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The Hampshire Highlands from Ashmansworth

The panoramas are breathtaking on this invigorating walk through the hidden combes and heady heights of the North Hampshire Downs.

Distance 5.5 miles (8.8km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 609ft (203m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Ridge tracks, field paths and country road

Landscape Downland, hidden combes and rolling farmland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorers 131 Romsey, Andover & Test Valley, 144 Basingstoke, Alton & Whitchurch

Start/finish SU 416575

Dog friendliness Let them off lead along ridge-top track

Parking Along village street by the Plough

Public toilets None on route

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© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

1 Walk north along the village street, keeping ahead at the fork, signed to Newbury. In ¼ mile (400m), just before you reach a house, turn left along a byway (Wayfarers Walk - WW). With superb views unfolding across Berkshire, keep to this ancient track along the ridge and beside Bunkhanger Copse to a lane.

2 Turn right and savour the far-reaching views north. In ¼ mile (400m), bear off left with a WW marker, just before lane begins to descend. Follow the stony track along the ridge, bearing left then right to cross open downland to a crossing of paths.

3 Cross the stile on your left and head straight across pasture (this is Pilot Hill) to a stile. Bear left along the field edge, then right on to a stony track alongside woodland. Steeply descend into a combe, keep ahead at a crossing of tracks and gradually climb, the track eventually merging with a metalled lane.

4 Turn right into Faccombe and turn left along the village street. Pass the estate office and a lane on your right, signed to the Jack Russell Inn, then turn left (signed 'Ashmansworth') by the side of Faccombe Manor. In 200yds (183m), take the arrowed path left beside double gates.

5 Keep to the left-hand field edge, following the track right, and steeply descend through woodland. At a junction of tracks, bear right to pass two brick and flint farm buildings (Curzon Street Farm).

6 Proceed straight on at the crossing of tracks and keep to the main track as it steeply ascends the valley side into woodland. Emerge from the trees and keep to the track beside Privet Copse. Continue ahead at a junction of tracks, across the field and a track to join a narrow path (marked by a yellow arrow on a post) through a copse.

7 Drop down on to a track, bear left, then immediately right and steeply climb to a gap beside a gate. Turn left along a lane, following it uphill into Ashmansworth.

The far north west corner of Hampshire is dominated by a stretch of high chalk downland tumbling across the Berkshire border close to Walbury Hill, the highest chalk hill in England at 947ft (315m). Often referred to as the 'Hampshire Highlands' but more commonly known as the North Hampshire Downs, it's a remote and peaceful area, with an impressive chalk ridge that affords a magnificent panorama north across Newbury and Berkshire, and west into Wiltshire. South of this lofty escarpment lie rolling hills dotted with ancient woodland, hidden combes and seemingly unchanging isolated communities.

Venture west away from the busy A34 and the A343 and you'll find yourself on lonely single-track roads, heading through undisturbed hill country, with glorious views unfolding across Hampshire, to villages with such delightful names as Faccombe, Combe, Linkenholt and Vernham Dean. The area must be one of the few areas in the county that you can pause and enjoy the peace and quiet that surrounds you, without being rudely interrupted by the intruding roar of car engines. Sheep dot the pastures, in high summer the cotton reels of hay, fresh from harvesting, line the fields, and the mewing of buzzards fills the air.

You begin your walk in the long straggling village of Ashmansworth, which at 770ft (233m) is the highest medieval village on chalk anywhere in England. There's a well-spaced mix of farmhouses and cottages, built of typical Hampshire flint, brick, timber and thatch. Take a stroll down to the totally unspoilt 12th-century church to view medieval wall paintings and the memorial to the composer Gerald Finzi, and, if you've time, savour the highest pint in Hampshire at the friendly Plough, before setting off for Pilot Hill. Reached via an ancient ridge track, formerly a sheep-droving route, Pilot Hill is, at 937ft (312m), the highest point in Hampshire. As you leave the Wayfarers Walk, pause to absorb the view across the Berkshire Vale into Oxfordshire. Just a few paces further on, you'll find the view south, across the heart of Hampshire, equally impressive.

Faccombe, the most northerly village in the county, is a classic example of an unspoilt estate village. Centred around a large Georgian manor house, it boasts a typical village pond, attractive brick-built cottages and a welcoming village inn, also estate-owned. Named after the Saxon chieftain Facca, the village was once known as Faccombe Upstreet to distinguish it from Faccombe Netherton, now simply Netherton, 1 mile (1.6km) to the west. The latter was at one time the the main centre of population, once having a 13th-century church. It is only in the last 160 years that the bulk of the population has moved up the hill to Faccombe, where the Church of St Barnabas was built in 1886 to serve the village, and where you will find the decorated Norman font and several 17th-century memorials from the original church.

Where to eat and drink

The Plough at Ashmansworth offers excellent Arkells ales and simple bar food. In Faccombe you will find the Jack Russell Inn and a more extensive menu.

While you're there

Visit the beautiful, unrestored Church of St James in Ashmansworth. Look for the 12th-century wall paintings and for the grave of Gerald Finzi, the composer, who lived in the village from 1937 to his death in 1956. He was best known for his music set to poetry and his place in English music is honoured here in the memorial window in the porch, engraved by Lawrence Whistler.

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