A visit from Clare Balding!

Helen Dudley from Alton says “Having written to the BBC’s Ramblings programme three years ago I was very surprised to get an email from the programme’s editor recently asking for a chat to discuss a possible walk with Walk Alton in East Hampshire. Some 7 weeks later we were out walking with Clare Balding and producer Karen Gregor.

It was all surprisingly light touch and easy to set up. Essentially Ian Fleming and I recce’d a walk aimed at showcasing what the area has to offer – beautiful steep sloping beech hangers offering amazing views, an ancient woodland (Binswood) owned and managed by the Woodland Trust and an unusual heathland (Shortheath), and all this within the South Downs National Park (SDNP).

Ian did his research on the history and geology of the area and we invited Natalie Beckell from Alton Town Council, who we work with on the twice yearly Alton walking festivals, and Elinor Newman, an engagement ranger with the SDNP who has specialist knowledge in the wildlife supported by the sandy heathland, to join us.

On the day Clare and Karen met us at the Three Horseshoes pub in East Worldham who we have partnered with to produce local walks leaflets, and we set off. They showed no signs of fatigue – surprising really as on the previous two days they had recorded walks in Malham Cove and Dovedale, not to mention driving many miles! No preamble or briefings, just off for another walk. We chatted along the way, stopping only for the noise of what seemed like lots of planes from Farnborough Air show flying overhead. At Shortheath Elinor told us all about the wildlife and certainly brought it alive with her amazing impressions of the sounds of a stag beetle, a nightjar and asking if we’d heard the turtle dove on entering the heath only to recreate the sound for us. We couldn’t have hoped for a more enthusiastic and knowledgeable expert.

On the way back, we passed some of the very last hop poles stacked against a tree, remnants of the now extinct hop growing industry that Alton was once famed for. We topped it off with a much needed drink in the pub.

To hear more you’ll have to wait until the new series goes out on Radio 4 in the autumn, or catch it on BBC Sounds. And of course you will have the chance to visit the area/do this walk in October (4-9) when we are hosting the Walkers are Welcome Annual Event alongside our autumn walking festival. We hope you will.”

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