Ecchinswell – Nuthanger Farm and Watership Down – Ecchinswell

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Formed in 1972, the North Wessex Downs Area of Natural Beauty is the largest in south-east England and the third largest AONB nationally. Watership Down and Ladle Hill, two of the waymarks on this route, are part of the AONB's stunning landscape of chalk escarpment. Chalk in fact covers a great deal of Hampshire, stretching in two large bands that enter on the east and cross to Berkshire and Wiltshire.

'This is pure downland, the breasted hills curved as if under the influence of a great melody. It is beautiful, a quiet, and unrenowned and a most visibly ancient landscape' (Edward Thomas 1878 – 1917).

Watership Down was of course the inspiration for Richard Adams' book and for the subsequent animated film. The route heads up onto the down from the north, as indeed did the rabbits in the story! The story is based on a collection of tales that Adams told to his young children to pass the time on trips to the countryside.

On Ladle Hill is a unique example of an 'unfinished' hill-fort on the site of an earlier Bronze Age settlement. It apparently shows features which would not be seen in a completed work e.g. marking-out trenches, partly dug sections of ditch and untidy spoil heaps. The patterns of lumps and bumps at the site make much more sense from aerial photographs. However, it is not open to the public.

Much of the walk takes place in or around Sydmonton Court Estate. By the late 11th Century, Sydmonton formed part of the estates of Romsey Abbey. In the Domesday Survey of 1086, it had land for eleven ploughs and had a recorded population of 29 people. After the dissolution of the abbey in the 16th Century, the manor of Sydmonton was granted to William Kingsmill and remained in the Kingsmill family until the later 20th Century. Andrew Lloyd Webber, now Baron Lloyd-Webber of Sydmonton, apparently paid £150,000 in 1978 for the mansion and the 4,000-acre estate. The house is the home of the composer's Picasso and pre-Raphaelite art collection.

The Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Junction Railway was incorporated in 1873 to build a railway from Didcot on the GWR to Micheldever on the LSWR. Construction of the line was started in 1879 and Burghclere Station was opened in 1885. The DN & S, always an unprofitable enterprise, was absorbed by the GWR in 1923, but came into its own during the Second World War when it became a vital link in supplying the forces invading Normandy. Much of the original single track was doubled by the US Army Railway Corps and the line was actually closed to passengers from August 1942 to March 1943 to enable it to carry the extra freight and military trains. However, after 1945 the line returned to its lightly-used state. Post-Beeching, the line was closed in 1965 and much of it now lies under the A34 dual carriageway. Fortunately, some is still available to walkers!

England - South England - Hampshire - Countryside

Features

Ancient Monument, Birds, Butterflies, Church, Great Views, Hills or Fells, Industrial Archaeology, Pub, Public Transport, Wildlife, Woodland
11/12/2011 - Andrew Wickens

Nice walk, great views, windy on Ladle Hill where there were lots of Larks and a Kite. Kingfisher still there at way-point 27. This is a muddy walk in December :)

04/10/2009 - Peter Smith

02/08/09 - A wonderful walk with lots of variety. We saw a large variety of butterflies and red kites overhead as well as a kingfisher crossing the stream at point 27. Particularly liked the walk through the woods down from the hill (19). Met another couple brandishing the same notes and enjoying the walk too.

26/07/2008 - Richard Illingworth

Just finished this walk on a lovely sunny July day, very enjoyable walk, great views and very good instructions. Short detour to Watership Down well worth it. Pub at the end well placed !

25/06/2008 - malcolm nicholls

Just back from a sunny but windy day doing this walk. What a great walk. I liked the variety of terrain - from hill top to forrest glade. Lots of wildlife to see as well. A very lazy fox sunning himself on the path to buzzards wheeling above Watership Down. Lots of other birds and wild orchids as well. Can't be many walks with this much variety in such a relativly short distance. Thanks.

17/02/2008 - Andrew Long

Fantastic walk - well worth the trek to get to the top of Watership Down to take in the views! Excellent instructions - few minor updates added. (Thanks from Richard)
PS You can still see signs to Old Burghclere station (20) even though it was closed in 1965!

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