This is a walk of sheer pleasure over the hills and through the meadows and woods of Hampshire. There are no main roads, very few ploughed fields, some fine views, some surprises, and a fine pub backing onto the Meon River.
Distance: 6½ miles
Map: Explorer 132 (Winchester)
Start: The walk begins at the Beacon Hill Beeches car park SO32 3LG, near Exton and Warnford, Hampshire, grid ref SU 598 227 or you could start from Exton SO32 3NT.
- From the Beacon Hill car park, turn right on the tarmac lane. In 250m, before the road curves right, leave the lane by going straight ahead through a small wooden gate beside a large metal gate by a fingerpost marked South Downs Way. Follow this easy wide sheltered track for about 700m where a farm track joins you from the right. This is the site of Lomer, one of Hampshire’s lost villages. You are approaching the building of Lomer Farm. On reaching it, at a signpost, turn left. Note that you are following part of the Monarch’s Way, a very long historic walk from near Worcester to near Brighton. Keep straight on past two cottages and, at a Tjunction still in the farm, turn left (ignoring both fingers of the signpost), passing a weatherboarded converted barn. You have left the South Downs Way and joined the Wayfarer’s Walk, a long-distance path from Walbury Hill to Emsworth.
- Follow the track out of the farm, between fences, for about 500m. Your track takes you through a large metal gate and out into a big open field. Go straight ahead down the centre. As you near the bottom, where you pass a fingerpost, just continue on the white flinty track, rising up to a stile or an open pair of metal gates. Keep following the main track, curving right uphill. Preshaw Wood on your right contains an earthwork, some iron-age or Romano-British enclosure, documented by English Heritage. At a 3-way junction, turn left on a slightly narrower track, gently downhill, embellished in summer by harebells. Immediately after passing the wood, look to your right for a simple block stile beside large metal gates. Turn right over the stile into a meadow.
- Begin walking the length of the meadow but, in about 40m, as the meadow opens out, veer left towards the woods over on the left-hand side. Here you will catch sight of a stile. Go over the stile and through a narrow piece of woodland to reach an unusual stile with a double bar. (You can lift the latch on the left and slide the top bar out, replacing it afterwards.) Turn right in the field and follow a path along the edge. At the end, go through a metal gate, go over a grassy crossing track and over a stile. In 10m, turn left down the left-hand side of the next field. In the bottom corner, turn right with the field edge in a wooded valley known as Betty Mundy’s Bottom. Her ‘cottage’ is the large house on your right. At the next corner, go left through a small wooden gate. The path turns left into the fascinating wood of King’s Copse. The official footpath turns right here but Betty Mundy has mapped out her own slightly longer walk which the author followed in preference, in order to linger in this delightful wood.
- Keep straight ahead through the wood following Betty Mundy’s Walk on a beechnut path which turns right by a wooden fence. Keep following this wood-chip path beside the fence on your left in this lovely wood. The path turns right again and comes down to meet the footpath again. Turn left on it and go through a small wooden gate beside a large one. Now take a nice clear path across the centre of a crop field. At the far end there are two crossing paths. Turn left on the footpath on the far side of the hedge, thus leaving the Wayfarer’s Walk.
- Your path runs up the left-hand side of a crop field and continues beside woodland on your left. Finally, at the corner, keep straight ahead on a narrow path through a wooden barrier to a tarmac lane. Cross the lane, over a stile, and follow a straight path ahead, sheltered by slender trees. Your path goes over a farm track and into the more mature shade of Corhampton Forest / Littleton Copse. After some conifers, the path crosses some farm tracks. As you come into a more open area with a small crop field, keep straight ahead and ignore a right turn at a marker post. At the top of the field, turn left in the corner. At the end of the path, turn right. On emerging from the wood, keep ahead along the left-hand side of a crop field. At a gap in the hedge, your path zigzags left-right and resumes on the other side of the hedge. At the end, go past a metal gate to a tarmac lane.
- Cross straight over the lane onto a shingle track, slightly to your right. Follow this rather stony path down under trees. The surface gets easier as a footpath joins from the left. As you meet another footpath, this time from the right, your path curves left and veers right again, becoming tarmac. Continue, passing various properties of Exton village. On meeting a lane at a bend, go straight on. Stay with the lane where it bends left by Exton Farm. The lane bends right passing Sunrise Cottage. Your route is next left on Church Lane. However, by keeping straight on, by the wall of Exton House and rounding the corner, you reach the Shoe Inn for a pleasant break.
- Having turned left on Church Lane (that is, right if coming back from the Shoe Inn), go 100m and, just after Bramcote House, turn left on an ascending track signed as the South Downs Way. The track leads through a metal kissing-gate and along the right-hand side of a field. At the first corner, go right into the adjoining meadow and, at a fingerpost, take a path diagonally across the meadow, avoiding a footpath on the left. Sometimes you may pass cattle here; if you wish, you should be able to circumvent them in an adjoining field. The path descends to go through the hedgerow via a wooden swing-gate and continues, a fraction right, up the centre of the next meadow. Two stiles close together are followed by a path to the right in the next meadow, cutting the corner to a stile and a stile in the hedgerow.
- Continue in the same direction and go over two stiles either side of a track. Continue diagonally up the next meadow. At the top, go through a swinggate, up through a band of trees and through another swing-gate. Go diagonally right in the next meadow, up to a wooden swing-gate, and veer left up the hillside. The path gradually levels, with great views behind if you turn round for a breather, to reach the Exton Beacon brazier at the top. Go left through a wooden swing-gate onto a tarmac lane and turn right on it.
- In 20m, turn right at a waymarker for the South Downs Way on a straight path uphill. At the top, go through a wooden gate by an information board for Beacon Hill Nature Reserve. Wheel left to a fingerpost and turn left on a grassy track, passing a triangulation pillar. But by turning right, through a kissing-gate, you can make a quick trip to Beacon Hill Nature Reserve. The extensive ancient earthworks, the views, the flowers and birds (this is a RSPB site) make for a rewarding diversion. You need to retrace your steps afterwards. Beacon Hill Beeches are on your right whilst on your left there are great views of the Solent and Portsmouth, including the Spinnaker Tower. When you reach some tall beeches, there’s a parallel path on your right under the trees. Finally, you pass an information board and go through a small wooden gate beside a large metal gate into the car park where the walk began.