The Hampshire Hinterland at Harvesttime
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Hangers - huge, steep, wooded hillsides of beech - characterise this pristine portion of the South Downs National Park. The hangers often shelter pretty villages before they slide into the golden wheat fields, and one such is Selborne, the most perfect ensemble of cottages and church lying under its hanger around. The whole Selborne district enshrines the memory of pioneering ecologist Gilbert White, while Chawton enshrines the memory of another of Hampshire's most cherished children: Jane Austen. Upper Farringdon and East Worldham complete our quartet of communities, and they make up for in lovely houses and ancient churches what they lack in literary connections.
East Worldham: Sturdy, solid homes and a 13th-century church (St Mary) which is transitional Norman with richly-moulded arches. Tower and chancel are Victorian, 1865.
King John's Hill: An iron-age (c100 BC) hill fort with shallow defences which was subsequently the site of a hunting lodge for King John. The summit is 129m but its isolation makes it look higher. The lake at the bottom is pretty and the views sublime.
Binswood: The Woodland Trust writes: 'One of only a few lowland woodland pastures that are maintained by the traditional method of grazing by commoners’ stock. A wonderful mosaic of woodland and grassland. A fantastic range of fungi and lichens cling to the ancient trees...If you want to see how the medieval landscape might have looked, this is the place to visit.'
Selborne: 'The south-west [of the parish] consists of a vast hill of chalk, rising three hundred feet above the village, and is divided into a sheep-down, the high wood and a long hanging wood, called The Hanger... The down, or sheepwalk, is a pleasing park-like spot jutting out on the verge of the hill-country, where it begins to break down into the plains, and commanding a very engaging view, being an assemblage of hill, dale, wood-lands, heath, and water...' (Gilbert White, The Natural History of Selborne (1789)). The lovely church of St Mary sits between the village and a wooded ravine and the famous zigzag path leads up to Selborne Common where we'll have lunch.
Upper Farringdon: All Saints' Church has a spacious 13th-century nave and Victorian chancel surrounded by timber-framed cottages, but all is eclipsed by Massey's Folly, designed by the rector Thomas Massey and built by him, one bricklayer and one carpenter over 30 years. Now the village hall.
Chawton: A tidy village adjoining Alton, famed as the home of Jane Austen from 1809 to 1817. Now a museum, Chawton Cottage is a modest (but Grade I-listed) 17th century house where she wrote her later novels Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion. It is possible that her earlier novels Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey were revised from earlier drafts here. Time permitting, we'll have a drink in the The Greyfriar pub.
Before lunch: Setting out southeast from Alton along the B3004, we'll follow the Hangers Way across the A31 to East Worldham. We'll further follow the Hangers Way over King John's Hill, through Binswood, Hartley Wood, Wick Wood and along Long Lythe to Selborne. After seeing the church and cottages we'll leave Hanger's Way and ascend Selborne Hill via the zigzag path to have lunch on Selborne Common while enjoying the view exactly half way round.
After lunch: Crossing and descending Selborne Common via footpaths and bridleways we'll ascend Northfield Hill and soon arrive at Upper Farringdon. After a mooch around the village we'll pick up the St Swithun's Way which will lead along an old railway line to Chawton. After walking through the village and seeing Jane Austen's house and stopping off at the pub, we'll soon be passing under the A31 and heading back in Alton for farewells and transport home.
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What to bring
Sturdy, well-fitting walking boots (not trainers or shoes) and thick walking socks to prevent blisters will be essential. Bring blister plasters too if you're likely to need them. Although much of the route will be in shade, take precautions against the sun if it is forecast, with a high-factor sun cream and perhaps a sunhat. If rain is forecast, wet-weather gear should be brought. Bring something waterproof to sit on if the grass is wet.
Food & drink
Please bring a packed lunch and plenty to drink, although you will be able to get these in Alton before we start at the Waitrose adjacent the station. There are pubs and shops on the way, but I only intend to stop for a pint at The Greyfriar in Chawton, time permitting, 45 minutes from the end.