Hampshire’s best walks: 7.5-mile South Downs Way circular from Exton

PUBLISHED: 15:29 18 August 2020 | UPDATED: 15:37 18 August 2020

View from Beacon Hill

View from Beacon Hill

Fiona Barltrop

Take in views from the South Downs Way on this circular walk from Exton via Beacon Hill says FIONA BARLTROP

Situated in the lovely Meon Valley about 10 miles south-east of Winchester, the small, charming village of Exton makes an excellent walking base.

The 100-mile South Downs Way National Trail, which runs from Winchester to Eastbourne in East Sussex, passes through the village, descending from Beacon Hill to the north-west and climbing to the top of Old Winchester Hill on the opposite side of the valley.

River Meon, ExtonRiver Meon, Exton

Both hills are National Nature Reserves, important for their flower-rich chalk grasslands, the flowers attracting a large number of butterflies, especially the Chalkhill Blue, in summer. Both make good walks in their own right, with fine views from the summits.

The River Meon, one of Hampshire’s beautiful chalk streams, rises in the chalk downs near East Meon, then arcs southwards reaching the Solent at Titchfield Haven. The popular Shoe Inn at Exton has a pretty riverside garden with views of Old Winchester Hill.

River Meon at the Shoe Inn, ExtonRiver Meon at the Shoe Inn, Exton

Running along the east side of the valley, just a short walk from Exton, is the 11-mile Meon Valley Trail, which follows a disused railway line, linking West Meon in the north with Wickham in the south.

The wide level track, which is open to cyclists and horse-riders, as well as walkers, is suitable for pushchairs and mobility scooters and ideal for those wanting an easy stroll.

Site of Lomer medieval village (on right), along the South Downs Way between pts 2 & 3Site of Lomer medieval village (on right), along the South Downs Way between pts 2 & 3

This fairly energetic walk takes in Beacon Hill, following the South Downs Way as far as Lomer Farm for its outward leg. From there it follows a stretch of another long distance walking route, the waymarked Wayfarer’s Walk, a 70-mile trail that begins in Berkshire atop Inkpen Beacon crossing Hampshire from north to south to finish on the coast at Emsworth Harbour.

This walk heads southwards along it via a memorably named wooded valley called Betty Mundy’s Bottom. Leaving the Wayfarer’s Walk, the final leg returns to Exton via Corhampton Forest.

Church of St Peter & St Paul, ExtonChurch of St Peter & St Paul, Exton

1) (SU617212) From the parking area walk along Church Lane away from the A32 into the village, keeping ahead at the first junction to pass the Church of St Peter and St Paul, which dates to the 13th century, on your right.

About 200m beyond the church turn right up a track signposted the South Downs Way, a footpath route for walkers only. Follow the well waymarked footpath which leads across fields uphill, steepening towards the end when it joins a lane. Atop the field, just before the lane, is the Exton Beacon, erected in 2012 to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

Exton BeaconExton Beacon

Turn right at the lane and right again up a fenced footpath that leads to the trig point on top of Beacon Hill. Turn left alongside Beaconhill Beeches to the car park.

2) (SU598227) Still following the South Downs Way (SDW), bear right along the lane, and when it bends right keep ahead through a gate to continue on the SDW (here shared with a stretch of another long-distance route, the Monarch’s Way).

Just past Lomer Cottage on the left is the site of Lomer medieval village. At Lomer Farm turn left at the first junction and continue to the next junction.

Church Lane, Exton, between parking area and villageChurch Lane, Exton, between parking area and village

3) (SU589236) Leaving the SDW turn left along the Wayfarer’s Walk (WW) and follow the track to a gate. On the other side, keep ahead across the field, as waymarked (although the OS map shows the WW turning initially left then right).

At the far side the track continues through a gate alongside Preshaw Wood on the right. At a junction where a track joins from the right, bear left. Soon bear diagonally right across a field to a stile in the trees opposite.

Beacon Hill National Nature ReserveBeacon Hill National Nature Reserve

Go through the trees to another stile, bearing right, as waymarked. Continue to follow the waymarks carefully. The part of the route passing the property shown on the map as Betty Mundy’s Cottage is along a fenced path through woodland (Betty Mundy’s Bottom). Exit through a gate and continue through the middle of an open field.

4) (SU578214) Turn left at the next junction, leaving the WW, and head up the footpath along the left edge of the field. At the top of the field go through a gap in the trees to the road.

Beacon Hill National Nature ReserveBeacon Hill National Nature Reserve

Cross straight over and follow the path opposite which leads through Corhampton Forest. Ignore a right turn. Thereafter the path turns left and then right to reach the road (Beacon Hill Lane).

5) (SU595208) Continue down the track opposite, which becomes a lane leading back to Exton. At the road junction ignore the left turn and keep ahead along Allens Farm Lane, following it round to the left a bit further on.

Bear right at the next junction, ignore the next left and thereafter follow the lane round to the left past the Shoe Inn back to the start.

Exton walkExton walk

Start/finish: Parking area at north end of Church Lane, near junction with A32 (SU617212)

Map: OS Explorer OL3 or OS Explorer OL32 (both cover the route)

Distance: 7½ miles (12km)

Terrain: Chalk downland – footpaths and bridleways, quiet country lanes. The South Downs Way route signs around Exton have been marked as ‘temporary’ for many years, since a permanent all-user route across the Meon Valley has yet to be resolved. (There are different routes for SDW walkers and cyclists/horse-riders across the Meon Valley between Beacon Hill and Old Winchester Hill via Exton.) Ignore, unless the footpath route followed at the start has been re-routed.

Time: 3½ hours

Refreshments: Shoe Inn, Exton (01489 877526)

Public transport: Stagecoach bus 67 between Winchester and Petersfield via West Meon (nearest stop to Exton), stagecoachbus.com.

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