Hampshire walk - Ropley and the Watercress Line
PUBLISHED: 00:00 19 February 2020
A walk around Ropley, the engineering hub of the Watercress Line.
Situated a few miles east of New Alresford, south of the A31, the attractive village of Ropley is surrounded by peaceful rolling countryside, crisscrossed with paths providing scope for a variety of enjoyable walks.
The centre of the village is a Conservation Area with many picturesque old buildings. The oldest part is around St Peter's Church, which was severely damaged by fire in 2014. However rebuilding is now underway - donations are much appreciated.
Ropley Station is one of the four stations on the Mid Hants Railway, known as the Watercress Line. It is located just north of the A31 about a mile from the village. The line first opened in 1865, and although it survived the Beeching cuts of the 1960s it was thereafter closed by British Rail in 1973. A preservation society was formed and thanks to the work of dedicated volunteers and enthusiasts the Mid Hants Railway was re-opened to visitors as a heritage railway in 1977, initially from Alresford to Ropley, with the line later extended to Alton, a distance of ten miles in total. In the past the line was used to transport quantities of locally grown watercress (nearby Alresford being the centre of the watercress industry) to London's Covent Garden market, which gave it its nickname.
Ropley Station, notable for its 130-year-old topiary, is the engineering hub of the Watercress Line and well worth looking round. As well as the carriage restoration and loco shed viewing galleries there is the King's Cross footbridge (used in Harry Potter films, dismantled and removed from King's Cross in 2008) and a miniature railway. Most of those who work on the line - station staff, guards, signalmen and locomotive crews - are volunteers.
Train tickets allow you to hop on and off all day with unlimited travel, so the walk could be started from Ropley Station if wished. There are special events throughout the year, but a particularly special one takes place at the end of this month, with the famous Flying Scotsman coming to the line for the first time ever.
From Ropley, the initial leg of the walk is along a stretch of St Swithun's Way, a 34-mile waymarked route between Winchester and Farnham in Surrey. Thereafter the walk heads northwards gently uphill crossing the Watercress Line, descending to re-cross it by Ropley station, providing opportunities to spot steam trains puffing past.
1. (SU642319) Turn left out of the car park and take the next right, Hammond's Lane. At the T-junction turn right along South Street (no through road) - note the St Swithun's Way waymark on the wooden post. The discs have an image of a shell - a common symbol of pilgrimage - over two crossing crosiers, representing St Swithun, Bishop of Winchester in the 9th century, and St Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury in the 12th century. The route roughly follows the Winchester to Farnham stretch of the Pilgrims' Way, which continues to Canterbury. Soon turn left along a narrow path to another road. The route continues across the road to the right at an entrance drive. Follow the enclosed footpath to another drive which leads to a lane. Bear left along this for about a quarter of a mile.
2. (SU636312) Just past the drive to a house (Rosemount) as the road bends left, turn right through a gap by the end of the hedge and head diagonally across the field, continuing across successive fields via gaps in the hedges. Turn right at the next lane, Teg Down Road, and follow this to the next road junction, turning right along Old Park Road to the A31 roundabout. Head round with care to the B3047 opposite and walk along the pavement, turning right along Northside Lane for a few paces.
3. (SU619317) Turn left at a gate along the field edge path to where the houses begin. Turn right along the edge of the field beside garden fencing on the left (the official footpath begins just a bit further up, accessed from the housing estate, a rather roundabout route). Turn right along the wide grassy path, Green Lane, and look out for a gap in the fence on the left with a footpath waymark. Follow this path gently uphill to the Watercress Line and cross with care. Continue up the next field, cross Northside Lane and carry on to Sutton Beech Wood at the far end of the following field. Follow the waymarked path through the wood keeping ahead at a junction to reach Sutton Wood Lane.
4. (SU625335) Turn right along this back down to the Watercress Line, making use of a couple of footpath shortcuts through woodland on the way. To visit Ropley Station turn right just before the bridge over the line at the entrance which serves both the station car park and the Watercress Lodges and Campsite. The former is straight ahead but if the gates are closed the station can be accessed by following the drive round to the right and then left through the grounds of the latter, situated alongside. Take the path from the toilets down to the station. Retrace steps to the road and cross the bridge.
5. (SU632325) Fork left at a footpath fingerpost and follow the path diagonally downhill to the A31. Cross with care and continue along Gascoigne Lane on the opposite side to the right. Follow this for a short distance to a stile on the right. Continue across the field and at a crossing path keep straight ahead to the far corner. Go through a gap into the recreation ground and keep along the right hand side to a gap in the fence, turning left along the lane back to the car park.
Start/finish: Parish Hall car park, Ropley (SU642319)
Map: OS Explorer OL32
Distance: six miles (9.5km)
Terrain: Country lanes, field and woodland paths
Time: Three hours
Refreshments: Ropley Courtyard Community Shop 01962 773666; ropleycourtyardshop.com Shop (drinks, snacks
and ice creams) and pleasant picnic area at Ropley Station
Public transport: Limited bus service 240 from New Alresford to Ropley; Stagecoach bus 64 from Winchester to Alton (stop for Ropley on A31), traveline.info
Further information: Watercress Line
01962 733810; watercressline.co.uk;
Accommodation: Watercress Lodges and Campsite, right next to Ropley station on the Watercress line
07803 728754; watercresslodges.co.uk