Warnford to Queen Elizabeth Country Park - South Downs Way walk

Saturday 1st March 2014

The day dawned sunny, cloudless and bright, a rare break in what had felt like months of solid rain.

I'd planned an 11ish mile walk from Warnford (near West Meon, Hampshire) to Queen Elizabeth Country Park (on the A3 just outside of Portsmouth) along the South Downs Way - not for any real reason other than I felt the need for a decent walk having not managed to make it up into the hills/mountains this year due to all the wet weather and work managing to get nicely in the way of any plans I made to "escape".

While I've mountain biked along a fair chunk of the SDW I've not really walked too much of it - my thinking used to be along the lines of "why would I want to walk it when I can ride it?!" but this view has changed somewhat with age and in the absence of snow, rock and mountains this was as good as I could find within half an hour of the house.

So after quickly packing a bag (I'll go through that a bit later) and double checking the batteries in my Garmin (probably the only OS map that I don't have is the one that I needed for this walk) we set off to Queen Elizabeth Country Park (QECP) to leave my car there and then returned Warnford where I planned to start the walk.

The route, once you leave the short on-road stretch from Warnford, is fairly simple to navigate and I only really needed a few checks of the GPS to make sure that I was still on track - the SDW is very well marked and the signs are never far away.

Old Winchester Hill (197m) is the first sign of an ascent and a good excuse to up the pace a bit and get the blood flowing.  Once at the top it's worthwhile taking the time to explore the ancient hill fort and read the information boards that are dotted around before heading past the trig point and then down off the hill and past the picturesque fishing lakes nr Whitewool Farm.

Kit list for the walk

  • Small rucksack - North Face 25l
  • Boots & gaiters - with all the rain it was bound to be (and was!) muddy
  • Sigg bottle, 1L and food for the day
  • Waterproof - OMM Cypher Smock - very lightweight, packable and eVent
  • Small first aid kit - I carry one pretty much on every walk now since being unable to help a struggling walker on Pen-y-Fan
  • Multitool - Leatherman Skeletool CX
  • Jacket - Montane Prism jacket; it was sub 4c starting out from Warnford!
  • GPS - Garmin GPS Map 62
  • Compass - not entirely sure why as I didn't have a paper OS map for the walk - but you never know!!
  • Phone - Nexus 5, using ViewRanger pre-loaded with 1:25k OS map of the walk
    • Generally I take an old "emergency" phone with a PAYG SIM that is charged and turned off on most mountain walks as you can guarantee the "smartphone" will die just when you need it!
So, back to the walk......
Trig points at the top of Old Winchester Hill

A short section of road takes you past the lakes and back on to the track heading past Henwood Down, Small Down and then to a slightly more built up area are Mercury park.

From here the path heads out into woodland and field systems again, passing Hyden Hill and Tegdown Hill and it's from here that you get the first view of Butser Hill, and the radio masts at the summit, in the distance.

Looking out across the valley with the Beacon Hill radio mast in the distance
Standing at 270m the climb up to Butser hill is nothing too scary but does warm you up after what is a fairly easy walk along the SDW track and the route heads around the radio masts before dropping back down towards the A3 and the underpass to the car park at Queen Elizabeth Country Park - and hopefully, the car!

Overall it's not a challenging walk but the combination of Old Winchester Hill and Butser Hill give some nice ascent and the rest of the walk along well marked and graded tracks was, in most places, very good going despite the months of rain.

Full route and details from Social Hiking (recorded on my Nexus 5 with ViewRanger) available here:



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