Hampshire walk - Selborne
PUBLISHED: 00:00 15 April 2020
A figure-of-eight walk around Selborne, following Gilbert White’s footsteps.
The attractive village of Selborne, situated in the South Downs National Park in the east of the county, is famous for its association with the great 18th century naturalist, Gilbert White, best known for his book The Natural History of Selborne. First published in 1789, the book comprises letters to fellow naturalists meticulously recording his observations of the flora and fauna around the village. It has never been out of print, and is said to be one of the most published books in the English language. White’s great work has inspired naturalists from Charles Darwin to David Attenborough and Chris Packham.
Gilbert White was born in Selborne in his grandfather’s vicarage in 1720, was educated in Basingstoke and thereafter went to Oriel College, Oxford. After being ordained and returning to Hampshire, he worked as a curate in nearby Farringdon as well as Selborne itself. He inherited the Selborne family home, The Wakes (named after the Wake family who had lived there previously) in 1763 and lived there for the rest of his life, dying in 1793. He was a keen gardener, and gradually acquired land and extended the garden. Both house and garden – which has been recreated using White’s diaries and correspondence – are open to the public. To mark the 300th anniversary of Gilbert White’s birth, various events are taking place through the year.
The house is also home to the Oates Collections where visitors can learn about the explorer and naturalist, Frank Oates, and his nephew, Captain Lawrence Oates, who accompanied Captain Scott on his epic journey to the South Pole in 1912 (leaving his tent with the famous last words, “I am just going outside and may be some time”). Although the family had no tenable connection with the house, an Oates descendant provided funds to purchase the property, which operates as an independent charitable trust.
As well as the house museum, the charity also runs the Gilbert White Field Studies Centre, located at the back of the village car park, which aims to inspire interest in the natural world in young people.
While the house and garden are worth visiting, to appreciate the surrounding landscape that Gilbert White knew and loved it’s best to head out and follow in his footsteps. This figure-of-eight walk combines a loop over Selborne Hill, whose beech-wooded hillside (known as a hanger) rises steeply above White’s home, with a second, more gentle circuit around the valley of the Oakhanger Stream. The National Trust looks after both Selborne Common (which covers most of Selborne Hill) and the valley meadows and woodlands (the Lythes). The walk starts with a climb of the famous Zig-Zag path to the top of the hill that Gilbert and his brother constructed. The views well repay the effort. The house and garden could be visited on the return to the village before the second loop, or thereafter.
1. (SU742335) From the entrance to the car park follow the footpath signed ZIG ZAG Selborne Common. Soon go through a gate into the National Trust land of Selborne Common – look out for the information panel – and head up the Zig-Zag path, which White and his brother cut in 1753. The views improve as you climb. There’s a seat on the way up and another at the top with a sarsen stone nearby, placed there by White.
2. (SU741332) Bear right up the steps, ignore right fork and follow the path to a kissing gate and another information panel. Ignore the path forking left and keep ahead along the wide grassy path through the trees across Selborne Common, ignoring paths that join from the right. Keep left at a fork passing a clearing on the right and continue to a signposted path intersection (another nearby to the left) and gate just beyond.
3. (SU729328) Turn left and head down the bridleway Green Lane (track) to the lane below. Cross and follow the footpath diagonally across the field to another lane. Bear right along this lane, ignoring a right turn and continue to a road junction.
4. (SU738326) Cross to a stile in the hedge opposite and follow the path, waymarked the Hangers Way, ahead through the field, then right passing behind Homestead Farm. Continue along the Hangers Way eventually joining a lane leading back to the car park. Bear left through the village passing Gilbert White’s House on the left.
5. (SU741337) Just beyond this follow the paved path across the green on the right to the entrance to the churchyard. Pass the church – worth a look inside – on your left. St Mary’s Church was founded in Saxon times; the present church with its Norman tower and nave mostly dates from the 12th century. Gilbert White’s grave is tucked away on the north side of the church marked, as he wished, with a simple inscription ‘GW 26th June 1793’. Go through a kissing gate at the far end of the churchyard and, continuing on the Hangers Way, follow the grassy path gently downhill, cross a footbridge and carry on through the Short Lythe and Long Lythe.
6. (SU747343) Go through a kissing gate at the far end of the Long Lythe, open meadow ahead. Leaving the Hangers Way (which forks left) keep ahead passing to the right of a pond and between two more. Follow the path along the edge of Coombe Wood to a track/bridleway and turn right to Priory Farm. Continue along the byway (the Writers’ Way), which becomes Huckers Lane leading back to Selborne. Turn left at the T-junction back to the car park.
Start/finish: Selborne car park behind Selborne Arms (SU742335)
Map: OS Explorer OL33
Distance: 5¾ miles (9.1km)
Terrain: Woodland and field paths, country lanes, roadside pavement. One fairly steep climb at start, but eased by zigzags.
Time: Three hours
Refreshments: Selborne Arms 01420 511247, White’s café/bistro at Gilbert White’s House 01420 571063
Public transport: Stagecoach bus 38 from Petersfield to Alton via Selborne stagecoachbus.com
Further information: Gilbert White’s House & the Oates Collections 01420 511275; gilbertwhiteshouse.org.uk; visit-hampshire.co.uk