ocated in the south of the New Forest, the village of Sway is best known for its tower which is visible from afar. The 218ft high tower is thought to be the world’s tallest unreinforced concrete structure. It was built between 1879 and 1885 as an exercise in construction by Andrew Peterson, a barrister who had spent time in India, then settled in the Forest. He was also a philanthropist and took on the unemployed to build it. The tower is situated along a country lane to the south of Sway, with a smaller prototype nearby to the north. Both are privately owned, but you’ll be able to see the main one from a distance on this walk.

There’s some lovely woodland and heath encircling Sway’s northern side – open access land where ponies will be seen grazing. Although there are car parks, the village is easily accessible since it’s on the mainline railway, just five minutes from Brockenhurst. In 1888 the line was opened from Brockenhurst through Bournemouth to Poole. By then Bournemouth had grown, like other seaside resorts in the country. This part of the railway through Sway was difficult to build and several workers died during the construction. There are roads in Sway with place names like Manchester Road which are thought to relate to where the navvies came from.

To the north of the village is a previous railway line, now a very pleasant, shared use path. This was once part of the Southampton and Dorchester Railway. It was planned by a Wimborne solicitor, Charles Castleman, with its meandering route earning it the nickname, Castleman’s Corkscrew. Opened in 1847, from Brockenhurst it headed westwards via Ringwood, bypassing Bournemouth, which was then only a small village. The line closed in 1964. Between Sway and Burley just off the A35 is the Old Station House tearoom at former Holmsley Station with lots of railway memorabilia. A section of the old platform can be seen nearby. This walk includes the option of a stretch along the old railway.

Great British Life: Longslade View can be used as an alternative car parkLongslade View can be used as an alternative car park (Image: Fiona Barltrop)

The walk

1.  (SZ276984) From the station car park walk up Station Approach to Station Road and turn left. Fork left along Mead End Road, then fork right along Adlam’s Lane which becomes a gravel track leading downhill to a gate. Go through this and the next one ahead into Set Thorns Inclosure. Stay on the main track (a cycle track) as it bends left.

Great British Life: The track through Set Thorns InclosureThe track through Set Thorns Inclosure (Image: Fiona Barltrop)

2. (SZ267994) At the next intersection (cycle post no 200) turn right. Keep ahead at crossing tracks to the gate and road. Cross and follow the path to Longslade Bottom car park drive bending left to its end. You may well see ponies grazing on the grass near the car park, possibly wearing reflective collars. During the autumn drift, when the ponies are rounded up to be checked over, some have these fitted to help make them more visible at night. Sadly, animals are killed every year in road accidents – the maximum speed limit is 40mph on unfenced Forest roads, but drivers should always take great care and reduce speed whenever necessary. Continue past the barrier down the gravel path to the bridge.

Great British Life: The old railway line is now a shared use track through the treesThe old railway line is now a shared use track through the trees (Image: Fiona Barltrop)

3. (SU270002) For the shorter option, which takes in a stretch of the old railway line, climb the gravel path to the right onto the disused line and turn right along the attractive tree-lined track for ½ mile to the next bridge. Otherwise go under the bridge and continue on the track ahead bearing right at the intersection up to the edge of Hinchelsea Wood from where there’s a good view. Turn right to follow a footpath along its southern edge, then right down a track back towards the railway line. Note, this crosses a gravel causeway over Hinchelsea Bog on the way, which can flood in heavy rain. If blocked, you will need to retrace your steps to waypoint 3 and follow the disused railway. After the causeway crossing, the track passes a substation to go under the railway line.

Great British Life: Enjoy views out over the heath at point fourEnjoy views out over the heath at point four (Image: Fiona Barltrop)

4. (SU278004) Keep ahead along the gravel track to Longslade View car park. If you’ve followed the disused line, just before the next bridge bear right down the embankment and bend right along the track to the car park. Continue to the road.

5. (SZ278998) Cross and take the left of two paths, keeping ahead at the crossing path. Carry on over the heath in a south-easterly direction (Sway Tower may be spotted in the distance). Cross the bridge over the railway line and fork right to the road.

Great British Life: The 218ft high Sway Tower is thought to be the world's tallest unreinforced concrete structure. The 218ft high Sway Tower is thought to be the world's tallest unreinforced concrete structure. (Image: Lee Rand)

6. (SZ283988) Turn right past the Hare and Hounds pub on the left, then right along Church Lane. Turn right into the churchyard, passing St Luke’s Church (built in 1839) on the right, then left through the car park (Youth Centre on the right) to Station Road. Turn right back to the station, passing the Silver Hind just before it.


Start/finish: Sway railway station car park (SZ276984). Alternative car parks: Longslade View and Longslade Bottom on route of walk.

Map: OS Explorer OL22

Distance: 4½ miles (7km) or shorter option via old railway line 4 miles (6.4km)

Terrain: Woodland and heathland paths and gravel tracks; village roads. Gentle gradients.

Time: 2 hours

Refreshments: Hare & Hounds (01590 682404) and Silver Hind (01590 683900), both in Sway.

Public transport: Regular South Western Railway mainline train services to Southampton, London Waterloo, Poole etc; morebus service 120 from New Milton to Lymington via Sway.