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Wandering: South Downs Way – Queen Elizabeth Country Park to Exton

27 Aug

My wife and I were out and about again today, walking another section of the South Downs Way. The weather was reasonably good, slightly cooler than previous walks and mostly dry. The photo below shows the first climb of the day, as you can see there was lots of broken cloud, but around midday the cloud became thicker eventually leading to some light rain and ultimately one heavy, but very brief shower.

There had obviously been some very heavy rain recently because there were some very large (almost unpassable) puddles and many patches of mud, which made some of the paths a little awkward.

Butser Hill, Queen Elizabeth Country Park, Hampshire

I like this particular section, partly because of the almost continuous views of the village of East Meon and that it finished in Exton, both of which have family connections, partly because there are some superb views to the south to Southampton and the Isle of Wight and partly because it is a section I am not that familiar with (unlike some of the Sussex sections).

The biggest surprise of the day was the state of HMS Mercury, last year when I walked this section the site contained many derlict buildings that made up this naval establishment. Today although the security fences were still there but the buildings had gone, or rather they had been reduced to big piles of ground-up rubble. I don’t think there was anything architecturally outstanding about the buildings but it was still sad to see them gone.

HMS Mercury (23 June 2010)

HMS Mercury (27 August 2011)

As with previous walks here are some facts and figures for today’s walk:

Starting point: Queen Elizabeth Country Park, Horndean, Hampshire
Finishing point: Exton, Hampshire
Distance walked: 10.1 miles
Highest point: Butser Hill (889 ft) [said to be the highest point on the South Downs]
Places of note: Queen Elizabeth Country Park, Butser Hill, HMS Mercury, Wether Down, Coombe Cross, Meon Springs, Old Winchester Hill
Number of trig points spotted: Two – Wether Down (although we didn’t get up close) and Old Winchester Hill
Number of sandwiches eaten: Two halves (egg mayonnaise and cheese ploughmans)
Number of taxi journeys taken: One (from Petersfield to QECP) [quicker than waiting for the bus, meant we could start walking sooner]
Number of bus journeys taken: Four
Number of train journeys taken: Three
Number of ice creams eaten: Three! (a bumper section of the SDW for ice creams)
Shorts or long trousers: Long trousers (a few warmer spells but not warm enough for shorts)

Copyright © 2011 John Gasson.
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South Downs Way: Queen Elizabeth Country Park to Exton

23 Jun

South Downs Way sign

It was another ridiculously early start today, out of the house by 6.15am to catch the first of several buses today. I had been looking forward to today’s walk, but nervous about getting home after I had finished.

As is becoming normal for these walks, it began at the side of a busy road (the A3) and almost straight away an uphill climb (Butser Hill – pictured below). For my exertion I was rewarded with some fantastic views to the south, across to the Solent and the Isle of Wight.

At the foot of Butser Hill

For the next four or five miles the path followed an arc around the village of East Meon, Hampshire (another place with ancestral connections). First it was to the west, then the north and finally to the east, but always about a mile or two away.

East Meon from Butser Hill

One of the more unusual sights was HMS Mercury, a disused Royal Navy shore establishment. The high fences topped with razor wire remain but the buildings look to have been abandoned to the elements. Some of the buildings to the south of the base form part of a sustainability centre, which includes the South Downs Natural Burial Site.

HMS Mercury

The final climb of the day was up Old Winchester Hill, a nature reserve dominated by an iron age hill fort (and home to a trig. point). It was whilst I was standing on these ancient defensive earthworks that I was treated to a display of modern defensive hardware.

A pair of jet fighters made five or six passes of the hill before heading north with a roar. I don’t know if the hills and valleys are a regular training ground, but it may explain the signs prohibiting kite and model aircraft flying.

Descending Old Winchester Hill

From Old Winchester Hill the path descends to Exton, Hampshire, the end of my day’s walk and the start of a marathon five hour bus and train journey home. The approach to Exton is along a path by the side of a dried up stream bed, which was a bit of an obstacle course. The normally wide paths of the South Downs Way were replaced with a narrow twisting path, with tree roots and overhanging branches, it certainly made an interesting change.

Exton is a lovely little village, I didn’t have much time to explore, but I got a few pictures of the church, and had a quick look around as I made my way to the bus stop. I will be back there again soon to complete the final section, then I will take the opportunity to spend a bit longer looking around.

The River Meon near Exton

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