Farnham's Three 'lost' Castles (8.5 miles)
From: A circular walk from Farnham to visit three of Farnham's former Castles. Didn't know Farnham had three former castles? Read on! You can park anywhere in the town, but we started from the side of the Council Offices in South Street.
Length: 8 1/2 miles.
Average Walk Time: Around 4-5 hours.
Terrain: By and large, gently undulating. Slight climb up, but it is gradual and gentle. The route is mainly on small country roads, with some sections on footpaths. All three castles are on private land, and permission from landowners or tenants is needed to visit them.
Suitable for dogs: Yes.
Look out for: Views over Farnham from Bentley Castle and deer in Barley Pound.
How many castles has Farnham had? One? Well, if you watch QI, the buzzer just sounded. As far as we know, it has had four. There's the obvious one and then a mere three miles to the West are three more. This walk heads to the missing three. Now, don't get too excited. You won't see grand remains as at Farnham's main castle, and all three are on private land, but that doesn't stop this being an interesting walk.
The walk starts anywhere in Farnham, but wherever you do begin, head to St Andrew's Church. Leave the churchyard by the passage at the far LEFT corner, that's the one out on to the Water Meadows, not the one out to West Street. Follow the wiggles and enter the meadows. Now you have to traverse the entire length of these fields, keeping to the right-side boundary. After the second kissing gate, the path crosses slightly diagonally towards the A31. Climb up the bank of the road (saying hello to the horses as you pass) and stick firmly to the verge. We are not going to cross the A31 on this walk.
Turn right and head to the Coxbridge roundabout. When you get there, turn right and CAREFULLY cross West Street in its two sections. On the far side of West Street, turn left again and immediately look for a footpath heading down parallel to and following the main road. After a mere 20m, you cross a footbridge over a small stream. If you look left here at the side of the main road, you can see a plaque. This is Cox Bridge! Impressed? Well, wait until you get to the castles!
Twenty metres or so past the bridge, the footpath turns right, past the industrial estate. Breathe a sigh of relief as you leave civilisation behind and head uphill. At the top, the path turns left and will disgorge you out through Potts Farm onto Runwick Lane. Now we're on small roads for a good section. Follow this small road for well over a kilometre, ignoring the turn offs on the right and then left. The road turns a definite right past the solar farm and then crosses the St Swithun's Way. Wave at the pilgrims and continue along Old Farnham Lane. After a bit, another road λ's into you from the left, and you continue straight on. Finally, at Kimber's Farm, you read a T-junction, where you turn left. Now you walk for 500m, checking the route carefully, or you will miss the turn. You pass a large copse on your right on the far side of a field and pass the track leading to it at the end of the copse. Then there is a wood on the right next to the road. You're getting close now.
Immediately after the roadside wood finishes, look to your left. A hedge leads off from the road, and a gate opens up to allow you to turn left on the left side of the hedge (that's the near side). Please note that the next section of the walk is on private land, and permission should be sought from the farmer before proceeding any further. Walk downhill to the bottom of this field and turn 90-degrees left. Cross through the bottom-of-the-field hedge to the far side and walk up the hill. At the summit, look around and glory. This is Bentley Castle. Can't see it? Well, in the right light, there are some vague indentations in the summit. Bentley Castle was what is known as a siege castle. It was built to house troops to storm Barley Pound, which we will come to later. Not too much is known about it, which is strange. Constructed in 1147, the castle measured 75m from northwest-southeast by 40m northeast-southwest.
The chronicle Gesta Stephani relates how in 1147 one of the companions of Brian fitz Count, at the time a leading Angevin and castellan of Wallingford castle, seized the bishop of Winchester's castle of Lidelea, forcing the bishop, Henry de Blois, to lay siege to his own castle by throwing up two castles in front of it, which were garrisoned 'adequately with knights and footmen'. Lidelea is believed to be what is known today as Barley Pound, and you are now standing on one of the two siege castles.
Had enough? Turn back and retrace your steps back to the road. On reaching it, turn right and after 50m look for a track and public footpath on your left. Follow this to the copse on your right. You are now at Barley Pound, which is also on private land and again, please seek permission before entering. If you can enter, do it carefully, through a gate on the right, but be careful as the whole area is overgrown. If you are quiet, you may well see deer in here: there are feeding stations around. The whole area is covered in earthworks. In fact, they form three ring baileys. Barley Pound Castle was about three times the size of Farnham's own. With its three rings, it must have been an impressive structure. Centuries before the castle was built, in Roman times, Barley Pound was the site of a Roman Villa, and many contemporary finds have been discovered here, including a marble statue's head and mosaic flooring tiles. But that is the subject of another walk – Farnham's Roman remains.
The mid-twelfth century was a turbulent time in British history. King Steven was warring with the Empress Matilda and King Henry II during a period known as "The Anarchy". This is not a history blog, and plenty exists on the internet should you wish to research this. Suffice it to say that Henry de Blois built Farnham Castle largely as a result of this. Henry was a complicated chap, swapping sides as the situation took him. However, as has already been mentioned above, he also built 'Lidelea', which you are now at. If you have permission, wander around the earthworks, but be careful. A mass of tangled undergrowth spreads around throughout. When you've finished, return to the track and walk back to the road.
At the road, turn left. Retrace your steps but this time pass the end of Old Farnham Lane. 200m on your left is a small road signed Wimble Hill. Pass this and look on your left for a copse. Inside this is the third of our castles, Powder or Powderham Castle. This is another siege castle, as was Bentley. It has a very similar history. The castle is not reachable and is on private land, but consists of a small motte and bailey earthwork.
OK, enough of the castles, time to head back. Continue along the road for a little over a kilometre. Pass Dippenhall Farm and ignore the road on the right. Your path turns slightly left here. 20m more, on the right, is a signed public footpath, by the side of Millar's Cottage. The path goes through a well-secured gate. Remove the clips and latch, enter and be careful to replace them after you.
Follow the path up and over the Dippenhall Ridge, saying hello to, but not feeding the donkeys. At the very end of the path, it descends some steps, through a kissing gate, past a small field and through a second kissing gate. Cross the tiny lane and continue downhill. At the bottom, cross the end of the field, cross a small stream on a bridge that has seen better days and climb the steps. Follow this path to the top, and eventually, it crosses Byworth Road and enters Waynflete Lane. Follow the lane all the way to the Crondall Road, which can be crossed at the pedestrian crossing on your right. Now take the second left (Beavers Road) and follow this into the town. You will soon arrive at Waitrose. If you don't know your way back to town from here, walk to the front of Waitrose, down the Lion and Lamb Yard and turn left into West Street. A right into Downing Street will take you back to St Andrew's Church.
I hope you enjoyed the walk and were interested to learn about the lost castles. Now you can tell your friends and win any pub quizzes. It is a lovely walk and very pleasant if the weather is soggy since much of it is on small roads.