Peter and Trevor had chosen a beautifully sunny but cold day to test our skills on the East Meon hills. After walking through the village we headed for the lower slopes of Henwood Down, spotting 3 red kites on the way. Taking Halnaker Lane we headed towards Drayton and a coffee stop. The horses in the field were particularly lively as they were also due to have a snack. They were normally used for weddings and funerals processions - they don't mind either as long as they get fed! We then headed for East Meon and the 12th Century All Saints Church, just round the corner from the 14th Century Court Hall. East Meon has around 50 listed buildings and a large number of hall houses (hall houses were originally one room, central fire and smoke going out through a hole in the roof - thanks Wikipedia) which thankfully have been modernized over the last 6 or 7 centuries. Finally we reached the Old George Inn for an excellent lunch after covering about 4 miles.
This was really a Day walk but as several Walkers felt they shouldn't rush into the New Year too much we decided on a walk where the afternoon session was only as far as the car park. Seventeen walkers took part in the ramble, starting from Milland and then heading for New Barn Farm with the amazing trees growing in Griffin Nurseries. We then hurried on to find a good spot to enjoy some Christmas cheer and a sample of panettone near Combe Pond. Refreshed, we climbed up towards Maysleith Woods and Hanger before passing Maysleith House, one of the homes of Hugh Gaitskell from 1941 until 1957. We soon joined the Silchester to Chichester Roman road - otherwise known as Milland Lane which led us to the Rising Sun for an excellent lunch. Service was interesting, particularly for some. The walk was supposedly 4.1/2 miles but was actually nearer 5 miles.
Isobel led us up past Lavington Stud Farm before heading North towards Upper Norwood and a stop for refreshments. Popple Hill wasn't really a hill at all, so easily mastered. The walk encountered several feeder streams that eventually joined the River Rother and wooden bridges were all in place and easily negotiable, although a few stiles exercised our joints at times. Some lovely Sussex countryside and more importantly, close to The White Horse where a special Christmas lunch awaited our arrival. A huge pile of raffle prizes, many of which had been kindly donated, had been beautifully presented on a corner table by the indefatigable Marian. After an excellent meal, the raffle took place and the main prize was won by Isabel. Fourteen prizes later, many walkers were clutching their own Christmas windfall. Special thanks to Marian for the raffle, Barbara and Mary for organizing the meal and Isabel for sorting out the walk, which was about 4 miles.
Marian, June, Linda and Maddie had spent some time sorting out a local walk but the forecast on Tuesday was not good, with light/heavy rain predicted for the morning. In the event we saw no rain at all before lunchtime. Starting out from Easebourne church car park we took the path north/east called The Race. This old path is lined with Chestnut trees that were there when Bonnie Prince Charlie was escaping from Scotland and probably before HMS Victory was launched, although they are now likely to be in their final century. After half a mile we turned left and then on towards Loves Farm before heading up to Bexleyhill for a coffee stop. By some miracle home made mince pies and ginger wine appeared (thanks Marian!) and we celebrated the end of the uphill section of the walk. On the way back down we managed to catch a glimpse of the Bexleyhill TV mast, but the top was lost in the mist which also covered the tops of the South Downs. Lunch was excellent in the White Horse, but it's probably wise to order the smaller portion unless you are really, really hungry! As the rain had now arrived we cut our losses and returned to the car park, so the total mileage for the day was about 5.1/2 miles.
We were very pleased that the previous day's forecast was quite wrong - we enjoyed sun and no rain whatsoever for the whole walk, although it was quite cold. Starting from Belll Hill Recreation Ground, we made our way over the busy A3. After negotiating a sunken gulley, we found ourselves admiring some huge sheep somewhere south of Bedales School. Sheet Recreation Ground provided plenty of seats for the coffee break before we passed through Northfield Wood and on to the Little Langleys. Passing Ashord Farm we saw plenty of turkeys and geese roaming the fields before we dropped down to Steep Marsh Farm. On to Downgate Farm and eventually to find The Harrow pub. By great fortune a good corner table was made available and we all enjoyed the atmosphere of this unique pub. According to the Lonely Planet, the pub is number 324 on the ‘Ultimate Eatlist’ put together by foodies and bloggers around the world and compiled by top chefs. The food was very tasty and enjoyed by almost all, but portions are huge, so be warned! The pub has been in the hands of the same family since 1929 and they have strenuously sought and suceeded in keeping it unspoilt, Claire looked after us extremely well. After lunch we had to recross the A3 on another footbridge to follow the Shipwrights Way down in to Petersfield and our parked cars.