First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Walking through West Dean on a sunny afternoon, we got a strong sensation of temps perdu – a curious, time-suspended village, many of its ancient brick and timber farm buildings tumbledown or in the embrace of weeds. A smell of newly mown grass hung about Church Farm, where two Hardyesque lovers, very young and bashful, sat against the fingerpost, close together, shyly grinning at their own feet.
Among the dark trees of Dean Copse the squirrels had emptied the hazels and acorns, leaving the husks, neatly snipped and hollowed, strewn across the path. Beyond the wood the path declined to a matter of guesswork, but we nosed our way across the rough pastures and padlocks around Keeper’s Cottage, and on into Bentley Wood.
The purple emperors, white admirals, Dukes of Burgundy and other nobly-named butterflies for which the wood is famous were lying low or gone into chrysalis accommodation. But we enjoyed wandering the path among distorted old oaks in thick jackets of moss that shone a brilliant green in the dappled afternoon light.
On the outskirts of East Grimstead a fabulous tree house sat high in the fork of a tree, some lucky child’s Dorothy-and-Toto fantasy. The village lay scattered along a road that led down to a cluster of bridges – humpbacks that crossed the River Dun and the dry bed of the long-forgotten Salisbury & Southampton Canal, and a plain brick span over the railway.
A long flinty track headed south for the ridge that overlooked the Dun valley. A young roe deer cantered ahead on wobbly legs, and a yellowhammer, startled by our approach, flung itself up and away out of the hedge with a swoop and flick of wings.
We climbed a chalky holloway to the crest of the down and set back towards West Dean along the ridge track. Under Dean Hill a labyrinth of chalk caverns once stored the munitions of the RN Armaments Department, nuclear weapons sometimes among them. That all seemed a world away from this peaceful evening prospect, with views open to north and south across a countryside harvested, neat and complete.
How hard is it? 7 miles; easy; field and woodland paths
Start: Dean Station, West Dean, Salisbury, Wilts SP5 1JF (OS ref SU 257271)
Getting there: Rail to Dean; Bus 37 (Salisbury circular)
Road – West Dean is signed off A27 between Romsey and Whiteparish
Walk (OS Explorer 131): From railway crossing, down right side of King George’s Hall. In 100m fork left; in 100m, left (256273, gate, yellow arrow/YA); follow fence on right, then footpath signs across fields, into west flank of Dean Copse (249279). In 200m, right up forest road; in 70 m, left (248282, YA) on path that leaves copse (247282). Keep same direction ahead across fields (stiles, YAs). Through gate into field opposite Keeper’s Cottage (242285); left to stile (241286), then more stiles across paddocks (YAs) into Bentley Wood (240284).
Follow public footpath through wood. In 300m at cross track, left for 10m (237281); right (‘No Horse Riding’) on path for 400m to leave wood past info board, then horse barrier (232280). Ahead for 500m to T-junction (226280, ‘Bugmore Lane’). Left; left by village noticeboard opposite pond (226278, fingerpost), through kissing gate/KG. Down right-hand hedge; at bottom, right through hedge (230276); half left to KG; along fence on right, then path (YAs) to road (225274), Left to bend; ahead up side road across canal, then railway (225271); on for ¾ mile to T-junction (228259). Right; in 150m, hairpin left (226259) up chalk track to ridge (229256). Left on gravel track. In 1¼ miles, left down Dean Hill road (249258); 20m beyond S-bend, right through hedge (253261); left along fence. At end, right along hedge (253263); through gate; left down hedge. At field bottom, left through hedge (254269); right to road; right to West Dean.
Conditions: Keep your eyes peeled for waymarks and stiles in field around Keeper’s Cottage!
Lunch: Black Horse, West Tytherley SP5 1NF (01794-340308)
Accommodation: Mill Arms, Barley Hill, Dunbridge, Romsey SO51 0LF (01794-340355, millarmsdunbridge.co.uk)
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