Every year I aim to do at least two walks with my university friends Mary Alexander and Drusilla Belfield, but in this strange year our first walk was at the end of August. We met at Kingsclere, north Hampshire, on the edge of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This is fairly central for the three of us.
I chose walk 18 from Rambling for Pleasure: Kennet Valley and Watership Down, by Dave Ramm and the late David Bounds. Although it was written 26 years ago, the instructions hold good (there is a later edition).
We met in the Swan Street car park and walked down to the church. It is flint with a stubby Norman-style tower, restored in 1848.
A highlight is the bedbug weathervane. The story is that King John, who had a hunting lodge on nearby Cottington’s Hill, got caught in fog after a day’s hunting and had to stay at a hostelry in Kingsclere where he was bitten by bedbugs. He was so upset that he ordered a weathervane to memorialise the biting critter. In fact the weathervane is elegant.
The path behind the church is attractive, crossing watercourses by footbridges before coming out on Fox’s Lane.
After walking a stretch of lane we turned south-east across open country, with the ridge of the Hampshire Downs beckoning us on. Part of it is mapped as access land.
We climbed the scrubby slope and came out on open downland with great views west along the escarpment and north over the vale towards Newbury.
At the top, according to the book, we should have found the beech tree, part of a hanger which Richard Adams describes in Watership Down, known as ‘Bigwig’s tree’ (after the fictional rabbit). However, it blew down in a storm ten years after the book was published, and now there is a small oak tree growing as a memorial to Richard Adams by the ridgeline bridleway.
We picnicked in a mysterious wood just off the path.
Then we headed east along the ridge to Stubbington down, and climbed Cottington’s Hill where King John’s castle and hunting lodge once were. The hill is dominated by an ugly television mast.
We followed the path down the hill and along the top of Freemantle Park Down, and through the Coronation Plantation, a broad path through conifers which tail off into pine trees.
We took a bridleway down the escarpment and then followed Hollowshot Lane, clearly an ancient route, back to Kingsclere.
It was a lovely walk, thanks to David and Dave, and we shall make up for lost time by meeting again in a couple of months.