Category Archives: Wednesday Walks

Not Quite Abra – Cadabra… but still a great walk!

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A walk I undertook back in the summer, to search out a Bronze Age barrow near Overton.

Growing up on the Dorset/Wiltshire border, I guess I was a bit spoilt with the amount of barrows and henges everywhere… (Its the place to see numerous earthworks, plus the unique neolithic Dorset ‘Cursus’ crossing the landscape).  Barrows are evident in Hampshire, but to a lesser degree, (maybe as the soils of heathland, and towards the coast are sandy they are poorer and therefore eroded. I suspect farming methods too have helped erase them). I have discovered the White Barrow near where I live in Oakley which is well preserved, but I’d seen a barrow marked on the map near Overton called Abra, which looked worth a visit – just for the name. Who was Abra – An ancient local chieftain or respected leader?

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© Ordnance Survey

The start of my walk, was 9 miles to the west of Basingstoke, in area called Southington, just out of Overton and near the River Test.  I parked up alongside the B3400, the Old London Rd. Walking up a lane of flint cottages, the track narrowed and up a slipppery chalky slope, came to a junction where I turned left onto what looked like an older, well trod lane. The North Downs chalk was showing through in places. I wondered if this route had carried locals for years, (as it eventualy went back into Overton)? It was quite similar to the Harrow Way.

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After a quarter of a mile along, I turned right on a footpath – the track was very similar, and lined with low trees and hedgerows. With the dappled light, I appreciated some protection from the afternoon sun!  When the trees ceased and I was out into the open space called ‘White Hill.’

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Overton was the other side of these trees

I was enjoying the weather, (and somehow conducting a job enquiry with a recruiter), and passed a few people but not many. To one friendly dog walker, I said about the Barrow, but she’d never heard of it. In a way, it encouraged me that I had shared with a long term resident something she had not know of. Which is one of this Blogs goals!

As I went south away from Overton, the path became quite overgrown and uneven, but it was a real haven for butterflies like this one beneath I photographed…

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After 15 minutes,  the gentle undulating slope brought me to a couple of cottages called Lower Whitehill. It was at this point I turned right, through a gate. I could just strain to hear the traffic on the A303, but I was enjoying what the landscape had to offer. The track I turned into looked narrower on my map, than it really  was, and it also suggested it was an unmade road. But as I kept walking, I thought how good a standard it was, for connecting the farms scattered around Lavertsoke. I was on the look out for this barrow now – thinking its position would be quite proud. I kept looking back to the map scanning the area to locate it.  Well… as you can see below – It was quite subtle. The erosion is probably down to farming. To be honest, I felt a little dissapointed when I got up close. (Maybe my Dorset examples had spoiled me).

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Where is the barrow?

I decided with my objective achieved, I might as well sit down there anyway, enjoy the sun and have my tea and cake. On the approach to the barrow, there had been a slight rise which when I was beside it, I began to appreciate its location. The other side of the barrow I realised It looked out in many directions, unobstructed. The effect, (and importance), of the barrow was revealing itself, as if it was saying, ‘I’ve been here longer than you, mate’ It would have been seen clearly around from several locations for centuries.

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This is the Abra Barrow… A shadow of its former self.

As I took in the surrounding countryside, I found it a beautiful spot to be in on a sunny afternoon -‘pastoral’ I think they call it… Hedgerows, Cattle and sheep and gentle rolling hills. I had that feeling when you visit somewhere new, even on holiday, but this was barely 5 miles from my home!

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As I continued my walk along the lane, the road was still of a good standard.  Confusingly, I thought the map implied that the track would end, and I would be back onto a path, but the road carried on. Maybe my  O.S. map needs replacing!
There was a farm and some more cottages and the landscape it seemed kept getting more pictureseque to me. Hearing somechildren playing I thought what a wonderful place to grow up in.  That feeling of space not always easy to find in The South of England. Another half mile alongthe lane, I turned right and rejoined the track I was was on earlier, with the chalk coming through – my walk almost done.

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So, The Abra Barrow initially dissapointed as a monument, but looking back, it was built up on high spot, and would have been seen from places.  I also got rewarded with a lovely tract of countryside 15 years I did know of.

The circular walk was about 4-5 miles and at a leisurely pace, It took around 2 hours.
A few gentle climbs and descents, and mixed terrain, especially on the first half.

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Walking a Roman Road

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Edge of the Roman Road towards Hannington © Nigel Smith

A early summer walk following part of a Roman Road through North Hampshire.

This is another one of those instances where driving through the area on my commute to Newbury, I look up something of interest and I want to further investigate on foot when I get the chance… The early June day I picked was perfect weather for walking.
On the map the roman road is marked as ‘Port Way’. The part I’ll be walking is defined by a line of tree planting and I also see the term ‘Ceasar’s Belt’ on maps which I think is related to forestry and not the Emperor’s clothes…

‘Port Way’ is the name given to the road between the Roman settlements of silchester in Hampshire and Old Saram in Wiltshire, near Salisbury, (and part of the longer network between Dorchester and London). With the trees lining the route its hard to a tell how much of the original structure of the road remains, but there are some well defined ditches and undulations. The percieved knowlege of the historians through excavations carried out on Port Way suggest what we have today is ‘pretty well preserved example’ for an almost 2000 year old road. Not all roman roads were built up and depending on their importance, but this one used the engineering techniques of the day.

The Walk

  1. There is a layby near the start of the walk. There are some cottages called ‘Clapgate’ beside the old A34, (which must be a reference to a stopping post?) heres my map to show the route.
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© Nigel Smith

We are starting on the roman road. Its a slight rise and initially earthworks are visable. There are enclosures close and its not long before I see some Dear and other wildlife.

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Route of the roman road is to the right © Nigel Smith

The path then seems to be directed to run alongside and trees continue to mark the route. Its not long before the view opens up into rolling countryside.

Farm access means there is a track alongside. Its tempting to see a piece of rock and think you are looking at an original surface but as this is part of a farm, there are tracks so its probably infall!

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I so much want these fragments to be the original roman surface…

2). The walk is rising gradually and then over the crest we come down to a road. There’s a fallen tree so its a good place to sit and open the flask.

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First place to stop after crossing the road © Nigel Smith

After the next bit it is a steeper climb, but the views are rewarding. To the left there looks to be old black hut, but directly ahead is White Hill and the distinctive Hannington mast.

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We leave the course of the roman road here… © Nigel Smith

3). The path dips here and it is at this point our walk takes a left on an ajoining footpath. It is signposted, but over a stlye on the right hand side. The path rises again and picks a cross wind up, so I imagine some days this is quite an exposed part. I walk by the ‘hut’ I saw earlier and it turns out to be some derelict farm sheds…

There is quite a steep descent by a plantation and where we are going to cross the road again is visable. A really nice part of the walk!

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Flintshire or Hampshire?? © Nigel Smith

4). Crossing the road, at ‘Owls Lodge’ the amount of flint underfoot really shows up on this stretch. The O.S. map refers to ‘field systems’ being evident, which I guess dates from The Medieval period.  (I can see other references littered along Great Litchfield Down).

Back in the present day there are several lanes I cross for Down Farm. The track is gravel and stone, which is loose but well defined as it slowly rises.

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Beacon Hill in distance © Nigel Smith

5). I’ve got my spot for lunch. The view opens up again towards Beacon Hill. Wonderfully you can’t see the A34 running beneath it. On Beacon Hill, there is a grave for the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, who’s ancestral home Highclere castle, (and setting for ‘Downton Abbey’), is behind the hill in the valley on the left. After lunch, back on to the the footpath, it is a tarmac road, so watch out for estate traffic.

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Looking back up the lane I’ve just walked down from luch spot

Down one side is a fine avenue of trees. There is a small row of estate workers houses, before we enter the village of Litchfield itself. Its a quiet place that also used to have its own railway station, (and I think I’ll come back to Litchfield in another blog sometime in more detail), but the old A34 used to run through the village, before the Dual Carraigeway was built.

6). Turn right by some converted stables then take the next left, by the rectory on the right. (The white building in the photo below).

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Converted Farm buildings in Litchfield across the old A34 © Nigel Smith

Opposite the rectory are the remains of a path up to the dissused station.

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Old railway gate, Litchfield © Nigel Smith

Ahead of us is the underpass of the A34 which we have to go through. This is suddenly the noisiest part of the whole walk. The road takes traffic from Winchester and The South Coast, up to Oxford and the M40!

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Not the prettiest picture I’ll take!

7). After the underpass, follow the path round to the right. I found My O.S. map wasn’t totally clear in signposting where the path would be, but I kept on following on and I eventually saw the signpost directed me left up a bank along a track. Looking back down I appeared to be back tracking, but then thankfully it veers to right through a gap and away from the noise on a small path.

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Not very well signposted, take the path to the right, and not carrying on the track…

The path follows some power lines up a hill. I still wanted some clarification I was heading on the right path, but it soon becomes very evident its the path!

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Towards Dunley © Nigel Smith

8). As you approach Dunley, the path has on the right what looks like converted farm buildings.  The path joins a lane which splits, take the left fork and at the juction of the road, cross it and follow the road signposted ‘Egbury’. There is a long avenue of trees and a gradual rise for a mile. It feels like part of an old estate.

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© Nigel Smith

9). You approach some gates to Dunley Park. Bear to the left around and carry on a short way through a gentle bend, where the road forks. Take the left route which is initially a made up track. You are entering Bradley Wood. We’re staying on this path through the wood. At the farm the track stops, but the path is defined around to the right of the property.

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Bradley Wood Farm © Nigel Smith

10). A feature on the map really intrigued me, and the main reason I wanted to explore. We’re picking up the ‘Portway’ roman road again as it runs through the wood. Clearly marked are some earthworks and what looks like ditches which the footpath will cross. The sun was shining again which added charm to the mixed woodland.

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© Nigel Smith

The wood feels old, but the trees have been planted over any archeology there was. Pollarding of trees would have been done many times in this woodland. I was hoping to see more defined features to be honest. Also, the features are on private land off the path so its hard to get close. Even where the path crosses the Roman Road its hard to make out any features, which is a real pity.
(A later walk I did in Dorset on a roman road, Ackling Dyke, was a better preserved example. read more here).

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The Roman Road… honest!

11). I carry on through the wood and there is another underpass beneath the A34.  A short gap brings me back almost full circle. Take care – the last part is along the roadside back to my car. Despite the last part not adding anything visual to the Roman experience, of the Portway, Its been a varied walk with some great views and woodland.

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I think I can see the car!

 

Details
Length: approx 7 miles
Terrian: some gradual climbs, mostly defined footpaths and tracks. Some Styles and partly along roadside.