9 August 2019
Today was Commando’s birthday and it really should have been his day to do what he wanted. After all the card and present opening though, it seemed he wanted to take me for a walk. It’s no secret that I’ve been a little worried about all the hills at the end of the Clarendon Marathon, especially Farley Mount. Things don’t tend to get called ‘mount’ unless they’re pretty high after all.
In fact, I’d been so worried about Farley Mount I’d actually done some research and found out it was one of the highest points in Hampshire. It is one hundred and seventy four metres high, that’s more than two and a half Woodmill Lanes! This didn’t make me feel a lot better about meeting it four miles outside Winchester in the twenty first mile of our marathon walk.
Today though, we wouldn’t be climbing the hill from the bottom like we would on the marathon. It was hard to say whether this was a relief or a disappointment but, as we drove through the beautiful Hampshire countryside I recognised segments of the hilly Winchester Marathon route. Those hills had been tough to climb but I’d done it more than once. How much harder could Farley Mount be?
Commando had been to Farley Mount before, more than once, but I hadn’t and his previous visits were many years ago. It took us a while to find the car park and, even then, we weren’t sure it was the right car park or which way to go once we got out of the car. At least CJ, who’d come along for the ride, hadn’t been car sick. He is not a good traveller.
Not long after we got out of the car we saw a marker for the Clarendon Way. This was vaguely useful, although, as the ground was fairly flat at this point it was hard to say whether this trail would lead us up to the mount or down away from it.
Ahead there was a gate with a helpful sign saying Pitt Down and a big map. We went through the gate for a better look at the map. It was pretty clear the path ahead, pretty as it was, would lead us down, not up. Using the big map, Google Maps and the compass on my phone, we finally worked out we should be heading towards the woodland to our left in the general direction of the road we’d just left. The Clarendon Way sign had been showing us the right way after all.
So we headed off into the dense green woodland, marked on the big map as ‘beech clump.’ The light here was wonderful with sunlight gently dappling the dark brown loam and a ceiling of fluttering beech leaves lit up from above like green stained glass. The shapes of the tree trunks and their gnarled roots made me think of fairies and goblins. We might have walked right into the middle of a fairly tale.
After a short while we came to a gate leading into what looked like a meadow but, as it didn’t have a Clarendon Sign, we decided this was not the right way to go and passed it by. Instead, despite a lack of any signs at all to tell us we were on the right track, we kept following the trail through the little wood.
The big map we’d stopped at earlier said this area was part of the Royal Forest of West Bere and showed evidence of Bronze Age activity, Iron Age enclosures and three Bowl Barrows, which were ancient burial mounds shaped like upturned bowls. One of these mounds was in the beech clump where we were walking. With this in mind, I’d been keeping my eyes open the whole time in case we passed it. Past experience told me finding such things was not always simple and, even when you were looking right at them, it wasn’t always clear what they were. Even so, when I spotted a fairly large, mound, shaped much like an upturned bowl with a few trees growing from it, I was quietly confident this was actually the barrow on the big map. Of course, I could have been wrong but, if it was, these quiet woods seemed a lovely peaceful place to be buried.
After a while the path seemed as if it might be leading us downward rather than up but, when we met another walker coming the opposite way and asked, he told us to keep following the trail until we came to the road. “After that you cant miss it,” he said.
When someone says, ‘you can’t miss it,’ it often seems to lead to lots of walking in circles not finding whatever ‘it’ is at all. In this case though, around fifteen minutes or so after we left the car park we were back on the road. At this point it was pretty clear that we’d walked a big and slightly unnecessary loop when we could have just gone through the first gate and across the open grassland to get to the same place in half the time. Despite this, I wouldn’t have missed those marvellously atmospheric woods for anything.
There were now footpath signs and Clarendon Way signs all over the place. We crossed the road, followed them and found ourselves on a narrow trail bordered by rough hedges, wildflowers and the odd tree. We had been gradually climbing almost the whole time but it hadn’t really felt much like a climb until now. This trail though was going most emphatically upward, although not in the calf burning, lung busting way Woodmill Lane does.
This trail was relatively straight and, after the shade of the woods, very bright and warm, although the warmth might also have been because we were climbing. We couldn’t tell from our position between the hedges, but we had another area of woodland to one side of us and ploughed fields to the other.