A Stirring Stroll from Stansted to Stoughton
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For me one of the best things about living in Portsmouth isn't the sea, the sailors or the ships, it's being able to escape from it by train into the South Downs National Park in just twenty minutes. And not just any old part of the national park, you understand: only some of the loveliest, loneliest hills and hamlets it has. I am sorry that guys from London will have quite a journey to reach the area, but I hope an advance listing will help them get an advance train ticket once the schedules are published. Delighting our senses will be deep vistas and woodlands, stretching our legs will be the sweeping downland, easing our way will be gravel and tarmac trails and reviving our spirits will be a pub lunch.
Stansted House: A remarkably remote and unspoilt setting considering the nearness of Portsmouth. Splendid grounds, with a superb avenue of trees and a sustainable management programme. The house itself is the third version, built in 1900 by Arthur Blomfield in an effective neo-Wren style after the James Wyatt-version burned down. Lodges of 1820. Very fine stables by James Wyatt of 1786.
Stoughton: 'Brick and flint farms in fine large-scale downland valley...Bow Hill to the SE has some of the best scenery in the whole of the Downs' (Nairn: The Buildings of England: Sussex). St Mary's Church 'plain outside but impressively rich inside' (Nairn). A near-complete 11th century Saxon-Norman church with some 12th century mouldings and 13th century windows.
Walderton: Another attractive village of brick and flint farms and cottages. Watergate House has an Ionic portico and some pretty lodges and is a rebuild from the early 1980s of a house originally built by Soane then rebuilt in 1882 then demolished.
The Staunton Way will lead out, east, then northeast from Rowlands Castle through Stansted Forest. A short walk south along Forest Road and then a footpath through The Warren will take us to the vicinty of Stansted House. A lane heading past farms northeast again will take us to Watergate Hanger and down that hillside. Then, crossing the B2146, a lane will take us past Watergate House to Piglegged Row and over the hill and down the valley to Stoughton. A walk along the lane in the valley floor beside the River Ems will lead to Walderton where a second crossing of the B2146 will access Woodlands Lane which will take us back to Stansted House. A walk along the Avenue will bring us back to Rowlands Castle.
(Image credits: Farmland north of Stoughton by Chris Gunns; Stansted Forest by Chris Gunns; Stansted Estate Looking towards Middle Lodge by Chris Gunns; Stansted Ride looking west by Graham Horn; Stansted Forest by Chris Gunns; Stansted House by Chris Burchell; Farmland east of path near Stoughton by Chris Gunns; Path South of Woodbarn by Chris Gunns; Stansted Estate by Chris Gunns; The Hare and Hounds Pub, Stoughton by Martyn Pattison; The Parish Church of St Mary, Stoughton by Maigheach-gheal. All are images are licensed to share and reuse under Creative Commons).)
What to bring
Well-fitting, waterproof walking boots are a must.
If rain is forecast wear a coat, and if serious rain is, waterproof trousers. Consider wearing gaiters too. Avoid wearing jeans as they become heavy and chafing when wet.
If the weather is cold, bring a hat, scarf and gloves as appropriate and employ layering with a base layer, secondary layer, fleece and coat, perhaps insulated.
Food & drink
We're booked in to have a pub luch at The Hare and Hounds in Stoughton. About two weeks before the walk and when their seasonal menu is published I will email you to ask what you'd like to eat in order to get the pre-order together. Their current menu seems reasonable, from pub classics such as ham, double egg and chips for £10 to mature Scotch ribeye steak with chips and salad for £19. There are options for people with dietary restrictions too.
If you'd like to bring a packed lunch instead, that's absolutely fine. There are benches with superb views in the churchyard near the pub at Stoughton.
Bring drinks and snacks in addition.
For the end of the walk there's The Castle Inn in Rowlands Castle.
Prior to the walk, for early risers and train users who've come up from the coast there's The Bumblebee cafe in Rownlands Castle.