No matter which direction you take, starting from Walderton, the routes reward you with outstanding views. We walked eastwards, climbing to the north above the Stoughton Road and, after a mile turned right along the Monarch’s Way, dropping down into Stoughton itself before another long but fairly gentle climb to the top of Stoughton Down where a welcome bench and some shade provided a brief rest for drinks.
We then turned right along the top of the Down, walking through woodland until we reached the two ancient Barrows above the historic and beautiful Kingley Vale; this Yew covered vale is truly magnificent.
After a brief stop for lunch, we continued along the West Down cycle path (meeting few cyclists) winding our way slowly down back to Walderton. Sadly, our timing was poor as we arrived at the pub just behind a large group which would have meant, due to the Lockdown restrictions, a long wait for service. Thus, a very pleasant morning’s walk came to a close!
Today’s walk couldn’t have taken place on a more perfect day. The weathermen were rightly confident that after the previous day’s rain the sunshine would return, and so it did.
We ventured over the border into West Sussex (no passports required and definitely a “greenlight destination”!) Some dozen or so gathered at Benbow Pond, an idyllic spot on the A272, a couple of miles east of Midhurst. It’s a popular place, but arriving early we had no problem parking. Part of the 16,500 acre Cowdray Estate, there are a myriad of footpaths and bridleways to choose from radiating out in all directions.
The first part of our route took us north on a well-trodden path through pastures and arable fields. Then through mixed woodland leaving Heathend Copse, behind we continued climbing gently along the rutted sunken track, well rewarded by drifts of red and some white campions and butterflies dancing amongst the blooms. At various breaks in the hedge line there were splendid views south toward the Downs, particularly at Vining Farm.
Climbing all the while we eventually drop down through some grassland and into Snapelands Copse which eventually joins a track serving some cottages. After a short spell on a metalled lane we take a left onto a little used track and descend to a lane and cottage, before arriving at Collyers Cottages. Just the place for morning refreshment before a short stint along the road then a turn right alongside neatly fenced and gated pasture-land, home to horses and sheep. All quite unconcerned by our processing through their domain.
In the 10 days or so since we “recce’d” this walk the landscape has donned its summer apparel; the countryside is rich with verdant growth, deciduous woodland is a fresh abundant green and wild meadow flowers are evident at regular intervals as we progress. Black Down** is clearly visible to the north as we curve round to the east, then north-east approaching Mill Farm. Turning right in the farm complex before the substantial mill pond, Clay Pigeon shooting disturbs tranquillity briefly. But we were soon back to peace and quiet heading south to reach River Park Farm, a picturesque spot with its footbridge over the stream which exits another beautiful mill pond.
In the 10 days or so since we “recce’d” this walk the landscape has donned its summer apparel; the countryside is rich with verdant growth, deciduous woodland is a fresh abundant green and wild meadow flowers are evident at regular intervals as we progress. Black Down** is clearly visible to the north as we curve round to the east, then north-east approaching Mill Farm. Turning right in the farm complex before the substantial mill pond, Clay Pigeon shooting disturbs tranquility briefly. But we were soon back to peace and quiet heading south to reach River Park Farm, a picturesque spot with its footbridge over the stream which exits another beautiful mill pond.
Almost on the homeward straight we’re soon on the lane continuing south into the delightful village of Lodsworth, and as we leave it behind turn left on a path with more splendid views, this time of Langham Stables paddocks and buildings, and beyond to the South Downs stretching east to Chanctonbury Ring***. Turning north on through Goldensheath and skirting Heathend Copse, we are soon at the junction where we turn left to retrace the last ten minutes or so of our outward path.
A beautiful typical Wealden walk enjoyed by all present.
** Alfred Lord Tennyson fell in love with the Black Down Hills and would stride out through the heather, wrapped in his cloak. Follow in his footsteps and walk through Black Down’s beautiful woodland and heathland to the Temple of the Winds, named after a Bronze Age circular bank. Here you can find one of the best views of the South Downs National Park. This little-known spot has a secret feel and a charming curved stone seat to rest on.
*** Chanctonbury Ring has a fascinating history. Learn more on the West Sussex info website.
During the first days of the pandemic, we were allowed to go out once a day for exercise, so I walked alone. Then later we were allowed to be outside with one other person from another household, so Christine and I went walking together most Wednesdays. We would stay local, take a look at the map and see where the footpaths took us, no time pressures, it was a case of ‘have food and drink, will walk’. This is how we created the 10-mile circuit which we led for the Petersfield Ramblers on Wednesday 19th May.
Twelve of us gathered at Buriton pond, a favourite starting point because it is a lovely patch nestled in the centre of the village by the church and we were greeted by ducks and moorhens, likely expecting some food. Armed with our usual strong boots and rucksacks containing the essential items of food and drink, we set off heading east to join the Milky Way, a track lined with strong-smelling garlic at this time of year, which took us from Buriton up to the South Downs Way and joined a narrow road lined by stunning copper beeches in their Spring plumage. Passing Sunwood Farm, we turned south on to West Harting Down and followed a footpath, then a track, between high trees until we came to a vast amount of felled timber, where we paused for coffee before turning south-west on to the Sussex Border Path. We meandered along a delightful winding path through ancient woodland, enjoying bluebells, primroses, wild garlic, bird song etc, and being careful not to trip over fallen logs and sticks and tree roots.
We eventually came to Harris Lane which took us on to Woodcroft Farm nestled in the valley. Passing through the farm grounds we climbed over a footbridge above the Portsmouth to Waterloo rail line below. We passed through a kissing gate, then took a steep climb to Chalton Peak through a mass of cowslips, causing us to stop and admire them. And also, to turn around and admire the scene behind us of the various greens of the patchwork of fields and crops and woodlands, enhanced by the shadows of the intermittent clouds. A quick walk into the village of Chalton brought us to the Red Lion where we sat on the grass amidst daisies, buttercups, and some lovely little blue flowers (whose name escapes me) and had our lunch.
After eating we headed along the Staunton Way which took us to the edge of Queen Elizabeth Country Park. Behind us was a wonderful view stretching over to the Clanfield Windmill, the sea and the Isle of Wight beyond. We paused inside the Park to advise a couple who were trying to find their way which can be a bit of a challenge because of the myriad of footpaths and tracks. I hope they found their way OK after the pearls of wisdom from maybe too many of us! We passed a stone model of a Roman building. Apparently, there was once a Roman settlement in the area and the plinth is one of the many on the Shipwrights Way which runs from Alice Holt Forest to Portsmouth.
At one point we were almost mown down by some cyclists enjoying the tracks; fortunately, someone spotted them coming and we stepped aside. Why don’t cyclists have bells anymore?
Eventually we emerged from the woodland and walked down to Kiln Lane, then passed the nature reserve of Buriton Chalk Pits. These pits were worked up until the end of WWII and can be explored along a footpath route. Notice boards fill you in on the history of the 14-acre site.
We headed downhill, under the railway line and back to our starting point. A nice little café with tea and cakes would have been nice but alas, not available.
This walk of just over 6 miles, starts in the Queen Elizabeth Country Park main car park where it is possible to park between 2 – 4 hours for £7. Alternatively, a number 37 bus goes from Petersfield Square to QE Park in just a few stops.
With the weather forecast predicting no rain, 12 keen walkers set off enthusiastically on the strenuous climb up Butser Hill, some 270 metres high and the 2nd highest hill in Hampshire. We admired the southerly views as we climbed, the Isle of Wight is often visible in the distance, but alas, not today. As we approached the summit, light rain began and unexpectedly, fast became hail. Fortunately, this was short lived and it was not long before the sun came out and dried our wet clothing.
A good excuse to pause, half way up Butser Hill
Relieved that the climb was over and the weather improved, we carried on to join the South Downs Way and soon came across more wonderful vistas across the valley to East Meon.
View to the north from the South Downs Way
View to the south from the South Downs Way
Another view to the north from the South Downs Way
Shortly we entered Hyden Woods and followed the track, lined either side by bluebells and flowering wild garlic, enjoying the peace of the well managed woodlands. Further on, we entered the privately owned Hyden “Bluebell” Wood where in addition to carpets of bluebells, there were clearings where several beautiful ancient layered beech trees stand, the perfect place for a group photo.
Under one of the spectacular beech trees
The owners of the woods do a splendid job of managing them, helped by selling pea sticks, charcoal and logs.
A glade surrounded by magnificent beech trees
We pressed onwards and a little more upwards to enter Ditch Acre Copse, leading to the intriguingly named Thieves Lane that appears to have been important in the middle of the 18th century. Ditch Acre Copse, apparently being used to hide contraband in its many ditches. It seems that the isolation of large areas of countryside, particularly the section south of Petersfield, was notorious for a scourge of thieves.
We leave Thieves Lane with our possessions intact and carefully walk in single file along Petersfield Lane and make our way back to the Park.
Walk leader Christine had planned the route to provide an abundance of beautiful spring flowers and far-reaching, unobstructed views. She certainly delivered on the former, but the weather unfortunately had other ideas regarding the latter, with a fine drizzle and low cloud blocking the fabulous views of the Downs and Hangers. One for another day.
To follow in our footsteps, set off across the fields of Buckmore Farm towards the bridge over the A3. Sadly, the halcyon days of first lockdown, where there was virtually no traffic below, are long gone. On the other side you are heading up towards Ridge Common Lane. The first stile you cross is now beautifully sturdy, having been reported on http://hantsrow.esdm.co.uk/standardmap.aspx and repaired by the council. It takes just 5 minutes to do, so I would urge you to report any that you find in a state of disrepair – it makes everyone’s walk so much easier. After a short section of road, pick up the path that starts just past the Cricketers Pub and skirts the Island. This is quite tucked away but provides a different view over Steep. Remarkably, many of us ramblers had never been on it before.
Like us, you might require a quick refuelling break close to the aquamarine pond at the bottom of Ashford Hanger, before starting the long zig zag climb up to the Shoulder of Mutton (SoM) viewpoint.
On our way up we came across some community volunteers repairing path infrastructure. It is rare to actually meet these hard-working people, so we took the opportunity to pass on our thanks. I should also point out that one of own also has a well-earned reputation for doing her bit to keep paths clear. As you can see in the photo, Johanne always walks with a pair of secateurs close at hand, ready to give pesky brambles and other vegetation a quick short, back and sides!
Once on the ridge, your efforts will hopefully be rewarded with sweeping views from both SoM and Cobbett’s Viewpoint at the far end of the lane. After so many weeks of dry, sunny weather it was such a shame that we climbed up into rain. We had also forgotten quite how slippery the baked-hard paths become after a slight sprinkling of rain, so the decent down to Ashford Farm was done a little more gingerly. Just before the farm it is possible to veer off the main track and take another path through ‘Jack’s Meadow’. Despite asking around we have no idea who Jack was and why there’s a meadow named after him, but it is a beautiful spot to currently see an abundance of primroses and cowslips, with orchids apparently next in line.
After reaching the road, continue along the lane in the direction of Steep Marsh, so as to pick up the path towards Steep Marsh Farm. This is still a bit sticky even after such a long, dry spell, so you can imagine how bad it was in winter! Christine had clearly been saving the ‘best ‘til last’ on the flower front, as the woods through to Steep Farm are a carpet of bluebells at the moment, with some kingcups thrown in for good measure down by the stream. Safely back into Steep village it is then downhill along the Hangers Way and Dark Hollow all the way back to Beckham Lane, with one final note of thanks to the kind person/people who have filled in many of the deep pot holes in the path with hardcore….. your community service hasn’t gone unnoticed by the ramblers.
This 6.5 mile circular ramble took in 2 of Andy Goldsworthy’s famous chalk balls up on the South Downs – Goldsworthy being a famous British sculptor known for his site-specific installations involving natural materials. Thirteen of his large chalk balls are scattered across the Downs from Bepton over Cocking Hill to West Dean. As Goldsworthy is also interested in how the passage of time affects his work, the average walker might easily walk past these large lumps of weathered chalk without realising their significance
The walk starts from a good-sized verge offering safe parking close to Staple Ash Farm, near Chilgrove. Finding this spot is actually part of the adventure as it is quite off the beaten track. Be warned, the farm doesn’t have a sign, but fortunately there isn’t much else around to confuse matters. So, assuming you have found this spot, you need to head up the very slight hill looking for a footpath sign off left. The route could not be easier to follow as it is pretty much a 1.5 mile straight line through West Dean Woods until it joins the South Downs Way at the top. Keen gardeners will appreciate the beautifully laid hedge along a large section of the path. While still very much in the early stages, it will surely be a thing of beauty in years to come. Both chalk balls can be found along this track, one early on and the other closer to the top. Without our expert guides I think the majority of us ramblers would have sailed past the first, it was so weathered and in keeping with its surroundings. The fact we were all busy chatting might also have had something to do with it. The second one is much clearer to see, as it has a commanding position in a clearing and looks a lot whiter and more statuesque.
Laid hedge to the right, chalk ball to the left
With the South Downs Way and sheer slope of Didling Hill providing a natural buffer at the top, turn left to join the national trail for another roughly 1.5 miles. Along this section you have some fabulous views in all directions, but especially over the western Weald below you to the right. In spring also keep an eye open for the bright yellow cowslips decorating the side of this well-trodden path.
The Weald looking north along the South Downs Way
Just before you turn off the SDW are the Devils’ Jumps. These are 5 large barrows set back slightly from the track and perfectly aligned Southeast to Northwest, so they are oriented with the rising and setting sun on Midsummer’s Day. This is also a good place to check your map as a short distance later you are leaving the SDW. When the main path turns right you carry on straight ahead, in the direction of Hooksway. There is little to distinguish one path from the other as they are both wide and well-trodden, so be sure to check you are on the right one.
The Devil’s Jumps
At the bottom of the hill you will be greeted by the Royal Oak pub, which has plenty of outdoor space in a beautiful setting, so who wouldn’t be tempted by a little light refreshment at this stage in the walk? The next path on your route back to the car (Philliswood Lane) starts almost directly opposite, so you are unlikely to make any post-refreshment navigational errors – although don’t hold me to that! The only tricky bit of map reading along this entire route comes about 5/600m along this path. The main track is straight ahead but you are looking for a smaller left-hand path up through the woods. This will lead you to Chilgrove and Staple Ash Farm road near Brooms Farm. It is then an easy one mile walk back to the car along a very quiet country lane.