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.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely post, Di - shame I didn't catch it earlier! A great walk to emulate next time I'm down Hampshire way :-)