From the Sustainability Centre, follow the South Downs Way north towards Salt Hill. On your right you will pass a redundant Royal Naval base, designed for officer training in the height of the Cold War.
As you continue past the radio masts, expansive views will open up around you and on a good day you can see the Isle of Wight on the horizon. Take the footpath heading east on the brow of Salt Hill and follow the path towards the ridge of Small Down. From the top you will be treated to a view of the picturesque village of East Meon and the upper Meon Valley, with the impressive Butser Hill standing tall to the east.
Into the woods
Continue on the footpath and enter the woods, heading northwest. Once you reach the lane head north and pick up the next footpath to the west. Proceed and rejoin the South Downs Way, heading southwest. Head north along the lane and take the next left, following the national trail, towards Whitewool Farm.
Pass over a crystal clear chalk stream, one of the tributaries of the River Meon. These waters are famed for trout fishing and producing watercress – the underlying chalk rock filters the water.
Follow the South Downs Way up the hill, along the trackway and cross the lane to the National Nature Reserve of Old Winchester Hill. This rare habitat has been shaped by nibbling livestock and man for hundreds of years, and needs continual management by grazing to maintain its rich wildlife. You may be lucky to see the array of orchids here or plants such as devil’s-bit scabious, cowslips or ox-eye daisies.
A prominent Iron Age hill fort, once home to a Celtic chieftain, illustrates the long relationship between man and the downs, and was apparently constructed some 2,500 years ago. Take the bridleway to the fort on the gravel track and take time to walk round the earthworks and enjoy the spectacular scenery of the Meon Valley. You will also see Bronze Age burial mounds, between 4,500 and 3,500 years old, within the forts ramparts.
Return on the gravel track and head south along the lane, keeping an eye out for traffic, then take the footpath eastwards by a planted copse of trees, following the path over the next lane, under the down slope and on to the quiet road. Keep an eye out for buzzards soaring on warm air thermals.
Continue over the road and take the path in a southeast direction until you reach a large block of woodland on your left, here take the path leading northwest back to the Sustainability Centre.
The Sustainability Centre is perched by the South Downs Way in rural Hampshire, within 55 acres of woodland and chalk grassland. Set up by the charity Earthworks Trust, its aim is to “demonstrate, develop and promote knowledge, skills, technologies and lifestyles that improve peoples quality of life without damaging the local and global environment.” The centre offers a learning experience for all ages, from bushcraft to renewable energy. The campsite is in a peaceful location and also hires tipis and yurt tents.
Chalk and grass pathways. Some sections pass along roads, so watch for traffic.
HOW TO GET THERE
By Car: Old Winchester Hill is signposted and accessed from the A32 at Warnford. The Sustainability Centre is signposted from the A3(M) by brown and white signs.
By public transport: Guests at the centre can book a lift from Petersfield station, which is on the London Waterloo to Portsmouth line.
Bat and Ball
Broad Halfpenny Down, Hambledon PO8 0UB Tel: 023 9263 2692
The Thomas Lord
High Street, West Meon, Hampshire GU32 1LN Tel: 01730 829244
The Sustainability Centre
Droxford Road, East Meon, Petersfield GU32 1HR Tel: 01730 823 166
The camping field is in a peaceful open space, ideal for individuals, families and groups. You can hire a tipi and yurt. Campfires and barbecues by arrangement. Camping £5 per tent per night plus £3.50 per person.
Discovre more great walks in the South Downs National Park here.