RICHARD WILLIAMSON Country Walk...Ashford Hangers at Steep

This was one of the most charming walks I’ve ever had. It is short, 2.2 miles (3.5 kms) but the gradients and the seats overlooking stupendous views of the South Downs will delay you and the time will fly.

Park SU774267 in field bay at Ashford Farm two miles north of Petersfield on minor road (very!) a mile north of Steep. Ashford Hanger national nature reserve is part of Shoulder of Mutton Hill in Hampshire.

North through gate passing NNR sign and bearing right along main track. I passed a meadow to the right which was filled with primroses in first week of April. I heard two song thrushes, also wrens, robins, green woodpeckers, marsh tits and great tits.

As I turned sharp right around gully I noticed lots of dead trees left standing by management which woodpeckers had enjoyed.

My path then climbed southeast until I came to a high meadow on the right where junipers are encouraged by plant life. I then followed the track to a seat overlooking the wonderful view and dallied there for quite a while. Why not relax and let the world go by, said I.

This path then curves onwards around the next gully. This is one of many permitted paths, not a so-called public right of way.

This yew/ash/beech wood or hanger is like a miniature Kingley Vale.

Bat boxes have been placed on some trees. I passed a badger sett and many of their tracks, and, I fear, too many grey squirrels which damaged young beech trees and will predate woodland birds.

Lots of trees were thrown in the ’87 hurricane here and have big root plates and side branches becoming trunks.

Soon, I met Old Litten Lane, a permitted vehicle track, where I turned sharp left along its westward way. Ransons grow thick and onion smelling here.

After about one kilometre, with the trig point on Wheatham Hill behind me, I found a red post left on which was a white horse shoe. This path wanders above the steep hillside and then meets a permitted path at two cross rails.

I took the latter path left downhill into a steep chalk grassland meadow recently mown. There are no signposts but soon like me you will come to another comfortable seat overlooking the view, this one dedicated to Ellen McCutcheon. I noticed many violets here of three separate species: common dog, wood dog, and hairy.

I followed the contour path from this seat east, to circle the steep gully eventually coming back to original outgoing path and so turning sharp right back downhill to Ashford Farm and my old hen coop.

I haven’t finished with this splendid place, for another walk soon will meet up with WWI poet Edward Thomas’ memorial stone and his memorial window at Steep church, one of which was recently smashed by a burglar.

** See the April 19 issue of the Observer to view a map of this walk.