From: A linear walk from Farnham to Alton along the Pilgrims' Way. Technically you can start anywhere in Farnham, but it makes sense to start at the Parish Church of St Andrew in Upper Church Lane.
Length: 10 1/2 miles.
Average Walk Time: Around 5 hours.
Terrain: By and large, gently undulating. This route avoids all the hills.
Suitable for dogs: Yes.
Look out for: Other pilgrims walking the trail. They are really few and far between, and most will be going the other way.
The normal way to get from Farnham to Alton is along the North Downs Way. This less-well-known route follows more closely the ancient trackway that the pilgrims would have walked along. Nowadays most of that line is under the A31, but this route, from Winchester to Canterbury in its entirety, follows the trackway as closely as possible. As a result, it follows more small roads and is a little closer to the A31 than its counterpart. However, for frequent travellers along the ways, it makes a pleasant change and has a lot going for it.
It makes sense, in my mind anyway, to start the journey from a church, so this route starts from St Andrew's. However, I can't offer a shrine (or even a church) to end with, apart from the great temple of Alton Station. Please forgive me. Maybe you will want to walk further and end in Winchester. That will be the subject of another walk.
Having suggested a start, we will begin at St Andrew's Church and leave from the far-right corner down the walled path to the Water Meadows. If you are standing in the church porch, exit and turn left, round the West end of the church and the path is in the corner diagonally to your right. Follow this path as it twists and turns until it disgorges you into the Meadows. After 100m, the path kinks right, and you take a metalled path ahead of you and slightly left, cutting diagonally across the field. When you reach the other side, the path kinks left again, and the path exits the meadow over a small footbridge and past a couple of buildings to a gravel track which crosses you. Turn right here and follow this track, which quick reverts to a footpath. Now follow the path all the way to the end, when it dumps you at the side of the A31.
The hardest part of the walk is now staring you in the face. You have to cross the dual carriageway. There is a generous central reservation but take your time. The road is extremely busy, and this is not a race. Please be super-careful here. Once across, turn right and immediately look for a footpath on your left, bearing away from the road. This becomes a gravelled track called The Hatches, and after 400m of surprisingly pleasant walking, it disgorges you on to the A325, Wrecclesham Road, where you turn left. Cross under the railway bridge and take the second road on the right (Riverdale). There is a convenient traffic-lit pedestrian crossing to use.
Walk along Riverdale for a couple of hundred metres, and it kinks left. Then about 50m further and look for a footpath onto playing fields on the right. Cross straight over the first field, and a path starts at a gap between a hedge and some trees. After 200m, it turns sharp right. Now follow it down the side of the gravel works until it reaches the railway line where you turn left. The path now follows the railway for 800m, until an underpass takes you under the tracks. Immediately after the railway, turn left again over a stile. Now follow the edge of the wood, over a couple of stiles. When the river pulls away from the side of the wood, follow the river bank. Eventually (at another stile) it reaches a minor road at Bentley Mill. Turn right and almost immediately, you are faced with the A31 again.
This crossing is not as bad as the last one but take it carefully. Directly opposite is a small road which curves off left. Follow this. A short distance later, the road turns a slight right at the very impressive entrance to Marsh House. Another 150m and you cross over a minor crossroads. The observant and frequent walkers among you will notice this is the St Swithuns Way crossing our route. Wave goodbye to it, for now, we will be back on it all too soon. 150m more and a T-junction beckons where you turn left. Take the first road on the right (which you might recognise) to the 12th-century, St Mary's Bentley. The church is worth a stop (maybe lunch?).
Having replenished the tanks, leave the church taking the road on your right. If you hadn't stopped, you would have walked to the corner in the road and turned left. After 100m, the road T-junctions and you turn right and almost immediately left up a footpath. Follow the path for 300m, and the path again T-junctions. Again, turn right. Had you turned left, you would have continued along the St Swithuns way, but this is a new route. Very soon the path turns left and goes along the side of Pax Hill. Now a retirement home, this was formerly the home of Sir Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Scouts, and his wife, Olave, who was the first Chief Guide of Britain. In its time Pax Hill has been a house, a base for Canadian troops, and a Domestic Science Training School for girls. In the 1980s it was even a boarding school for boys.
Walk on past the end of the house, and cross a stile into the next field. Now the hardest route-finding part of the walk. Pass a copse (which has a manky pond in it) on your left. After 100m, the path turns right (easy so far), then follow a fence for 150m. KEEP AN EYE OUT on your left, as there is a hidden stile. If you miss this, you end up following a hedge line which turns right – WRONG! Retrace your steps and look for the stile – it's easier to see going back. Cross it and turn right to another stile only a few metres after. Cross a field (with horned sheep that probably won't be there when you visit but still). A mere 50m takes you to a third stile which disgorges you onto a road. Turn left through a very pretty hamlet. At the T-junction, it's a right and a left up a farm track.
Three hundred metres passing the alpacas puts you onto a minor road. One kilometre more and you pass the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Upper Froyle. Keep going … getting closer now. Walk on past Froyle Park (a wedding venue) and ignore the road as it turns to the left. Fork left immediately after this and pass an engineering works to Rawles Motorsport, which often has interesting historic cars in its works. The track takes you downhill and at the bottom breaks into an open field. Cross this diagonally right on the footpath into the copse the other side. Follow the edge of the copse (on your left) until it meets a farm track, then a hedge line on your right. At the end of the hedge, pass through a field boundary and across three fields until the path becomes a small lane. At the end of the lane is the last church, Church of Holy Rood, Holybourne. Continue roughly straight down Howard's Lane, which soon turns left. Look now for a footpath on your right continuing your line towards Alton. You pass the back of the very swish Treloar's College and then the playing fields of Eggar's School. Finally, the path reaches a junction where you crawl through the hedge and now cross the playing fields diagonally left to the corner of the left-hand pavilion.
Down the side of the pavilion, across the next field and take a small break in the hedge and cross Anstey Lane. Hold your excitement in check as the houses of Alton beckon. There are four footpaths now, one after the other. The first, directly across from the exit of the playing field on Anstey Lane takes you through to Chalcrafts; the second goes to Lansdowne Road; the third to Park Close Road and the fourth and final to Nursery Road. Here you turn left. At the end is the main road, Anstey Road. Turn right and immediately left past Waitrose to the station and you're there.
I'm sorry we can't offer a grand Cathedral at the finish but hold that thought. Winchester will follow later. I hope you enjoyed this new route. I certainly did. If you want to walk it with us, check out the Farnham Walking Festival as this will be the route for our walk on Monday, 18 May. Maybe see you then?