In the Meon Valley from Old Winchester Hill

I am out walking today in the Meon Valley with my walking buddies Mandy and Nigel.  This is an area that I don’t really know.  I passed through the valley whilst walking the South Downs Way in 2018, but I have not explored much off the National Trail so it is bound to be an interesting day.  

The current pandemic restrictions mean that once again Mandy and I travel in convoy to our starting point, a car park on Old Winchester Hill (Grid Ref: SU645214) where we meet up with Nigel.  Mandy and I live in the same village so we see each other regularly, but it is a while since we have seen Nigel so a day’s walking will be a good chance to catch up.

Leaving the car park we head north on the route of the South Downs Way which runs besides the road.  When the road reaches a junction we leave it and turn right on the route of the South Downs Way to enter a field and head downhill.  I have vivid memories of walking down this hill whilst walking the South Downs Way because I had an encounter with a frisky herd of cattle.  Fortunately today there are none in sight.

The route leads us through a gate and along a track to reach Whitewool Farm, here we turn left on a farm drive and follow it through fishing lakes at Whitewool Pond.

We stay with the South Downs Way route and turn right along a minor road and then just after passing Hall Cottages we take a left to join a concrete driveway with heads steadily uphill.  On reaching a crossing of paths we turn right into Halnaker Lane.  

We are still on the South Downs Way and keep with it as it crosses a minor road at Coombe Cross and starts a steady ascent of Salt Hill.  There is an OS trig pillar on the reservoir to our right, I bagged this in 2018 so do not need to re-visit and Mandy and Nigel don’t share my enthusiasm for these structures so we continue without delay.  There are stunning views from this path with cracking contours away to our right.

A feature of walking with Nigel is the requirement to stop for elevenses, this does not need to be at 11.00, just at an appropriate time where a spot can be found. Today it a pile of logs just short of a road junction.  Refreshed we continue our walk reaching Droxford Road where we turn right and then almost immediately take a footpath on the left to walk besides the edge of the Leydene Sustainability Centre on the Leydene Estate.

According to the East Meon history group website Leydene House and estate were created in 1913 by William Peel and his wife Eleanor.  Lord Peel was a politician and his responsibilities included chairing the Peel Commission which recommended the partitioning of Palestine.

During World War II the estate was occupied by the Royal Navy and served as HMS Mercury the Royal Navy Communications and Navigation School from 1941 until 1993.  The estate has now been sold off with a part of it becoming a Sustainability Centre running courses and other “sustainable” activities.  These include a natural burial ground and we fork left on a footpath taking us through the graves and memorials and then follows a fence line at the southern edge of the woodland.  On reaching a minor road we turn right and head downhill to reach Hyden Farm.

In the farmyard beside the road is a wonderful collection of old farm machinery.  I am fascinated by such objects.  Whilst I am looking the farmer wanders across the yard, he is more than happy to tell us how he has pulled discarded implements out of hedgerows around the farm and restored them.  

We stay with this minor road to reach the Bat and Ball pub opposite the Hambledon cricket ground.  As every cricket enthusiast knows Hambledon Cricket Club had a major influence on the game.  It was formed in 1750 and is credited with developing the laws of the game and introducing the third stump and regulating the width of bats.  Some will tell you this was where cricket was founded, but the village of Slindon in West Sussex has a different view and claims to be the originator of the game.

However, there is no doubting that Hambledon did have a role in making the laws of the game and it was it the Bat and Ball pub where club meetings were held and the laws were drafted.

We turn right at the crossroads and follow the road signposted to Hambledon and Fareham.  In a couple of hundred yards we reach a footpath on the left, opposite a minor road on the right, and climb a stile to enter a field.  

The path heads uphill on Broadhalfpenny Down, we are now on the route of the Monarch’s Way and there are cracking views as we look back after crossing another stile.

The way-marked path soon leads into a belt of trees and becomes a clear track.

Emerging from the trees the track becomes hedge lined as it reaches the top of the downs.  Soon on our right is the Broadhalfpenny Down Ordnance Survey trig pillar, this is the 228th I have bagged.

From the trig we continue along the track and then turn right to keep with the Monarch’s Way and keep heading east at the next junction and then after a few more hundred yards turn right towards Glidden Farm. We follow the lane as it sweeps to the left passing the farmhouse and then stay with it as it turns right to reach a junction.  Here we go left on Glidden Lane and follow this downhill to reach the outskirts of Hambledon where we turn left and walk into the attractive village to reach the shop, Peoples Market, where we turn right towards the church.

Parts of the church of St Peter and St Paul date back to around 1160 and the porch and tower were added in the 13th century.  However, the tower was rebuilt in 1794 following a fire.  It is a fine looking building and has the added bonus of a suitable bench in the churchyard which we can use as a lunch spot.

After lunch we leave the churchyard by a footpath in the north west corner and follow this through the church car park and then continue heading west along the edge of a field to reach houses.  Here we continue across a green to reach the B2150 where we turn right and then very quickly cross the road to take a footpath on the left.  We are now on the route of the Wayfarer’s Walk and we follow it uphill through trees to reach a field which we cross to pass a pond.

After crossing another field we reach an old metal kissing gate besides a minor road.

We cross the road staying on the Wayfarers Walk as it heads towards trees and then fields to reach Soberton.  In the village we pass the village hall and continue on to the church of St Peter where we wander around the churchyard.  This church originates from the 13th century with the tower added in 1525.  It underwent restoration in 1880.  In the churchyard is a coffin said to be of Roman origin that was discovered in a local field.

From the church we take a minor road heading towards the River Meon.  We had hoped to join the path running along a disused railway line, however, it is not accessible from here, so instead we take a footpath on the right which enters a field of pasture besides the River Meon.

The path stays close to the river and we ignore two footpaths leading off to the left and then at a junction of paths close to a footbridge we turn right and then left to follow a path parallel to the old railway line.  We stay with this path to reach Mill Lane and then turn right and almost immediately right again before reaching the railway bridge. On reaching a five bar gate we go through and turn left along the disused railway line.

We head north along the route of the old railway line soon passing the fence of a private house which was once Droxford Railway Station.  Apparently in 1944 Prime Minister Winston Churchill used Droxford Station as his base during preparations for the Normandy landings and had an armoured carriage in a siding here. On 14th June 1944 Churchill met here with the Free France leader Charles de Gaulle.

The old Meon Valley Railway covered twenty-two miles between Alton and Fareham and closely followed the route of the River Meon.  It opened to passengers in 1903 but closed in 1955 because of a fall in passenger numbers, this was well before Beeching reaped havoc with the rail network.

We stay with the disused railway line for two miles leaving where the route of the South Downs Way crosses the track.  Here we turn right and at a junction of paths follow the  South Downs Way signs, we soon start to ascend enjoying some cracking views.

We reach Old Winchester Hill Nature Reserve and follow the path along the edge of woodland still heading uphill to emerge on the edge of the ramparts of the hill fort of Old Winchester Hill.  This is a cracking spot, I can vividly remember reaching this point when walking the South Downs Way.  

There is an Ordnance Survey trig point on this hill which I have bagged before.  Close to the trig is a Toposcope which allows us to pick out points on the horizon.

This is open access land but we stay with the route of the South Downs Way which is joined by the Monarch’s Way close to an information board.  The contours on the escarpment to our left are cracking.

We continue on the route of the South Downs Way heading uphill besides a track and then as it nears a road turn left to return to our starting point.

Our walk has covered just under 18 miles, or in Nigel’s language 29.5 kilometres.  It has been a cracking walk with some stunning scenery and interesting history.

To follow my walk you will need Ordnance Survey Outdoor Explorer OL3 Meon Valley

You can view this 18 mile walk on OS Maps and download the GPX File Here (Subscription to OS Maps Required)

20th October 2020

© Two Dogs and an Awning (2020)

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