Sunday, 8 March 2009

Hazeley Heath to Odiham (Three Castles Path 3)

Hazeley Heath

We have enjoyed the start of the Three Castles path, but looking at the guidebook we noticed that the remaining stages are all about 4 miles long. Because we are doing the walk in day trips from home we have decided to do one and a half or possibly two legs at a time to minimise the time spent travelling and the environmental impact. So today's plan is all of stage 7 and most of stage 8, as far as Odiham.

The stage begins by skirting Hazeley Common and then descending into Hartley Wintney. You reach the duck pond and walk across the green to reach the church of St John the Evangelist, which dates from 1869-70 and was enlarged in 1897.

Pevsner is very disparaging, calling it "quite big, and really ugly ... the composition is very disjointed, the anticlimax being the polygonal SW turret." We thought this was bit harsh: the polychromatic brickwork is striking and the little tower seems quirky. But disjointed is fair enough.

At the back of the church you are very aware of the veritable forest of oak trees planed in lines which cover the large greens surrounding the village.

These are the Mildmay Oaks, planted by the then Lady of the Manor during the Napoleonic Wars as a source of wood for warships - for future wars, obviously. The advent of metal ships meant they were not needed for this purpose.

A bit further on you come to the redundant church of St Mary, with its large and still functioning burial ground (the Arts and Crafts pioneer W R Lethaby is buried here). Pevsner dates it from the late 13th or early 14th century, although the brick transept is Victorian.

Field paths and a mile or so along lanes brings you to Winchfield and another St Mary's church.

This is a Norman church of "singular ferocity" according to Pevsner. The tower has the round arched windows with the characteristic zig zag motif around them.

From here, a field path, a copse and a meadow lead to the Basingstoke Canal, built around 1790. It was apparently never a commercial success and ceased operating commercially in 1910. It was restored between 1973 and 1991. The route follows the tow path for 4.5 miles in all, under a number of pleasant brick arches.

As Odiham approaches, the guide alerts you to the existence of Wilks Water, a small lake, on the right with King John's Hunting Lodge standing behind it. This is well worth the small detour. The lake is quite pretty and the Lodge is a real gem.

As the photo show, it appears from the brickwork and Dutch gables to be 17th century. The ever-useful Pevsner however tells us that it is in fact Georgian and that there is nothing behind the gables. Clearly it had nothing to do with King John!

I also saw a King John's hunting lodge on a walk in Axbridge in Somerset which also had nothing to do with King John - in fact it is a 16th century merchant's house, now a museum. What is going on?

From: The Three Castles Path by David Bounds for the East Berkshire Ramblers’ Association Group. Stages 7-8.

Map: 144 (Basingstoke).

Rating: four stars.


nomadtraveller said...

We are just about at this stage of this walk. I just wanted to say thanks for all your commentary and nice photographs; makes our walk more interesting.

PH said...

Hi. That's really nice of you - many thanks. It's a very enjoyable walk isn't it?