Wandering across the western part of the Isle of Wight from Carisbrooke to the Needles, the Tennyson Trail is a lovely way to celebrate Hampshire Day, 15 July.
The trail displays much of the best sides of Hampshire’s great south island. It is 14 miles long, beginning at the island’s ancient capital, Carisbrooke, in the heart of the island. From here the trail heads west-south-west climbing immediately up to Bowcombe Down and then into the Brighstone Forest. Descending a little, to cross the ridge of Brook Down and Afton Down, there is a glorious view over the south coast of the island, and then down to the sea at Freshwater Bay.
The Tennyson Trail then leads along the chalk cliffs of the south coast, Tennyson Down, and to the western end of the island at the Needles. It finishes at the Alum Bay close by.
The route is not of small footpaths: most of it could be driven until 2006. It is therefore a well defined, broad track. It leads to many places though where diversions can be taken to the hills or beaches.
Main article with route map
Books and maps
It can be beautiful in the New Forest – a landscape preserved over centuries for hunting then wild grazing of ponies and swine by the commoners looking after their own and verderers with ever an eye to the generations to come. Here amongst the woods and heaths time stops. The sun rises on a place of wonder, of gentle hills and chalk streams and pinewoods reaching for heaven.
It can also be cruel. The rain off the Channel sweeps inland and refills the streams and those caught with no cover are drenched in a moment. The tiny threads of ancient rivulets coursing unseen beneath the ground fill, swell and rise and turn a dry plain into claggy mud, with flints tumbling across it.
That gives me all the more reason to applaud the teams who were walking their DoE training in the New Forest at the weekend, in sun and storm. Smile and know you have shown you are of better stuff.
Pilot Hill is not what it seems. In published lists of county tops, the hill frequently listed as the county top of Hampshire is Pilot Hill, at 938 feet on the ridge of the North Hampshire Downs. However, the cartography has been checked by the Association of British Counties and it is not: the compilers of these lists have been misled by modern administrative boundaries. Since county tops are reckoned by traditional counties, not by shifting administrative conveniences, that will not do.
To the south of the ridge lies Combe, in Hampshire, whose administrative bounds have been redrawn by bureaucrats to encompass parts of Berkshire (no doubt they had their reasons for doing it) and while that does not affect the historic counties, it does cause confusion on maps.
The county boundary runs along the path that follows the chalk ridge of the downs here (a beautiful place for walking), and through the middle of a vast Iron Age hill fort, and this is where counties toppers should be visiting: the county top of Hampshire is the summit of Walbury Hill, at 974 feet, the hill encompassed by the Iron Age fortifications. The summit point is marked by a trig point in the middle of a farmer’s field.
The erroneous lists frequently give Walbury Hill as the county top of Berkshire, and they are right there, though the summit is exclusive to Hampshire: the highest point of Berkshire is on the county border, on the ridge path by the gate leading up to the summit (at 965 feet).
The route along the ridge here is known as the ‘Wayfarer’s Walk’, and a pleasant walk it is on a sunny day; past the impressive earthworks on Walbury Hill walking eastward the path dips and climbs through open land with broad vistas over the Berkshire countryside, and then climbs suddenly through a wood to the top of Pilot Hill, which is worth a visit, even if it has been knocked off its perch.
Pilot Hill holds its own however as the highest hill wholly in Hampshire.