The Meon Valley's nature reserve

Rising dramatically above the Meon Valley, Old Winchester Hill is a favoured haunt of historians and naturalists.




7 miles (11.3kms)

889ft (271m)
3hrs 30min

About the walk

Old Winchester Hill dominates the Meon Valley. From its summit, some 648ft (197m) above sea level, are far-reaching views across the Solent to the Isle of Wight, west to the New Forest and Wiltshire, and north to Beacon Hill. It’s long been a natural vantage point, attracting early settlers who preferred the safety of the high ground. The remains of the fort on the summit date back to the Iron Age. Its defences comprise a massive single bank and ditch enclosing about 14 acres (5.6ha). The oval-shaped fort overlies a pattern of prehistoric fields and you will notice some large grassy mounds as you walk round the rampart. These are Bronze Age burial mounds, erected on the crest of the hill between 4,500 and 3,500 years ago for important members of society.

Nature Reserve

Old Winchester Hill was purchased by the state in 1954 and is now a National Nature Reserve, cared for by Natural England. The sheep-grazed chalk downland, with its mix of open grassland, scrub and woodland, is home to a number of rare butterflies and chalk-loving flowers. Walk this way in early summer and you will see the hill fort dotted with fragrant orchids, while in July look out for the bright blue round-headed rampion, a rarity in Britain, which thrives here. On a warm August day the grassland is a sea of colour with hundreds of plants, flowers and wild herbs. An area just 1m (3ft) square can contain 30 to 40 different species of plant and over 200 species have been recorded on the reserve. Chalkhill blue butterflies feed on the wild majoram, the plants on the reserve providing food for some 34 species of butterfly and their caterpillars. The longer grass is favoured by hedge and meadow browns and the beautiful marbled white butterflies. You may see a peregrine falcon hunting, buzzards soaring high on the thermals, and summer migrants like the redstart and pied flycatcher. In winter, fieldfares and redwings feed on juniper berries, while the yew woods provide shelter to titmice and goldcrests.

Walk directions

From the car park go through the gate onto the open downland and turn left, leaving the information board on your right. Follow the path around the perimeter of the reserve, merge with the South Downs Way (SDW) and bear right towards the hill fort. Go straight through a gate then bear left, then right, across the centre of the fort.

Descend through the ramparts, downhill to a kissing gate on the edge of woodland. Pass beneath yew trees and beside a redundant gate, then along a field, and when the path swings right at a fingerpost, go left onto the SDW.

Follow the enclosed path downhill to reach a junction of paths. Cross the footbridge and turn left, following the signposted ‘SDW’. Climb the steps on to the former Meon Valley railway, and turn left along the old line for just over half a mile (800m).

Turn left at a gate and drop down to a lane, turn right under the missing bridge, then immediately left at the junction. Walk along Stocks Lane to the A32 and carefully cross the main road into Beacon Hill Lane, and over the river. Turn left just before The Shoe Inn, and shortly after bear left along Allens Farm Lane.

At a sharp right-hand bend, keep ahead along the path beside Exton Farm. Go through two gates on a fenced path then through a small field to a kissing gate and then another fenced path to a stile. Pass beside The Farmhouse, the White House and the church, bearing left to the A32.

Carefully cross the A32, turn left along the pavement and right by the shop. Take the metalled path beside the last house on your right and enter Meonstoke churchyard. Turn left along the lane to a T-junction beside The Bucks Head. Turn left, then left again at the junction. Follow the lane right (Pound Lane) to cross the old railway and reach a crossroads.

Climb the stile on your left. Go across the field and cross a stile to pass behind gardens, eventually reaching a stile and crossing a lane. Climb the stile opposite and keep to the right-hand field edge to cross another stile. At the next stile, bear diagonally left towards a house, Harvestgate, and road.

Turn right and take the track left just before Harvestgate Farm. Keep ahead through a gate. At the top of the track, bear left uphill along the field edge, then sharp right onto SDW, following the bridleway along the hedge and into the next field. Turn through a kissing gate on your left into the nature reserve and ascend steeply to the hill fort ramparts.

Bear right and then right again to join the outward route by the fort entrance. Turn left to walk down the steps beside a seat and information board, and then continue to follow a path just beneath the downland rim. Bear right to a kissing gate and retrace your steps to the car park.

Additional information

Field paths, footpaths, tracks and sections of road, 7 stiles

Chalk downland, gently rolling farmland and river valley

Lead required through villages and around nature reserve

OS Explorer OL3 Meon Valley, Portsmouth, Gosport & Fareham

Natural England car park off Old Winchester Hill Lane

None on route

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About the area

Discover Hampshire

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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