RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Country walk: Ashford Hangers to Steep Church

I walked this 3.3 mile (5.5kms) route on 20 March and it is to commemorate the death 100 years ago on 9 April 1917 of Edward Thomas, the WW1 poet from Steep, Petersfield.

I parked roadside in a gateway entrance to Ashford Hangers NNR, along the minor road to Ashford Farm at SU737264. Many of Thomas’ poems relate to places on this walk. These can be read with their photographs in a booklet in Steep church. I followed the spring flowing at my side, up the hill and into the woods, passing a pond spring-head with bluish pure chalk water.

I turned right halfway up onto Hangers Way footpath signed with its red top. This track wound around the scarp, climbing all the way, to a seat overlooking the Shoulder of Mutton viewpoint, and a display board with the words of the poet:

‘The coombe was ever dark, ancient and dark / Its mouth is stopped with bramble, thorn and briar’. I then turned straight down the steep hill to the memorial stone placed there in 1937 in a clearing. My father attended the ceremony with the poet’s wife Helen and daughter Myfanwy together with poets Jon Masefield and Walter de la Mare and war artist H.W. Nevinson. Buglers across the valley sounded a voluntary. Thomas said the view gave ‘Sixty miles of South Downs at one glance’ in his poem Wind and Mist. The clearing has chalk plants such as Wood Dog violet, Stemless thistle, and Wild parsnip. There are bushes of Wayfaring tree there too. The path gets steeper and steeper but eventually flattens out along a meadow. At the road I turned right then left along the track to The Waterhouse. This follows that spring again and more ponds and lakes with Reed mace. Siskins were feeding in the Alder trees. I came to the road with a tumbling waterfall nearby.

Thomas wrote ‘The Mill Water’ about this: ‘Water that toils no more / Dangles white locks / And falling, mocks / The music of the mill-wheel’s busy roar’. I turned right along the road for 200 yards, then left on a finger post and through a kissing gate into a meadow and then into Northfield Wood to Steep church, there to admire the Whistler windows and to pick up details of the poet’s life. On the date of his death there is a commemorative reading and workshop all day here if there are any tickets left. Otherwise you can join walks in his area. See http//www.edward-thomas-fellowship.org.uk/home.htm.

Proceeds to the church. I back-tracked now through the wood again and crossed the road and followed it back to my car, turning right off Island Farm Lane into Ashford Lane. This was an enchanting walk and I felt as though I was a century and more back in time.