From: A circular walk from Bentley station to Kingsley.
Length: 9.9 miles.
Average Walk Time: About 5 hours.
Terrain: A pull up at the start and a steep climb after lunch, but it's very short.
Suitable for dogs: Yes.
Look out for: Deer in Alice Holt and pheasants in the fields.
Start at Bentley station. If you are starting from the car park or platform 1, walk to the Farnham (East) end of the platform and carefully cross the tracks. If you come on the train into platform 2, walk to the Farnham end of the platform. Either way, go through a white wooden gate into Alice Holt forest. The track climbs gently, turning a right-hand bend and then climbs steeplier (if that's a word). After 300m, cross straight over a notable track crossroads. Another almost 400m, and you come to the Alice Holt Research Station. Ignore the inviting road which forks left and fork right instead. Another 300m and you come to another major track crossroads. Here you turn left, signed the Shipwrights Way. Swiftly the forest thins on your RIGHT side (if it thins on your left, you turned the wrong way at the last crossroads).
The Shipwrights Way is a 50-mile long distance footpath that runs from Bentley to the Portsmouth Historic Dockyards. It is meant to follow a mythical route along which loggers would have dragged the oak trunks to the dockyard to build the fleets of ships in the past. It's a bit of a construct and doesn't follow a particularly walkable route (a large chunk is on a main road), but that's for another day. Who knows, in time I might walk it, but it's quite far down the list.
Anyway, back to us. Soon, your route will reach the main A325. Cross this carefully as it's busy. Your footpath continues on the other side and quickly winds left. After 100m you λ into a main track where you turn a sharp right down a small hill. This track wiggles and winds through the forest until after 400m you come to a 5-way crossing. Using clockface notation (12 o'clock is straight ahead) take the path at 10.30 – left but not the hard, 9 o'clock, left. You will soon arrive at the visitor centre, where the hardest part of the navigation (description anyway) comes into play.
Pass the post with the owl sculptures and cross the first minor tracky road. Continue straight ahead, ignoring the sizeable wooden café on your left. Follow the road for a few metres and look for the second footpath* on your left; the first cuts back towards the café, whereas the second leads straighter. This winds through the wood and soon comes to a direction post where you take the straight-ahead/rightish option 'Easy Access Trail'. At the second post, choose the 'Easy Option' again, which is slightly uphill. Through the trees, you should be able to see the car park. *If you missed the second left footpath, walk through the 'pay and display' car park on the left and look for the 'Easy Access Trail' out the back of it.
Either way, you're on the trail now. A children's sculpture of a rabbit on your left is followed by the Gruffalo slightly on the right. At this, turn right, and you will come quickly to a minor road. Cross this and turn left. After 80m, turn off the road right. Almost immediately, turn slightly left (10.30 on the clock), ignoring the 9 o'clock left. Last awkward turn of the day, after 300m, at the only notable cross-path, turn right. Left and straight on are the Shipwright's Way – you want neither, having arrived at this point on a shortcut and leaving the Way here.
The path continues straight for around 100m, crossing a stile, an open field (keep straight, do not deviate on the leftish way), navigate a second stile and back into the forest. You come back to the A325, which you cross – carefully again please as it hasn't got any unbusier (my second new word of this walk). Continue straight, and you soon reach another minor road. Cross and enter the parking area, then past the lovely farm on the right, fishing pond and lawn. Duck under the barrier (it is a public footpath) and look for the small signed footpath straight ahead, leading into the woods. Don't follow the main track around the right corner.
The path ahead is narrow and can be boggy, but after 400m, you come to a tall forest lookout platform. You can't miss this – it's a wooden 'hide' with roof and low walls on tall wooden legs. Turn left here. Immediately go straight over the main track and continue between the trees. The forest ends in 250m, and immediately after the end turn right. Stick with the wood on your right, until an inviting open gate beckons you into an open field straight ahead. Ignore this, zigging left down a nettly path and almost immediately zagging right. Another 50m and the trail turns left. Now keep going all the way to the B3004.
Cross this minor road and enter the woodlands, ignoring the MOD training grounds and warning UXB signs. Turn right on the first right-hand footpath and then keep going straight. Soon you will reach a fishing pond on your left (Kingsley Pond) and The Cricketer's Inn. Lunch beckons, either in the pub, around the lake or wherever you fancy. Fed and supped, return to the front of the Inn, and cross the B3004 into a marked footpath along a minor road to the haulage company. The path goes to the right of their yard (it looks as though it's actually though it).
Into fields now, before a set of steps takes you up and over the disused railway line. Landing at the bottom of the steps, take a right at 2 o'clock. Follow this (nettly path) to the minor road, and cross straight over. The trail is along the short, tree-lined avenue, through the wooden garden gate. At the far end, wiggle right and left around a cottage, over a couple of stiles which wind leftwards around their garden, before arriving at open countryside again. At the first big field, turn right. A signed path through the wooded field boundary (a slight left and right) takes you to a second field. At the end of this, there's a more-definite left and signed right into the copse. This brings you to the North Face of the Eiger.
Deep breath, up the steps and emerge into the corner of the field, panting. Follow the right-side boundary until you arrive at the gorgeous Wheatley Farm, where you turn left down a gravelled track through the open countryside. Look for a very definite tree-lined and forested field boundary on your right. Just before that, leave the road, enter the field and follow its edge. Turn right with the boundary. At the end of the trees, the path turns right and then kinks right again. Finally, you arrive at a minor road, where you turn left.
100m more and another footpath turns off right. After 100m, it goes through the hedge on the left and turns left. Follow the trees now and kink left, kink right and then turn right, still following trees. A bit of a downhill/uphill takes you to a small open field where you kink left and reach a minor road. Cross this, ignore the minor road ahead and take the steppy path on the left bank opposite. Walk past the farm at a high level and enter a field where you turn a slight right. Cross the field to the tree boundary straight ahead and turn left. Now follow the hanger around its edge until it turns a sharp right. Here, turn left instead and after 20m, turn right again. Ignore the kissing gate on the right and follow the field edge. At the end of the next field, turn right and cross a stile. Now walk along the side of the forest in an area frequently invaded by sheep. Leave the field at the far left corner (another stile) and walk downhill through the woods. This will emerge into an open area where you cross and kink right so the trees ahead of you are on your left side.
Almost there! The exit from this field is not in the corner; it's 50m to the right through a gap in the hedge. Sometimes there's a path through the crop, but sometimes there isn't. Whichever, don't leave the field by the gate in the corner, leave it by the gap in the hedge. Cross straight over the minor road, cross a small open area and follow the tree border of the next field which will be on your left. Lo and behold, out of nowhere, comes Bentley Station and your return home.
I hope you enjoy this walk; it's another favourite of mine.