St Swithun's Way to Alton (12 miles)
Shopping in Guildford last week, shopping in Alton this! A walk West into Hampshire to visit this market town as a stopover on the way to Winchester.
From: A linear walk of 12 miles, starting from the station in Farnham and ending in Alton, Hampshire.
Length: 12 miles.
Average Walk Time: 4 to 6 hours, depending on how much time you spend refreshing.
Terrain: Generally gently undulating. There are no real climbs, and only a couple of muddy paths in the wettest of weather. Generally, it's moderate walking on good terrain.
Suitable for dogs: Yes.
Look out for: Historic buildings, especially Pax Hill, Coldrey House and Froyle Manor House as well as several churches along the way.
St Swithun's Way runs from Winchester to Farnham, largely along the route of the Old Pilgrim's Way, but making allowances for the fact much of the old route is now under the A31. Today, we're going to be looking at the last section, and we're going to be going backwards. However, no worries, on a fine morning, the route is as beautiful whichever way you do it.
Swithun was Bishop of Winchester from 852 to his death in 863. He is the Patron Saint of Hampshire, Winchester and rain! The sign of the walk is the scallop shell and crossed croziers. Why the scallop shell? We'll leave that for you to Google, but it has connections with St James of Compostela and the Roman Goddess Venus!
The path is fairly well signed, once you get out of Farnham, so, without further ado, let's get you out of Farnham. The route heads down Station Hill towards Hickey's corner and the crossroads with the A31. Cross the main road, and turn left past the Emmanuel Church into the Gostrey Meadow. Walk around the War Memorial, cross the River Wey on the footbridge and diagonally across the meadow past the bandstand. Exit by the far gate, cross the side road and follow Downing Street around the right-turn corner and up the hill to West Street. On meeting this main shopping street, turn left and look for a road called 'The Hart' on the right. Follow this, past the car park, and in front of you is the University of Creative Arts. On the right side of the University building, and just before the upper section of the car park is a public footpath heading up the hill. Pass through the sculpture park and the student village, before several sets of steps take you up into open fields. MADE IT! At the first hedgerow, glance back and marvel at how much height you've gained already and how fine Farnham looks below you. There's plenty of climbing still to do, so press on! The path crosses a second small field before kinking right between a couple of fences.
When the path meets a small road, by an attractive row of cottages, turn left. Now follow the road uphill for about 500m, before a road turns off left, which you take. (Ⓐ on photo 3 below) At the time of writing, there's a new housing development in the crook of the bend - avoid getting sucked into that! A kilometre down this road and the track turns right. Ignore this, and head down the footpath straight ahead. This new track descends to a muddy bottom and back up the other side. It passes Middle Old Park Farm, rounds a corner by Lower Old Park farm, descends again and rises up wiggling right and left until it meets Dora's Green Lane. Turn left at the Lane and be careful as it is busier with traffic than it should be. Shortly you meet the even busier Crondall Road, but this is merely crossed (left and immediately right) into the second half of Dora's. 300m farther cross Dippenhall Lane, and the path now becomes much more rural. There's a confusing junction with a helpful photo. Follow the path Ⓑ in photo 5.
Eventually, you cross Old Farnham Lane and walk up beside the Solar Farm. 300m more and the path meets a road where you turn left, pass the entrance to the solar farm on the left and immediately opposite on the right is a barrier gate blocking a field with a well-defined path over it. Follow this path, through a gap in the hedgerow beyond, and now walk along a hedgerow until the path cascades downhill. At the beckoning corner, your path crosses a small plank bridge, turns right and immediately left again up the hill through woods. The path turns a left-hand corner and soon reaches the main road. If you look directly ahead, you can now see your route ahead of you, but there's a field in the way. The official route turns left here, first right and around a right-hand corner to get you around the field. This is marginally quicker than turning right and left! Going the official way, cross the unofficial route and look for a nice stile on the right into a field Ⓒ. The path almost parallels the fence, but take the small gate, cross the farmyard, and keep walking straight. Exit this farm by a stile, and cross the field beyond.
Now comes an important junction, and it's not obvious or well signed. As you pass through a hedgeline, the straight-ahead route leads out across a field and passes a solitary tree. IGNORE THIS! As indicated in photo 9, turn a diagonal right here, between the young saplings and lead off right Ⓓ. Although this turning is hard to see, the path is obvious once taken. It crosses a field, goes around a new steel gate and follows the side of the field (kinking right). At the corner of the field, exit by a stile to the road and turn left. Ignore a left turn junction in the road and continue straight, until a road on the right, which leads up to St Mary's Church (in the corner of the road). Follow the road left at the church, and follow it until it tees with a larger one. Turn right and immediately left into a farm track. The newly-moved footpath now circumvents the new vineyard by turning right, left, left and right, instead of going straight past the new wooden building. Exiting the far side of the diversion, it heads on straight ahead. Confused? This part is actually far easier on the ground.
Follow two fields, and ahead of you are the modern buildings of Pax Hill Residential Home. As you turn left and shortly right, look out for the old house of Pax Hill. Built in the early 1900s, the house had two very famous occupants in the past; Lord Baden Powell and his wife, Olave. After World War II, Olave gave Pax Hill to the Girl Guides to be used as a centre for members from the Commonwealth of Nations. The house became a Domestic Science Training School run on Guiding principles before being sold with the consent of Olave. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Pax Hill was a boys' boarding school until it was taken over as a nursing home in 1988. Cross the front of the house, turn left by its gate and after 100m turn right over a stile and a good footpath leading out across a field.
Ahead of you now is Coldrey House. However, to get there, you have to cross a field and walk up a path through some woodland. The pond on the left looked dark and spooky even in bright sunlight! However, the house looked fine and took a nice picture with its blossoming tree out the back. Walk past the house, down the lane to the side road, where you turn right. 200m down the road is The Anchor Pub at Lower Froyle, and you turn left just before it. 300m down this track, the path crosses a small plank bridge (Ⓔ on the photo below). Keep beside the hedge and then a wire fence until eventually, you emerge on a lane in Upper Froyle. Turn right and immediately fork left into the grounds of the magnificent Froyle House Hotel. The path formally turns right halfway along the track, but I suggest you stay on the hotel's road right up to the gates, where a permissive path skirts the edge of the grounds and enters the churchyard through an 'Alice in Wonderland' type gate. Out of the churchyard and turn left along the roads until reaching the village centre. Take a track slightly left (signed to Rawles and marked Ⓕ on the photo below).
Pass the fascinating Rawles buildings and make sure you take track Ⓖ rather than following the side of the field. Yes, the path will cross just behind the pylon in the picture, but please stay on the right track rather than being tempted by shortcuts. Cross the huge field diagonally when you get there and turn left out the far corner. Now follow the edge of a hedge until the bottom of a slight hill, where you cross a large gap in the hedge and walk with the hedge on your right side. Cross two fields, and enter some woodlands. The path carries on straight, until reaching the side of a large stone wall and exits the pathway in front of the church. You are now in Holybourne, and Howard's Lane leads off straight ahead past the church of the Holy Rood. Howard's Lane turns left, and almost immediately there's a footpath on the right Ⓗ. Now, this is the home straight! Follow the path for a full kilometre, past Treloar College and the playing fields of Eggar's School. Eventually, the path turns a definite left, and swiftly leave the path by the side of a tree on the right. Cross the playing field, Ⓘ pass the left side of the building, and exit the playing fields by a chicane-type barrier. A short walk through the streets of Alton and a couple of alleys, and you reach a dead end where you turn left. You are now on the main Alton Road, and the station and train (or bus) home are directly on your left.
Look out for the next issue, when we continue 21 miles more all the way to Winchester!