A warm, muggy Hampshire afternoon, and harvest time in the downland fields around Tichborne.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Red and yellow monsters roared in the chalky fields, gobbling corn and peas off the stalks, vomiting the precious grains and globules into trailers and breathing out a musk of dust-clouds that drifted across the hedges. Bales of straw were excreted, ready-wrapped and stacked; the trailers rumbled through rutted gateways onto the lanes and jolted away to the silos, while the monsters swung round and attacked another strip of land.
In the lane we followed out of Tichborne and down to the Itchen valley, docks and nettle flowers hung sun-dried to a crisp. Bees busied themselves among sky-blue scabious flowers and sprigs of sharp-scented marjoram. The sun hid behind leaden milky clouds that leached the contrast out of the landscape colours, reducing all to pale ochres and olives. We turned south through Tichborne Park, a field away from the subdividing and reconnecting channels of the infant River Itchen, and came to the gates of Tichborne House, seat of the estate that once engendered a classic cause célèbre.
In the north chapel of Tichborne’s church lie generations of the Tichborne family. Some died full of years and honours; others fell victim as children to disease or accident. But the most famous Tichborne of all is absent – Roger Tichborne, 11th heir to the baronetcy, who drowned at sea in 1854. All Victorian England was scandalised and thrilled at the long-drawn-out trial of Arthur Orton, an Australian scallywag who laid claim to the Tichborne baronetcy by pretending to be the long-lost Roger. Orton ended up in jail and died a bitter man; his notoriety as the ‘Tichborne Claimant’ long outlived him.
I thought of the drowned heir and the Aussie chancer as we crossed the watercress banks and gravelly bed of the clear-running Itchen. Field edges and downland tracks led up towards Gander Down, along shady woodland paths, then out between wide cornfields where the harvesting monsters prowled. A snaky lane brought us back down to Tichborne with honeysuckle and bryony twined in the hedges, the woods in midsummer black along the ridges, the steamy sky heavy overhead and full of gathering flights of swallows. There was a feeling of stillness, a sense of all nature taking a deep breath before the great autumn movements of birds and the scurry of mammals and insects to fatten on hedgerow fruits before the onset of hungry old winter.
Start: Tichborne Arms, Tichborne, near Alresford, Hants SO24 0NA (OS ref SU 571304)
Getting there: Rail (thetrainline.com; railcard.co.uk) to New Alresford
Bus 67 (Winchester-Petersfield) to New Alresford.
Road – Tichborne is signed off A31 at New Alresford
Walk (6 miles, easy, OS Explorer 132): From Tichborne Arms, left up street. At left bend, right along track. In 500m, right at T-junction (567309) into valley. Cross road (572310); up track (‘Bridleway’); in 150m, right (573312; permissive bridleway, unmarked) along field edges, following ‘Itchen Way’. At gates of Tichborne House, cross stile (575305) and on along 3 field edges (yellow arrows/YA) to hedge gap onto road (580298). Right for 100m; right (‘Tichborne Arms’) across River Itchen. In 100m on right bend, left (579296, fingerpost) past Cheriton Mill (‘Wayfarers Walk’); on through fields for ⅔ mile to lane (581286). Right to Hill Houses (577284); fork right (‘Hill House’) along Restricted Byway. In ½ mile at barn, keep ahead (570284, ‘Bridleway’); in 150m, on next left bend, bear right through hedge (blue arrow) along path in woodland.
In 300m, leave woodland (565284); aim half right across open field for corner of hedge beyond dip (560283). Right here with hedge on left, through gate (561285); on along lane. In ½ mile pass big barn on left (564293); in 30m, left through hedge (stile, YA). Across field, through hedge; right along field edge (564296, ‘Restricted Byway’) for ½ mile to meet tarmac path (569302). Left past Old School House and stile into churchyard; follow hedged path to gravel track (570303); right to road, left to Tichborne Arms.
Lunch: Tichborne Arms, Tichborne (01962-733760; tichbornearms.co.uk)