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Looking for Edward Thomas

Explore the beech-clad hills and vales that so inspired Hamsphire's great poet.

Distance 3 miles (4.8km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 682ft (208m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Field and woodland paths, rutted, wet and muddy tracks (in winter) and short stretches of road, 29 stiles

Landscape Rolling, beech-clad hills, a hidden, flower-filled valley and undulating farmland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 133 Haslemere & Petersfield

Start/finish SU 746291

Dog friendliness Dogs to be kept under control at all times

Parking By village green and church in Hawkley

Public toilets Outdoor toilets at Harrow Inn accessible if required

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1 With your back to Hawkley church, walk left beside the green to the road junction. With the Hawkley Inn away to your left, cross straight over down Cheesecombe Farm Lane, signed 'the Hangers Way'. Shortly, bear off right along a concrete path. Descend to a stile and keep straight on at the fork of paths, with Cheesecombe Farm to the left.

2 Cross Oakshott Stream and keep left along the field edge beside woodland. Steeply ascend to a stile, keep right to a further stile, then turn left beside the fence and drop down to a track. Turn right, to reach a lane, then right again for 55yds (50m) to take the waymarked right of way beside Wheatham Hill House.

3 Climb the long and steep, chalky track up through Down Hanger (this gets very wet and muddy), with views east along the South Downs unfolding. At the top of Wheatham Hill, turn right at a T-junction of tracks along Old Litten Lane. In 300yds (274m), take the Hangers Way right over a stile. For the Edward Thomas memorial stone and magnificent South Downs views, continue along the track for 200yds (183m) and turn left with a waymarker. Pass beside the wooden barrier and drop down to the clearing on Shoulder of Mutton Hill.

4 Follow the Hangers Way as it descends through the edge of beech woods and steeply down across lush meadowland, eventually joining the drive to Lower Oakshott Farmhouse and a road.

5 Turn right, then left over the stile and follow the defined Hangers Way path through the Oakshott Valley, crossing stiles, plank bridges and delightful meadows to reach the junction of paths before Cheesecombe Farm. Turn left to the stile and retrace your steps back to Hawkley.

William Cobbett wrote 'beautiful beyond description' in his Rural Rides, after passing through Hawkley in 1822, on his way from East Meon to Thursley. In common with other famous literary people who once lived in and wrote about this area, such as naturalist Gilbert White and poet Edward Thomas, Cobbett was enchanted by the rolling, beech-clad hills that characterise this relatively unexplored part of Hampshire.

Known locally as 'hangers', from the Anglo-Saxon hangra meaning 'sloping wood', these fine beech woods cling to the steep chalk escarpment that links Selborne to Steep. Many have charming names such as Happersnapper Hanger and Strawberry Hanger. Edward Thomas lived at Steep from 1906 to his death in the First World War in 1917. His abiding love for the beech hangers, mysterious combes and the sheer beauty of the landscape inspired him to write some of his finest poems, including Up in the Wind, The New House and Wind and Mist. You, too, will be find the views breathtaking as you dip and climb through the hangers to the summit of Shoulder of Mutton Hill, Thomas's favoured spot above his beloved Steep.

The walk begins from Hawkley, tucked away beneath Hawkley Hanger. Resisting the temptations to be found at the Hawkley Inn, you descend into the lush meadows of the Oakshott Valley, before a steep ascent on an old droving track to the top of Shoulder of Mutton Hill. Here, in a tranquil glade on its higher slopes, you will find a sarsen stone dedicated to Edward Thomas. With such surprising views across Steep and of 'sixty miles of South Downs at one glance', as Thomas described it, it is no wonder that he loved this area. Inscribed on the stone is an apt line from one of his poems 'and I rose up and knew I was tired and continued my journey'.

The return walk joins the Hangers Way, a 21-mile (33.6km) long distance trail traversing East Hampshire from Queen Elizabeth Country Park to Alton. Following a steep descent through a meadow, carpeted with yellow cowslips in early spring, you will find most of the last 1 mile (1.6km) more relaxing as you follow the Oakshott Stream back to Hawkley.

While you're there

Track down the White Horse, close to Froxfield and Priors Dean on the unclassified road from Petersfield to the A32. One of the highest and most isolated pubs in Hampshire, it's a classic example of an unspoilt country pub and was a regular haunt of Edward Thomas - his tankard still hangs in the bar. The pub inspired his first poem Up in the Wind, written in 1914 and describing the inn's isolation. It begins with the lines 'I could wring the old thing's neck that put it there! A public-house'.

Where to eat and drink

Time your walk to coincide with lunch at the delightfully unspoilt, 17th-century Harrow Inn at Steep (around the half-way point). There are two characterful rooms with scrubbed wooden tables and warming winter fires. Expect ale straight from the cask, hearty soup and sandwiches, and a cottage garden for summer imbibing. The equally rustic Hawkley Inn offers a warm welcome to walkers, micro-brewery ales and imaginative home-cooked food.

What to look for

Two memorials in All Saints Church at Steep are worth looking for. One is to Basil Marsden who was killed in an avalanche in the Andes in 1928; the other is to a Martha Legg who died in 1829 at the remarkable age of 105. The nearby River Ashford was once powerful enough to drive a fulling mill and later a grain mill. You can see the old mill and its waterfall just before you get to Ashford Chace.

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