ST SWITHUN'S WAY
Stage 3: Alton to Farnham
Friday, May 4, 2012
The weather was a little better for the final morning of my walk along St Swithun's Way; still quite gloomy and overcast, but dry at least. After catching the bus over from Winchester to Alton Station and stopping in at the excellent café in the station car park for breakfast, I rejoined the route on the corner of Station Road and Normandy Street.
A short distance to the right along the main road, the route turns left along Nursery Road. About 150 metres along the road, the way turns right along an alleyway between houses. The alleyway continues after crossing the next street, before reaching Lansdowne Road adjacent to a street called Chalcrofts, which is followed ahead to another alleyway. The last alleyway soon leads to Anstey Lane, which is crossed to enter Anstey Park, a large recreation ground.
The Way continues straight ahead between two of the marked rugby fields to a hedge that separates Anstey Park from the playing fields of the Eggars School. The muddy path now turns left to skirt around two sides of the school, then continuing ahead past Treloar College to reach Howard's Lane. Following the lane to the left and then around a bend to the right, I passed by the Church of the Holy Rood (picture 2), parts of which date back to the 12th century. Beyond the church another narrow muddy path passes a few more houses before St Swithun's Way heads northeast across open farmland.
After a little more than a kilometre, the Way reaches the corner of Round Wood, where the route bears to the right across another field rather than entering the wood. I was just about to head off in that direction when an elderly lady out walking her dog emerged from the wood, remarking that it was worthwhile detouring into the wood to see bluebells growing there. I followed her advice and found a large number of them growing in the grass on either side of the path (picture 3). The little bell-shaped flowers (picture 4) are apparently quite common in shady woodland in early-Spring, but this was the first time that I had seen them for myself.
Returning to St Swithun's Way and crossing a couple more fields, I reached a sealed farm lane which runs through West End Farm and into the village of Upper Froyle. The route bears right at a small green (picture 5), following the road through the village and past another Treloar College (presumably part of the same one I passed earlier in Alton) and the 14th-century Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (picture 6).
A little further up the road, just before a thatched house, a stile on the right takes the Way across a field to the end of an avenue of trees, which is then followed a short distance to join Gid Lane. A few metres down the lane a metal kissing gate takes the trail away from the lane and along field boundaries for about a kilometre to reach a lane beside the Anchor pub (picture 7), which stands just outside the village of Lower Froyle. A sign on the front of the pub reads "Purveyors of Fine Vintage Ports & Luxury Accomodation".
Rather than turning left towards the village, St Swithun's Way turns right, heading down the hedge-lined lane for a couple of minutes to reach a left turn onto a gravel track signposted as Coldrey. The track passes a few cottages and then the buildings of Coldrey Farm. When the track bends to the right, the Way leaves it and continues ahead through a gap in a collapsed wooden fence, through a small wood and across the middle of a field to a stile just to the left of a house on a lane called Pax Hill.
The Way heads to the left along the lane, which runs up to the Pax Hill Care Home. Just before the next bend, a fingerpost on the right points to a narrow path through bushes, while to the left was a creative sign for the Care Home (picture 8).
The path soon leaves the bushes behind, heading between fenced-off horse paddocks, turning left at a junction and shortly to the right again along the far side of a line of trees next to a brightly coloured crop (picture 9). Along this stretch of the path I began to hear bells ringing out across the countryside, getting steadily louder as I crossed the fields.
Across a couple more fields the path goes through the small car park of Jenkyn Farm to turn right along Hole Lane on the edge of the village of Bentley. A few metres further, a left turn along Church Lane leads to the 12th-century Church of St Mary (picture 10), where the bells were ringing for the departure of a wedding party.
Church Lane turns to the right in front of the church and the Way follows it downhill to turn left along Hole Lane for about 400 metres before a stile on the left takes the path back into fields. The well-worn path goes southeast across the first three fields before bearing east across one more. Reaching a corner in a line of trees on the far side, the well-worn path continues ahead into a wood known as Irelands, but St Swithun's Way crosses through the line of trees about twenty metres to the right. At first I missed the signpost and carried on into the woods before realizing that I had gone off course.
The correct route heads across three small paddocks to reach a crossroads, continuing straight ahead on a sealed lane to the small group of houses that make up the hamlet of East Green. The route turns left in front of the houses, and left again at the next junction and then right a short distance later to leave the road and head into Wallfield Copse. The broad path heads along the edge of the copse for about 200 metres before bearing half-right to cut through the middle of the copse to the far side (picture 11).
The path now climbs in a northeasterly direction across a couple of sloping fields belonging to Hill Farm (picture 12), briefly going to the left along a sealed farm lane, before resuming the original course along a very muddy path to reach Old Farnham Road.
St Swithun's Way crosses Old Farnham Lane to join another muddy track, which crosses the county boundary from Hampshire to Surrey after around one hundred metres. The track snakes its way across Dippenhall Farm between two hedges (picture 13), eventually following the farm driveway out to Dippenhall Road. Crossing the road, the route follows Dora's Green Lane over a hill and across Crondall Lane to climb another hill. When the lane bends sharply to the left at the top of the hill, the Way continues ahead on a smaller lane. For a little over a kilometre the lane snakes its way over the hills through Lower Old Park (picture 14) to Middle Old Park before the sealed tarmac runs out.
Now a muddy footpath, the route heads along the edge of Claypit Wood (picture 15) to join an unsealed lane called Middle Old Park, which heads through Park Farm to a junction where the route turns right along Old Park Lane.
After about 500 metres the lane passes the first houses of Farnham, before reaching a signpost that points St Swithun's Way down an alleyway between houses on the right. Behind the row of houses, the path follows a field edge downhill and into the grounds of the University for the Creative Arts. Heading downhill through the University, the path passes a number of unusual sculptures (picture 16) before reaching Long Garden Way.
Heading left on Long Garden Way it doesn't take long to reach Castle Street in the middle of Farnham's busy shopping district. The route heads down to the end of Castle Street, turning left onto the A325 for a short distance before turning right again onto South Street.
South Street heads downhill slightly, passing the tall spire of the United Reform Church (picture 18) halfway down, before crossing the road and continuing downhill past the peaceful Haren Garden (picture 19), a long narrow park on the banks of the River Wey.
Just past the Haren Garden, I crossed the A31 to the corner of Station Road, where St Swithun's Way ends, with a further 19.1 kilometres covered from Alton. I had actually been here before, back in July 2010, as this spot is also where the North Downs Way begins it's journey across to Canterbury and Dover, and there is a North Downs Way signpost and information board on the corner (picture 20).
Despite the less than ideal weather, I rather enjoyed my walk along St Swithun's Way, but as I walked the short distance up Station Road to Farnham Railway Station, I was already looking forward to my next walk, down on the Hampshire coast.