Hampshire walk across the North Hampshire Downs at Ecchinswell
PUBLISHED: 15:28 20 December 2016 | UPDATED: 15:28 20 December 2016
© Steve Davison
Steve Davison heads to Ecchinswell for an easy wander across the North Hampshire Downs below Watership Down, inspiration for the classic book
The rolling North Hampshire Downs, which lie within the North Wessex Downs area of outstanding natural beauty – the largest and least developed tracts of chalk downland in southern England – offer great walking opportunities and this month we head to the little village of Ecchinswell for a wander below Watership Down.
Ecchinswell, mentioned in the Domesday Book as ‘Eceleswelle’ when it provided ‘supplies for the monks of Winchester’, has a history stretching back over a thousand years; the name dates from Saxon times and probably means the ‘trees by the well or spring’; springs still rise in the village. It was close to these springs that the original church was built, though this was replaced by the gothic styled, St Lawrence’s Church in the 19th century. In the centre of the village is the Royal Oak pub.
A quick look at the map reveals place names that many have probably heard of, such as Nuthanger Farm and Watership Down, for it was in this area that Richard Adams, who has lived at Whitchurch for 30 odd years, set his classic Watership Down.
Originally made up for his children whilst in the car, the story about a group of rabbits was rejected several times before it became a classic.
After leaving the recreation ground the walk heads into the village before meandering into rolling countryside with distant views of Watership Down, passing close to Nuthanger Farm, beautifully described by Adams: “There is a broad knoll, steeper on the North side, but falling gently on the South. Within a ring of elm tree stands the farmhouse, with its barns and out-buildings. The house may be two hundred years old or it may be older, built of brick, with a stone-faced front looking south towards the down..”
In the novel, Nuthanger Farm is home to Mr and Mrs Cane and their daughter, Lucy. It was here that Hazel comes to try and free the hutch rabbits that Kehaar – the seagull – had spotted. Later Hazel, Blackberry and Dandelion release the family dog from the farm to frighten off the Efrafan attackers, which leads to the defeat of General Woundwort and salvation of the warren. During this episode, Hazel is captured by the farm cat and is rescued by Lucy, before being driven back to Watership Down, fulfilling one of the book’s prophecies.
Leaving the farm, the walk meanders through open countryside, passing Watership Farm, close to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s home at Sydmonton Court, before heading back to Ecchinswell.
• Start/finish: Ecchinswell village hall and recreation ground car park on the main street (SU500597)
• Map: OS Explorer 144
• Distance: 4 miles (6.4km)
• Terrain: gentle ups and downs, tracks and paths which can be muddy, some stiles and gates, short sections of country road
• Time: 2 hours without stops
• Refreshments: The Royal Oak (01635 297355) at Ecchinswell
• More Information: To find out more about Steve, including his books, visit: www.steve-davison.co.uk
1 (SU502591) – Exit the car park and turn right along the road (125m to the left is St Lawrence’s Church). Follow the road past the war memorial and school to reach a junction; 150m ahead is the Royal Oak pub. Turn left along Mill Lane and keep ahead along the enclosed track as it curves left and right. Continue along the fenced path and shortly enter a field. Turn right alongside the right-hand field edge, cross a footbridge and stile at the field corner. Head diagonally left (southwards) up through the next field, passing a wooden electricity pole. Leave over a stile at the field corner and turn left along the lane for 50m.
2 (SU495590) – Turn right along the wide hedge-lined path, then continue along the raised, tree-shaded, path. Continue uphill beside Nuthanger Copse (right) with a fence on the left and then follow the right-hand field margin to a track (to the left is the broad sweep of Watership Down). Turn right down the track for 30m; ahead is Nuthanger Farm. Turn left along the track passing a building and just before a house, turn right. Continue down past a small stable and then between trees and a fence. Keep ahead along the lane for a few metres to draw level with a house on the right.
3 (SU489593) – Turn left along the track for 600m, then keep ahead past the stable buildings at Watership Farm. Continue along the track with trees on the left for a short distance and keep ahead between open fields to a T-junction. Turn right along hedge-lined track, soon on the left are some cottages (Laundry Cottages), we follow the track at it curves right and left to reach a minor road.
4 (SU500597) – Cross over and follow the lane opposite for 600m, passing Cowhouse Farm (left) to a track on the right. Turn along the track, passing alongside a field and then through Crowmarsh Copse. Continue through the next field, keeping the trees on the left and then continue straight on along the left-hand edge of the playing field to arrive back at the car park.