bottom of the valley, and has a large trampoline in the garden.

Plod up the slope to the metalled lane. A gate right goes into Coulters Dean Wood, which is waymarked "Staunton Way" which I can only assume means that it joins Staunton Way further down, or because you can get to Staunton Country Park along that route. It isn't marked as such on the OS map.
Bear round to the left and past this end of the Milky Way (presumably "Milky" as in the colour of the chalk and also for the consistency of the path after heavy rain; this byway descends quite sharply in places). This bit of lane walking is about 1km. It is very quiet, more an access road to the farm and Ditcham Park School further on. Part of the way runs alongside a steep hanger on the left. Past the entrance to the school the view widens out across farmland and the Downs come into view ahead.

The road runs down to Sunwood Farm and its outlying cottages. The SDW follows the road round to the left and then turns right up a broad chalk path alongside more cropfields with a windbreak of trees on the right. Perfect for shade from the hot sun. This is Hundred Acres Lane. The banks on either side are full of chalkland flowers, pink and white and yellow; a couple of the yellow flowers I inspected a bit more closely and they were orchids, delicate lady's slippers. Those were all the orchids I saw all day. An elderly lady I was to meet in Cocking told me that the flowers didn't seem to know what to do this year, given the strange weather patterns and sharp changes of temperature this Spring. It doesn't appear to have bothered the cow-parsley. Why is it called cow-parsley and not cat-parsley? It smells like cats.

Hundred Acres Lane eventually comes to a tarmac lane running crosswise while the SDW continues ahead on Forty Acre Lane, past two handsome but bored-looking horses in a field across from a cottage. The two female cyclists I'd seen before were in conference when I passed them here. I didn't see them again.

I have walked Forty Acre Lane in the other direction. It's a pleasant path again with a windbreak of shady trees. It seemed shorter than I remembered it, possibly because I was going downhill this time. The path goes past a footpath left which is signposted for South Harting village and all its amenities. The main SDW continues on and comes to the B2146.

Across the road the path winds around Tower Hill. The Tower on the top of the hill is the remains of a Victorian Folly and from a distance looks spectacular. I had previously scrambled up the near-vertical sheep field to be disappointed by the rather prosaic red brick of the thing. It must have been a huge structure judging by the size of the remains.

The path around the Hill seemed longer, where Forty Acre had seemed shorter, and I think it was probably because I was going all uphill. The slope isn't really steep, it just keeps climbing. Left is a steep bank of trees down to the road and the path eventually emerges at the B2141.

Across the road and I've reached my first target point - Harting Down. I’d started from Petersfield at 11.10 am and it was now about 1.20pm. The sun had brought out half-term picnickers - the car park is about 20 yards up the slope. Oddly, no one had chosen to sit on the viewpoint bench, so I did. Families littered the grass and one elderly couple had not only brought chairs with them but a table as well!

A perfect spot for lunch. There is a lovely view of deciduous trees of various green shades in the foreground forming a sort of cup-shaped frame for South Harting nestled below, the green spire of the church rising on the left. Behind the village is the mound of Torberry Hill that abounds with legends, and then spread about all this is the quilt of farmland with the shadow of the hangers beyond stretching away from Petersfield north to Alton. Above all, a clear blue, hot sky.

I had lunch: a cheese and tomato sandwich - the cheese was really strong, I only ate half of it - some cornsticks and a chocolate topped flapjack, my staple walking food. Lots of water to drink and then I set off again. Once through the gate all I saw for some time were one family, four cyclists (two of whom were idling in the shade) and a pair of knees.

The views from the Downs out over the countryside with its patchwork colours and warm red clusters of villages and farms all looks so peaceful and restful. The sight of any spread of landscape appeals to me. The land has no straight lines, it curves and rolls, rises and drops away constantly. The unmoving ground is in constant motion. This is what tempts me from home and creates the dissatisfaction with the walks around home. There's nowhere to get up high-ish to walk and view the land at the same time. Maybe I ought to learn to paint. It's hard to capture the real experience of the human eye and mind on photographic equipment.

Coming down from Harting Down you have the lovely valley of Bramshott Bottom to the right - later in the year it's a riot of long grasses and yellow and white wildflowers. The official SDW wanders "inland" from here along an accessible bridleway going around Beacon Hill. But why go around when you can go the short way. The viewpoint is straight ahead - I mean, straight Up. Practically vertical. For those with hydraulic legs and iron stamina I'm sure it's a breeze and I'm a wuss. For me, it's shorten the poles, legs of lead and a cardio workout to beat any amount of circuit training in a gym - and much, much more fun!

I made the gate, caught my breath and took some video footage of the view from here. A little further up but before the trig the view really opens out. The viewpoint marked on the OS map shows a 360 viewpoint but from the trig itself there's a copse of trees blocking the northward view. The better view is a little way west of this.

My legs recovered really quickly. I was soon ready to continue. The eastern slope of Beacon Hill is also very steep although I think it's not quite so long. I found my poles useful here for steadying descent. And then up again, a wide chalk path that descends the other side down a gentle slope curving alongside farmland once more. Ahead of me is another glorious view over the outlying landscape; in the foreground a line of trees and dotted along the path are occasional elder trees.

The Down ahead is Treyford Hill. The path curves down into trees at the bottom. Apparently, I have just rounded the top of Mount Sinai …

The path emerges from the trees and begins to bend inland. In the large cropfield to the right, a farmer spraying fertiliser or insecticide from … some large piece of machinery.

And into trees again. This is pleasant walking. The great views and the thrill of being able to see you're up high are intense but the cool green wandering woodland path through shifting sunlight and shade is lovely. I do enjoy woodland walking.

And out again coming down towards Buriton Farm. It looks like this is being re-built because all the buildings look fairly new in pink-grey brickwork and there's chalky rubble all over the place. What they do have is a large solar panel in a perfect position out in the open where it will catch every ray of sunshine between dawn and dusk. As I was coming along the path towards the Farm I saw a large brown bird swoop through the air. It was some distance away but definitely chasing some other smaller bird. I'm not good at ornithology, but I wonder if I saw my first sparrowhawk!

Past the Farm, the path comes to a T-junction and a fingerpost in various directions. The SDW goes left and about fifty or so yards along is signed to the right, starting Up again and into more trees. I met another older man here who was clearly enjoying his walk. Friendly walkers' "Hellos" and on our way.

Poles out. The path climbs quite steeply and for some distance so it's quite wearing on inexperienced legs. Again through trees. It was very pleasant in the cool amid the dancing sunlight.

After the path had levelled out for a few yards, I came across a small memorial of grey stone dedicated to "Hauptmann Joseph Oestermann". I found some information on him. He was the pilot of a Junkers Ju88 bomber on the first day of the Battle of Britain (also known as Adlertag, or Eagle Day) on 13th August 1940. His plane was shot down during a raid on Aldershot and he remained at the controls while the other crew members bailed out. He was only twenty-five. There are some poppies around the base of the memorial. And I wonder now if his ashes are buried there. What a lovely peaceful place to rest.

And then later where the path bends sharply left, I came upon a young roe stag. We both started and it took off. It might have heard me coming and with that strange curiosity they have, waited, poised for flight, until I actually came round the corner before it took off. They are funny creatures! It shot into the trees and I never afterwards saw or heard it.

Next I saw a lookout platform, like the ones they have in the New Forest for watching deer, which I assumed this one for as I'd just seen a deer. However, it looks out over a clearing in which are three grassy barrows. They're not very high and I was curious. There was a gate. There was also a board which was turned away from the path. I had to see what was on it. It was an information panel about the barrows, called the Devil's Jumps, and are said to date from the Bronze Age, about 3000 years. There were some bones in two of the barrows, found in 1853, but nothing in the other "two" (I only saw three). The barrows seem to be aligned upon setting sun of Midsummer's Day.

Next to this very interesting place is another cropfield and a private estate on the right, Monkton House. There is nothing really of the estate to see due to the heavy screen of trees but I heard the clear, complaining cry of peacocks.

Soon ahead now was the end of the woodland walk, emerging between fenced sheep pasture. I stopped by a gate because my right big toe was a little uncomfortable. It wasn't burning with impending blister, but to be on the safe side I applied a Compeed plaster to it. If I wasn't going to get a blister without it, I'd just made sure I did get one. By the time I got home, I had a small and painful blister right in the crease between my big toe and the ball of my foot where the Compeed had rubbed! I think I'll stick to Scholl or Sainsbury's in future. The blister is now bound up with cotton wool and surgical tape which works very well.

Plastered (!) I left the shade and emerged into the heat and glare again. The path goes straight up between the fields, rather rutted from use by cyclists but not unpleasant to walk because of it. There is a forest of trees off to the right beyond the fields, and to the left the Downs must fall away quite abruptly because there's the edge and then there are those views out over the countryside again. Beautiful!

The sheep pastures spread across Didling Hill. There is a bridleway which intersects the SDW about half-way up. About here I was startled by a shout from behind and I turned to see the black-clad cyclists I'd seen last on Harting Down powering up the slope towards me. I skipped to the right to let them pass with a smile and "Thanks!" People who use the countryside can be such lovely people, friendly and polite. These guys were soon lost to view over the top of Linch Ball, while I paced on my own merry way. And then there was a sight to gladden my heart! Separated from me by a good sturdy fence, a field of cows, all leg-deep in grass and large-headed daisies.

From Didling Hill I'd been making some surmises, checking and re-checking my position on the map. I'd made better way than I'd expected. I'd guesstimated the time the walk would take, based on my apparent average of 2.5 mph, and come to a figure of 5.6 hours. I started from Petersfield at 11.10 am. As I checked my position and the distance left to go, it was now about 3.30 pm and ahead of schedule. True, I hadn't got myself lost or stopped every other stride to take photographs but I was good for time and looking at getting to Hilltop and the A286 somewhere between 4 and 4.30pm.

Past Linch Ball the path goes straight ahead at crosspaths. On the left where the bridleway goes down to a gate there is an open grass lawn with several tree trunks scattered about as seats for weary travellers to rest upon and take in the lovely views out towards Midhurst. The trees have been dried and bleached by long days of exposure. I did rest my tired legs for a while in the afternoon sun, the heat offset by the southerly breeze.

And then to the last part of the walk, which comes down again between open cropfields. Ahead can be seen Manorfarm Down and the great scar of the chalk pit on the other side of the A286. My destination.

Or it was.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you don't stick to your plan (your whole plan, mind!) the curse of the change of plan will bite you on the bum. Sometimes literally!

Instead of continuing on down past Hilltop to the road and bus stop, I decided I'd walk into Cocking itself as I was in hand with time (oh, foolish woman!). There's bridleway way-marked down across a rough field of grass and clover (silage?). Another fingerpost half-way down the field (it's a big field) keeps you on track and the path turns away right to follow the line of the hedge.

A cautionary tale: when walking on a narrow path of uncertain footing, it is unwise to attempt to map-read at the same time. My footing did become uncertain - stumble, stagger, fall … right on my backside. The bruise is grey and purple!

The path goes into trees past Crypt Farm and at the end a signpost points the restricted byway. Like many byways, this one runs between high hedges with no view, which becomes a bit dull after a while. Eventually, however, the path emerges on to Bell Lane in Cocking where there are some lovely, enviable houses set in threes or fours in their own little courts or drives above the road. Here I met the elderly lady who knew about the chalkland flowers suffering from the mad Spring weather this year. She was carrying a flowered bag and, of all things, a car battery. She was somewhat taken aback that I had walked from Petersfield. She recommended the Moonlight Tea Rooms (end of the lane turn right and it's on your left) as I was by now in need of a cup of tea! The pub (The Bluebell) stands at the end of Bell Lane but doesn't open until 6pm.

Across the road (busy in the rush hour), past the car sales and the bus stop and there is the Moonlight Tea Rooms and Bed & Breakfast. It's a quaint cottage set in a pretty flower garden laid out with round wooden tables and seats on the lawn amid the flower-beds. While sat waiting for my pot of tea some chap in a garden across the gravel drive behind a hedge was obviously having a hard time: "Christ! … Christ! Christ! Christ!" I didn't find out what Christ had done. It was probably his cat.

I wrote in my travelling journal:

" The tea is LOOSE-LEAF - none of your common old tea bags here! I need this after my great hike! … I finished the walk much earlier than anticipated so decided to treat myself and get a later bus. I can afford to wait for the 1842 [oh, foolish woman!]

"Tea Rooms - right next to the main road and in the garden of the cottage …

"Mmm, warm toasted tea cakes & strawberry jam with clotted cream and a fresh strawberry … a bus has just gone by 10 minutes late … The tea is not just leaf, it's organic leaf - sort of woody.

"I'm sure my hair must be frightful [I'd taken a hairband to try to make it look half-decent after taking off my hat] and I must visit the loo - yes, they have one here. Outside. Quaint! Then - bus!"

Then, on the train (eventually) I wrote:

"I didn't visit the loo, someone was in it [ though I kept tugging at the door thinking it was stiff when in fact it was locked]. The day which had been perfectly lovely suddenly took a nasty turn. I'd used up all my "lovely" credit. So, the loo was engaged, the bus was late, then still late trying to catch itself up. [Note to self: when dashing away tears of frustration, use a tissue and not a sweaty finger because it will make the suntan cream run in your eye - good thing I had some tissues, then]. And now the train is delayed. [At least you could see its due time and get reassuring (if automated) messages, that it was going to arrive eventually] … And I'm sure I was overcharged for my afternoon tea. Oh, stop moaning. Make sure you check what's included next time!

"I'm looking forward to a shower, a foot soak and a hot meal!

Fortunately, in the end, despite the train being delayed I managed to get the 8.20pm bus home. I’d considered getting the train to Swaythling and walking from there. I would have done had there not been a handy bus.

Once home, I discovered the blister on my toe. I had a hot shower and used the massage spray on my poor feet, then I got a quick meal of salmon and veg with a simple butter and lemon dressing. Washed up and managed to tidy my walking clobber away before bed.

I fell into bed about 11.15pm. Despite the glitches towards the end it was a day to remember, for the sun, the clear sky, the wonderful physical sensations of a walk that really works your body and the beauty of the countryside of the South Downs National Park.

Old Winchester Hill (without possible extension to East Meon)

25th May 2010

Old Winchester Hill from Exton, with possible extension to East Meon on a beautiful afternoon in May. The idea, to get out before the schools kicked out and return home after the rush hour. Being as the day was warm and the walk a fair distance, I thought to take my camelback. I didn't store it properly, did I. Parts of it had turned green. I took bottles. I will get another camelback but only when I've learned how to look after it properly! I've read somewhere you should clean and sterilise it, then fill it with water and keep it in the freezer, ready for when you next want to use it.

So, armed with food and hat, phone and camera, sunblocked and repelling all insect-boarders, I set off. Nice drive to Exton, accompanied by Muse. I parked in the shade along the little lane just past the village where the South Downs Way runs through. Two horse riders came up the lane as I was getting organised and that tiny lingering memory of wistful thinking was stirred in me again. I've done my horse-riding and given up all the bolting and being thrown off, but the childhood wish is still there. "Lovely way to spend the day" I said. "Yes, it certainly is" replied the leading rider with a smile.

I followed them across the road to the path and over the bridge, while they rode through the ford. They politely asked if I wanted to go first but they would be naturally quicker than me so I declined. Not thinking, I managed to follow them right past where I should have turned left so I had to retrace my steps and at the fingerpost (!) turn along Garden Lane, an ancient holloway, which goes over the disused Meon Railway (now a foot- and cycle-path) and turns sharp left by a gate in to a sheep field (this turn being missed on the OS map), emerging finally at a T-junction where the Monarch's Way comes in from the left to join the SDW briefly eastwards.

Turning right along the conjoined paths, the way goes up almost to a gate and then dodges left to follow the edge of a cropfield, round to the left at the top alongside the sheepfield and then left at the fingerpost at the top. I would later re-tread this last little bit.

The climb up through the trees and through the gate up to the fort is steep and good for your cardio-vascular system and your legs. The rewards of this Up are great indeed when you get to the ramparts/earthworks of the Fort and look everywhere. The view extends beyond Portsdown Hill, over towards the Isle of Wight, Fawley Chimney, Fawley Refinery, the New Forest with the Dorset hills rising hazily in the distance , round to Beacon Hill, and north to the hills beyond Cheesefoot Head and Winchester. The Down includes Old Winchester Hill takes over and blocks the northward view towards East Meon and Butser Hill. And below, running north to south is the lovely Meon Valley drowsing in the sunlight accompanied by the complaining bleat of sheep.

This is the view I chose to have while I sat and ate a late lunch and after about 15 minutes basking in the sunshine I went on my way.

There is a narrow chalk path that runs along the side of the inner slope of the Down (I found myself battling vertigo again, I thought that had gone!). I chose the Circular Path that goes up through a gate and into the trees above and comes out at the main path from the car parks back to the Fort. I turned left to follow the bridle path through the shade and out across the road.

My plan to extend the walk down to East Meon was scuppered. The SDW goes clear through a large field. There was a problem.

Cows. Lots of cows, black and white Friesians, standing 5 ft at the shoulder and a great Hereford bull in with them. Actually, the bull went and laid down in the grass, but I wasn't to be lulled. This was a combination guaranteed to put me off.

As time was beginning to get on I thought it best to put off this little bit of SDW I hadn't yet walked for now and continue on the back-up route.
I went off down Old Winchester Hill Lane in the direction of Warnford. The view was lovely, the sun warm and beginning to get that golden glow as the afternoon wore on. I decided to try my hand at documentary. The result is a not bad narration but the video footage on my little camera is very shaky, and watching it back made me feel slightly nauseous.

It was a pleasant walk down the road and there was a dear little black-faced lamb in a field looking at me, so I took its photo.

My destination was the Monarch's Way which goes through farmland. I had no idea what this might entail, but from the OS map the waymarkings are line-bordered which means the path is enclosed. Being able to see the land from above, this must mean fencing. The path goes through a metal gate on to a beaten earth and tarmac chipping drive.

This path is a treasure! It goes past fields with views towards Beacon Hill on the right and Old Winchester Hill ahead, and comes over a rise to a view of the valley where the farm and a scattering of cottages nestle. There are some lovely horses on the farm, of varying sizes and colours, white, grey and chestnut. The farm has an eventing course and a show-jumping/dressage arena. I'm pretty sure they have equestrian competitions here.

The path goes round past Peake Cottage, where a man in a barn called out a cheerful "Hello!" It then turns right along a nice, well-kept grass track between fences to the actual farm, which is very nice. The path turns then alongside a barn following the edge of a cropfield and comes out on a wide path. To the left the drive is marked "Private". The Monarch's Way continues round to the right, past fields of safely stored cows to join the SDW at the end of Garden Lane.

I followed the conjoined paths once more up along the cropfield and past the sheepfield to the fingerpost, as before. At the sign this time I turned right instead of left, following the bridleway of the SDW that comes down to the Old Railway and returns to Exton.

Isle of Wight 1 - Tennyson Down and the Freshwater Trail

27th October 2009

Beautiful, beautiful day! Sunny. Warm.
£50 just about covred my expenses for the day but that did include the indulgence of a taxi home in the evening.

Redjet from Town Quay in Southampton to Cowes and from Cowes to Newport on the No. 1 bus, which runs every 6 minutes. I got the No. 11 from Newport which terminates in Yarmouth, as I had some idea of walking down to Freshwater Bay along the old railway; then I changed my mind when I saw the Downs from the Bus and decided to get off at Totland instead.

The path I followed is the Coastal Path, joined at Totland up a road and then off at a footpath sign to come up on to Headon Warren - in the 15th Century this was the location of a thriving rabbit-meat and -fur trade.

At the top of the Warren is a Bronze Age tumulus which was raided for its treasures on the orders of Henry III.

Down the other side of Headon Warren and you arrive at Alum Bay, a tourist trap, full of permanent souvenir shops selling items ranging from blown glass ornaments to phials of the famous multi-coloured sands. Guess who managed to to choose half-term week to do this walk! There were people everywhere, a fairground and a cable ride up and down the cliffs. After Alum Bay, however, the walk improved.

I followed the Coastal Path on round towards the Old Battery that overlooks the Needles. I was intending to go up on to West High Down through a gate along here but I baulked at the steep climb up to the Coastguard Cottages with the exposed drop behind. So I turned back along the cliff edge - a footpath alongside a tarmac road that you can also walk along - and went back to where there is a stile by a National Trust sign. The path wanders along the lower slopes of the Downs past open fields and a tea rooms in a cottage about 1/4 mile off the track. Eventually the path comes to a gate and out on to Tennyson Down. The great Down climbs away ahead of you, a great green sward, with some trees on the northern slope. From the gate the Tennyson Monument on top of the Down is barely visible. Look behind as you climb to see West High Down pointing its great crooked green and chalk finger out to sea.

I found the climb really weird. Just this sheep-bitten mound curving against the sky - water to the right, nothing to the left - and I kept checking behind because I had the oddest sensation that the ground behind me was falling away after every step I took. Totally irrational!

Arrived at the monument, I sat on the bench that faces out to sea and had lunch. All very pleasant with a book in one hand, something edible in the other and the warm sun on my face.

Then the tide turned and up came the wind, all blowy and chill. Although my legs were well-protected as always in army surplus combats I had on a T-shirt and cotton hoodie that let the wind through! I did, fortunately, also have my waterproof jacket in my rucksack. Did I put it on at once? No.

I walked the rest of the way down the other side of the Down (although not on the cliff-edge path) and suddenly realised there were cows. I didn't realise they have the run of the place. Still there were plenty of other people for them to chase. I even stopped to photograph them before continuing on through a gateless gap , past more cows and down into Freshwater Bay.

Here is a public convenience, and here I finally put on my extra layer.

Freshwater = water - the sea, fresh - the wind, and what a spectacular silver lining! The waves were tumbling and foaming up from the Channel and crashing with a great rumble and hiss on the shingle beach and booming against the cliffs.

Eventually and reluctantly I turned away from the sea as time was getting on and I still had the walk to Yarmouth. I wanted to go over Compton Down as well but the increasing wind would have made it unpleasant, so I went off north around the golf course on to the Freshwater Trail. and if I had gone over Compton I don't know that I'd have made it to Brighstone before sunset anyway.

The golf course is a windy links, open to the elements. The Freshwater Trail goes along the edge of the course and down past sheep fields. I took a photo of one particular sheep for its impudent staring as if it objected to my being there.

The path here is grassy and well-maintained. Unfortunately, it ends at a busy road with blind corners in both directions. Once you have taken a deep breath and scuttled across the road, ears on the alert for any whining engine noise bearing down on you, the path continues along a quiet country lane which meanders along between a woodland and fields, eventually coming to a bridge where the path goes off to the right alongside the Yar. This is the disused railway.

I tried to get a photo of a man feeding swans and wanted a shot of one with its head stretched up but every time I went to take the shot, the man thoughtlessly dropped another piece of bread. I put my camera away and went off up the path. The way is lined with trees so that views of the river are patchy. I did manage to get some nice shots of the sunset over the river.

There were loads of people along the path, walking or cycling, out to make the most of the late autumn sunshine.

The path splits off towards the Yarmouth end, one way going on into the town, the other taking a more circuitous route. I chose the latter and got this lovely shot of three swans gliding down the river in the gold of the late afternoon.

The path along here runs between fields full of reeds and emerges at a lane. Turning left from here there is a bus stop on either side of the lane and the lane itself comes to the main road into Yarmouth. I checked the timetable for the next bus to Newport (all buses on the Island go to Newport). There was about 1/2 an hour to the next so I decided to walk into the town.

There are quaint little backroads through the quiet part of the town down by the water. The roads come soon to the quayside and tourist information centre at the ferry terminal.
The sun was down by now and autumn twilight sliding over the water and the town. The bus station is just along from the ferry terminal and the bays are quite clearly marked.

The bus ride was through darkness and occasional little hamlets of cottages on a bus being driven by Jensen Button - he thought he was.

Made Newport and straight on to the No. 1 for Cowes. All through the rush hour traffic. My timing is always impecable! I made the 6.15 ferry, having missed the 5.45 by seeing it pulling away from the quay as the bus pulled into the terminal. Oh well. I had a coffee and read some more of my book.

The ride back to Southampton was pleasant through the dark, as long as I didn't look at Fawley bobbing up and down, and at the far end I got a cab home as it was dark and I was tired, and hadn't brought the bus times with me anyway.

The day cost me just under £50 including cab and I had a lovely time and got some beautiful photos of a memorable day.