Allan King Way Part 2

  • Date: 10th April 2024
  • Walk Leader: Sandy Arpino
  • Distance: 14 miles (approx.)

Part Two – Hambledon to Bishop’s Waltham

The recces in March for the Allan King Way part 2 – later nicknamed “The Water and Chocolate Walk” by Petersfield Ramblers – did not go well. There were sections of copious impassable mud, footpaths underwater and a flooded River Meon. Disappointingly, subsequent recces in April revealed little improvement in conditions. One member suggested paddling through the river – and even demonstrated what this might involve – but the majority opinion was to retain dry feet!

To add to our impediments, the Met Office forecast a wet afternoon.

Nonetheless 14 hardy ramblers gathered in Priory Park car park, tucked away in Bishop’s Waltham, to tackle the challenges of the next part of the Allan King Way. There were hearty hellos, much chatting and the first round of cake distribution (mini Jaffa cakes) before everyone compressed into 4 cars – with their kit – and headed back to the walk’s start in Hambledon. After more shoe changes – and further sharing of cake (exceptionally delicious homemade gingerbread this time) – we set off well before 10 0’clock, in sunshine, on what would be a demanding day’s walking.

The leader elected to avoid the official AKW route for the first half mile to Worlds End (!) as it followed a busy road without pavements. Instead we took a pleasant footpath through grassy (but dry) fields, encountering a group of cute donkeys along the way.

No sooner had we joined the AWK proper than we met our first muddy path. It was passable … just! The distraction of horses – to be admired and petted – was welcome, before we embraced squelchy ground through woodland.

Two difficult stiles had to be climbed over – both surrounded by gloopy mud – before we at last found solid footing on a country lane.

Bypassing Bent Farm, as it held the worst of the mud in the area, we enjoyed the tarmac of a small road across Hoegate Common. Trying to regain the AWK at the posh Kelanne Stud Farm, we faced an employee’s annoyance when we ended up on the wrong side of a locked gate. We retraced our steps to the road and took a close-by, second footpath to reach the same gate on the correct side for walkers.

The next couple of miles on the AKW were a veritable delight. On either side of our path through woods ran swathes of bluebells, wood anemones and wild garlic in the early stages of flowering. It was especially wonderful to see English bluebells with their richer colour and gently arching stems.

Leaving woodland behind, we emerged into vast fields of rapeseed around Hoe Cross Farm, dazzlingly bright yellow – pungent with the smell of brassicas.

Then alternating between lanes and footpaths, the route took us down into the Meon Valley … and its impassable river. The AKW takes a direct route over a footbridge but it was impossible to reach this bridge with all the flooding. We were forced to head south on roads through Soberton, so that we could cross the river on a road bridge, adding a mile and a half to our walking. We were rewarded with more lovely flowers: colourful honesty, a few early cowslips – and the first 2024 spotting of the weirdly flowering ‘Lords-and-ladies’. 

We rejoined the AKW after crossing the busy A32, marching uphill out of the Meon Valley and turning north along a track called Green Lane. It was good to be back on course … though the weather was starting to change. Through drizzle and quite a breeze we crossed ploughed fields, admiring the winter silhouettes of the trees.

On the outskirts of Hill Grove, it was again necessary to circumvent mud on the AKW path by staying on roads, not that this wasn’t a good option. Firstly we were able to view the most remarkable old house with its timber frame and the expansive orchard of small fruit trees, just coming into bloom. Secondly – and more importantly – we could collapse into the warmth and dry of the accommodating Hunters Inn for an overdue lunch break.

After ordering warming cups of coffee, tea and chocolate – or a chilling pint in one case! – we crammed ourselves into an inviting shelter in the pub’s gardens to revive with food from our rucksacks. More welcome chocolate sweets were shared – along with the most scrumptious homemade brownies – thanks to two of our party having birthdays a few days before. It was cheering to escape the rain – and soon peals of laughter filled our refuge. It would have been lovely to stay tucked away for longer but our cars were still some miles away, so we rallied, heading back into the elements.

Hill Grove gave way to Hill Pound and the strangely named track – The Lakes – where we took a right turn. Though the rain eased, it was still necessary to watch where you put your feet, as the puddles were numerous and large.

The Lakes morphed into tarmac which hit a junction with the B2177 leading into Bishop’s Waltham. The AKW route used a footpath to reach the village but this was incredibly muddy so we used the pavement alongside the B-road. It was noisy but – on the plus side – the rain had eased enough for us to pull down hoods. Thankfully exiting the road, we rejoined the AKW one final time.

After passing around three sides of a huge, hidden walled garden, the impressive Bishop’s Waltham Palace ruins came into sight. In the Middle Ages the Palace was one of the finest residences of the Bishops of Winchester, who were among the richest churchmen in Europe. First built by Henry of Blois in the 12th century, the complex was remodelled and extended in the 14th and 15th centuries, becoming a palace capable of housing the king and his court on a number of occasions, as well as the bishop and his household. The palace was badly damaged in the Civil War (1642–9) and subsequently abandoned.

Though at this point only half a mile from the Priory Park car park by road, the AKW was – as ever – circuitous and unrelenting, requiring us to walk an additional mile along the Pilgrims’ Trail before stopping. Flopping at the old railway gates for an impromptu photoshoot, our group took this last challenge in their stride.

In total we trudged 14 miles in difficult conditions – a distance record for some, a “I haven’t walked that far for a long time” distance for others. Everyone was certainly very pleased to remove their boots and collapse into vehicles to start the journey home. We did ourselves proud. No doubt all the walkers felt a sense of achievement once settled at home with a warming drink … and eager for part three!

Author and Photographer:  Sandy Arpino

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