The Wayfarer's Walk is a long-distance hike that follows old shepherds’ tracks from the highest downland in Southern England to the Hampshire coastline.
From a dramatic start high upon Inkpen Beacon, the trail heads over Walbury Hill and Watership Down, through Dummer village, into New Alresford, and through the South Downs National Park. The latter part explores mud flats and salt marsh along the coast to finish at Emsworth Harbour.
The official route is 70 miles (113 km) long. However, with detours to some worthy sites and accommodation this Collection is 77 miles (124 km) in total. The route is typically walked from north to south, as it follows an easier downwards trajectory, but can be completed in either direction.
The walk, which roughly follows an ancient route that shepherds used to drive their sheep to fairs and markets, links two other long-distance hikes; the Test Way in the north and the Solent Way in the south.
Along the way, you walk over some of the finest chalk landscapes in Hampshire, visit many historic places, and are treated to year-round wildlife displays along the coastal salt marshes. There are plenty of great places for pit-stops, too.
Some highlights on the Wayfarer's Walk include: Walbury Hill, the highest natural point in South East England; Watership Down, best known as the setting for the 1972 novel about rabbits; Fulling Mill, a 13th-century thatched mill cottage; New Alresford, a pretty Georgian town renowned for its pastel buildings; the South Downs National Park; Hinton Ampner, a village with a stately home, stunning gardens and historic church; and West Hayling Nature Reserve, home to an internationally-important number of breeding seabirds and overwintering wildfowl.
In this Collection, I split the trail into five stages; 14.7 miles (23.7 km), 14.1 miles (22.7 km), 14.1 miles (22.7 km), 15 miles (24.1 km), and 19.7 miles (31.7 km), respectively. As stage 5 is considerably longer than the others, I have made a suggestion on how you can split the hike. Of course, you can divide the Collection into as many days as you are comfortable with or walk any single stage.
The first two thirds of the trail are quite hilly, however there is nothing too long or too steep to contend with. The final section is flat. As the trail follows waymarked paths and never strays too far from civilisation, it is suitable for all abilities. There is a good choice of accommodation along the route. Although, as ever, scheduling in advance is recommended.
To get to the start of the trail, you can catch a train to Hungerford and then the number 3 bus service (bustimes.org/services/3-newbury-kintbury-hungerford) to Inkpen village. From there, you either need to walk an additional 2 miles (3.2 km) to Inkpen Beacon or arrange a taxi. There is a train station at the end of the trail in Emsworth.
To see the Collection on the Solent Way, click here: komoot.com/collection/1007250/a-picturesque-hike-along-the-hampshire-coastline-solent-way.
Stage 1 climbs the highest chalk hill in England, visits several Iron Age hill forts and explores the setting for a famous novel about talking rabbits.With 14.7 miles (23.7 km) of distance, 775 feet (236 m) of uphill and 1,350 feet (411 m) of downhill, the first stage is fairly challenging and sets the tempo for the rest of the trail.You start on Inkpen Beacon, where glorious views await, and hike past the ghostly Combe Gibbet, which was erected in the 17th century to hang two adulterous murderers. The trail then heads over Walbury Hill, the highest natural point in South East England, and continues through a landscape of farmland and small woodlands.After crossing the A343, you skirt around the extensive parkland of Highclere Castle, which was designed by Capability Brown in the 18th century, and descend steadily to the A34. You then rise over Great Lichfield Down to Ladle Hill, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and Scheduled Monument with breathtaking views.A short step later, you hike over Watership Down, which is best known as the setting for the 1972 novel of the same name’. The hill, which has a partially-completed Iron Age hill fort on its summit, affords far-reaching views.You then depart from the official route briefly to avoid a long stint on the road and descend through fields to finish in Kingsclere. Within the village, you find accommodation and places for food and drink.
This hike winds through Hampshire’s ‘cereal belt’, a landscape of fertile rolling chalk farmland interspersed with traditional villages and pockets of woodlands.Another fairly challenging hike, Stage 2 is 14.1 miles (22.7 km) long with 950 feet (290 m) of uphill and 750 feet (229 m) of downhill.From Kingsclere, you rise south through fields with beautiful views before heading west over Cottington Hill and rejoining the Wayfarer's Walk.It is then a long and gradual descent through peaceful countryside; over For Down, through North Oakley village, into Frith Wood, and around Great Deane Wood and Little Deane Wood. After crossing over the railway line, you head through fields to All Saints, a pretty church on the edge of Deane Park.You cross a second railway line, skirt around Bull's Bushes Copse and South Wood, cross over the M3 motorway, and hike around the golf course to Dummer, where this stage finishes. You find limited accommodation within the village but other options nearby. There are places for food and drink locally, too.
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Stage 3 takes you through serene countryside, over Becket’s Down and Abbotstone Down, to the pretty Georgian town of New Alresford.With 14.1 miles (22.7 km) of distance, 650 feet (198 m) of uphill and 900 feet (274 m) of downhill, this is another reasonably challenging stage. From Dummer, you follow farm tracks over the aptly-named Tidley Hill and across Becket’s Down before dropping into the valley along the Church Lane track to St Peter's Church.You head along the road through Brown Candover village and then take footpaths to Totford village. Here, you find the Woolpack Inn, a traditional pub that is perfectly placed for a pit-stop.You then rise along the Ox Drove Track before joining Spybush Lane to Abbotstone Down. Within this chalk grassland and oak woodland, you can observe the remains of an Iron Age hill fort and many rare species of plants.The trail winds through Abbotstone village to the Five Ways junction and then heads southeast to join the River Arle past watercress beds and the beautiful Fulling Mill. The stage finishes in the handsome town of New Alresford a short-step later, which has accommodation, places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.
You step into the stunning South Downs National Park on this stage to explore picturesque villages, historic architecture and idyllic countryside.Upping the ante ever-so-slightly, the penultimate stage is 15 miles (24.1 km) long with 825 feet (251 m) of uphill and 925 feet (282 m) of downhill. You start by hiking through New Alresford — passing St John’s, an elegant church in the heart of town, and admiring old steam locomotives as you cross the Watercress Line — and leave the pretty Georgian town to the south. At Cheriton village, you pass the Grade I-listed Church of Saint Michael and cross the boundary into the South Downs National Park. You then follow a tarmac road across the A272 and continue to Hinton Ampner, where you find a stunning country house and another pretty church.The trail heads south through fields, cuts through Kilmeston village, rises to the downs once again and intersects with the Monarch's Way long-distance footpath. (To see my Collection on the Monarch’s Way, click here: komoot.com/collection/911739/conquer-the-longest-inland-trail-in-england-monarchs-way-part-1).It is then a long and gradual descent into Droxford village, where you pick-up the course of the River Meon to the finish in Soberton. There are a couple of places to stay in the village. As the White Lion pub serves food and drink and has accommodation, it is a great choice for an overnight stay.
The final stage takes you from the South Downs to the Hampshire coastline, where wildlife, history and beauty blissfully collide.The hardest hike in the Collection, Stage 5 is a challenging 19.7 miles (31.7 km) long. However, with 675 feet (206 m) of uphill and 875 feet (267 m) there is not too much climbing to contend with. (For a suggestion on how to split the stage, read on).Before you leave Soberton, it is worth paying a visit to the Grade I-listed Church of Saint Peter, which has Norman origins but mainly dates to the 13th century. You then head south along the road, rise onto Soberton Down and continue to Hambledon, the village where English cricket was invented. The scenery changes from chalk to clay as you hike to Denmead village and continue south to the outskirts of Portsmouth. As you join Portsdown Hill Road, you find the George Inn, a good place to stop for lunch. If you would like to split the stage, there is accommodation in this area, too.You head east along the road for a fair while, with the exception of a loop around Fort Purbrook, and then wind through Brockhampton to join the coastline. At this point, the trail merges with the Solent Way long-distance path as it heads east along the Hampshire coastline. If you have the legs, it is well worth making a detour from Langstone to Hayling island, which affords wonderful birdlife displays at all times of year. The detour shown here adds 1.8 miles (2.9 km). The trail then heads through fields to Saint Thomas a Becket Church, a striking 12th-century place of worship, and continues along the shoreline to Emsworth, where your journey finishes. There are places to stay, eat and drink in the town, and there is also a train station.