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In the Footsteps of Gilbert White at Selborne

A walk through the glorious beech hangers and tranquil meadows that so inspired the eminent naturalist Gilbert White.

Distance 3.5 miles (5.6km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 361ft (110m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Woodland, field paths, stretch of metalled road, 7 stiles

Landscape Lofty beech hangers, lush rolling pasture and woodland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 133 Haslemere & Petersfield

Start/finish SU 741334

Dog friendliness Dogs should be kept under control at all times

Parking Free National Trust car park behind Selborne Arms

Public toilets At car park in Selborne

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1 Take the arrowed footpath, signed 'Zig-Zag Path & Hangers', by the car park entrance and gently ascend to a gate at the base of Selborne Hill & Common. Bear left to follow the impressive Zig-Zag path uphill, pausing at regular intervals to catch your breath and to admire the unfolding view across the village.

2 At the top, take the stepped path right and, in a few paces, keep right at a fork to follow the lower path through the beech hangers. Shortly, look out for a metal bench, by a path ascending from the right, and savour the splendid view of the church and The Wakes through the gap in the trees. Continue along the main path, gently descending to a junction of paths, by a National Trust sign.

3 Turn right downhill along a track then, where this curves left, bear off right across a stile into pasture. Keep to the left-hand edge, cross three more stiles and follow the path to a lane. Turn right and follow it back into the village, opposite the church. Turn right along the B3006 road for The Wakes and the car park, if you wish to cut the walk short.

4 Cross the B road and follow the Hangers Way sign through the churchyard to a gate. Follow the defined path to a footbridge over the Oakhanger Stream.

5 Keep to the Hangers Way through a gate and along the edge of meadowland to a gate, then pass through a stretch of woodland to a kissing-gate and fork of paths.

6 Proceed straight ahead (yellow arrow), leaving the Hangers Way. Eventually pass alongside a fence to a stile on the edge of Coombe Wood. Keep close to the woodland fringe to a stile, then bear left along the field edge to a stile and turn right along a bridleway towards Priory Farm. Keep to the track through the farmyard to the metalled drive.

7 In a few paces, where it curves left, bear off right along a track beside a bungalow. Cross a stile and follow the grassy track uphill along the field edge, through a gate, eventually reaching a gate and woodland. Follow the track (can be muddy) through beech woodland. Leave the wood, passing a house called Dorton's, and climb the lane steeply back to Selborne, turning left for the car park.

Selborne, and its beautiful surrounding countryside, were made famous over two centuries ago by the writings and reputation of the clergyman and pioneer naturalist Gilbert White who published The History and Antiquities of Selborne in 1789. Based on 40 years of observation and meticulous recording of the flora and fauna around the village, it is one of the few books on natural history to gain the rank of an English classic. White poetically describes his day-to-day experiences of nature in the Hampshire countryside through a series of letters to his friends Thomas Pennant and Daines Barrington.

Born in the village in 1720, White was the grandson of a vicar of Selborne, and, having been ordained after attending Oxford, he returned to live in the village to serve as a curate at neighbouring parishes and at Selborne in 1751. From the age of ten until his death in 1793 he lived at The Wakes, a large house that overlooks the village green (the Plestor) and church. Although the village has changed, White would find the surrounding landscape that he knew and loved so well largely unspoilt and now preserved by the National Trust.

This walk literally follows in White's footsteps, exploring the lofty, beech-clad hills or 'hangers' that rise steeply behind his home, and the lush 'lythes' or meadows beyond St Mary's Church, both beautiful areas through which he would stroll and passionately observe and note the wildlife around him. The walk comprises two loops around the village, so if you are short of time (or energy) you can enjoy the classic climb onto Selborne Common and still have time to visit Gilbert White's home, now a museum.

The walk begins with a long ascent to the top of Selborne Hill and Common, a task made easier by the hard work put in by Gilbert White and his brother John in 1753, when they constructed the famous Zig-Zag path up the steep scarp face. White described the Common as 'a vast hill of chalk, rising three hundred feet above the village; and is divided into a sheep down, the high wood, and a long hanging wood called The Hanger'. You are rewarded with peace and tranquillity when you reach White's Wishing Stone, and magnificent views over the village. You can explore the maze of paths that criss-cross the Common, but the main route threads through the glorious beech hangers to White's favourite viewpoint. Here White would pause to absorb the breathtaking cameo that took in his home, the church and the serene wooded landscape.

Back in the village, locate White's grave in the churchyard and visit St Mary's Church. Here you will find White's fine memorial window depicting St Francis of Assisi preaching to 82 birds, all of which are mentioned in his book. The second loop heads east through the Oakhanger Valley, following the Hangers Way to Priory Farm, the site of Selborne Priory.

While you're there

Visit Gilbert White's house. Learn more about the famous naturalist and visit exhibitions commemorating the naturalist and explorer Francis Oates, who journeyed to South America and South Africa, and Captain Lawrence Oates who accompanied Scott on his ill-fated expedition to the South Pole in 1911.

Where to eat and drink

Delicious light lunches, cakes and afternoon teas can be enjoyed in the civilised Tea Parlour at The Wakes, Gilbert White's house. Alternatively, try Bush House Tea Room, or one of the two pubs, the Selborne Arms, which has a family room, or the Queens Arms for home-cooked bar food.

What to look for note the trunk of a great yew tree in the churchyard which is estimated to be 1,400 years old. by the time it blew down in 1990 it measured 26ft (8m) in girth and was taller than the church. opposite the wakes is the old butchers shop. it is hidden by two of the four original lime trees, planted by gilbert white in 1756, to hide 'the blood and filth' from view as he worked in his parlour. look for the splendid victorian iron drinking fountain at the south end of the village. it is in the form of a fierce lion's head flanked by windmills, the water flowing from the lion's mouth.

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