Section 2: 12 miles (19.5 kilometers). July. Warm and sunny. Accompanied and with Shovell the dog.
TL;DR Pastoral fields, excellent pit stops
Once a long distance walk has been started, inevitably there will be a section 2 at least, unless you regret the appalling decision you made. But particularly in this case i’d read there’s a free chocolate biscuit to be had on this leg, that’s an opportunity not to be passed over lightly. As the hellish summer heat had dropped to a more reasonable level it was also time to bring Shovell.
Shovell embodies ‘raring to go’, except when he has to put his harness on when he will hide. Or when there’s a hill in which case he likes someone else to do the pulling. He’s not a pilgrim kind of dog, in his own way he’s very immoral. You can see it in his eyes. He tries hard but he hasn’t yet mastered being a good boy.
Having trained and taxied back to the start at Alresford, pastied up we set off. A short stretch on a quiet road, past a solar farm (a fine ordnance survey symbol) and we’re soon back in the lanes and villages which Hampshire does rather well. We were even passed by a steam waggon. I guess that’s how Amazon delivers round here. The first stamping stop is a corker, the church of St Nicholas (patron saint of thieves, prostitutes, mince pies and tv listings magazines) at Bishops Sutton gets a solid 10. Not only do they have a stamp for the Pilgrims passport (see part 1), they have a selection of chocolate biscuits and lemon squash.
Not only do they have two consecration crosses, some splendid medieval graffiti, not only do they have a lepers squint (a hole for undesirables to watch the clean people being religious inside) they have one of the finest entrances of Norman beakheads in Britain. I strongly recommend the church at Bishops Sutton, cheers vicar.
Fields, grass meadows and orchids are this stretch of the Way, and it couldn’t be more lovely. We are teased by the Watercress Line steam train, it toots at us just out of sight, the occasional puff of steam throughout the walk. I’m mindful I could have done the whole journey on it.
I see something i’ve never seen before, a mole by the hedge. His lovely pink feet can’t dig into the gravel and I don’t know whether to pick him up. Instead I chivvy him back into the hedge and the field beyond. He seems lost and confused in the brightness.
My second recommendation, at Ropley is a splendid community run stores and post office. You could probably live in this village and only ever need this shop. It also does coffee, pasties and ice creams, with tables and chairs outside, at least it did on the day we were lucky to visit.
The path continues as paths do, following St Swithuns Way through a woodland which Shovell enjoyed immensely and inevitably more wheat fields. Hampshire countryside is good for the heart and soul, if you consider you have one.
There’s another pit stop at the garden centre at Four Marks if you are that way inclined. I am, I used to run a garden centre, I feel at home in them, mooching through racks of tools and eating their cake.
The last thing to tell you about is Chawton and the home of Jane Austen. You’ll pass right by (and there are refreshments opposite in a teashop named after her sister) We didn’t stop, there’s only so much cake you can eat, and it seemed busy and touristy. We took a minor detour to see some family graves (hers not mine).
The final push to Alton is no fun whatsoever. They put the train station at the wrong end and the cars will startle you. Just put your head down and slog it.
More walks on the Pilgrims’ Way
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I use The Pilgrims Way by Leigh Hatts as a guidebook, it’s pretty much essential for this walk. You can buy it here or from good independent bookshops.
I also use a GPX file imported from British Pilgrimage Trust into the Ordnance Survey app. It is available from their website and occasionally differs from the book.
Previous stage: Winchester to Alresford
Next Stage: Alton to Farnham
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