Then, using the remaining two cars, we all drove to the Exton Car Park used the day before. The walk began from here with a pleasant wooded section but soon became a direct ascent of Old Winchester Hill and its Iron Age earthworks.
This was our steepest hill so far – rising about 400 feet in 1.78 miles with an average gradient of 4.2%. The Nature Reserve at the top was humming with butterflies in early September. We stopped for tea/coffee on the picnic tables in the car park where our non-walking driver Norma was waiting with flasks of hot water. We sat under a crab apple tree laden with bitter but inedible fruit.
From here the trail takes an odd turn, descending again through fields into the upper reaches of the Meon Valley rather than following the ridge (and road) that runs eastwards. At the bottom of the valley is the Meon Springs Trout Fishery where a limited range of drinks and food can be obtained.
From here the trail zigzags across farmland to the base of Wether Down, the second challenging hill of the day. The fairly narrow wooded track climbs 275 feet in 1.4 miles at an average gradient of 3.8%.
But when you reach the road at the top you have also arrived at Wetherdown Lodge where we not only slept the night before but partook of ice creams and tea when we returned on foot that day, in the excellent Beech Cafe.
From Wether Down the route very gently undulates across Tegdown Hill to Butser Hill. It then plunges down a steep grassy slope which taxes the weary legs but the QECP Visitors Centre, tea and cake are close at hand to spur you on.
Non-drivers managed a second cup while drivers were ferried back to Exton to collect their cars for the return journey to Brighton.
Some recall this as one of the toughest days of the SDW – it certainly was the longest time we spent on the trail – arriving at QECP just in time for tea before the café closed at 5pm. Maybe we were tired from the previous day’s 12 mile walk from Winchester to Exton – and it was the walk with the most distractions along the way in the form of refreshment stops. But then our object was to enjoy the experience.
For Walk 3 Click here