First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
For this Armistice centenary weekend, a walk of three lives to be remembered. The first two are intertwined – Hal Willoughby Sandham (1876-1920, an unsung Great War soldier, and the artist Stanley Spenser (1891-1951), whose murals in the Sandham Memorial Chapel near Newbury rank with his very finest work. The third life is that of Brenda Parker (1939-2008), Hampshire countryside campaigner, walker, wildlife enthusiast and maintainer of footpaths, a local hero unsung by the world at large. It was the countryside trail named in her honour, the Brenda Parker Way, that we followed out of Burghclere down a disused railway, a tunnel of trees and brambles with glimpses ahead of the long high spine of Watership Down.
Under a bridge festooned with trailers of ivy like jungle creepers, then up out of the ‘lost world’ of the abandoned railway cutting and off through arable fields on flinty tracks and green bridleways. Monster oaks with twenty-foot girths stood in the hedges like guardian giants, their twigs sprouting round brown galls.
A piercing silvery light smeared the sky over the downs. At Woodside Farm two ginger horses were having a tremendous game in their field, whinnying and snorting and dashing up and down with a great drumming of hooves. We heard their joyful neighing as we followed the Brenda Parker Way across the beanfields and along the old driftway called Ox Drove, back to Burghclere and the Sandham Memorial Chapel.
John and Mary Behrend of Burghclere were dedicated patrons of the arts. Mary’s brother Hal saw active service in Salonika during the Great War, and when he died of malaria in 1920 the Behrends had the chapel built in his memory and asked Stanley Spenser – a fellow Salonika veteran – to paint its interior in acknowledgement of all anonymous soldiers.
Here are men in camp hauling great tureens of blood-red soup. A kit inspection, with items laid out like body parts. Soldiers dressing themselves under shroud-like malaria nets. Exhausted men asleep around a mounted officer. And a tiny, distant Christ overwhelmed in a maze of white battlefield crosses.
Spenser’s genius was to discover spiritual glory in humble things and people, and he found its supreme expression in this remarkable memorial to the unregarded soldier.
Start: Sandham Memorial Chapel car park, Burghclere, Hants RG20 9JT (OS ref SU464608)
Getting there: Bus 7A from Newbury
Road – Sandham Memorial Chapel signposted off A34, 5 miles south of Newbury (M4, Jct 13)
Walk (6½ miles, easy, OS Explorers 158, 144): Right along road; first right (Spring Lane); in 400m, right (467605, ‘Brenda Parker Way’/BPW). Left along old railway for nearly 1 mile. Under bridge (473593); right up slope (BPW); right across railway to road (476593). Left; right (‘Ecchinswell’); beside next junction, left (‘Bridleway’). Follow blue arrows/BAs for ½ mile to junction (481598); left (BAs) up Earlstone Manor drive. At top of pond on right, bear right (fingerpost) along pond edge. Leave trees (481599); left along field path (yellow arrows) for ¾ mile to road beyond Woodside Farm (491604). Left; in 600m, left (493610, BPW) across fields for 1 mile. At Palmer’s Hill House (478612), follow drive past house on left, then on for 400m to road (475614). Right; in 600m, opposite Lakeview House gate, left (478619, fingerpost), descending through trees. At bottom, left (477620), following Ox Drove for just over 1 mile, crossing road at 473619, to junction by old railway (463610). Left to road; right to car park.
Lunch/Accommodation: Carpenter’s Arms, Burghclere RG20 9JY (01635-278251, carpentersarms-burghclere.co.uk)
Sandham Memorial Chapel: Open Fri, Sat, Sun (01635-278394, nationaltrust.org.uk/sandhamchapel-memorial-chapel); satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk