- Meon Valley Trail: 23 February 2022
- Walk Leader: Sandy Arpino
- Distance: 10 Miles
- Start: Wickham Meon Trail CP, GR:SU575 117
Exploring the Meon Valley Trail: from ghostly stations to welcoming pubs
Mindful of the horrible muddy paths of last winter, the Ramblers sought for less squelchy places to start our walking in 2022. What better than a disused railway track such as the nearby Meon Valley Trail. Once part of a railway line running from Alton to Fareham – transporting local livestock, agriculture and people – the trail spans 11 miles through beautiful countryside from West Meon in the north to Wickham in the south. It follows closely the course of the River Meon.
The original railway opened in 1903; passenger services ceased in 1955 and the line was closed completely in 1968. What the trail offers now – aside from delightful walking, cycling and horse-riding – are some fascinating glimpses into our industrial heritage. In fact one of our members can remember tales of her grandfather helping to build the railway and losing a finger!
For ‘day one’ of our adventure, sixteen of us gathered in the trail’s car park in West Meon – on what turned into an unusually sunny day for the time of year. Our intention was to walk to the mid-point of the trail and back via some of the picturesque Meon Valley villages.
We started by exploring the ghostly remains of West Meon station, overgrown with bushes and ivy, where even the quarry tiles of the waiting room can be seen by the eagle-eyed.
Then we headed south along the trail, a cheerful-looking group in our colourful jackets. Sometimes the path took us on to embankments above the surrounding countryside, providing far-ranging views across arable fields to Winchester Hill. At other times we dipped into cuttings with steep wooded slopes on either side. And frequently we walked beside or over the swollen River Meon with its fast-flowing, clean waters.
After passing numerous impressive Victorian bridges and Droxford station – now enclosed in a private garden along with its signal box and a goods carriage! – we reached our turning point. But not before learning from an information panel that Winston Churchill had monitored the D-Day landings from a coach in a siding near Droxford station.
Leaving the trail, we walked through the pleasant village of Meonstoke, noting St Andrews church with its striking tower – and an elegant white little egret fishing in the river. Crossing the A32, our route took us to Corhampton and its charming 11th century Saxon church, which was fortunately open, enabling us to view its 12th century wall paintings. We couldn’t depart the churchyard without measuring the circumference of the 1200-year-old ancient yew tree: 7 people!
Then it was on to Exon and the welcoming Shoe Inn. The weather was so warm that we were able to sit in the pub garden, beside the River Meon, enjoying tea, coffee, ale and gargantuan pub sandwiches on homemade bread.
There were two more entertaining surprises before returning via the upper section of the trail: the first two huge, vibrant giraffe statues in a garden; the second a sign on a gate “Attention au chien”.
For ‘day two’ of our adventure a month later, a smaller group of us gathered in the trail’s car park in Wickham – our numbers diminished by half-term grandparent duties and concerns about weather and conditions following the weekend storms. Our plans were to follow the trail north until we came to ‘Churchill’s siding’ – so completing the full length of the whole trail – if debris from Storm Eunice permitted.
Things started well – indeed we were able to appreciate some real signs of spring: our first wild primroses of the year and some huge catkins. But after a couple of trouble-free miles, our path became more challenging. Ivy-covered trees had been blown down, obstructing the route.
Undeterred we clambered over, climbed around and limbo’d under. Just when we thought our obstacle course might become too much for us, we heard chainsaw sounds ahead: Hampshire County Council had sent a team to clear the trail. With renewed optimism we carried on, finding an unblocked pathway ahead once we passed the tree surgeons.
Reaching our intended most northerly point, we again left the trail, passing into Soberton and stopping at the inviting, traditional White Lion pub for lunch. With energies restored, we tackled our one ascent of the day – Chalk Hill – before returning to the trail for a steady walk back to our cars.
Perhaps the most poignant observation on our venture was the Mislingford railway sign. Once a bustling goods depot for transport of milk, livestock, watercress and strawberries, all that remains of Mislington is a sign relegated to the side of a garden shed.
Author & Photographer: Sandy Arpino