A walk around Steep and the Ashford Hangers
- Credit: Fiona Barltrop
Walk in the footsteps of poet Edward Thomas and enjoy views of the South Downs on this circular route
Located just north of Petersfield within the South Downs National Park is the village of Steep, rather aptly named given its situation at the foot of the steep wooded hills, known as the Ashford Hangers, which are explored on this walk.
Appropriately enough, the name Hanger comes from the Old English word Hangra meaning a steeply wooded slope. A 21-mile long-distance path called the Hangers Way, which runs from Alton southwards to Queen Elizabeth Country Park, takes in a number of these Hangers, some of the richest woodlands on English chalk.
The well waymarked route passes through Steep and is followed for much of this walk. A longer option continues on as far as the village of Hawkley to the north, a possible pub lunch stop, looping back to re-join the main route on Wheatham Hill.
Both Wheatham Hill and nearby Shoulder of Mutton Hill are two outstanding viewpoints on this walk, the former (known as Cobbett’s View) looking north, the latter looking south towards the South Downs.
A little way down the steep open slope from the top of the Shoulder of Mutton Hill is a memorial stone (a sarsen boulder) to one of Steep’s most notable residents, the poet Edward Thomas.
Born in 1878, his poems were all written during the last few years of his life, which was cut short when he was killed at the Battle of Arras on Easter Monday 1917. A nearby bench provides a good spot from which to sit and enjoy the superb views.
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Within Steep church, a fine building dating from the 12th century, are two windows dedicated to the poet on the centenary of his birth in 1978.
Originally designed and engraved by Laurence Whistler, one of the two was damaged beyond repair by intruders in 2010, and has been replaced with a replica of the original.
The 19th century church at Hawkley, visited on the longer option, is notable for its ‘Rhenish Helm’ tower, a pyramidal roof-topped tower, each of the four sides of the roof being rhomboid in form, a style usually found on the continent.
It’s a visible landmark which can be spotted from afar on this walk.
1) (SU745253) On the opposite side of the road from the church, take the signposted path, waymarked the Hangers Way, next to the gates and head across the playing field to the wood on the far side.
Keep ahead along the main path to reach a kissing gate, and continue along the left-hand edge of a field, the wooded Ashford Hangers visible ahead, bearing round to the right at the far end to another kissing gate and a road junction.
2) (SU741257) Turn right along Mill Lane to where it bends right. Here leave the road on the left and follow the path to the right of a small, pretty waterfall, soon bearing left at the T-junction.
The path runs along a valley, bends right, then left and joins a tarmac drive (The Waterhouse through a gate on the left). Bear right to a lane. Just along the road to the right is the most direct route (on the left) up Shoulder of Mutton Hill.
It is a shortcut, but very steep, and not recommended in wet/muddy conditions, although steps help on the lower section. The path starts alongside the field edge. On entering the woodland, the right fork is the one that leads up the hill, passing the memorial stone on the way.
3) (SU740264) Continuing on the Hangers Way, go left along the lane and when it bends left, turn right by a gate and the Ashford Hangers National Nature Reserve sign. Follow the track through the trees and at a T-junction turn right, steadily gaining height.
The path leads to the Shoulder of Mutton Hill viewpoint, where there’s an information panel and bench. In the distance to the south are the South Downs (the mast on Butser Hill can be spotted).
To reach the Edward Thomas memorial stone you have to descend the steep slope a little distance (a walking pole is useful), then retrace your steps, but it is worth it for the views which are more open here.
4 (SU738269) From the Shoulder of Mutton Hill viewpoint turn left to a T-junction and right along the track. Soon you reach a turn on the left where the Hangers Way continues its journey northwards. The well waymarked route heads downhill to Oakshott, continuing along a valley and thence via Cheesecombe Farm Lane to Hawkley.
To return, retrace your steps along Cheesecombe Farm Lane, but stay on the lane which becomes a rough track (off road cycle trail) leading up to lane. Turn right then left up to Old Litten Lane, re-joining the main route. Continue along the ridge track (Old Litten Lane) to a set of steps on the left.
5 (SU743271) Turn left up these, go through a kissing gate and emerge into the open, the trig point ahead of you. This splendid viewpoint is known as Cobbett’s View, named after William Cobbett, the author of Rural Rides.
Published in the 19th century, it is an account of the horseback journeys he made through the countryside, which included East Hampshire, where he was duly delighted by the hilltop view. Turn right past the trig point back down to the main track where you’ll find an information panel. Bear left to the next junction.
6 (SU745271) Turn sharp right at the junction and follow the bridleway downhill to a lane. Turn right, then left at waypoint 3, re-joining the Hangers Way and retracing earlier steps back to the start.
Start/finish: All Saints’ Church, Steep, just north of Petersfield (SU745253) - roadside parking near church.
Map: OS Explorer OL33
Distance: 4½ miles (7.2km); longer option 7¾ miles (12.4km)
Terrain: Woodland paths and tracks, field paths, country lanes; each loop involves over 200m of ascent.
Time: 2½ - 3 hours; 4 hours for longer option
Public transport: Steep – Petersfield minibus service no 71, once a day on Wed & Fri, Wheel Drive (01730 892052)
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