A walk from Petersfield over the South Downs to Bishop’s Waltham

From the banks of the Rother (almost) via Stroud, Ramsdean, the source of the Meon (just about), Frogmore, East Meon, Old Winchester Hill, Droxford and Upper Swanmore to the source of the Hamble (very nearly). Featuring an erudite parrot, Edward Thomas and John Owen Smith, William Cobbett and Gilbert White, Charles II and Winston Churchill, Eric Ravilious and a 1791 chic doggerel tombstone, and two extinct railways.

Old Winchester Hill from the north.

Old Winchester Hill from the north.

Walk data

Walking distance27 km / 16.78 miles
Walking time5.4 hr

Other walks, & more on the way: I've been walking to and from airports for longer than Will Self and the route base will gradually materialise here.

Background & itinerary

  1. Petersfield war memorial to station
  2. Petersfield railway station to Stroud
  3. Stroud to Ramsdean
  4. Ramsdean to East Meon
  5. East Meon to Old Winchester Hill
  6. Old Winchester Hill to Droxford
  7. Droxford to Upper Swanmore
  8. Upper Swanmore to Bishop’s Waltham

I’ve been walking this route for 20 years. My reasons were initially prosaic – people to visit, a lack of rural public transport, intimidating traffic on the walking routes from Botley and Fareham – but I’ve started to think that Gilbert White (1720-1793) got it right in The natural history of Selborne:

Though I have now travelled the Sussex-downs upwards of thirty years, yet I still investigate that chain of majestic mountains with fresh admiration year by year; and think I see new beauties every time I traverse it.

However, one day visits will cease, and then, given house prices, it is unlikely (barring a monstrous contribution to the tip jar in the column to the right) that these and companion feet will pass that way again (or that Petersfield will one day witness a singing organ-grinder). And so it occurred to me to describe some of the route’s pleasures now.

The mapping is from the 1890s Ordnance Survey six-inch series, which conveniently colours watercourses blue, and which shows a world which is of Edward Thomas (1878-1917) rather than of his “Clare and Cobbett, Morland and Crome” (“Haymaking”). The Hants rights of way map is handy for detours, and pathological divergers will enjoy South Downs National Park planning applications. Most of the photos here are from the summer and autumn of 2018, but this is also fine mucky walk when winter lingers into spring, hedges are cut and unleaved, the landscape is rendered in a Ravilious (1903-42) palette[1]Ravilious is hereby declared adjective. and, in the words of Thomas (“But these things also”), you notice:

The shell of a little snail bleached
In the grass; chip of flint, and mite
Of chalk; and the small birds’ dung
In splashes of purest white.

Several relatively ungastroid pubs are suggested to stave off thirst, and the best day to travel is Friday when all are open (how is a pub a public house if it’s closed Mondays?). However, if you need to catch the X17 bus back to your starting point, Wednesday is your day.[2]It seems that what a leading twit has described as the most absurdly tokenist bus service in England, the X17 from Bishop’s Waltham to Petersfield, already bus stop-rich, bus poor, is about to lose its two remaining weekly journeys:

The X17 is operated by Xelabus, which I think of as Felabus, in tribute to Fela Kuti’s “Everything scatter”:

Everything Scatter is about the person and actions of Fela and the members of Kalakuta Republic, which for a long time has become cause for controversy among the Nigerian public. Singing the song in the manner of a story teller with some history behind it, Fela presents the Nigerian society like a moving public bus driving past Kalakuta Republic. A passenger in the bus representing the establishment view, makes a remark condemning Fela and members of Kalakuta as: ‘hooligans’, ‘hemp smokers’, ‘prostitutes’, and ‘political non-starters’. Another man who, like countless of Fela’s teaming admirers, sees him as: ‘Black President’, Chief Priest, Mystic man (Abami in Yoruba language), challenges the establishment man. Meanwhile, the debate spreads among all the passengers in the bus — those echoing government opinion of Fela and those against. The result is big commotion in the bus, like in all conflict. Everything Scatter. Successive military regimes in Nigeria, in their attempt to silence Fela’s bold criticisms of the establishment have labeled him a trouble maker. Fela however would not relent in his criticism of the corruption and colonial mentality of the establishment — the end result! Everything Scatter.
– Mabinuori Kayode Idowu

Updates and more photos will be posted. And stay tuned for announcement of the East Hampshire bike superhighway project plan.

0. Route map and elevation chart

The route is about 27 km:

Elevations, with the x-axis back-to-front to facilitate comparison with the map:

1. Petersfield war memorial to station

Central Petersfield, OS 6-inch, revised 1895. Image: NLS.

I generally start from the station (see 2. below), but central Petersfield is well worth a visit, and so this guide is written as if, clutching your copy of David Jeffery’s Petersfield Through Time or of the town map, you’ve just alighted from a National Express or stage-coach near the War Memorial, where the High Street meets the old London-Portsmouth road. If you arrive by train and want to include central Petersfield, you’ll need to make your way back from the train station.

  1. From the war memorial, pop into Wetherspoon’s ancient coaching inn, the Red Lion, to examine the Rajasthani elephant doors and listen out for any residual Hampshire rhotacism in the curious dialect spoken by the locals as they consume their traditional Wetherspoon’s breakfast:
  2. Exit W along the High Street, greeting more locals: the Physic Garden with “Japanese knotweed!”; William of Orange (who “restored and confirmed to Law its power and Parliament its dignity”) on the town square with “Whack-a-mole!”; and George Jolliffe in the successfully Normano-Victorian, and thriving, church of St. Peter with a quiet “Ta, tar” for fighting on the Bellerophon (2nd from right) at the Battle of the Nile, which, I am told, freed Egypt and England forever from Gallic tyranny:

    George’s father William was “driven from his house at Petersfield by his neighbours” in 1790 and died in darkest Surrey in 1802 in “an accident, awful as unforeseen,” when he fell, possibly without the assistance of beneficiaries in his will, through the open trap door of his wine cellar and broke his neck.

  3. Cross the square from the church back to the high street, turn left past the bus stops and immediately right onto Chapel Street. Railway enthusiasts will then turn left up Lavant Street (the station road, but built after Station Road) for a long view, but leave them to their miserable hobby and carry straight on up Chapel Street and dive left into the glorious Petersfield Bookshop, with its African grey parrot (“Buy a book!”) and many other marvels. Buy as much as you can carry and stagger on up to the crossroads with Station Road. On your left you will have already seen the spectacular, conformist Methodist church, whose spire is visible from some distance, as well as the Catholics:
    Left to right, Methodists, Catholics, burghers. Image: Google Street View.

    John Owen Smith writes:

    Flinty perpendicular,
    in contrast to
    its ruby Roman neighbour —

    Here people of Petersfield
    sidle their way through
    the eye of a needle,
    to pass by the portals
    of Wesley.

    Should the Methodists be down the pub, try the crimson Catholics opposite. This late Victorian bloom is by the architect of St. Patrick’s, Soho. JOS again:

    A handsome design,
    as Italian as Rome,
    from chancel and nave
    to octagonal dome.

    Continue along Station Road to the level crossing and apologise to the trainspotters insulted above:
    Petersfield station signal box and level crossing on the London-Portsmouth Harbour line, and the view south down the tracks to Butser Hill.

2. Petersfield railway station to Stroud

Petersfield railway station to Stroud, OS 6-inch, revised 1895. Image: NLS.

  1. From the railway level crossing, with the Palmerston-era station on your left, walk W on Station Road, passing Lidl, until you reach a small roundabout with a pretty flint and brick house on the left. Take the A3/A272/Winchester Road exit, in summer inspecting but respecting the house’s figs, and after 600 you will arrive at the A3 roundabout/bridge.
  2. Cross it in order to continue W on the A272 on the other side:
    The pavement along the two-lane A272 to Winchester is narrow and frequently overgrown, and the road carries traffic that is heavy (40-tonne lorries) and fast-moving (40 seems to be regarded as the minimum rather than the maximum). Stroud Parish Council says that it is “intimidating to pedestrians and dangerous for children … and most potential cyclists feel the road to be unsafe.” Unfortunately that seems to be the extent of resistance.[3]Before the A3 bypass was built around 1990, pedestrians could get out of Petersfield safely by walking west along the High Street and Swan Street, taking a left up Borough Hill, crossing the London-Portsmouth line, and then walking on footpaths across the fields to Stroud Common. The children of posh Bedales School, just to the north, have various footbridges and tunnels with which to access Petersfield, while the children of Stroud, Langrish and East Meon have nothing, since “that part of the path [in purple] which lies within the boundaries of the A3T road has been extinguished“:

    It is most unfortunate that the chair of Hampshire County Council 1977-85, Lynton White, who lived at Oxenbourne House and is commemorated in East Meon church, didn’t prevent this happening. A remedy will be found in the East Meon cycle superhighway I propose in my next post.

    You will catch occasional glimpses to your right of the aptly named Steep, home of Edward Thomas, and to your left of the South Downs’ second-highest point, Butser Hill (271m):

    … on whose southern slopes Peter Reynolds & Co. revolutionised views of the Iron Age domestic economy with their endearingly bonkers ancient farm project:
    Butser Ancient Farm, 1978, without woad but with some late Iron Age communications tech in the background. Image: Arthur ApSimon.

  3. After 1.3 km you will reach a badger outside a gastricpub hitherto unknown to me, the Seven Stars at Stroud.

3. Stroud to Ramsdean

Stroud to Ramsdean, OS 6-inch, revised 1895. Image: NLS.

  1. Turn left down Ramsdean Road and walk 200 m to Langrish Primary School, shuddering as you pass the (much altered) East Meon pesthouse at Mount Pleasant Farm, behind Primrose Cottage on the right:
    “Pest House East Meon 1703,” snapped by a paparazzo from Ramsdean Road.

    Q: Why is the East Meon pesthouse in Stroud? A: Stroud was an industrial village on the common land (“waste”) of Langrish, and Langrish previously formed part of East Meon.

  2. Just after Langrish Primary School is the playfield, all that remains of Stroud Common, bordered by the lane which used to lead E to Petersfield before construction of the A3. Turn right off the road through the first of what in the course of your walk will be a multiplicity of stiles and gates and follow the footpath W across several small fields to exit onto the surfaced North Stroud Lane.[4]These fields are usually uninhabited, but if you meet something you don’t like, then retrace your steps to the A272, turn left along it, and take the first left off it up North Stroud Lane.
  3. Turn left and walk 1700 m SW along North Stroud Lane, which is unsurfaced after North Stroud Farm (which seems to me to be in south Stroud, and which I always imagine to be a gamekeeper’s cottage). The track, hitherto something like Eric Ravilious’s “East Dean”, crosses a stream bed and climbs through a marvellous hollow way, a sunken lane walled by chalk with six inches of topsoil. This is as Edward Thomas’ “half precipices of its sides, with roots / And rabbit holes for steps” (“The Combe”), recalling Gilbert White, whose Natural history I imagine Thomas to have known thoroughly:

    Among the singularities of this place the two rocky hollow lanes, the one to Alton, and the other to the forest, deserve our attention. These roads, running through the malm lands, are, by the traffic of ages, and the fretting of water, worn down through the first stratum of our freestone, and partly through the second; so that they look more like water- courses than roads; and are bedded with naked rag for furlongs together. In many places they are reduced sixteen or eighteen feet beneath the level of the fields; and after floods, and in frosts, exhibit very grotesque and wild appearances, from the tangled roots that are twisted among the strata, and from the torrents rushing down their broken sides; and especially when those cascades are frozen into icicles, hanging in all the fanciful shapes of frost-work. These rugged gloomy scenes affright the ladies when they peep down into them from the paths above, and make timid horsemen shudder while they ride along them; but delight the naturalist with their various botany, and particularly with their curious filices with which they abound.

  4. You will exit the lane onto a surfaced road running NNW-SSE, with Barrow Hill Farm on your right, excellent 1960s semis in front, and agricultural buildings holiday cottages on your left.

4. Ramsdean to East Meon

Ramsdean to East Meon, OS 6-inch, revised 1895. Image: NLS.

[Update: here is a circular walk to Butser which coincides with this section of the route.]

  1. Turn left and walk 240 m SSE along the road until you reach the nucleus of Ramsdean. To your right you will find a monument to the challenges faced in converting Nonconformist chapels to residential, and to your left what was the village pond, now a green triangle for parking cars and posting local notices. Just beyond the row of Edwardian cottages on your right is a field gate with a wobbly stile.
  2. Cross the stile and, heading WSW, the field adjoining the houses, watching out for horses.[5]If you can’t face horses, continue on the road past the stile, take the first road on the right, climb over the first field gate on the right and walk uphill to rejoin the path, which runs perpendicular to yours. Still walking WSW, you will now have a hedge on your right (with behind it Barrow Hill) and after 150 m on your left. Do not stray from this line when you meet a stile in a hedge perpendicular to your path: the footpath continues straight ahead, WSW, in the next field, through mud or crops, to exit via a stile onto an arboreous five-point junction.

    This was a lonesome swamp until resurfacing by a JCB in autumn 2018. Favoured by pikey trailbikers, I have always supposed it to be the heath at Frogmore where Waller’s Parliamentary cavalry gathered prior to defeating the Royalists at the Battle of Cheriton in March 1644, thus ending Charles II’s hopes of taking London. Here’s an excellent little map, pillaged from somewhere on the East Meon History Archive:[6]Malcolm Wanklyn in Decisive Battles of the English Civil War (2006) contradicts the East Meon Academy:

    On 27 March Waller and Balfour ordered a general rendezvous of their forces on the high downs at East Meon… Hopton and Forth decided not to wait for them to advance but marched towards East Meon taking the lower route, probably using the road that passed through Morestead and Stephens Castle which kept to the 400-foot contour line. The same day the two armies faced each other … with the Parliamentarians on Old Winchester Hill and the Royalists to their south, probably at Corhampton…

    I haven’t got access to Wanklyn’s (or East Meon’s) sources, but he’s surely wrong: the Parliamentarian staff wouldn’t have been so stupid as to convene troops at a place with limited water supplies and with little protection from the elements, nor their men so stupid as to follow such orders.

  3. If you wish to enter East Meon via Park Hill, reminiscent of the “vast hill of chalk” behind White’s Selborne, with wonderful views of church, village and Downs, turn right/N and follow, with Barrow Hill on your right, Duncan Toms’ little route – look for Greenway Copse on his map.

    Otherwise continue straight ahead, WSW, on the lane known as Greenway. When it exits onto tarmac, turn right and then immediately take the footpath left across the fields. It veers to NW, onto the right bank of the nascent Meon at Frogmore Mill. Follow the right bank and exit onto the road at Bottle Ale Cottage in Frogmore:
    Someone told me that there was a bottle of ale in a wall, but I don’t recall seeing it.

  4. Follow the road around to the left, and at the bridge take the path on the Meon’s right bank past a pumping station and some elderly terrace:
    Looking back to Frogmore bridge. Behind the photographer was a noose, but no mob.
    Follow the path, with the East Meon parish allotments on your left and a vineyard on your right, and at the end turn left along the path and exit onto East Meon High Street, where you rejoin the Meon. The Izaak Walton used to be popular with HMS Mercury staff and should be able to serve you a pint of local brewery Bowman Ales’ Swift One:

5. East Meon to Old Winchester Hill

East Meon to Old Winchester Hill, OS 6-inch, revised 1895. Image: NLS.

This excellent guide to East Meon’s historic buildings obviates the need to say anything about Roman villas, Alfred the Great’s ownership of the manor, William the Conk protegé Bishop Walkelin’s rebuild of Winchester’s Cathedral and East Meon’s church, etc. etc. So:

  1. Exit the pub to the right along the High Street on the right bank of the river, and at the end turn right at the George onto Church Street. At the end is the church, apparently embedded into Park Hill:

    Think Eric Ravilious’ (Sussex) “Church under a hill”:
    Image: V&A.
    … but with a proper solid Norman tower.

  2. Walk past the Victorian and Edwardian almshouses, still occupied more or less as foreseen, and up onto the mound on which All Saints’ stands. Inside is a most extraordinary thing: a 12th century marble-like limestone font from Tournai, Belgium, one of four in Hampshire and seven in England. Far superior to the one in Winchester Cathedral, it shows the Creation, the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, and their vocational education, such as inspired John Ball a couple of centuries later and elsewhere to ask that “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?

    Image: Wikipedia.

    The village scene in the north transept is wonderful:

  3. Exit the church. Over to the left is Court House, built by William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester, in 1395-7 following his successful Windsor Castle, New College, Oxford and Winchester College projects:

    Walk diagonally W across the graveyard to the trees in the corner. Stand here for a moment and imagine the Waller’s troops marching off to the right, on their way to West Meon and Cheriton. Here (dodgy OCR) is a decent traditional account of the Civil War in Hampshire from George Nelson Godwin, and here’s Julian Humphrys with four-minute battlefield sketch (Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon):

    Cross the road and walk straight ahead along The Cross, crossing for the last time for a while the Meon, which flows first north before heading south to sea. At the junction turn right down Workhouse Lane, where the workhouse stood, in similar style to several remaining thatched cottages which face the village hall.

  4. Turn left (S) across the new green, the village hall on your left, and continue straight through the quid-pro-quo flint-clad development (2017 South Downs National Park planning perspective). When you arrive on the old road, turn right (W) and walk past Garston Farm and several other dwellings, following the road 90º to the left at a pond. Several hundred metres more bring you to a farm turning on the right labelled Forty Acres, part of the 2,500-acre old-money Bereleigh Estate, which appears to function by annoying new money. (Is this the estate which Edward Gibbon’s grandfather, a director of the South Sea Company, lost to creditors?)
  5. Walk up the track, pausing at the farm cottages for a final view of East Meon:
    East Meon with Park Hill behind.
    Bar the proliferation of suburban double-storeys, your view is not unlike that of the populist ranter William Cobbett (1763-1835) on Sunday, November 24, 1822. Probably cursing the “Jews and jobbers”, the new financial class he claimed would be England’s nemesis, he rode (Rural rides) from a friend’s house at West End, just north of Hambledon, over Teglease (“Teg”) Down and Coombe to East Meon:

    We came down a long and steep hill that led us winding round into the village, which lies in a valley that runs in a direction nearly east and west, and that has a rivulet that comes out of the hills towards Petersfield. If I had not seen anything further to-day, I should have dwelt long on the beauties of this place. Here is a very fine valley, in nearly an elliptical form, sheltered by high hills sloping gradually from it; and not far from the middle of this valley there is a hill [Park Hill] nearly in the form of a goblet-glass with the foot and stem broken off and turned upside down. And this is clapped down upon the level of the valley, just as you would put such goblet upon a table. The hill is lofty, partly covered with wood, and it gives an air of great singularity to the scene.

    Here in yellow is his route – streams are blue and you’re red and paused on the contour line just south of “East”:
    OS 1-inch outline, pub. 1895. Image: NLS.

  6. Skirt the farm to the left, and look how great the stubble was during the 2018 British Isles heat wave:

    Continue along the path, crossing a perpendicular path and now following the South Downs Way. As you come over the hill, keep your eyes open – I recently saw ten red kites circling (glede < Old English glida, “glide”, is also used for the kite and other raptors), perhaps over a toddler. Here’s some excellent video by Duncan Toms at Park Hill:

    As the path descends to the road, note on the left the Turkic peoples who migrate on warm weekends from London, bringing herd and household to the Meon Springs yurt village, Meon Springs being the leisure brand of Whitewool Farm, which also still has some cows.

  7. Turn right along the road with Whitewool Farm on your left. After 400 metres, with barns to the right, turn left down a lane signposted to Meon Springs fly fishery. The lane crosses a tributary of the Meon (“Meon Springs” is a tad misleading) and passes Whitewool Cottage on the right and the farm on the left before wheeling left and then turning right to point you towards the down to the west.
  8. Still following the South Downs Way, walk 400 metres to where the lane terminates at a chalk pit. Follow the SDW through the field gate, bearing 60º right, and climb the hill. Exit the field, cross the road and there’s your first view of of Beacon Hill, about four miles NW, on the right bank of the south-bound Meon where it breaks through the Downs on its way to the Solent:
    Stout Cortez, not directing her eagle eyes at Beacon Hill.
    You will see on the slopes of Beacon Hill the deep hollow chalk ridgeway tracks which, pace the young Chris Hawkes in “Old roads in central Hants” (1925), led via Beacon Hill Farm to the then ford at the splendid Paper Mill Cottage just north of Exton; and thence via (Upper) Peake Farm and a now extinguished right-of-way to the sheep’s domain; and then, following the road, to/past the camp on Old Winchester Hill to Teglease Down and beyond. Hawkes:

    Before the Saxon invasion all the villages were on the uplands, and hence the roads followed the lines of the ridges from one to another. This was the best way for several reasons:—It was the driest, and generally avoided streams, and it lay over open ground; moreover, the safest route for travel is always that with the widest view. But the principal reason was that the uplands were the centres of population.


  9. Head left up the road and turn right into the Old Winchester Hill car park. Walk straight through the car park, turn left, and follow the path around the curve of the hill, with your first view of the univallate hillfort over to your right:
    From the bench for Richard Fletcher (1958-2012). Other benches celebrate the Life of Bryan and that of Barbara Halford of Meon Ramblers.

  10. Follow the contour and path, with, as you wheel to the right, final views east towards Butser:
    The mast on Butser Hill is visible on the right. Just left of centre is Barrow Hill at Ramsdean, shielding Petersfield but not whatever the gap is in the distance.
    Persevere with contour and path, admiring the yew cathedrals to the right:

    The South Downs Path turns left just before the fort, but carry straight on.

  11. Drones are the Devil’s outriders, but this one gives a good overview of Old Winchester Hill:

    Your views to the north and east are now replaced by southern and western ones, including the Isle of Wight and the chimney at Fawley, a great industrial landmark due for demolition, between them a shimmer of Solent:

    I won’t duplicate the information that you’ll find on-site about the flower-rich grasslands that have developed on the thin chalky soils, the Bronze Age burial mounds and field boundaries predating the fort, the hollows left by huts and by World War II mortar practice. Kestrels and other raptors (as well as less bloodthirsty species) like it:

    But this was also good country for hunting with dogs, and so we read the following in the 1662 edition of lexicographer Thomas Blount‘s Boscobel, Or, The Compleat History of His Sacred Majesties Most Miraculous Preservation After the Battle of Worcester:

    The next morning, being Sunday [October 12th, 1651], Colonel Philips was despatched to [Heale House, near Salisbury], with the much desired news, and with instructions to attend [King Charles II] on Monday to the Downs called old Winchester, near Warnford.

    Early in the morning His Majesty was privately conveyed from Hele, and went on foot at least two miles to Clarendon Park Corner, attended by Dr Henchman [sic], then took horse, with Colonel Philips, and at the appointed time and place the Lord Wilmot, Colonel Gunter and Mr Thomas Gunter his kinsman met His Majesty, with a brace of greyhounds, the better to carry on the disguise.

    P.R. Newman’s Atlas of the English Civil War shows the king’s route:

    Unfortunately Charles doesn’t seem to have stayed in the same house in Hambledon as Cobbett.

    I have no idea whether Old Winchester Hill owes its name to the Bishop of Winchester’s influence in these parts; or, more romantically, because it was considered to be a predecessor to Winchester, Venta Belgarum, mart of the Belgae, a few miles west along the ridgeway; or whatever.

6. Old Winchester Hill to Droxford

Old Winchester Hill to Droxford, OS 6-inch, revised 1895. Image: NLS.

  1. Standing on the ramparts, identify your path forward:

    Return to the eastern gate of the fort and take the path outside but alongside the southern rampart. After 100 m exit the bank left through a field gate and drop diagonally across a field. This dry, warm slope, often populated by sheep, gives a great botanical contrast with the darker, wetter combes and northern slopes.

  2. On exiting the field, leave the SDW and head straight down the hill, with raptor-rich Teglease Down away to your left. Past Stock’s Farm Cottage you will encounter a small treasure of the vernacular, present on the 1868 OS six-inch:
    Stocks Farm Cottage hut and chimney, Old Winchester Hill in the background. Was it intended for a shepherd?

  3. At the end of the farm lane, cross the road and continue on the footpath past a large barn and uphill to reach a road along the ridge. Turn right onto the beech-lined road, and you will shortly arrive at a crossroads. If you have made an appointment with Bowman Ales to pick up a 9 pint bag-in-a-box, just about manageable in a rucksack, turn left and walk about half a mile to Wallops Wood. If not, carry straight on, taking in the views of your route on the other side of the Meon:
    The view across the Meon from above Brockbridge.
    … and descend to the junction with the B2150 at Brockbridge on a one-track road, with open field to the left and first fields and then a modern, tree-screened residential and industrial development to the right.

  4. At the junction with the B2150, walk several metres towards the railway bridge, cross the road, and walk across the forecourt of the decommissioned (residential conversion?) Hurdles pub, previously the Railway Hotel and the Railway Inn. You will have noticed that the Meon Valley Railway is not shown on the 1895 map above, not having opened till 1903. It closed to passenger traffic in 1955 and to agricultural produce in 1968 in the face of competition from the roads. To the right you will observe the railway bridge, now part of a rail trail, and if you continue a few metres south on the Soberton road you will encounter on the right Droxford railway station. This is a local legend for having hosted Winston Churchill’s armoured train during preparations for the Normandy landings. Among his visitors were Smuts, De Gaulle, Bevin and Eden, but I don’t know if Eisenhower ever made the trip from the Napoleonic coastal fort at Southwick, just down the road, nor whether the location is mentioned in his The Second World War.
    Droxford’s old station.

  5. Continue south along the Soberton road. After about 300 m, after a house called Whitebeam, turn right off the road onto a public bridleway. It crosses a bridge over the railway and descends, becoming a path, across several fields to a simple bridge over the Meon, which turns into a ford every few decades and is an outstanding paddling place for small children and other mammals:

  6. On the other bank, walk up the avenue of trees planted by Edward Cecil Annels(?) in ca. 1962 while employed by Richard Martineau, Eton housemaster and resident of the Old Rectory, and turn right into the churchyard of St. Mary’s, Droxford. Here we find another beloved village postmistress, Dorothy McIntosh, and also perhaps the first souls to profit from John Bowden’s 1791 The Epitaph-writer: Consisting of Upwards of Six Hundred Original Epitaphs, Moral, Admonitory, Humorous, and Satirical; Numbered, Classed, and Arranged, on a New Plan; Chiefly Designed for Those who Write Or Engrave Inscriptions on Tomb-stones; To which is Prefixed, an Essay on Epitaph-writing. Bowden writes:

    Our common Epitaphs are become a common Reproach to the Taste of the Nation. Travellers have been so long disgusted with Nonsense and Doggerel, that they will scarce condescend to peruse our Tomb-stones.

    And so, when John Strugnell died in 1791 aged 80, following his wife Rebekah, who passed in 1782 aged 76, his executors and the mason between them selected the following from Bowden’s little book:

    The Strongest yield, whom God by Death doth call;
    So frail is Man, so certain Death to all.[7]Bowden borrows from an essay “On Monumental Inscriptions” by his contemporary, Vicesimus Knox, who inter alia writes:

    A marble monument with an inscription palpably false and ridiculously pompous is far more offensive to true taste than the wooden memorial of the rustic, sculptured with painted bones, and decked out with death’s head in all the colours of the rainbow.


    The love of rhyme descends to the lowest ranks. The parish-clerk is commonly called upon for a stave or two of verses, by every rustic that can raise a post and rail to the memory of his relation; and there are few churchyards in the kingdom where that favourite stanza, “Afflictions sore long time I bore,” occurs not more than once.

    Bowden approves of satirical epitaphs, but fears that few will match this example by John Byrom (with an “m”):

    Here lies John Hill,
    A Man of Skill,
    His Age was five Times ten;
    He ne’er did Good,
    Nor ever wou’d,
    If he’d liv’d as long again.

    Most of his humour is quite as inept as Byrom’s, although women seem to get him going:

    Farewell, and I thank thee for going, dear wife,
    For with thee are fled, noise, contention, and strife;
    To recall thee to life would renew all my pain,
    So I never desire to behold thee again.

    Back in Droxford churchyard, there are several other interesting doggerelisms, including Edward Hatch (died 1744 aged 48), who was “freed from grief and pain,” but whose rhyme will require a war on grass.

  7. Proceed through the churchyard and you will arrive at Droxford’s square, the centre of an agricultural settlement which thrived from slow-moving traffic on the old road and has been devertebrated by what is now the A32. A Churchill bench awaits, up the hill to the right is the Baker’s Arms, a gastropub which I’ve haven’t visited for a long time, and a brief wander will discover a considerable stock of fine 18th and 19th century provincial architecture. The South Downs National Park Authority’s 2015 plan gives a good basis.

7. Droxford to Upper Swanmore

Droxford to Upper Swanmore, OS 6-inch, revised 1895. Image: NLS.

  1. Turn left out of the square on the south-bound A32, passing The White Horse, now a quiet Indian, but whose back room, as befits a pub opposite a police station, was for a long time famously rowdy – here‘s Charles Skipwith on the 1960s.
  2. After ca. 250 m on the A32, just as a field appears to your left, turn right up South Hill towards Swanmore. After 400 m, turn right up the small Mayhill Lane, with a post box and vineyard to your left and a large cream house and garden to your right. The lane climbs steeply, initially with a considerable drop through woodland to the right, and after 1 km arrives at Mayhill Cottage, proof of the benefits of recycling:

  3. Turn right past it down an unsurfaced lane, unlabelled but known as Green Lane. After roughly 1 km with farmland on your left and some evidence of the old Swanmore Park Estate to your right, you will arrive at Upper Swanmore. The first house to the right, Rose Cottage, is an old favourite:

  4. The next house on the right, Pond Cottage, has a pond which may be the original Swan Mere, and I believe was once common property – it was certainly unenclosed until the late 20th century, when some idiot took a drunken dip. If you are assailed by thirst and want to take a brief detour to retrace his footsteps, turn right up the hill, left at the lodge, and at the next junction follow the signs to Dundridge, where the Hampshire Bowman also serves Bowman Ales.

8. Upper Swanmore to Bishop’s Waltham

Upper Swanmore to Bishop’s Waltham, OS 6-inch, revised 1895. Image: NLS.

  1. Otherwise, from the pond:
    1. Either continue straight ahead across the field on a footpath. On crossing your second fence, the path meets a perpendicular path, at which point the farmer has traditionally extinguished your one. As you will see from the map, however, you have every right to carry straight on, and I believe it is now passable. After a couple of fields, veering gently to the left, you will exit onto the untarmacced Jervis Court Lane.
    2. Or (and this is the option shown on the map) turn left and downhill on the road. At the next three-point junction, just after Hampton Hill Court on the left and under some conifers, continue straight ahead on Jervis Court Lane, ignoring the left turn that would take you to Swanmore. You will pass Jervis Court Farm, which contains some very old buildings as well as some fascinating remnants of a pre-PC approach to animal husbandry and knackering (inspect the decommissioned boilers), and meet the above footpath just short of a bend in the road.
  2. Continue on Jervis Court Lane, ignoring turnings to left and right, until, after about 250 m, the lane, now called West Hoe Lane, veers 90º to the left and joins Hoe Road, which carries the fast and furious traffic between Swanmore and Bishop’s Waltham.
  3. Turn right along it, passing a cemetery entrance, and leave the main road by turning right along Rareridge Lane. Rareridge Lane proceeds for almost 1 km, passing Ridgemede House on the left, now and old folks’ home, but once the residence of the Gunner family, of Gunner and Co, also known as the Bishops Waltham and Hampshire Bank, the last remaining ‘private and family’ country bank in England when it amalgamated with Barclays in 1953:
    Image: Bonhams

  4. At the end Rareridge Lane becomes Colville Drive and exits onto Free Street. Turn left along it, and after 100 m turn right up over Maypole Green, which hasn’t been green since the British fell in love with carparks nor had a maypole on it since Oliver Cromwell joined the dance. Walk through St. Peter’s churchyard and down Peter’s St. At the end of it you will find the Bunch of Grapes, a hobby enterprise which is amiable and uncursed by gastro, although it makes London seem cheap. It may open briefly on Friday, Saturday and Sunday lunchtime and on Friday and Saturday evening, or not, or at other times. It doesn’t serve Loopy’s beer.
  5. Turn right out of Peter’s Street and immediately left down the High Street to St. George’s Square. Here you cannot continue your journey by train to Botley and further, because the Bishops Waltham Branch closed to passengers before Dr. Beeching left college, in 1932. Neither is the 1890s OS map to be trusted, since a busy road now separates the town from the Bishop of Winchester’s palace, ruined by Cromwell, and bisects the abbey millpond. You already know about the X17 disservice back to Petersfield; except on Sundays there are also buses to Winchester, Southampton and Fareham.
    The bishop’s palace at the bishop’s settlement in a wood. Image: CC Colin Smith


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Last updated 06/05/2021

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