A misty morning over Hampshire, with pigeons throatily cooing in the oaks at Totford. Fine breakfast smells and a cheerful clatter of dishes came from the Woolpack Inn’s steamy kitchen.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A green lane hung with haws and sloes led us away east. The early sun had not yet got a grip on the countryside; the flinty chalk of the track was slippery with dew, and the elder and spindle leaves along the lane trembled with coruscating droplets, winking a million messages from the hedges. Everything lay still, a silence broken by bursts of wren chatter and the swish of our boots through wet grass and docks.
The Three Castles Path, entirely unwaymarked but clear to follow on map and ground, wound through woods of sycamore and yew, then out into a broad landscape full of the kind of flowers – brilliant red pheasant’s eye, dusky purple fumitory, restharrow, corncockle, scarlet pimpernel – that I thought had been long since blasted out of the cornfields by agrichemicals.
By Barton Copse two young girls on ponies came riding by, straight-backed and serious-faced, with a polite ‘Hello’ apiece. What a countryside these lucky children can wander safely through, all ancient wood pastures, pheasant coverts and well signposted bridleways. Someone obviously looks after it all very carefully, as with the lovely little Church of St James at Upper Wield with its Romanesque south door, traces of medieval wall paintings and elaborate marble tomb of Sir William Waloppe Esq (d. 1617), Marshal of the Town of Calais, who ‘served against ye Moores for Ye Kinge of Portingal’.
What place on earth could be calmer or more beautiful than Upper Wield on a sunny morning? Horse paddocks and barley fields took us away, down uncultivated fields where the wild flowers had been left to riot, then onto the great old green highway called the Ox Drove. Hedges of blackthorn and elder thirty feet thick, red admiral and peacock butterflies on the stones, and a green tunnel of trees to funnel us back through the fields to Totford.
Start & finish: Woolpack Inn, Totford, Alresford, Hants SO24 9TJ (OS ref SU571380).
Getting there: M3 Jct 7; A33 ‘Winchester’; in 5 miles, left via East Stratton and past Northington (signed) to Totford on B3046. If parking at Woolpack, please ask permission, and give pub your custom!
Walk: (9 miles, easy, OS Explorer 132): Restricted Byway (RB) beside Woolpack (‘Wayfarers Walk’/WW). In ¾ mile, beside barn, right (581384; WW) up farm road. At top, dogleg right and left round bend; in 20 m, left (582376; RB) through wood. Left at road (591371). In ½ mile, right (595377; ‘Godsfield Farm’). In 250 m, left (597375, RB) for 2¼ miles, passing Godsfield Copse, then Armsworth Hill Farm, Wield Wood and Barton’s Copse. After 1 more field, left beside houses (628387) past church and barn; over 2 stiles (yellow arrows/YA); follow fingerposts, dogleg left and right, then ahead (stile, YA) to road (625390). Left; past Wield Wood Farm drive (621390); in 20 m, left (fingerpost in right hedge) through gate (‘WW’). Down alleyway ahead, on over stile, through windbreak (618391), over field. Through hedge (613392; fingerpost); down narrow field past Bangor Copse, ahead along field edge to YA post (609395). Through hedge; left along Ox Drove (RB). In 1 mile cross 2 roads (595388) and on; in ¾ mile, round right bend (582384) to farm road. Left past barn (RB); return to Totford.
Lunch/accommodation: Woolpack Inn, Totford (01962-734184; www.thewoolpackinn.co.uk)
Info: Winchester TIC, The Guildhall (01962-840500); www.visit-hampshire.co.uk