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Church Treasures at Minstead

Combine a varied walk through New Forest inclosures with a visit to Minstead's fascinating church, burial place of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Distance 5.2 miles (8.4km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 361ft (110m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Field paths, bridleways, forest tracks, roads, 5 stiles

Landscape Pasture and farmland, forest inclosures and heathland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Outdoor Leisure 22 New Forest

Start/finish SU 280109

Dog friendliness Let them off lead on heathland

Parking Minstead church or by village green

Public toilets None on route

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1 Go through a gate to the right of the churchyard and walk down to another gate. Continue ahead entering a wood. Exit via a gate, bear right and then left on to the road. Cross the ford and keep to the lane, bearing left by a phone box.

2 At a crossroads, go straight over, following the sign to Acres Down Farm. Cross over a ford then, at the crossroads just past the farm, turn right. Almost immediately take the left fork along a track, signed 'Acres Down Car Park'. Walk past the car park and follow a series of signposts, this time heading for Bolderwood.

3 Swing sharp right through a gate. Ignore the junction right, over a small stream, and just beyond a track merging from the left, turn right along a grass track. Walk through coniferous trees, then cross a gravel track and bear slightly right. The path swings right, then left, eventually reaching a fork at the top of a short rise.

4 Bear left, then at an indistinct fork, take the more distinct path right. Maintain direction across a track, then in 50yds (46m), fork right, vaguely parallel to the track. Continue with less woodland to your left and eventually exit the woods via a gate.

5 Turn right, join a track from the left and almost immediately fork left. With woodland to your right, keep on the well defined track, ignoring the routes left and right, for ½ mile (800m). Fork right through gorse and merge with a track from the right. Swing right, ignore the track left to the road, but keep straight on to reach the road.

6 Cross over and walk left down the verge. Pass Grovewood House and turn left down the bridleway, signed to King's Garn. Pass the house and take the left fork and join the track merging from the right. Continue downhill and just before reaching a road, turn left over a stile and continue between boundaries.

7 Drop down to a bridge and stile. Enter woodland and immediately turn right through a gate. Cross a stream, go up some steps, then fork right through a gate. Cross a plank bridge, go through a gate and continue a gentle ascent. Join a path from the right and carry straight on into a car park. Fork right, pass Furzey Gardens and walk down to the road.

8 Turn right, then right again. Take the footpath left and walk along the left-hand field edge to a bridge and stile. Maintain direction through the next field to a road. Turn right into Minstead, then right after the pub back to the church.

Of the New Forest's half-dozen villages, enchanting Minstead is among the most visited and the least spoiled. Completely encircled by forest, with picture-postcard thatched and weatherboarded cottages nestling in a maze of high-banked lanes, it is one of those communities which seem completely isolated from the outside world, the lush landscape of rolling pasture and scattered woodland contrasting with the ancient surrounding forest.

Referred to as Mintestede - the place where mint grows - in the Domesday Book, the village has probably remained untroubled since William Rufus was killed while out hunting at nearby Canterton Glen in 1100. Crowning a little hill overlooking the village is the Church of All Saints, one of the hidden treasures of the county, which dates back to at least the 13th century. Originally thatched and looking more like a cottage, with its series of different sized gables, dormers and attractive little extensions, it has immediate appeal and time should be allowed to explore its fascinating interior and churchyard. According to Pevsner, its wealth of old furniture and fittings is surpassed only by St Mary's at Whitby, North Yorkshire. Whitby en miniature is built of traditional New Forest materials, wattle filled in with rubble and daub, with stone only spared for the arches and quoins in the main walls. Beyond the porch and the arched main doorway with its 12th-century round-topped Norman arches, ancient wooden door and deeply worn step that has seen the passing of worshippers and pilgrims for over 800 years, you will find a surprisingly intact Georgian interior.

Note the rare and unusual three-decker pulpit, made of oak and patched with pine, dating from the 17th century. The lowest deck was used by the parish clerk who said the 'Amens'; the middle deck was where the scriptures were read and the sermon was preached from the upper level. The fine nave is filled with a double tier of galleries, built in the 18th century to accommodate musicians and the growing congregation, with the plain upper gallery added to provide free seating for children and the poor of the parish. You will also find the 17th-century box pews of interest, in particular the three family pews for the local gentry, each with their own entrance and one equipped like a cosy sitting room with comfortable seating and a fireplace.

If you take a stroll around the churchyard you will find the grave of the best known Minstead resident, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1869-1930), and his wife on the south side by an oak tree. He created the character Sherlock Holmes and lived at nearby Bignell Wood. He refers to Minstead Church in his novel The White Company. Originally buried in the garden of his home in Sussex, his body was moved to Minstead after his wife died in the 1950s.

What to look for

Note the unusual pub sign which depicts the 'trusty servant', a swine-snouted character with a padlocked jaw to illustrate his discretion and stags feet to indicate his speed in running errands. The original 16th-century picture and inscription (in Latin) hangs in Winchester College. As well as Conan Doyle's grave in All Saints churchyard, look out for the gravestone of Thomas White who died in 1842 aged 81. Erected by his wife it praised 'A Faithful Husband'. Unfortunately she later heard things to the contrary so the offending word was chiselled out.

While you're there

Visit Furzey Gardens. Eight acres (3.2ha) of peaceful glades surround a restored thatched Forest cottage dating from 1560. You can see winter and summer heathers, rare flowering trees and shrubs, including flaming Chilean fire trees, extensive collections of rhododendrons and azaleas, and a wonderful display of spring bulbs. There are also displays of local arts and crafts.

Where to eat and drink the trusty servant in minstead is a homely village inn offering an extensive menu, good real ale, overnight accommodation and a friendly welcome. refreshments are available in the craft gallery at furzey gardens, and the excellent village shop in minstead sells freshly-made sandwiches and coffee.

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