First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
You couldn’t find a better place than Farley Mount Country Park for children and dogs to run about and kick up the leaves on a cold winter’s day. Bright pink spindle berries lent a touch of colour to the pale grey winter woods. A young wolfhound came up with a five-foot-long stick in his jaws, winking his toffee-colour eyes sideways at us as though to say, “Aren’t I the clever boy?”
In a shallow valley north of the woods we turned along a grassy farm track between rolling fields of beet and wheat stubble. In the hazel hedges crimson stalks of dogwood sprouted green-white flowers and deeply creased leaves turning dark mauve.
Nearer the silos and sheds of intriguingly named Forest Extra a dead starling lay in the grass verge of the lane, wings outspread. Last night’s rain had coalesced into evenly spaced droplets all over the water-resistant feathers, like raindrops on a newly proofed coat.
A pale path of chalky mud led over the winter wheat. On the opposite slopes starlings perched on the backs of fat sheep that grazed among the vines of Chalk Vale Vineyard.
The hamlet of Ashley and its castle mound lay hidden among trees beyond a stout wall. King John stayed here often while hunting, a guest of William Briwere, described by contemporary chronicler Roger of Wendover as an ‘evil adviser’ to the king.
In the fields beyond, large old beech trees, stripped of leaves, raised their graceful domed heads against the grey sky. We dropped down to the valley bottom and the Roman road from Winchester to Old Sarum, these days a narrow lane as straight as a die. From here a good track rose up the flank of Beacon Hill, running through groves of twisty yews.
At the crest of the down we stopped to take in a 40-mile prospect of downs and woods, ribbed ploughland and smooth grazing. By the homeward path rose a white steeple, raised in 1733 by Paulet St John to honour the horse he named Beware Chalk Pit.
Steed and rider had jumped a hedge while out foxhunting and tumbled into a chalk quarry 25 feet deep. Miraculously, both escaped unscathed, and rode to triumph in the Hunter’s Plate handicap the following year. Huzzah!
How hard is it? 9 miles; easy; woodland and farmland tracks, some muddy
Start: Hawthorn car park, Pitt Down, near Sparsholt SO21 2JG approx. (OS ref SU 415292)
Getting there: Sparsholt is signed from B3049 (Winchester–Stockbridge). Follow ‘Farley Mount’ from here.
Walk (OS Explorer OL32): Facing away from road, from left corner of car park follow forest road north. In 250m, at barrier, follow main roadway to right. In 300m, left up forest road (417294). In ½ mile, leave trees (418303); in ⅔ mile, left in valley bottom (418313). In 1 mile pass Forest Extra (403319); in ¾ mile, left off road past gate (390319, arrow) on well-trodden field path. In ⅔ mile at far side of 4th field, up steps through hedge (384311); left (yellow arrow) along field path. In 1 mile, descend to valley track (397301); right to road (399296); right. In ½ mile, hairpin back left across field (390297; blue arrow, then green arrow; ‘Clarendon Way’/CW). Follow CW for 1½ miles across Beacon Hill (detouring right to horse monument at 403290) to road (408293). Cross onto path; in 50m, through gate; fork left on CW at edge of trees to car park.
Lunch: Plough Inn, Sparsholt SO21 2NW (01962-776353, the.littlepubgroup.co.uk)
Accommodation: The Old Vine, 8 Great Minster St, Winchester SO23 9HA (01962-854616, oldvinewinchester.com)
Info: Winchester TIC (01962-840500)