Walking in Hampshire

The Wayfarer's Walk

Start - Inkpen Beacon - Burghclere - North Oakley - Deane - Dummer - Brown Candover - New Alresford - Cheriton - Droxford - Hambledon - Denmead - Bedhampton - Emsworth - End

The Wayfarers Walk extends 70 miles between the coast near Portsmouth and Inkpen Beacon just across the Berkshire border. It connects with other long distance paths at Emsworth (the Sussex Border Path), at Bedhampton (the Solent Way) and at Inkpen Beacon (the Test Way).

Linking with the Wayfarers Walk are six circular walks each consisting of a network of paths of varying distances. Near the villages of Burghclere and Kingsclere the Wayfarer's Walk traverses Watership Down, the setting for Richard Adams' best-selling book of the same name about a community of rabbits. The author still lives nearby.

"They only know a country who are acquainted with its footpaths ..."

Walking on footpaths and tracks is the best way to enjoy Hampshire's lovely and diverse countryside. The Victorian nature writer Richard Jefferies pointed out, long before our dependence on the motor car, that "They only know a country who are acquainted with its footpaths. By the roads, indeed, the outside may be seen; but the footpaths go through the heart of the land". The Wayfarers Walk will take you into the heart of Hampshire - It traverses the eastern and northern parts of the County only, but still provides a fine selection of the coastline, woodlands, gentle rolling hills and rich green valleys for which Hampshire is renowned.

Chalk covers a great deal of the County, stretching in two large bands that enter on the east and cross to Berkshire and Wiltshire. The predominance of chalk has had an important effect on agriculture, wildlife, architecture, industry, and the landscape. This is the land of sweeping, subtly shaded downland dotted with beech hangers, scrub and sheep - much of it now planted with wheat and barley. This is where clear pure rivers rise in the chalk hills, luring fishermen from all over the country and even from around the world.

Chalk also means flint and in Hampshire it is profusely displayed on churches, cottages and walls, catching the sunlight or glistening in the rain. It is on the chalk ridges that prehistoric man's hilltop earthworks and burial chambers can be seen, and on these ridges man first made trackways to move animals, flint and salt. The Wayfarers Walk incorporates or crosses three of these ancient routes- the South Hants Ridgeway, the Harrow Way and the North Hants Ridgeway.

By leaving the roads and going into the heart of the countryside a close-up view of Hampshire farmland is obtained. Chalk is good for both sheep and corn, and sometimes one has predominated, some times the other. After the 14th century, for example, when labour was scarce and there was a big demand abroad for wool, much arable land was enclosed for sheep.

The Wayfarers Walk follows some of the old tracks used by shepherds driving their animals to sheep fairs in Farnham and New Alresford. But today "corn and cows" aptly describes farming in Hampshire, half of the agricultural land growing cereals and half growing grass eaten mainly by dairy cows.

Agriculture has had an important effect on wildlife - in all of lowland Britain, not Just Hampshire - and these effects are more visible from the footpaths than from the roads. Chalk pasture, when grazed by sheep, supported a rich variety of plants-rock rose, salad burnet, kidney vetch and many kinds of orchid-which are becoming rare. The skylark and lapwing can still be seen and heard on the chalk downs but the stone curlew and wheatear have disappeared. The woodlands and hedgerows that contribute so much to Hampshire's beautiful landscape also provide important habitats for many plants, insects, mammals and birds.

Hampshire's villages are well known for their charm and interest, but there is a special pleasure in coming to a village on a medieval track (as at Cheriton), by a riverside path (as at Droxford) or through a steep beech hanger (as at Hambledon). There is much in these and other villages to delight the heart and eye, and tempt walkers off the route for a while - not least those places that will quench a walkers thirst.

The Wayfarers Walk, between the mud flats along the coast and the highest down land in southern England, opens a new door on Hampshire's landscape, history and wildlife which are there for you to explore and enjoy.