Handsome Surrounds in the North Hampshire Downs
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These downs aren't part of the South Downs, but part of the North Wessex Downs which extend through Berkshire, Wiltshire and Oxfordshire. Whereas the South Downs qualify as a national park, the status of the North Wessex Downs as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is scarcely inferior. This walk soon escapes average Andover and heads out through fields and forests to find the valley of the River Swift. This tributary of the River Test, recharged by the replenished aquifers, flows past the flint and brick thatched cottages, Georgian farmsteads and grand manor houses of Ibthorpe and Hurstbourne Tarrant, two of the most picturesque places in Hampshire.
Ibthorpe: A very pretty hamlet. Grand brick houses include Yew Tree Farmhouse, 1702, and Ibthorpe Farmhouse. Ibthorpe Manor is also very handsome, as is Ibthorpe House. The latter was home to Martha Lloyd (1765-1843), Jane Austen's 'dearest friend' after her sister Cassandra.
Hurstbourne Tarrant: Another beautiful village with a terrace of thatched cottages at its tiny centre. St Peter's Church is low, C13 and C14 in essence, restored in 1849 and 1889. Hurstbourne House is mid C19, stuccoed. The George and Dragon Inn is C18. Bourne House is stately early C19. Rookery House is of 1776. Windmills House is a modest C19 villa, extended in 1920.
Knight's Enham: Once a tiny village north of Andover, now met by its sprawl. St Michael's Church has a nave and chancel in one and a small bell-turret. The rood beam is a rare survival. Many table tombs in the churchyard. Old Rectory is C18, stuccoed, with an attractive Chinese-Chippendale lattice porch.
The route: (please click the link to see it)
Charlton Road will take us to out and through the suburb of Andover called Charlton into the countryside. Turning down Enham Lane will complete this, and we'll proceed north along foorpaths, bridleways and byways over Charlton Down to Wildhern which is just inside the North Wessex Downs AONB. Proceeding northeast will bring us to Hurstbourne Common, and Common Lane and walking past Windmills House will take us to Windmill Lane which will lead to Ibthorpe. A detour around Ibthorpe's pretty Horseshoe Lane will bring us back to a junction with the A343 and Church Street which will lead us through Hurstbourne Tarrant for lunch and a pub drop-in. We'll then ascend Wallop Down (straight after lunch! Sorry! It isn't too bad), heading southeast to Stokehill Farm where we'll pick up the Brenda Parker Way which will lead through Long Copse to Little London. Footpaths and bridleways passing close to Smannell, Enham Alamein and East Anton will take us along the Icknield Way a litte way to Knights Enham. After that, a route past attractive Anton Lakes will lead us to the A3057 which will take us, due southwest, back to the station.
(Picture credits: Hurstbourne Tarrant by Andrew Smith; Footpath, Hurstbourne Tarant by Maigheach-gheal; Cottages and the Bourne Rivulet, Hurstbourne Tarrant; Barn at Ibthorpe; Ibthorpe House; River Swift, Ibthorpe by Andrew Smith; Hurstbourne Tarrant in Hampshire; The Village Centre, Hurstbourne Tarrant by Andrew Smith; Doles Wood by Andrew Smith; Farmland near Hurstbourne Tarrant by Andrew Smith; Back Lane in Little London by 5 Puddings; Knights Enham - St Michael And All Angels (all images licensed for reuse under Creative Commons).)
What to bring
Footwear: Walking boots are essential, along with thick socks to prevent blisters, as the terrain is quite hilly.
Clothing: Wear cold and wet weather gear if these conditions are forecast and consider gaiters to reduce the spread of mud up the legs (the terrain will be muddy in parts although much of the walk will be on tarmac and gravel). Waterproof trousers are useful in the wettest weather but avoid jeans as when they are wet they become cold, heavy and chafing.
Food & drink
Please bring a packed lunch and plenty to drink. There won't be places to buy this on the walk, but there will be pubs, such as The George and Dragon in Hurstbourne Tarrant.