Route for a Hampshire walk around Old Winchester Hill
- Credit: Fiona Barltrop
Enjoy far-reaching views from Old Winchester Hill on a walk from the pretty village of Exton in the Meon valley
Despite its name, Old Winchester Hill is situated quite a distance from Winchester itself, some 11 miles or so southeast of the city. The 198m/648ft high hill is crowned by an impressive Iron Age hillfort within which are a number of Bronze Age barrows. On a clear day the views - which stretch to the Isle of Wight - are excellent.
The hill is also a National Nature Reserve (with the hillfort at its southern end), important for its flower-rich chalk grassland, the flowers attracting a large number of butterflies, especially the chalkhill blue, in summer. The reserve is a good location for bird watching, too.
Both the South Downs Way and Monarch's Way go over the hill, the former climbing from the small, charming village of Exton in the Meon valley below to the west, where this walk starts. The Shoe Inn at Exton is a very popular pub, ideal for walkers, with views of Old Winchester Hill from its lovely riverside garden.
Close by in the Meon valley are the villages of Meonstoke and Corhampton, passed through on the return leg of the walk. Meonstoke has both a pub and village shop, while Corhampton is notable for its Saxon church, which unusually has no known dedication.
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- Start/finish: Parking area at north end of Church Lane, near junction with A32 (SU617212)
- Map: OS Explorer OL3
- Distance: 6½ miles (10.25km)
- Terrain: Chalk downland - footpaths and bridleways, country lanes
- Time: 3 hours
- Refreshments: Shoe Inn, Exton
1) (SU617212) Cross the A32 just beyond the parking area and follow the South Downs Way (SDW) footpath route (which is joined by the bridleway route when you reach the old railway line). The path leads to a footbridge over the River Meon, a lovely chalk stream.
2) 100m further on, turn left, as signed, to continue on the SDW to the old railway line, now the route of the Meon Valley Trail, used by walkers, cyclists and horse-riders. Steps lead up to it and down the other side opposite (although the bridleway route avoids the steps by turning briefly left along the trail and then right down a sloping track).
3) Continue along the SDW bridleway which bends right, ignoring the footpath that keeps ahead. Now clear of the trees, the SDW follows the fence line round the edge of fields and begins its ascent of Old Winchester Hill.
At a junction with the Monarch's Way (which turns left), the SDW footpath goes along the left edge of the hedge while the bridleway keeps to the right hand side. Follow the latter for better views.
4) (SU636206) Where the SDW bridleway turns right, go through the gap in the hedge on the left and turn immediately right to continue up the footpath which takes you into the Old Winchester Hill Nature Reserve. The path heads up through the trees and emerges on the grassy open summit slopes.
5) Keep straight to the trig point that marks its top, a toposcope alongside. Continue across the grass to reach an information panel about the hillfort with a well-placed bench next to it: an excellent spot from which to enjoy the views.
6) The next little loop could be omitted if preferred, but it's worth the effort in order to enjoy more fine views from atop the hill. Follow the steps leading down from the bench and continue on the path along the hillside, bearing right up the grass at the end to go through a gate.
7) Follow the path round to the left to reach parallel tracks and the route of the SDW. Turn right back to the bench.
8) (SU643205) From the bench/viewpoint, go through the gate and turn right along the bridleway route of the SDW. The path turns left to descend fairly steeply, then goes right alongside fields on the left. Ignore a turning on the left and keep ahead. Before long the path bears slightly right then left to continue with the hedge on the left and fence on the right.
9) (SU636204) At the T-junction turn left, leaving the SDW. Follow the grassy bridleway gently downhill, turning right after 150m to continue down a bridleway which becomes a more defined track, called Mill End Lane. This leads to Harvestgate Farm and Stock's Lane.
10) (SU627200) Turn right and opposite the next house on the right go left along a footpath that heads diagonally right across the field (NB not as marked on the OS map). Go through a kissing gate and continue along the footpath to a lane.
11) Cross, go over a stile and follow the footpath which goes left and right around the field edge (not directly across, as shown on the OS map). Cross a stile and continue through the next field to a crossroads. Keep ahead, the road going over the disused railway line below. At the first junction follow the road round to the left and at the next to go right.
12) (SU612201) Just before the Bucks Head turn right along the no-through road past the green to St Andrew's Church, which dates to the 13th century. The tower's attractive and distinctive open top was added in 1900.
13) Follow the footpath through the churchyard (church on left) to a lane and turn left to the A32, the village shop on the corner. Cross to the pavement opposite and turn left for 100m to Corhampton Church.
The footpath turns right along the drive to the right of the church, but the entrance to the church (which passes an ancient yew tree) is just beyond. Note the wall paintings inside.
14) After visiting the church, follow the drive and bear right past the brick and timber house on the left. Cross the stile and follow the footpath back to Exton. Keep ahead when you reach the road, and bear round to the right at the first junction, continuing ahead at the next junction.
15) At the following junction turn left past the Shoe. To visit the Church of St Peter and St Paul, which dates to the 13th century, go left at the T-junction, then retrace steps to the junction and keep ahead back to the start.
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