Walked from: Inkpen Beacon, West Berkshire
Walked to: New Alresford, Hampshire
Distance: 27.3 miles
Total Distance of route: 32.8 miles
When: 1/2 June 2022
Maps: OS App and Hampshire County Council website
Today’s memorable walk through beautiful north Hampshire started at 5am, as the sun rose, and finished close to 10pm, as the last of the light faded from the sky. Wild camping has many rewards, not least being able to wake up to stunning views and, in today’s case, a wonderful dawn sky, but the stealthiness it requires means your departure and arrival times are inextricably linked with the sun – and in June, there’s a hell of a lot of daylight.
Yesterday evening’s after work 5.5 miles seems too short to merit its own blogpost, but the expansive views along the chalk escarpment took me to today’s starting point, on a hill overlooking the Highclere estate – its principle building, Highclere Castle, better known to millions as Downton Abbey. Two hours of rolling, beautifully lit, early morning countryside later, including a lumpy, bumpy hilltop site that, 3,000 or so years ago was the location of an iron age fort, and I stopped to eat my breakfast on another famed spot – Watership Down. Best known for rabbits, and a film I chiefly remember as being a traumatic watch as a child, it’s host to gallops for race horses, the topiary of the jumps cut into cubes that are a striking, if discordant addition to the local landscape.
As I came off the chalk downs, I passed through fields filled with barley and wheat, walking through the edge of Steventon, the birthplace of Jane Austen. For a time my route shared that of the Camino Inglés, a revived ancient pilgrimage route that ultimately (once the English Channel has been tackled) ends up at Santiago de Compostela in Spain. 17 miles or so into my day, I arrived in the pretty village of Dummer for lunch at the Queen Inn, where the lemonade was cold, the food good, and the locals friendly. It would also be the first of a number of bunting-filled places on my hike, for I’m out exploring on the same four day weekend as the country marks the 70 year reign of the Queen: right now, the English countryside is red, white and blue, as well as its usual verdant green.
Other, more typical, countryside scenarios I encountered today included a good number of deer, a game of cricket, the players dressed in their traditional whites, on the village green at Brown Candover, and, less thrillingly, a group of obnoxious inheritance fund kidults whose braying forced me out of the pub at Totford. That last, undesirable encounter with the local wildlife was luckily counterbalanced, a few hours later, by my first ever sighting of a (alive) badger, out for a sunset stroll. In all, a day of utterly gorgeous walking that made for an excellent first full day of my adventure.