The day we did this walk, we were making the most of a window in the weather, so we shortened our planned route and met at the church at Deane.
The first section of walk is through farmland, going over the railway from Basingstoke to Winchester. The signage & the map disagreed at Bull’s Bush Copse and we weren’t sure whether we should cut through or go round. We followed the signpost and went round – either would have got you to the same place.
We were walking at the end of September and in the hedgerows the wild damsons (which are less prickly relatives of sloes) were ripe. I picked a few with the intention of making damson vodka or similar.
The second half of the walk took in more places. Firstly we came to North Waltham.
Waltham comes from the Anglo-Saxon for “clearing in the woodland”, so there’s been a settlement here a long time. The manor of ‘Wealtham’ was given to the Bishop of Winchester by King Edward the Elder in 909 AD. From the records of the bishop’s income from the 13th century onwards it is known that the downland in the area was used for wheat and sheep farming.
It is a pretty village based around a pond. As food production improved and infant mortality rates fell, the population of North Waltham grew. In 1850 there were 500 people, but only ninety houses causing overcrowding. However, the old cottages were not replaced because the mechanisation for farming and cheap wheat imports meant low wages and the area became impoverished.
Most of the cottages were condemned in the 1930s and the plan was to replace them with new council houses. However, the onset of World War 2 halted their removal and since they’ve been listed and restored. In 1964 the sale of Manor Farm resulted in several plots being used for new housing developments. By now there was electricity, water and sewerage in the village and it became an attractive place for middle class people to live and commute to Basingstoke and London.
After stopping for a rest in North Waltham, we headed towards Steventon, where in December 1775 Jane Austen was born. While living in Steventon Jane wrote ‘Sense and Sensibility’, ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Northanger Abbey’.
We went to take a peep inside the church of St Nicholas, where Jane’s father George Austen was rector. The rectory where Jane with her family lived until she was 26 is no longer there, but it is fun to imagine her in the landscape. The yew tree in the church yard is thought to be 900 years old, so it would have been an old tree even in Jane’s time.
From Steventon we went under the railway and down to the road at Ashe Park. Jane Austen was a regular visitor to Ashe Park in the 1790s and mentions it in her letters. When we were there the house was for sale, but we didn’t think we looked like convincing enough buyers to ask to look round it!
By then we were almost back at our cars and pleased to get there before the rain set in again!
This circuit is just under 9 miles.
More sections of the Wayfarers Walk