Linking Walkers are Welcome towns – Alton to Whitchurch, Hampshire

Continuing the story of Alton Walking Festival, walking to other Walkers are Welcome towns.

The Whitchurch Walk May 31st
Most of May was cool and often wet, which was a pity, although it didn`t dampen the enthusiasm of most walk groups during the Walking Festival. The Alton to Whitchurch walk had become known by Walkers are Welcome colleagues in Whitchurch as the ‘Whitchurch Marathon’ and its 26-mile length provided a nice challenge to some, while perhaps seeming daunting to others. A recce of the walk on May 24th saw chilly and very wet conditions, but the weather changed by the May Bank Holiday and May 31st proved to be sunny, hot, and dry throughout; lovely country views in glorious sunshine but probably a little too warm for comfortable long-distance walking!
The walkers  left Market Square at 9 am and left  Alton via the Sports Centre, then Chawton Park Wood, before turning north up Jennie Green Lane and following nice leafy tracks to Bradley, where they paused a few minutes for drinks. After Bradley, the route was the same as the Overton walk, with the same lunch stop (although this time they were seeking shade!). After lunch, they headed through Dummer and then westward across fields and under the M3 and A303, along the lane to North Waltham and a chance for some to grab an ice cream at the Old Barn Stores. They plodded on in the strong afternoon sunshine, passing Steventon Church, deviating from the original Overton route after crossing the railway, then through Upper Ashe and some lovely countryside to reach Berrydown Farm (where they keep buffalo) and, soon after, the southern outskirts of Overton.

By 4 pm the group had reached the crossroads in the centre of Overton and indulged in a brief period of relaxation before setting off on the final 6 miles of the walk. This involved a climb up to the ridge north of Overton so as to follow the Harroway westward and then a walk down to Freefolk, where they were met by a welcoming group of Whitchurch walkers and led a final couple of miles through riverside fields and the edge of the town to their destination, Whitchurch`s lovely modern community centre and a welcome from the Mayor, followed by refreshments and a chance to unwind before taking the coach back to Alton.

So Alton have hopefully started a tradition of linking walks between Alton and our nearest Walkers are Welcome neighbour towns and they  hope that other towns in Hampshire may, in the future, become part of this community activity. Everyone who took part in both walks greatly enjoyed them, even if they may have felt a little stiff and tired afterwards!

Photograph Whitchurch Walk group pausing at North Waltham Pond, about 15 miles in.

Linking Walkers are Welcome towns – Alton to Overton

Alton took the bold step of going ahead with its month-long walking festival in May 2021. When the event was first being planned, this decision probably seemed a step too far, with the pandemic still very much in evidence. However, as May grew closer, there was mounting interest and excitement and the event was to prove a resounding success. Alton`s event covered a whole month and included a wide range of over 50 walks of different lengths and content; town walks, tree walks, bird walks, and a large number of medium length and long-distance country walks.

Walk Alton was involved in the planning of the Walking Festival from the start and, together with the Town Council`s event coordinator, provided a briefing for all walk leaders, as well as marking the start of many of the walks with its distinctive green ‘Start Walking’ feather flags.

In the initial planning of the Walking Festival, the Chair of Walk Alton suggested the idea of linking Alton with the two nearest Walkers are Welcome towns by arranging walks at the beginning and end of the event. The closest WaW town to Alton is Overton, which lies 20 miles to the northwest, while Whitchurch, fairly close to Overton, is 26 miles from Alton. So the idea was conceived of organising a walk to Overton on May 1st, to open the Festival, and a walk to Whitchurch on May 31st to bring the event to a triumphal close.

The Overton Walk May 1st
Saturday, May 1st was a cool day with some sunshine and, fortunately, no rain, despite rainclouds often appearing in the distance. A group of nine walkers, plus walk leader and backmarker, left Alton Market Square soon after 9 am and walked via Beech to Bentworth, where they had a brief stop for refreshments before heading across the country to Bradley and on to Nutley.

They  stopped for a picnic lunch break on a grassy meadow northwest of Nutley, then continued via Dummer, crossed the M3 motorway, and took a green lane into North Waltham. The route then led across the country to Steventon Church, associated with Jane Austen`s family, across the Southampton main line, and through Ashe Park, descending towards the source of the Test. Just outside Ashe, they were met by walkers from Overton and Whitchurch, who led them into Overton by a pleasant riverside walk. Their arrival at St Mary`s Hall was at about 4.40 pm and they enjoyed some very welcome refreshments and a relaxing session in the garden.

The walk length was a little under 20 miles (topped up to just over 20 by the time they  walked to the coach!) Alton Town Council very kindly agreed to provide a coach back for both of these special Walkers are Welcome walks and this was very greatly appreciated, as the alternative would have been two buses and a long wait in Basingstoke; not a great idea after a 20-mile walk!

Everyone really enjoyed the walk, although a couple of walkers found the hills rather tiring. The photo. shows the group walking the last few metres into Overton:

The Elham Valley Walks

or How to fill your catchment with contiguous walking routes

Following on from the success of their “Walks for Elham” mapboard project, Elham Walkers are Welcome Group are well along the path of devising a contiguous, jigsaw pattern of superb walking routes that will cover the whole of the Elham Valley, the catchment area of the sometimes mighty Nailbourne.

The area covered will stretch from the North Downs Way in the South to the southeastern boundary of Canterbury in the North. You can see how this will work on the composite map provided: the Elham walks (E1 to E6) now have a noticeboard all of their own in The Square with a QR code for easy downloading: most maps are downloaded from Elham’s website https://elhamvalleywalkers.co.uk and in case there is any doubt about their popularity,  records show that 4,056 maps with guides have been downloaded over the last year. This remarkable demand for walking opportunities has almost certainly been boosted by those seeking fresh air and exercise during the worst periods of the Covid pandemic., a trend that has been noticed elsewhere in the WaW network. 

Elham’s Map North project is nearly completed, this will cover the area around an axis from Bridge to Barham including Bishopsbourne and Kingston. The composite map shows these walks as N1 to N6 and a northern ring walk of around 20 miles will provide a seventh walk for the more ambitious walkers.

To the south of the valley, they have designed another seven walks (S1 to S6 and a Lyminge Ring) centred on Lyminge village, and,  if  their small group of volunteers finds the time and all goes well, this should be completed before the end of the year. Lyminge Parish Council has been most helpful with their support for this facility.

Their hope is that, with the help of these maps and the integrated route guides, those living in and around the Elham Valley will be able to enjoy exploring the whole of the Nailbourne catchment, and also that post-Covid visitors will flock to the valley and make good use of the local shops, pubs, tea rooms, and other businesses.

The completed noticeboards are being installed see website illustration https://elhamvalleywalkers.co.uk/elham-walks/

Ross-on-Wye WaW sponsor a tree

In the spring of 2018 Ross Town Tree Warden, Robert Taylor approached Ross Town Council with the idea of planting an Arboretum. It was agreed and Robert set about planning. Due to the space available, it had to be planted mainly on the edges of grass areas alongside the river Wye and this then led it to become a linear Arboretum. This is not the norm. Ross is the only one in the U.K.
The first tree was planted in April 2019 and since then the Arboretum has continued to be planted and tended by volunteers who had to water the trees twice a week during the long hot summer of 2020. There are 160 trees from many parts of the world and each tree is different. There may be trees of the same species but different cultivars. Perhaps fastigiate or weeping, or a different leaf, colour or flower. Each tree has been sponsored by a member of the community or someone with a connection to Ross at £50 a tree ( tree supplied and planted ). It has proven to be very popular and given the community a sense of ownership of the Arboretum.
There has been some vandalism but where this has occurred, the tree has been replaced if necessary. Robert  said: “As the Tree Warden of the town, and with my working background in horticulture, I chose the trees and the public then chose from my list”. Most of the trees have come through 10 or 12 floods unscathed. If you are ever walking in the area why not go  and pay them a visit? The Linear Arboretum is down by the river and every tree is labelled.
Ross Walkers are Welcome group decided to sponsor a tree in 2019 and are now the proud “parents” of tree number 49, a crab apple (Malus Profusion Improved) pictured.

Snaith are Local Heritage Guardians

Walkers are Welcome Snaith (The Vale of Snaith Action Group) has been accepted as a Local Heritage Guardian by the Yorkshire Society for their heritage work.

The Vale of Snaith covers around 50 square miles of countryside with the ancient town of Snaith at its heart. A core part of their activity revolves around the promotion of the Local Heritage.

They manage 15 local branded Heritage Walks and 15 Heritage Information Boards as well as an ongoing project to place Blue Plaques on historic buildings in the town of Snaith.

Notable historic buildings and sites that they promote through guided walks and talks include Cowick Hall, Carlton Towers, the former Royal Manor House at Cowick, the former abbey and castle at Drax and several historic churches. Well done Snaith.

Market Weighton rekindle friendships

Market Weighton started their led walking again on 31st March with the first walk meeting at the car park area near St John’s Methodist Church. 25 walkers attended on this very warm spring morning. Small groups went off in many directions with plenty of Walk Leaders to lead and back mark each of the walks. The chance to be able to walk and talk with friends once again was very much appreciated. All the walkers were advised that they could walk in masks or without, whichever they felt comfortable to do, it was emphasised that all please respect each other’s space.

7th April saw their second walk and 26 walkers arrived on what was this time, a very cold morning but fine and dry with bright sunshine. All walkers again split up into small groups and went off in different directions.
Both weeks they have had Leah leading a slower shorter walk and this is very much appreciated by those attending.

The picture was taken near the dip in the Londesbrough Road as the walkers prepare to head back across the fields to Market Weighton. David Battams said “Thanks again to our walkers who have started to join us again and rekindle friendships.”

Dursley Circular Walks

In association with Cotswold National Landscapes Dursley has become a Cotswold Gateway Town and created two new signposted circular walks designed as a Figure of Eight for a good 16 mile day walk or 2 shorter walks.
There are 3 new information panels, which show details of their new walks as well as their more established routes and points of interest in the area. 2 have been installed in Dursley’s long-stay car parks and the other at Cam and Dursley Railway Station with the support of Great Western Railway (GWR).

Charlbury a Cotswold Gateway Town

Cotswolds National Landscape has worked with local communities to create ten Cotswold Gateways locations, from which people can follow walking and cycling routes to explore the surrounding countryside of the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Following footpaths, bridleways, and minor roads, these routes provide opportunities to discover hidden corners, epic views, historic sites, and a rich diversity of wildlife.

Charlbury in the West Oxfordshire Cotswolds is one of these towns and two new circular trails have been established. Details about the walks in Charlbury and other towns may be found at https://www.cotswoldsaonb.org.uk/visiting-and-exploring/walking/cotswold-gateways/

Walk Alton builds strategic plan with help from the local community

More than 200 local residents completed a recent survey by Walk Alton, seeking guidance from the community on the group’s focus areas for 2021. The short survey requested participants to select from a list of activities/issues according to what they think Walk Alton should prioritise. The list was as follows:
A. Promoting existing walking groups in Alton and the villages
B. Providing accurate information to the public about using rights of way, the Countryside Code, hazards in the countryside, etc.
C. Providing information and briefing on the use of Ordnance Survey maps both for planning walks and to increase confidence when walking in the countryside
D. Promoting physical and mental wellbeing through walking and outdoor recreation
E. Offering its own guided walks
F. Promoting and supporting the annual Alton Walking Festival
G. Setting up links between Alton and other Walkers are Welcome towns
H. Promoting walking in the countryside by encouraging and facilitating the use of public transport to the start/finish of walks, thus cutting back on car use
I. Working closely with other local groups such as Cycle Alton and the Alton Climate Action Network to promote eco-friendly outdoor exercise

Four key priorities were identified in the survey responses, namely: promoting existing walking groups, promoting physical and mental wellbeing through walking, promoting and supporting the Alton Walking Festival, and providing accurate information to the public about using rights of way, the Countryside Code, hazards in the countryside, etc. A number of other ideas, comments, and supportive messages were also received, which the group is still digesting! They are  very grateful to all those who participated and shared the survey, which has given them a very clear roadmap for the year ahead.

Plans are already being formed for ways Walk Alton can fulfill this ‘mandate’, with a number of new communication initiatives in the pipeline, some ideas for future campaigns to get Alton walking, as well as proposals to better support and work with other local interest groups. All this should hopefully take shape over the next few months and they are  looking forward to sharing their successes (and failures!) as they  go.

Meteorites are Welcome!

Overnight on 28 February, something amazing happened in the sleepy little Cotswold town of Winchcombe. An extremely rare meteorite landed on the driveway of Rob and Cathy Wilcock, who just happen to be members of the Winchcombe WaW steering group. They were advised to remain anonymous but really wanted to share a good news story so later agreed to be interviewed on TV. They had no idea that their story would be shown on TV News all over the world. Winchcombe couldn’t have had better publicity if it tried, it put our WaW efforts into the shade!

On Monday 22 March Winchcombe WaW members were asked to join a Zoom meeting with scientists from the Natural History Museum and the Open University. We were given a talk about how meteorites are formed, how to identify them, and how to collect them. Then they encouraged local walkers to go and search in a certain area where they are sure there will be other fragments. The scientists expected to find no more than 50g of material, but already over 500g has been collected over the wider area. A recent Japanese space probe cost billions of pounds and brought back just 5g of similar material.

We are sure all this publicity will lead to more visitors once lock-down ends and it has led to us thinking about how we can incorporate the meteorite landing in our walking festival. Exciting stuff!

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