Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The Serpent Trail Section 2 Woolbeding and Rake

View From Woolbeding Common
Autumn walks are amazing if you get the right kind of weather.  It’s always tough to get up and ready in the dark but the reward is that you can be out as the sun rises, always a great time of day.  I had to take a leap of faith today as it had been raining all night and even as I got myself going it was still pretty overcast.  I had chosen to walk some more of the Serpent Trail, a walk I started back in the summer due to the soft and wet ground conditions.  Large parts of this walk are across sandy heathlands, enabling me to avoid the worst of the mud.

Mossy Tree
I found myself at the top of Woolbeding Common just as dawn was giving way into morning and the heavy rain was finally moving off eastwards.  Everything was wet, but the light suggested that it would be a great day for crystal clear views.  I was surprised to find a couple of cars already stationed in the pocket car park, but there was nobody about.  I had chosen this point to start the walk as the Serpent Trail does one of its dog-legs on this section and using this point I was able to complete a triangular walk without the need for public transport.

Redford Garage
After admiring the view across towards Petersfield I headed down off the top of the hill towards the hamlet of Redford.  Autumn was well advanced by now and even the fungi were starting to dies off.  The trees were largely in their last stages of yellows and browns, with seemingly only a breath of wind or a frost needed to finally de-clothe them entirely.

Redford Tea Rooms
Redford is a curious place and seems like a throwback to a bygone era.  My map suggests that it boasts a post office, but this seems to be a tea room only nowadays.  Perhaps this isn’t surprising given that there are so few houses around!  Opposite is an old fashioned petrol station, decommissioned now but still with much of the same infrastructure that would have been there when the old place was still operational.  The path crossed the road at this point and the nice solid ground that I had hoped for underfoot came to an abrupt end.  Onward it was boggy and slushy for quite a way as I crossed Stedham Marsh.  I guess this was a clay pocket in amongst the sandy soil – quite commonplace in this part of The Weald.  The air was dank and wet as the trees and bushes steamed in the early morning sunshine, now just beginning to break through the clouds behind me.

Fungal Growth

I passed the wonderfully named settlement called Titty Hill and was relieved to find some tarmac beneath my feet for a bit.  The road was awash with water in places and I had to pick my way through gingerly.  I turned off briefly to cross a field at Lyford Farm and my onward route was now filled with sunshine as the black clouds finally receded.  It was beautiful, but strangely silent and devoid of bird song.  For me that is possibly the biggest difference between autumn days and spring days.  The air temperature may be similar and the weather the same, but it is always so quiet in the autumn.

Daybreak at Stedham Marsh
Apart from a short stretch across the fields at Lyford Farm it was road walking for a couple of miles through the village of Milland, which enabled me to get a reasonable pace going.  I did notice that the local population must be/ have been a god-fearing bunch for I passed a chapel at the southern end of the village to add to the two that I would be passing later at the north end.  Curiously the village itself has none, although there is a prosperous looking pub right in the centre.

Reflections in a Road
The village was very quiet, the only activity at this early hour was a couple of chaps putting the finishing touches to the village bonfire, scheduled to take place later in the evening.  A delivery man was dropping off seafood at the pub, but otherwise all was very sleepy with curtains drawn in almost every window.  Made me wonder why I am so nutty as to get up so early!

Lyford Copse
Eventually after walking through Milland and north along the road that follows an earlier route from Roman times, I escaped back onto footpaths once again.  This had the instant effect of slowing me down to snails pace once again as the walking conditions were akin to porridge!  Luckily as I ascended towards the two old churches at Tuxlith the ground conditions became a lot drier and the walk through the beech forests were quite beautiful in the early morning sunshine.

Last of the Rosehips
After clambering up the steps I came upon the old chapel of Tuxlith.  It was rather gloomier than I had remembered from when I passed by on the Sussex Border Path, but that was probably because of the later time in the year and the fact that the sun hadn’t yet cleared the trees.  Sitting alongside the obviously newer Milland Church, both are located some distance from the village they are supposed to serve.  In fact the old chapel isn’t used as a church at all any more, although the layout inside could still be used for church services if need be.

Waiting for Breakfast
I crossed the busy B2070, unusual in that it is a dual carriageway here.  Of course it wasn’t always such a minor road – it used to be the A3 London to Portsmouth road, hence its dualling.  The A3 now runs some distance to the north along a new route.  On the other side of the road I entered Chapel Common, a large expanse of heathland resembling the New Forest, which it is essentially an extension of.  I was able to quicken my pace once again and soon picked up the purple arrows of the Serpent Trail once again.  I had missed a couple of miles of the route from Liphook in a bid to save time, principally as I had walked that section under the guise of the Sussex Border Path, with which it shares a route.  I didn’t find it a very interesting section last time out, so saw no reason to reprise those miles.

Site of Roman Station
To the north of my route across the common were expansive views and I could quickly see that this place is popular with dog walkers, no doubt attracted by the relative lack of mud compared with elsewhere.  I raced along this section of the walk, enjoying the views and the benign conditions before getting a nasty shock when my path suddenly stopped and the onward route continued alongside the road into Rake.  Luckily the road is no longer anything like as busy as it was, but it was still the worst experience thus far en route.  Hopefully one day a new route might be found away from the road?

Different Shades
From Rake down to Durford Heath I followed the route I had taken on the Sussex Border Path through the delightful woods of Rake Hangar.  Although there is nothing especially noteworthy about these woods, the ambience of beech trees bathed in autumn sunshine is terrific and should be celebrated just for that.  I was also thankful that this time I had the woods to myself as last time out I had another couple for company and they annoyed me L.

Milland Lane
At the end of Rake Hanger I took a sharp turn to the east and left the Border Path for good today.  My onward path took me through an area of forest that is actively being harvested for wood as sections of it had been clear-cut, an unusual sight in this part of England.  It was an enjoyable track with glimpses of view across the forest back towards Rake and Milland showing me where I had already walked today.  By now I also realised that my timings were well out and I had to put some pace on again, meaning that I took far fewer pictures than normal.

Tuxlith Chapel
At Combe Hill I had to avoid a lot of mountain bikers using a specially designed course that came across the track.  There were quite a few bikers about but all seemed friendly and didn’t hurry me along.  I could see how such tracks would be good for the serious enthusiast as they must provide a suitable and robust challenge.

Chapel Common
Onward I continued along the foot of the ridge for a little while before coming upon a path I had previously used when doing the Border Path.  My heart sank when I realised I would have to go uphill again, this part was really to avoid a country estate that was blocking my onward progress.  I had to find my way up to the road that went along the top of the ridge and I eventually found it by a car park in Tullecombe.

Rake Hanger
The road walking wasn’t too bad and I picked up pace again along the tree lined country lane.  I eventually came upon the hamlet of Borden, where I had an opportunity to lose the road for a bit and cut down through a thick dark wood.  At the bottom of the hill I rejoined the road for a short distance through Jungle Wood.  Normally I hate long stretches of road walking, but with all the mud around me, I was quite thankful of the hard tarmac surface below me.  This came to an end at Kingsham Farm and I took a track that led into Kingsham Woods.

Glimpse of View From Combe Hill
This was a fairly unpleasant section of the walk - not because of the conditions or that the wood wasn't nice but because the dreaded pheasant shooting parties were out.  I got some glances from the huntsmen as I wandered through - not unfriendly or hostile but I did feel a bit of a nuisance as I wandered through their bloodthirsty activity.  Blood sports are definitely not my thing - that may make me a townie rather than a true country person but I'll settle for that if necessary.

I was very relieved to get past the hunters and crossed another road where there was a chapel marked on the map.  I soon realised that this was no more than a graveyard - the chapel that accompanied it was little more than a ruin.  My route took me across the adjacent field and although it had a nice green top to it, the grass disguised some horrific mud.  I decided against plan A, which was to cross the field diagonally and took plan B, which was to decamp to the nearest road and get some tarmac under my feet once again.

Old Farm

I had rejoined the outward route here and plodded my way back past Titty Hill and the old garage at Redford up to Woolbeding Common.  It was a very different scene than the one I had left earlier in the morning for the sun was no w fully out and the day was surprisingly warm for early November.  On the whole this was a most pleasant walk, albeit with a bit more road walking than I would have liked.  It was strangely devoid of interesting things to look at but made for a pleasant autumn stroll.  I expect to be doing the next section for my next walk as it does make for a good mud-avoiding route!

Church of the Good Shepherd Graveyard


  1. Hi Paul

    You can't beat a nice bright, still day in Autumn for a good walk. Unfortunately these days all we seem to get is rain.

    From your photographs you obviously had the former. How far is the Serpent Trail - I couldn't find it in my comprehensive list of UK trails.


  2. Hello Bill,
    I got lucky this morning and had a leap of faith. The weather forecast was a bit dodgy but promised a good morning after a lot of rain. So it proved - the rain cleared at daybreak and I had a wonderful morning out before the cloud came in later. The Serpent Trail is 64 miles in length. There is a really good online guide at