Kingsclere to Highclere -
The map above shows the whole of the route section described below. It is interactive, and can be navigated by clicking on the direction arrows. The scale can be varied by clicking on the map or on the plus/minus buttons. The route was drawn on the normal OS Landranger mapping, so use of smaller scales may be slightly misleading at the detail level.
For this section, Kingsclere can be reached by bus from Newbury and Basingstoke, and it ends on the bus route of the Andover to Newbury bus service at the village of Highclere. There is also a bus service from Burghclere to Newbury. Always check the latest times at Traveline South West. While there is public parking at Kingsclere, this is limited at Highclere. This section gives us the first views of the North Hampshire Downs and the route passes through Watership Down territory. The ‘Clere’ villages of Kingsclere, Burghclere and Highclere feature along this part of the walk. But Highclere Castle, seen in the TV series Downton Abbey and which is the family home of Lord Carnarvon, is perhaps the highlight. The castle was built in the mid 19th century in high Elizabethan style with the park designed by Capability Brown. This section requires the Explorer maps 144 and 158.
Kingsclere to Ecchinswell
From the shops in Swan Street cross the road and follow the footpath on the south side of the church yard with a hedge on your left that leads down to the two bridges across the stream and then over the millstream. Alternatively enter the churchyard along the path edged with grave stones round to the church entrance; while there, you could look around St Mary’s Church and its church yard. Just past the church entrance turn left down to the river and follow it round to the right over a footbridge across a stream and then up and over another footbridge crossing the wide millstream. After pausing for the ducks and trout, follow the path round to the left beside the slow flowing river, at the end go up a narrow path to meet the road. Cross the road and turn left here, following the roadside until a track merges from the right. Ignore the footpath back up this track but take the next footpath through a gate on your right to follow a south facing field edge with the hedge on your right along Bishop’s Hill. This gives us views of the North Hampshire Downs. Follow the field edge, passing a hedge between fields, continue, gradually climbing to see a pylon and two barns. Pass under the cables and at the barns take the track to the right down to the Ecchinswell Road.
Turn right along the road, passing two turnings associated with Frobury Farm on your left, and before the corner take the bridleway on the left. Follow this gently down, ignoring the footpath to the right, and at the thatched house take the fork to the left to merge on to a metalled drive. After a short way, but before some industrial units, rejoin the bridleway on the right, ignore two footpaths on either side to pass some small fish ponds on the left to a footbridge across a stream. Follow the field edge with the wood on your left and then enter Southwood Copse at another footbridge across a stream. Go through the copse to meet a track crossing the bridleway, keep straight on, past another footpath junction to walk beside the river flowing from Ecchinswell to an old concrete vehicle bridge with a water company building in front of you.
Cross the bridge and at the building turn right, not through the gate, but round through some trees to cross a stile. Follow the field edge to the left, change to the 158 map, to eventually meet another stile beside a gate. Cross this and follow the path to a metalled drive; turn left to meet the road at the north end of Ecchinswell.
Take the footpath over the road just to the left through a gap in a beech hedge and follow the path to a gravel track. Turn right then curve left and keep going with the trees on your right and ignoring two footpaths from either side, to meet a metalled road within the Sydmonton Court Estate.
Turn right here down to the bottom where the road crosses a small stream. Turn left here onto a footpath along a track to the field, crossing a bigger stream, to the stile beside the field gate. Cross this and follow the grassy track across the field up to the top of the ridge. Keep straight on, ignoring the tracks joining from either side and follow the track round to Palmer’s Hill House in the distance diagonally to the left. At the house cross the stile and follow the track between the house and old stables to join the access drive and follow this to the road on the edge of Burghclere.
Cross over the road and follow the path between the school and Earlstone Common. At the next road cross over and follow the verge to the left and then into Harts Lane. Soon joining the pavement, follow the road past the sports ground and church as far as Spring Lane. Here you could continue straight on over the railway bridge for the Carpenter’s Arms PH or the Sandham Memorial Chapel, otherwise turn left down Spring Lane.
Follow the lane past The Old Station, curiously called Highclere before the line closed, and after a dip in the road take the footpath on the right and then turn left on to the course of the old railway line, formerly the Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway. Continue along the old railway track, change back to the 144 map, to the first overhead bridge, here, just past it on the right, take the path up to a flinty track above and turn left. Continue up along the track, past the junction half way up, until the surface becomes metalled and drops to meet the old A34.
Cross the old A34 road, go over the bridge across the new A34 and past the gate house into the grounds of Highclere Castle; if the gates are closed, use the passage beside the gate house. Follow the road round and down to a cross roads. Turn right here and continue along the road, taking occasional glances through the trees behind you on your left to the castle. At the next junction turn sharp left beside the Park Pale shown on the map and continue to the interesting chapel and graveyard. Pass round the left of the chapel and then right down to a gate on to a track.
Turn right onto a track and then down to a gate into more parkland. From here, don't follow the wheel tracks but veer slightly to the right up a grassy slope. From the crest of the slope make for the steel field gate with a small white 'footpath' sign fixed to it.
Go through this gate into woodland and ignore the turning on the left but take the path in front of you which gradually curves to the left before dropping to cross a stream and entering a field. Follow the field edge with woodland on your right to meet the A343 near its junction with a minor road to Highclere Farm.
Turn right and follow the pavement into Highclere village where you will see The Red House PH across the road on your right. There is a bus stop outside and a potential refreshment stop inside.
Places of Interest
Kingsclere is the last place with shops until St Mary Bourne some 24 miles away and public transport is more limited west of here. Known to the Normans as Clere, perhaps named after the chalk stream that rises from beneath the nearby downs, it is an ancient village which had an income from tolls at the time of the Domesday Book in 1086. The Norman kings had a hunting lodge nearby and in 1270 the name became Kingsclere. Several buildings reflect a heritage of milling and brewing. St Mary’s Church dates from Norman times but underwent changes in the mid 19th century and contains monuments to the Kingsmill family. The gravestones have been rearranged to skirt the edge of the path. Note the bedbug used for a weather vane on the tower; this is reputed to be because King John was troubled by them when he was forced by fog to spend a night at a local inn. Today the village is best known for its horse racing connections, perhaps the best known winner being Mill Reef.
The section from Kingsclere to Burghclere crosses Watership Down territory. Local author Richard Adams’s book ‘Watership Down’, published in 1972 and made into a film in 1978, is set in this area, with several real places named in his book. The story tells how after a vision of imminent destruction of their warren at Sandleford north of Burghclere, the rabbit Fiver and his friends leave for a new home. After several adventures, including rescuing some does from Nuthanger Farm and fighting with enemy rabbits on the banks of the River Test, they finally set up a new warren on Watership Down. Watership Down lies on the slopes below the hill of 237m which contain tumuli and horse gallops.
Before the Norman invasion of 1066 the three modern parishes of Kingsclere, Burghclere and Highclere formed an Anglo-
The farm marks the site of a manor that can be dated back to the 13th century. The former house probably had a moat and the current house dates from the 17th century. Today, ponds have been created for fishing.
We pass through the north end of the village of Ecchinswell, the name is believed to mean the well by the oaks. At the south end of the village are the school, village hall and recreation ground.
The route passes through the north end of the estate now owned by Andrew Lloyd Weber, the renowned composer of music for ‘Phantom of the Opera’, ‘Evita’, ‘Cats’ and many more, more recently he has also been involved in musical talent contests. Sydmonton is a former manor previously held by the Kingsmill family, members of whom were buried in Kingsclere church.
The name means ‘borough of Clere’ where the word Clere is the old name of the River Enborne and the area is on the edge of Watership Down territory. Burghclere’s position is at the north end of a gap through the Hampshire Downs, today used by the busy A34, brought it much trade in earlier times. Two Iron Age hill forts, Beacon Hill and Ladle Hill to the south, overlook the area. We again encounter William Cobbett who stayed at Budd’s Farm and in his ‘Rural Rides’ he mentions the wheat and Swedish turnips grown here. The parish Church of the Ascension is early Victorian and replaced All Saints to the south which dates from Norman times. Today the area is largely residential with the Carpenters Arms near the railway bridge and the Sandham Memorial Chapel nearby.
The chapel, situated in Burghclere west of the railway bridge, was dedicated in 1927 and commemorates Lieutenant Henry Sandham who died in 1919 from an illness caught while serving in Macedonia during the First World War. The murals by Stanley Spencer, depicting military life with an altarpiece of the resurrection of soldiers, took the next five years to complete and are considered to be amongst his best work. The Chapel is owned by the National Trust and is worth a visit if it is open (click here to view their site).
Our route uses a section of this old railway south from Burghclere. The DN&SR was authorised in 1873 and finally completed in 1891, often using other companies’ tracks along its route and was intended to offer a direct route from the industrial Midlands and the north to the ports on the south coast. It was absorbed into the Great Western Railway in 1923 and was a crucial transport link to the south in the run up to D-
Highclere Castle is the largest country house in Hampshire and was built in the mid 19th Century in the High Elizabethan style to a design by Sir Charles Barry, who also designed the Houses of Parliament. The castle is built on the site of the mediaeval palace of the Bishops of Winchester and encases a smaller Georgian mansion. The grounds are by Capability Brown and our route passes along the footpath through the estate, not far from the remains of the Park Pale. The castle is the home of the Carnarvon family, the 5th Earl being famous for his excavations with Howard Carter in 1922 and the supposed curse of Tutankhamun; there is now a new Egyptian exhibition. The castle has featured in various films such as Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ and television programmes such as ‘Jeeves and Wooster’. More recently, the TV series 'Downton Abbey' which began in 2010, uses the castle and grounds in many exterior shots. For more details click here. Highclere Castle is open to the public offering a programme of event, for more information click here to visit their website.