Walked from: New Alresford, Hampshire
Walked to: Soberton, Hampshire
Distance: 18.3 miles
Total distance walked: 51.1 miles
When: 3 June 2022
I woke up at 4.30am, roused by the light outside. Sticking my sleepy, under-rested head outside the tent, I was rewarded with a beautiful dawn – I’d ended up finding the perfect wild camping spot last night, east-facing with a conveniently located log to sit on while eating my first breakfast and admiring the view.
Within the hour I’d arrived in New Alresford, an attractive market town where the houses were in all out competition to dress themselves for the Jubilee celebrations. I particularly enjoyed the property bedecked in the Welsh flag, which is a favourite of mine: perhaps it’s my Celtic side (Jones on my maternal grandmother’s side, as well as Irish from maternal grandfather), coming out? On my way in, I passed the watercress filled River Alre, renowned in a not so distance era for the quality of its eels – a dish I have no difficulty in passing over.
By 8am, I was six miles in to my walking day, chilling on a bench in the graveyard of the church in Cheriton and enjoying a second breakfast. Parts of the building date back to the 12th century, but that morning the locals were preparing to run a Ethernet cable into it so people could watch the Jubilee service from Westminster Abbey on live stream. Anyway, I had an hour to relax before meeting my friend Charlotte: as teenagers we roamed our local area on bikes, and now we were meeting up to walk the 12 miles to her parent’s house in Soberton, a village the Wayfarers Walk has the good sense to run straight through.
Charlotte and Banjo, aka best dog in the world, were dropped off on the dot of 9am and we spent the next six hours exploring the fields and country lanes of the South Downs National Park, and (as Banjo discovered to his cost) the ticked-filled undergrowth of a poorly maintained footpath across Corhampton Golf Club. It was an unexpectedly hot and sunny day and the three of us got through the four litres of water that Charlotte showed up with without any difficulty. Still, the scenery, mainly wheat, barley and broad bean filled fields, was very pretty, and the shadier rest spots welcome. Betty Munday’s Bottom, a place name I’d seen on the map and looked forward to walking past, was a disappointingly scrubby piece of land, and the nearby excavation of the land to lay down new pipes to carry aviation fuel from Southampton to Heathrow Airport brought a note of (hopefully soon to be hidden away again) discord to the landscape.
After two nights of limited sleep and the tiring effect of walking in heat, it was a relief to get to Droxford, a village in full Jubilee-fete prep, knowing we were very close to Soberton. A final walk across the fields and a country lane took us to the wonderfully situated house where Charlotte’s parents, Jane and David, live. It was a lovely place to spend the night, a feeling enhanced by the fact that heavy rain sounds a lot better when not heard from a tent. I also had what was possibly the best pie in the world at the local pub, the White Lion, and disappointed David by failing to turn up in the walking boots I ‘borrowed’ from him in 1991 so I could take part in the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme. I’m grateful, if embarrassed by the state those boots ended up in – the camping, walking and map reading skills I learnt in those two years set me up for my cross-country tramps I’m so fond of now.