The Hangers Way - narrative

Hangers Way day 1 - starting out across Neatham Down This walk across Hampshire took us through a series of hills known as Hangers (from the Old English word hangra, meaning a steep-sided wooded slope). It includes a series of pretty country villages, the market town of Petersfield, and it finishes at the South Downs in Hampshire's largest country park. The undulating route has a delightful natural variety. I think it would be a lovely walk at any time of year (but be ready for mud); however we were lucky to do it on crisp winter days, soon after snow. The bright sun and twinkling snow gave us glorious views and the contours of the countryside showed more clearly with the reflected light. The trees were splendid, including a fine sequence of beech woods, with tall trunks and a carpet of rust-coloured leaves underneath.

We did the walk with our friends Maryon and Henry Mintz; we had all recently seen the David Hockney exhibition of landscapes, which undoubtedly enhanced the way we saw the countryside.

Hangers Way day 1 - horses DAY 1, Alton to Selborne:
We were on the path straight off the train, and it wasn't long before we were out of town. It was a very easy morning's walk to East Worldham, along Neatham Down to Monkswood. The snow in the fields wasn't frozen, so our boots were soon heavy with mud. From the wood it was southwards to the village of East Worldham; the welcoming and pleasant Three Horseshoes pub gave us a light lunch and real beer.

The afternoon walk had lots of variety, including beautiful woodlands. Although mostly deciduous, there were also some thickly planted firs, attractively picked out by the snow and the changing winter light. There were small lakes and streams, several were iced over. The first Hanger was Wick Hill and then we came down to Oakhanger stream. The varied shapes of the hills, the mixture of trees, ice and snow reflecting the light, were all thoroughly engaging. We came through Long Lythe, past the church, into Selborne, which had the quiet charm of a small town famous for historical residents like Gilbert White. The Selborne Arms was recommended to us for dinner; the food was fine and there was a good choice of local beers. Our final view of the day was a clear night sky, full of stars.

Hangers Way day 2 - Hawkley from the side of Hawkley Hanger DAY 2, Selborne to Steep:
We were greeted by bright sun and blue skies. Almost immediately my head started singing 'Oh what a beautiful morning' from Oklahoma! It had been minus 8 degrees over night; but the glorious light made up for the cold. The snow was crisp and crunchy underfoot and the crystals twinkled in the slanting, morning sunbeams. The great outdoors provided us with a richly varied sequence of paths, including pretty woodlands, balcony paths and lovely tree trunks glowing in the sunlight. English trees are fine things. Again today the light was wonderful; frequently the tree silhouettes were back-lit by the sun, which also picked out the lines of the hillsides and the elegant, curving lines of the ploughed fields.

We saw quite a lot of animal and bird tracks in the snow, and some of the streams were iced over. Our first ascent was up Galley Hill; then the woodland tracks around Noar Hill were very pretty. Next it was down towards the village of Hawkley, with a lovely view across the fields towards the unusual steeple tower of Hawkley Church. Hot mulled cider and baguettes made for a nice relaxed lunch break at the Inn.

By the afternoon, the temperature was thawing, so it was muddy boots again as we climbed the biggest ascent of the Way, up the Shoulder of Mutton. Much of the pleasure of the walk came from the miriad shapes of the bare branches of the woods, which stretched in all directions. This afternoon we saw several badger sets, with attendant animal tracks. (We had also seen deer and herons as well as pheasants.)

The reason we stopped in Steep was because it was near where I went to school. Our first visit was to the graveyard of Steep church, where some of my former teachers are buried. Then we went in to Bedales - empty, we realised, because it was Half-Term. I did a bit of 'memory lane', showing my friends where I had studied - the music school, the games pitch, etc. Having come to it from the beauties of the Way, I saw that I appreciated it more as an adult than I had as a teenager. We found The Cricketers Inn (where the naughty children had skived off to in my day); it no longer had the old Inn sign painted by our Art teacher.

Hangers Way day 3 - Market Square, Petersfield DAY 3, Steep to the
         Queen Elizabeth Country Park
This day was not so cold - a bit greyer; oh, we'd been spoilt by the previous day. Within about half an hour we were in Petersfield. It's a pleasant market town, arranged around a central square, with a statue of William III. Although we were in Middle England, it was not over-orientated to merchandising (oh yes, it was a Sunday). Although the noise from the A3 was a bit intrusive, it was nice to be back on country tracks again, among the trees, balancing on the ice, and climbing stiles again.

The next village, Buriton, was charming, with a pretty church, a Manor House and a lovely village pond. The lime pits, and sheep wash spoke of its history. Then we were into the very fine beech hangers of the Queen Elizabeth Country Park, with Butser Hill in view - the highest point of the South Downs. It's a large area of woody hills and dales, with great numbers of straight, tall-trunked trees, footed by banks of golden leaves. Several long distance Paths cross here (such as the South Downs Way); and this is a popular Park - having mostly had the Way to ourselves, we had to adjust to sharing it with mountain-biking children and families of Sunday-walkers. Even so, it made for a pretty conclusion to a very rewarding walk. We had baguettes and quiche at the Park Cafe and rang for a Petersfield taxi to get to the Station.

Hangers Way day 1 - woods Conclusion
Here are some comments Henry and Maryon made at the end of the walk:

"We noticed about how car-orientated people are these days; when walking and relying on our legs, we had a more local focus and we felt happily in touch with the realities of the physical world. Going somewhere under our own steam gave a different sense of purpose. The linear aspect, going from A to B to C, gave a point to it all.

"The easy access, being an hour from London, made it very convenient, as did the well maintained and clearly marked paths. It is a well-named walk: the Hangers were the whole context of the walk. We didn't climb that many, but they gave a sense of drama to the scene. Our continually changing surroundings provided great variety and pleasure."

© Diana Ambache 2012