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High Above Highclere Castle

From a hilltop grave on Beacon Hill, to a uniquely decorated chapel.

Distance 6.4 miles (10.4km)

Minimum time 3hrs

Ascent/gradient 767ft (234m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Tracks, field and woodland paths, some roads, 6 stiles

Landscape Open downland and farmland, with patches of woodland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorers 144 Basingstoke, Alton & Whitchurch, 158 Newbury & Hungerford

Start/finish SU 463575 (on Explorer 144)

Dog friendliness Off lead on Beacon Hill, otherwise keep under control

Parking Beacon Hill car park off A34

Public toilets None on route

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1 Climb Beacon Hill at the start or finish of the walk. Leave the car park via the access road and cross the A34 bridge to a T-junction. Take the footpath opposite, downhill to a gate and walk along the field edge to Old Burghclere. Pass beside the church wall and Old Burghclere Manor to a lane. Proceed ahead, cross the old railway bridge and take the path left.

2 Keep to the left-hand field edge and enter woodland. In a few steps, bear left onto the old track bed. Turn right and follow the track and later a narrow path for ½ mile (800m) to a bridge.

3 Bear left up a chalky path to a track and turn right over the bridge. Gently descend to a lane, turn left and then right, signed 'Ecchinswell'. In 50yds (46m), take the waymarked bridleway left. Keep to this tree-lined path to a gravel drive and turn left.

4 Follow the track through the grounds to Earlstone Manor, passing ponds and Pheasant Cottage. Proceed through or close to woodland for a mile (1.6km) to a road. Turn right, then immediately left along Church Street in Burghclere, signed to Sandham Memorial Chapel.

5 Turn left by the church and keep to the road, shortly to pass the Memorial Chapel and the Carpenters Arms, before turning left along a metalled dead-end lane. Pass a cottage, then take the footpath right between gardens to a stile. Skirt round Budd's Farm across three fields via three more stiles and join a path through trees to a stile.

6 Turn right along the field edge, following it left in the corner. Drop down to a fingerpost and follow the left-hand path into woodland. If this route is boggy, keep to the field edge, looking out for a gap and path on your right into the woodland. Cross to a stile, keep ahead across the field and bear right through a gap into the adjacent field.

7 Ignore the path left and keep ahead with woodland on your right to a waymarker and turn right towards Ridgemoor Farm. Pass a pond to a gate and track. Turn right, then where it bears right, turn left up a wooded sunken path to a track. For the extra spur to Highclere Castle - turn right to reach a road. Cross the road and bridge over the A34, enter parkland and follow the drive to the house. Retrace your steps back to where you joined the track and keep ahead.

8 Turn left to a crossroads and turn right. Head uphill and keep to the undulating track for ½ mile (800m) to Old Burghclere. Turn left along the lane and then right along the drive to Old Burghclere Manor. Retrace your outward steps back to the Beacon Hill car park.

Due to the steep gradient of the grassy slopes leading to the summit of Beacon Hill, the highest point of the North Hampshire Downs at 860ft (262m), it's advisable to climb the hill at the start of your walk as you may not feel like it afterwards! Unless you're walking this route in July or August and plan to include the spur to Highclere Castle, don't miss the Earl of Carnarvon's grave and the views across the Highclere Estate, the focus of this walk.

Set within a landscape of parkland and wooded hills designed by 'Capability' Brown during 1774-77, Highclere Castle is a magnificent pastiche of a medieval castle, impressively grand inside and out. But Hampshire's largest mansion is early Victorian, designed and built in neo-Elizabethan style by Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament, between 1839 and 1842 around an earlier house. It is the home of the Earls of Carnarvon and the sumptuous interior, particularly the great hall, the library, the Rococo-style drawing room, and the dining room, are adorned with fine portraits of the Earl's family, the Herberts.

Of the seven Earls of Carnarvon that have resided at Highclere, it is the 5th and probably the best known that we are interested in. George Herbert had been fascinated by Egypt and archaeology from an early age and it was following a serious accident in 1902 that he spent time recuperating in the country. From 1906 he began sponsoring archaeological investigations, employing Howard Clark, an expert Egyptologist. In 1922, after years of hard work excavating in the Valley of Kings near Thebes, they discovered the tomb of Tutenkahmun and treasures that had been buried for over 3,000 years. The 5th Earl died a year later from an infected mosquito bite, an event which led to the stories of the curse of Tutenkahmun. His body was brought back to England and, as instructed, he was buried at the top of Beacon Hill overlooking his beloved estate. Sadly, much of the 5th Earl's collection was sold after his death, but some artefacts were discovered in a hiding place in the castle in 1987. You can see these on display, together with an exhibition on horse racing, as you tour the mansion. Unfortunately, outside July and August, you will have to be content with viewing the impressive castle and grounds from the 5th Earl's grave on Beacon Hill.

Where to eat and drink

In Burghclere, at the halfway point, is the Carpenters Arms, a homely pub offering bar food, Arkells ales and a sunny rear terrace with rural views. Highclere Castle has a restaurant and tea room.

While you're there

Visit the Sandham Memorial Chapel (cared for by the National Trust) in Burghclere. Built in the 1920s, the interior walls are entirely covered with magnificent murals painted by the artist Stanley Spencer between 1927 and 1932. They depict the everyday routine of a soldier's life during the Great War.

What to look for

Climb the steep grassy slopes of Beacon Hill (covered in cowslips in spring) to view the Iron Age hill fort close to its highest point. The well-preserved single rampart and ditch enclose the site of around 20 huts. Just inside the defences is the grave of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, who died in 1923.

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