Walking in Hampshire
Hampshire has the most variety and woodland of the three counties of ancient Wessex. As a destination for walking, it has probably been underated and neglected by those who are not familiar with it's many and varied attractions. The New Forest, of course, is deservedly popular and may soon become one of our National Parks. It encompasses an area of approximately 145 square miles, but less than a quarter is woodland, the remainder a mix of open heath, grassland and valley mires. There are many lesser known areas of the county which also offer delightful walking.
The Test Valley is a beautiful area in north west Hampshire surrounding the busy market towns of Andover, Stockbridge and Romsey. The river Test, well known for it's superb angling and clean waters, meanders through peaceful countryside and picturesque villages. The area is very close to the city of Winchester and it's magnificent cathedral. There are numerous woodland and riverside walks hereabouts and fine views of the North Downs from some of the hilltops.
A large part of east Hampshire is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB 12). This includes the area around Petersfield where the lovely hangers, ancient beech coppices clinging to the steep hillsides, provide a protecting environment to the many enchanting villages. There is quiet leisurely walking in this surprisingly peaceful area, with the added interest of literary associations to discover.
Alresford - Alresford is really two settlements: the village of Old Alresford and the Georgian market town of New Alresford, noted for its handsome buildings. There is less than a mile between their centres and they are separated by Alresford Pond which is crossed by a causeway. Built in the 12th century to make the River Itchen navigable from Southampton to Bishops Sutton, the Pond used to go by the rather grander name of Bishop Godfrey de Lucy's Reservoir. New Alresford was once one of the country's leading wool markets, but it also has a long tradition as a centre for the watercress industry and a railway line was built to take the cress to markets in London. This line is now operated by railway enthusiasts as a steam railway which runs from Alresford to Alton and is a popular tourist attraction called the 'Watercress Line'. Old Alresford is smaller, a pleasant village with a stream running through the green.
OS Maps: Explorer 132
A Walk from Alresford [SU 588325]
Petersfield - The country town of Petersfield lies near the head of the broad Rother Valley within the East Hampshire AONB. To the south and west of the town the land rises onto chalk downland, a westerly continuation of the Sussex Downs typified by undulating hills, dry valleys and scattered coppices. Just 5km south of the town the downs rise to nearly 300m at Butser Hill, from where there are magnificent views as far as the Isle of Wight. Below Butser Hill, nestled in the valley, the charming village of Buriton has pretty cottages and a Georgian manor house.
To the north of Petersfield as far as Alton are East Hampshire's famous 'hanger' woodlands. These broadleaf woods of beech, ash, wych elm and lime are regarded as amongst the most important of their type in England. The charming villages, quiet lanes and steep wooded scarp hillsides lend a sense of intimacy to the landscape. The Hangers Way path, which passes right through the area from Alton to south of Petersfield, is the ideal way to explore this area, but many short circular walks are possible.
Selborne - Selborne was made famous by The Rev. Gilbert White when he published The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne in 1789. The illustrated book was based on White's records of wildlife observation, and is still in print today, a testimony to it's fascinating insight into 18th century English country life. His house, The Wakes, is now a memorial library and museum and draws quite a few visitors to the village.
There is a fine view of Selborne, much appreciated by Gilbert White, from Selborne Hanger (NT). The steep climb is aided by the popular zig-zag path through the hanger which Gilbert White helped to build. In fact, this whole secluded area feels as though little has changed since his time, but, of course, this is a fragile illusion. From Selborne Hanger you can continue southeast to Noar hill where there are fine views eastward.
Ludshott Common (NT) - Right on the eastern border of Hampshire where it joins with Surrey and Sussex there is an area of rolling heathland. One of the best examples of this habitat is the National Trust's Ludshott Common. If you visit the Witley Common Visitor Centre just over the border in Surrey [SU 920398] you can obtain information about the heathland flora and fauna and the issues the Trust faces is managing and preserving this environment.
From Grayshott (SU 874355) you can walk to the Waggoners Wells, a series of ponds at different levels which may have been originally built for the iron industry, although there is some dispute about this. From here you can continue north to the village of Churt, returning by paths and lanes to Grayshott.
Isle of Wight - The Isle of Wight contains some of the finest countryside walking in the whole of the UK, with much to offer whatever your ability. The Island's concentration of diverse landscapes, historical sights, Victorian seaside resorts and sleepy villages in an area measuring only 13 miles by 23 miles at its widest point means that, although distances are large enough to provide a challenge, even short routes never lack variety. This manageable scale combined with a good infrastructure of footpaths and bridleways make it a rambler's paradise - not to mention the Island's enviable sunshine record.
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