Spring walks

There were two memorable walks recently. The first, on 16 April, was devised by Louise Toghill, and was based in Warnford, some miles to the SE of Winchester. Leaving our cars in a quiet lay-by alongside the broad, shallow and crystal clear River Meon, nine of us were soon puffing our way up Beacon Hill in bright sunshine and breezes. From the top we had a long and gradual descent along the exposed ridge of Wheely Down towards Warnford, with stupendous views to the right, across the Meon valley to majestic and dominating Old Winchester Hill (not to be confused with our own St Catherine’s Hill), the outlines of the iron age fortifications clear to see in the distance.

Ignoring a shorter option for weaker walkers, we all trooped in a loop up and over farmland to the north of Warnford, partly along ancient rutted bridleways with high hedges and (for the first time this year) a leafy canopy.
Lunch was in Warnford at the George and Falcon – another of those pubs that we keep finding now, that looks fairly ordinary from the front but turns out to have a large restaurant and a beer garden – in this case a beer garden with the River Meon running along its edge. Not quite in the Mayfly class, it was nevertheless a nice pub, serving good food, but surprisingly empty.

From Warnford there is a steep and narrow road with passing places that takes a surprising amount of traffic up past Old Winchester Hill and on to Clanfield and the A3. We took the lower part of that, but soon veered off along a section of the Monarch’s way, swinging anticlockwise round the hill, to climb one of it’s steeper, narrower, approaches. But what triumph to arrive there, to turn round and see where you are. Just being at the top of that enormous natural pile you get a sense of the power our forebears must have exercised to control both it and the surrounding territory, and why they felt the need to defend it. You just feel that you need to possess it. We gazed across the Solent to the Isle of Wight, twenty miles away and more, on a fine day. Nobody wanted to move from there, it was just so perfect.
More recently, on Saturday 8 May we had a morning-only walk in the Test Valley, led by Wendy Wharton and Joyce Furner, to the north of the Mayfly, near Chilbolton. Our weather-luck held once more and the nine of us who turned up completed the walk on another bright, warm and breezy day. Visibility was fantastic, so from every hilltop we could see across tens of miles of Hampshire in its spring glory, and even trees on the distant horizon appeared green, not grey.

The Test Valley never disappoints, but this walk was especially delightful because the trees were glorious and brash in their new dressing of leaves, buds and flowers, the rivers and streams running fast and clear, and the whole of nature just getting on with producing the next generation. Ducklings chirruped on every stretch of water, trying to keep up with Mum while she tried to marshal her brood, and birdsong blasted from every bush and bough.

Lunch was good, and not as expensive as the Mayfly’s reputation would lead you to expect. For example an ample chilled beef and Guinness pie with three types of salad and a roll, cost just over £10. While not “foodies”, we all appreciated the combination of a decent walk, a sit-down, and a chat over a good pub lunch, sitting in sunshine beside a famously pure and beautiful river. It doesn’t get much better.

submitted by Ken Staunton