Tag Archives: winchester

Wandering: South Downs Way – Exton to Winchester

26 Sep

After a break of almost a month my wife and I were back walking the South Downs Way last Saturday. This was the last section taking us from the tiny village of Exton to the city of Winchester, both in Hampshire and although the distance was only twelve miles they did seem a world apart.

The highlight of Exton for me (apart from it being an ancestral village) was the River Meon (see below), a beautifully clear chalk stream and I could have stood for hours watching the trout feeding in the shallow waters. Winchester has its own river (the Itchen) which is quite pretty in its own right, but Winchester also has a motorway, crowds, shops, cafes, noise and everything we had been blissfully free of on our walk over the Downs.

The weather wasn’t perfect, visibility was pretty poor on our journey down and we wondered whether we would actually be able to see anything once we reached Exton. Fortunately the sun did come out as the weather forecasters predicted and started to burn of some of the mist and fog. Unfortunately it wasn’t long before the sky clouded over and we were left with slightly better visibility but by no means perfect.

The sun did reappear after lunch, but it was a little too late in the afternoon. I had hoped for a clear view of Winchester as we descended from the hills, but instead we were greeted by a rather dull and grey jumble of buildings, rather disappointing in the end.

Footbridge over the River Meon at Exton, Hampshire

We passed through many places with ancestral connections during the day, both whilst walking and whilst getting to the start. It is a beautiful part of the country and one which I have ever intention of visiting again and exploring further. Public transport is not brilliant among the small villages and hamlets, so some careful planning is need.

So that is it, the walk is over, we reached our destination but it did take an incredibly long time. It was actually only ten days, which works out at ten miles a day, but we didn’t have the luxury of lots of free time to complete it, so it was stretched out over many more months than we would have liked. Next year I will try to do it all in one go.

So here is the final set of facts and figures for the walk:

Starting point: Exton, Hampshire
Finishing point: City Mill, Winchester, Hampshire
Distance walked: 12.0 miles
Highest point: Beacon Hill (659 ft)
Places of note: Exton, Beacon Hill, Lomer, A272, Cheesefoot Head, Chilcomb, Winchester
Number of trig points spotted: One – Beacon Hill
Number of sandwiches eaten: Two halves (egg and cress, cheese and onion)
Number of times I said “my ancestors used to live here”: I lost count, but probably too many times!
Number of bus journeys taken: One (we had to get an early start so my wife drove us to the station)
Number of train journeys taken: Five
Number of ice creams eaten: None
Shorts or long trousers: Long trousers (although it did get quite warm once or twice)

The River Itchen and City Mill, Winchester, Hampshire

Copyright © 2011 John Gasson.
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South Downs Way: Exton to Winchester

29 Jun

South Downs Way sign

Today I completed the final section of the South Downs Way, from Exton to Winchester (both in Hampshire). It was a bit of a spur of the moment decision last night, and it meant another early start and a marathon bus journey to get home.

The weather started rather grey and overcast, with a forecast of rain, but I was still in my shorts and short-sleeve shirt (and an umbrella in my rucksack). I did wonder whether I had got it wrong, but once I started walking it became clear that although the sun was not visible it was still a going to be a warm day.

I spent a little longer than I had planned in Exton, mainly at the church (pictured below), St. Peter and St. Paul, which was open and is a delightful church. There were several baptisms, marriages and burials of my ancestors that took place at that church and it was good to see it in detail at last.

Exton Church

I hurried off from Exton, trying to make up for the time I had spent in the church, heading in a north-westerly direction up Beacon Hill. The first half a mile or so was a gentle rolling landscape and I could almost see my ancestors working on these fields 150 years ago. Then things got steep and the thoughts of my ancestors turned to thoughts of mountain goats.

Stile on a slope

The view from the top was worth the climb, even in the gloom and haze there were quite spectacular views to the south and west. Also there was a trig point there as well, which made it really worthwhile. From Beacon Hill the South Downs Way continues in the same roughly north-westerly direction, and to be honest the path became a little dull again.

The views were very limited, often blocked by hedgerows either side of the track. The only thing that kept me going was trying to catch up with and stay ahead of a couple of groups of walkers, who had also got off the bus at Exton. My dalliance at the church had allowed them to get ahead of me, but it was a great motivator to try and catch up with them.

Fingerpost on Gander Down

The path started to open up a bit more after the halfway point and also it started to rain, fortunately it was nothing more than a few spots, although the skies threatened more. Within an hour or so the clouds started to break up, there was more blue sky than cloud.

The views at Cheesefoot Head were quite spectacular, and before long the city of Winchester came into view, then promptly disappeared as I rounded the side of the hill, but at least I could now see where I was heading, albeit still more than a couple of miles away.

Chilcomb church

As I descended towards Winchester I checked my watch and decided I could fit in a visit to Chilcomb church. I couldn’t remember exactly which one it was, but one of my MITCHELL relatives was baptised here, and I felt that I ought to get a photo otherwise I would probably never get around to visiting it again. It is such a delightful little church, I was really glad I took time out to visit, there are stunning views of Winchester from the churchyard.

The final couple of miles from Chilcomb to Winchester were not particularly interesting, the entry in the city is across a footbridge over the motorway, and then about a mile along pavements into the heart of the city. The final stretch is along the side of the River Itchen, which was quite nice, but it seems all traces of the South Downs Way had disappeared from the city.

Despite my brief efforts, I couldn’t find any sign marking the end of the South Downs Way, the statue of King Alfred has apparently been adopted as the end (or start) of the route, but having walked the 12 miles from Exton (and over 100 miles from Eastbourne over the last couple of months) I had hoped to find some official indication that I had reached the end.

King Alfred at Winchester

I must confess the path did bring me into a different part of the city, one which I hadn’t seen before because it is at the opposite end of the city from the Hampshire Record Office, and it was a much nicer part of the city, and somewhere I would like to come back to and explore further.

Then came the question of getting home. There were two options, bus or train. I had been hoping I would get to Winchester in time to get the bus, because I have been wanting to get the bus home from Winchester for over six months now, so I made my way to the bus station.

The bus journey home is an epic journey, and one that cuts through my Hampshire ancestral homeland. From Winchester the bus goes to Alton (home of the WRIGHT family) and then on to Guildford, Surrey. The journey takes about an hour and forty minutes, and as well as Alton it passes through Alresford, Hampshire which is home to my MITCHELL roots.

Racing through the Hampshire countryside on the top deck of the double-decker bus was a perfect way to end the day, especially as when we neared Ropley we passed alongside the Mid Hants Railway and were treated to the sight of one of their preserved steam trains heading for Alton.

From Guildford, Surrey it was another hour by bus to Horsham, Sussex where I was finally able to get on a bus that would take me home. For some people four hours on buses would be torture, but for me it was just a perfect way to end another little adventure in my life.

South Downs Way: Cocking to Queen Elizabeth Country Park

19 Jun

South Downs Way sign

I just can’t get enough of the South Downs at the moment, and although the weather was a little disappointing, it turned out to be one of the most memorable days for a long time, mostly for the right reasons.

It is getting more complicated to get to the start and get back from the end of these walks, but getting to the start provided the first surprise of the day, our train was held up because of a steam train! I knew there was a steam tour passing through Sussex today, but didn’t think I would actually see it. Not that I could actually see much, but it was unquestionably a steam train, a rare sight on the mainline this day and age.

After the train came a bus ride to Cocking Hill Car Park, and almost straight away a walk up Cocking Down. Halfway up the hill is a rather large chalk boulder (pictured below). Like a giant marble, it is begging to be pushed down the hill, but I guess it is probably fixed in some way (or too heavy to be moved). According to my guide book it a work by sculptor Andy Goldsworthy and is part of the Chalk Stone Trail.

Chalk boulder

Up on the top of the Downs the views are quite spectacular, unfortunately because of the combination of poor light and haze my photos don’t do them justice. To the south Portsmouth with it’s Spinnaker Tower was clearly visible, with the Solent and Isle of Wight beyond that.

Closer to the path the next point of interest was a cemetery, but not the sort of cemetery I am used to, there were no headstones at this cemetery. The Devil’s Jumps (part of which is pictured below) are described on the information board as being "the best example of a Bronze Age (2000BC – 800BC) barrow cemetery on the South Downs". The Downs are dotted with smaller barrows and tumuli but these certainly take some beating.

Devil's Jumps

Not far from the Devil’s Jumps is a much newer memorial, a nice flint built memorial to Hauptmann Joseph Oestermann, a German pilot. It seems rather unusual that a German pilot should be remembered in such a way, and the story is certainly worthy of further research, such as who actually put it there?

Flint memorial

The path continued in a north-westerly direction, before turning westwards near Mount Sinai and climbing up Pen Hill, there once again the were some spectacular views, this time mainly to the north-east. Dropping down from Pen Hill, you are confronted by the bulk of Beacon Hill. The South Downs Way actually goes around the side of Beacon Hill, but I took a quick detour up to the top to visit the trig point and admire the views.

Looking east from Beacon Hill

As you can see from the pictures, there was plenty of cloud about. There were larger gaps in the cloud which allowed the sun to briefly spotlight certain favoured parts of the landscape. For most of the walk though it was still pretty warm, despite the lack of sunshine.

The biggest surprise of the day came after retracing my steps down Beacon Hill and walking around it to the other side. I was just beginning the climb up from Bramshott Bottom to Harting Downs when I heard the sound of a plane, or was it a helicopter? It certainly didn’t sound right, not a normal light aircraft, something bigger perhaps? Suddenly a big black shape appeared above the trees, no wonder it didn’t sound right, it took me a few seconds to realise it was a Lancaster bomber, passing a couple of hundred feet above my head!

I quickly pulled my camera out, but only managed to catch it disappearing to the east. There is only one Lancaster bomber flying in this country, with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, but what was it doing over the South Downs?

After the physical and emotional high points the rest of the walk became rather disappointing, heading west from Harting Down the path entered a thin strip of woodland and the temperature seemed to drop dramatically, and I was glad to get out into the brief spells of sunshine again.

The path westward from Harting was quite a challenge, not so much physically, but mentally. I had been going for nearly four hours without a break, I was starting to get hungry, my legs were beginning to ache, but worst of all the South Downs Way was becoming boring.

There were no real views to speak of, the path was pretty flat and mostly farm tracks and roads. Worst of all it seemed to go on for miles, although in truth it was only a couple of miles. Then came the county boundary, leaving West Sussex and entering Hampshire, this should have been an occasion worth celebrating, but there was no sign marking the border and it wasn’t easy to tell I had crossed it. The only noticeable indicator was a slight change in the style of signposts.

It was a real struggle to keep going, I needed to find somewhere to sit down and have a bite to eat, ideally somewhere in the sun, preferably with a view and a bench, and definitely soon. But there wasn’t anywhere, finally as I came to a bend in the road, I seized the opportunity. There was a length of wood acting as a step up to a footpath, that would have to do for a seat.

Not your usual picnic spot

It wasn’t much of a picnic spot, but I set off after only ten or fifteen minutes rest with spring in my step. I had looked at the map, there were only about four miles to go, the end was almost in sight. Suddenly I heard bells, they were loud and clear, I thought for a moment it was a mobile phone ringtone, but no it was definitely church bells, presumably carried up on the wind from Buriton Church.

It didn’t take long to finish of the last four miles. The last two were through the Queen Elizabeth Country Park, with nice wide paths and lots of signposts. In the end it took me about five hours to walk the fourteen miles and was glad to finally sit down in the bus shelter, by the side of another busy road as usual.

Getting home wasn’t easy: bus to Petersfield, train to Havant, train to Horsham and finally a bus home. Although I didn’t have to wait long at each change of transport, it still took me about two and a half hours to get home, but at least I was sitting down all the way.

So now I am in Hampshire, with only two sections to go until Winchester, the signpost at the country park said 23 miles to Winchester. The next section is going to be interesting, it should finish in Exton, Hampshire the home of some of my MITCHELL ancestors. I am really looking forward to having a look around the village and at the church where some of them were baptised and buried. The problem is that I still haven’t worked out how I am going to get home from there.

On the way home with two of my 4x great grandparents

10 Oct

After about four hours at Hampshire Record Office in Winchester, Hampshire I am back on the train again making my way home, mentally trying to make sense of what I found.

The Hampshire Record Office, Winchester, Hampshire

The Hampshire Record Office, Winchester, Hampshire

I found all the information I was looking for with the WRIGHT family, but then I was only double checking most of it. I have written about this WRIGHT family before and the confusion that surrounds whether Henry and Sarah Ann were in fact married. As I need to find their parents for my Christmas Tree Project it is time to try again and solve this puzzle.

Both Henry and Sarah Ann WRIGHT were buried in Alton, Hampshire, but checking the monumental inscriptions for the parish it doesn’t look like their gravestone has survived, if there ever was one.

The MITCHELL side of things went quite well, I now have William MITCHELL’s parents (John MITCHELL and Elizabeth LOCKETT) and some details of William’s siblings. The family were where I was expecting them, in New Alresford and latterly in Old Alresford. I think I have found John MITCHELL’s parents (John and Olive MITCHELL) there as well, so that takes me back another generation.

The POCOCK side of things was not so straight forward, and I am still left with no parents for Susannah POCOCK, it doesn’t appear that she was baptised in Hampshire (according to the Hampshire Baptism Index), and certainly not Micheldever.

There is an elderly POCOCK couple living in New Alresford (or was it Old Alresford) who seem to be the only POCOCKs for miles around. My instincts tell me that this couple (Richard and Mary) are Susannah’s parents.

They don’t appear to have been married in Hampshire (according to the Hampshire Marriage Index) and Mary’s place of birth on the census was Lambeth, Surrey. So when I get home I will be searching for POCOCK marriages and baptisms in Surrey and Sussex.

All in all it was a successful trip, so far the trains have gone according to plan and the weather has stayed dry, despite a few threatening clouds. I have added two more 4x great grandparents to my Christmas Tree Project so I feel this morning’s optimism was justified.

Feeling very pleased with myself

10 Oct

I am feeling very pleased with myself, it is Saturday morning and I am on the train making my way to Winchester and the Hampshire Record Office.

Why am I feeling so pleased with myself? Well, for once I am off to a record office with a clear idea of what I want to find, I have a plan, a pretty simple one admittedly, but it is a still a plan.

I am hoping to find the parents of William MITCHELL and Susannah POCOCK and check the baptisms for the children of Henry and Sarah Ann WRIGHT in Alton, Hampshire. Also I want to check for the burial of Henry and Sarah Ann, which I would expect to find in Alton as well.

So I am feeling confident, I know what I want to do, I had a reasonably early night and slept well, the trains appear to be running on time, and it has stopped raining and the sun is starting to appear.

What could possibly go wrong?

Ulterior motives for researching the BATEMAN family

20 Jul

Last night I spent a couple of hours exploring my BATEMAN ancestors (I posted a photo of Henry BATEMAN last week), and I hadn’t really gone much further back than his parents William BATEMAN and Caroline JACKSON (my 3x great grandparents).

I did have an ulterior motive for investigating this ancestral line. I was looking at somewhere for a genealogy holiday next year! The BATEMANs were from Gloucestershire, William and Caroline lived in a place called Winchcombe (it was originally spelt without the ‘e’ on the end).

When I started Googling Winchcombe I soon realised that this was the ideal place for me to visit. Wikipedia told me that it sat on no less than six long distance footpaths, and that there was a heritage railway running through Winchcombe as well (I could ride around behind steam engines all week given half a chance). This sounded the perfect place for me already, but add on top of that a visit to the parish church to search for gravestones and visiting some ancestral homes, and I would be in my element.

What’s more my BATEMAN ancestors seem to have been playing ball last night, almost everything seemed to be working in my favour, they were pretty easy to find on the census (only one transcription error, BATAMAN not BATEMAN), they were easy to find in the GRO BMD Indexes and William and his siblings had their baptisms in the IGI.

Things went so well that I have not only added details for William and his siblings, but I also made a start on his parents (Thomas and Rebecca) from nearby Temple Guiting as well.

I need to check some other aspects, such as public transport and accommodation in the area, but expect to hear more about the BATEMANs in the next twelve months as I try and find out as much as possible in preparation for a holiday.

Feeling sorry for myself

22 Jun

I was feeling very sorry for myself last night, I suppose you could call it a case of “Sunday night blues”, tomorrow would see me back at work again and I felt like I hadn’t really achieved anything this weekend.

Now don’t get me wrong, it had been quite a productive weekend, but you couldn’t really call cleaning the fridge and oven and mowing the grass achievements. Sunday was father’s day, so I had also spent some quality time round my parents house, enjoying dinner.

I suppose my problem was that I hadn’t actually found out anything new on my family tree, in fact I had done very little research during the previous week.

There were other factors, like the headache I had been unable to shake off, the aching shoulders (probably from cleaning the oven), the fact that Sunday was the longest day and although summer had just begun the days would soon be getting shorter and of course the feeling that in terms of walking I was probably not going to be able to beat my Sussex Day walk in terms of distance or enjoyment.

All this was conspiring to make me feel quite miserable!

The problem with my family tree is that my main projects all require a visit to the archives to make any more real progress, something which I don’t have the time and money to do. What I really needed was to focus on something I could do at home, between visits to the archives.

With access to ancestry.co.uk and various Sussex resources courtesy of the Sussex Family History Group, virtually any of my Sussex ancestors would be fair game.

Ideally I would like to find a family line with very local roots, preferably in the Horsham district, so I can use the resources of Horsham Library during my lunch break or after work. The added bonus of a local family is that it would be that much easier for me to visit their ancestral homes or search graveyards.

I can think of one or two families that might fit the bill and one in particular (the FAIRS family of West Grinstead) which I know I have quite a bit of research material on already.

I will keep my other projects active, and will fill in what details I can, but I won’t be able to make any major advances until I have visited Winchester, Carlisle or London again.

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