Cannonballs and steam trains (9 miles)
From: A circular walk from the Parish Hall at Ropley to Bishop's Sutton and back. Car Park postcode for sat navs SO24 0DJ. There's a red phone box on the side of the road to guide you in!
Length: 9 miles.
Average Walk Time: Around 4 1/2 hours.
Terrain: Fairly level as these things go.
Suitable for dogs: Yes.
Look out for: Cannon balls at the Battle of Chawton and trains after lunch.
Leave the car park and turn left on the small road. Almost immediately, turn right on another, smaller road. Those of you who know my routes will immediately recognise this as part of the St Swithun's Way, and you pick up their markers from this corner. You'll stick on this route for around a kilometre. At the end of this section of road (200m) you come to a T-junction, where you turn right. After 50m, take a small signed footpath on the left. (Ⓐ on the photos). This takes you to another road (20m), which you cross, slightly diagonally right. A new footpath takes you to a road, which goes uphill. As the road passes a farm, take a stile on the right (Ⓑ on the pictures) and cross a field diagonally. The path is extremely well trodden, and crosses several fields.
Five hundred metres on, it reaches a country road, where you can wave farewell to the St Swithun's Way and turn left. Winchester is around 13 miles to the right if you fancy that. Assuming you've stuck with me, look for a gate on the right and turn here uphill across a field Ⓒ. When we crossed it, corn was the crop of choice. Being fans of horror films, the over-head-height produce was a tad scary. Luckily, the path was well-marked.
Almost a kilometre more, and the path crosses the corner of a wood, a small road and neds round right. Ⓓ. Route finding is basically easy, there's a right turn at Ⓔ which is easy to spot. The path disgorges you onto back roads again, and now look out for the markers showing the Battle of Chawton (29th March, 1644). When we walked the route, a re-enactment was in full force. The sound of muskets and cannon balls echo'ed around and we felt like ducking as simulated lead shot whistled overhead. At the marker boards, you turn right, up the hill. If you're interested, the Roundhead army drove the Parliamentarians back, in a defeat which lead to the fall of Winchester.
Walking into Royalist territory, you soon crest the hill and trot on towards Bishop's Sutton and lunch. Cross under the dual carriageway, and head to the main road. The pub on the right, the Ship, is well known to Swithun's walkers, and this might well be your lunch stop. If you eschew the liquid refreshment, take the road to the left of the pub and pass the church. The church will offer spiritual refreshment, as well as squash and chocolate biscuits to Pilgrim's Way walkers (sorry, you don't qualify), but it is interesting.
Leaving the fleshpots of Bishop's Sutton behind, continue 300m down the road until it zigs right and left. On the corner where the road turns left, you continue straight on down a track. 300m more there's a stile on the left Ⓕ, which takes you on a path across a field and shortly cross the railway track. This is the Watercress Line, about which, more will be said later. Make sure you're not mown down by the occasional steam train, it makes a mess and the paperwork is a nightmare! The path continues for about 700m, crossing a country road in the middle, until it dives into Sutton Beech Wood. The distinct path crosses the wood until it reaches Sutton Wood Lane. Here you turn right, heading back towards home.
Wiggle round the road for about 400m, and look for a path through the woods on the right (Ⓖ). If you miss this, it's not the end of the world, as the path is only cutting a corner of the road off. As predicted, the road is regained and followed for 200m until another cut off. This is less important and when the road is regained, you're immediately crossing the railway again. Looking over the bridge, you can see the sheds of the Ropley Engineering works at Ropley Station. If you're lucky, while you're hanging on the parapet, a steam train will pass under you. Wave at it, and take photos. The Watercress Line is run by volunteers and (normally) goes from Alton to New Alresford. Originally, the line went all the way to Winchester, but now is cut off at several places. The sheds at Ropley are their main engineering works, where they repair and renovate the steam engines.
Having had your fill of steam, continue down the road and look for a footpath on the left. It's well marked Ⓗ and the path heads diagonally across the field. On the other side, the route crosses the A31 – CARE PLEASE! Head down the road opposite, and look for a final footpath on the right Ⓘ. This will reach a corner of the cricket field, and low and behold, you're back.
I hope you enjoy the walk, and please don't get shot, cannon-balled or run over by trains. Thanks to Ian of Farnham Ramblers for leading us round this walk and allowing me to offer it to you.