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William Cobbett wrote ‘beautiful beyond description’ in his Rural Rides, after passing through Hawkley in 1822, on his way from East Meon to Thursley. Cobbett was enchanted by the rolling, beech-clad hills that characterise this relatively unexplored part of Hampshire.
Known locally as ‘hangers’, from the Anglo-Saxon hangra, meaning ‘sloping wood’, these fine beech woods cling to the steep chalk escarpment that links Selborne to Steep. Many have charming names such as Happersnapper Hanger and Strawberry Hanger. Edward Thomas lived at Steep from 1906 to his death in 1917, and his first home here was Berryfield. His abiding love for the beech hangers, mysterious combes and the sheer beauty of the landscape inspired him to write some of his finest poems, including ‘Up in the Wind’, ‘The New House’ and ‘Wind and Mist’. You, too, will find the views breathtaking as you dip and climb through the hangers to the summit of Shoulder of Mutton Hill, Thomas’s favoured spot above his beloved Steep.
The walk begins from Hawkley, tucked away beneath Hawkley Hanger. You descend into the lush meadows of the Oakshott Valley, before a steep ascent on an old droving track to the top of Shoulder of Mutton Hill. Here, in a tranquil glade on its higher slopes, you will find a sarsen stone dedicated to Edward Thomas. With views across Steep and of ‘sixty miles of South Downs at one glance’, as Thomas described it, it is no wonder that he loved this area. The return walk joins the Hangers Way, a 21-mile (33.8km) long-distance trail traversing East Hampshire from Queen Elizabeth Country Park to Alton.
With your back to Hawkley church, walk left beside the green to the road junction. With The Hawkley Inn away to your left, cross over to join Cheesecombe Farm Lane. Shortly, bear right along a concrete path, signed ‘Hangers Way’, and soon after bear left onto a path. Descend to cross a stile and keep straight on at the fork of paths, hugging the left edge of the field with Cheesecombe Farm to the left.
Cross a stile and bridge over Oakshott stream and then another stile and keep left along the field edge beside woodland. Steeply ascend to cross a stile, and follow the fenced path uphill and left. Drop down to a track and turn right, to reach a junction, then right again for 55yds (50m) to take the waymarked track straight ahead.
Climb the long and steep chalky track up through Down Hanger (this can get very wet and muddy), with views east along the South Downs unfolding. At the top of Wheatham Hill, turn left, with a sign for Ashford Hangers National Nature Reserve ahead. Pass a barrier and follow the gravel track.
Turn left up the second set of steps to enjoy Cobbett’s View. Return to the main track and continue downhill for 0.5 miles (800m). Just before a gate and a lane, climb the stile right and descend through an avenue of trees and across a field to a stile and lane. Turn right.
After 400yds (366m), take the footpath left, to the left of a gate. Descend to a metal kissing gate and bear gently right across the field to another kissing gate by a telegraph pole. Turn left over a stile and follow the field edge via another stile to Steep Marsh Farm. Turn right across the ends of the large barns and join a wooded track. Keep left at a junction of paths. Shortly after, cross the drive to Taylors Copse Farm and back into woodland. Cross a stream. Just before a curving drive, climb the short steep path left within the trees to a stile. Follow the signed path across the field ahead to a stile, and continue onto a track by stables, pass the stables on your left and reach a lane.
Turn right, passing three houses, then, at a sharp left bend, bear off right into woodland. Walk above a small ravine and past a pair of timbered cottages to a footbridge. Continue ahead and pass The Harrow Inn. Turn right at the junction and walk uphill into Steep to All Saints church.
Follow the Hangers Way opposite, across a playing field and down through Northfield Wood to a kissing gate. Walk along the left-hand field edge to a kissing gate and road. Turn right and then, as it swings right, keep ahead up the footpath (the waterfall is to your left). At a junction, turn left and walk through light woodland. Emerge onto a drive just by the gates to The Waterhouse, and turn right leading up to a lane beside Ashford Chace.
Turn right and then almost immediately left along a footpath towards Shoulder of Mutton Hill. Enter the Ashford Hangers National Nature Reserve and immediately take the middle of three paths ahead to climb steeply up the grassy scarp slope to the Edward Thomas memorial stone. At the top, go through a barrier and keep straight ahead to reach a track. Turn right beside the Ashford Hangers NNR sign, then after 200yds (183m) bear left up a path into the woodland. On reaching a crosstrack head straight across through a kissing gate.
Follow the Hangers Way as it descends through three kissing gates, through the edge of beech woods and steeply down across meadowland, through another kissing gate to a path between fields, eventually joining the drive to Lower Oakshott Farmhouse and a road.
Turn right then left through the gap and follow the defined Hangers Way path through the Oakshott Valley, crossing stiles, plank bridges and delightful meadows to reach the junction of paths before Cheesecombe Farm. Turn left to the stile. Retrace your steps back to Hawkley and your car.
Field and woodland paths, rutted, wet and muddy tracks and short stretches of road, 11 stiles
Rolling, beech-clad hills, a hidden, flower-filled valley and undulating farmland
Dogs to be kept under control at all times
OS Explorer OL33 Haslemere & Petersfield
By village green and church in Hawkley
Opposite the Harrow Inn in Steep
Several steep climbs make this walk very challenging - but the views make the challenges worthwhile.
WALKING IN SAFETY
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
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About the area
Hampshire’s varied landscape of hills and heaths, downlands and forests, valleys and coast is without rival in southern England. Combine these varied landscapes and terrains with secluded and idyllic villages, complete with thatched and timber-framed cottages and Norman churches, elegant Georgian market towns, historic ports and cities, restored canals and ancient abbeys, forts and castles, and you have a county that is paradise for lovers of the great outdoors.
If you’re a walker, stride out across the high, rolling, chalk downland of the north Hampshire ‘highlands’ with far-reaching views, walk through steep, beech-clad ‘hangers’ close to the Sussex border. Or perhaps take a gentler stroll and meander along peaceful paths through unspoilt river valleys, etched by the sparkling trout streams of the Test, Itchen, Avon and Meon. Alternatively, wander across lonely salt marshes and beside fascinating coastal inlets or, perhaps, explore the beautiful medieval forest and heathland of the New Forest, the jewel in Hampshire’s crown.
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