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: