Watership Down, Kingsclere, Hampshire
Follow in the footsteps of Fiver, Hazel and Bigwig. This is the place where the rabbits of Sandleford Warren finally found sanctuary after their Homerian adventures. Richard Adams based Watership Down on the stories he used to tell to his children on walks in this countryside. The real thrill with this walk is that the names in the book are also on the map. Adams was not only inspired by the landscape, but also used it literally. Anyone who can recall the terror of the rabbits’ Efrafan enemies, and their escape from the barns of Nuthanger Farm to the haven of Watership Down can see it all. The beech trees, the view from the top of the Down, the wild flowers, they are all straight from the pages of the book. Scan the skies for sight or sound of the eccentric bird, Kehaar, the black-headed gull who was friend and ally to Bigwig, Hazel and Fiver. Signs of the warren are everywhere. Sit still on the slopes of the Down and you will almost certainly see rabbits, especially in the early morning and early evening.
Once on the top, the views back are extraordinary. The path takes you across the middle of sandy gallops used for training race horses and past their jumps. The fields and hedgerows are bursting with wild flowers in spring and early summer. This is a beautiful and easy walk on English downland. The path rises steeply to 90 m / 300 feet to the top of Watership Down and a breathtaking view across southern England. As Fiver said, ‘You can see all the world from here.’
Distance 3.5 km / 2 miles
Terrain Uneven, sloping meadow, quite hard going in places just because there isn’t a wide path of any kind. Short, steep climb to the ridge. Flat and easy across the top.
WALK THE WALK
START Park on the lane near Ashley Warren, at the top of the hill where Wayfarer’s Walk footpath cuts across the road.
Map Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 144 Grid ref: 492566
1 From where you’ve parked, walk back down the lane for 500 m/ 550 yards. The beech trees offer a quiet verge to walk along.
2 As you go down the hill, you will see on the right a five-bar metal gate with barbed wire on the top and a small wooden latch gate next to it. This is the entrance to Watership Down and it can be quite overgrown with stinging nettles so you will have to be brave. There are no signs, no markings of any kind here, but don’t be put off. Watership Down is CROW public access land and you can wander freely on it. Go through the gate, and pick your way to the bottom of the hill. It is only overgrown for about 20 or so yards.
3 Walk along the bottom of the hill, finding occasional sheep paths to follow. Take your time and enjoy the downland. Keep the fence line and trees to your left. This place is exactly as described in the book. In the far fields, across the line of trees, you can see the electricity pylons that separated the world of man from the world of the animals. This was the route by which the rabbit Fiver and his friends escaped from Nuthanger Farm to Watership Down.
4 Halfway along Watership Down, if you haven’t already been tempted to climb, you will come across a deep dip or grassy hollow (a former pit) to your left, with a few trees and hiding places in it. This is a good place for games and a picnic. If you want, you can climb the hill just above here, and you will be directly opposite Nuthanger Farm in the field beyond: you can just make it out at the end of the track.
Look out for rabbit holes and hazelnut trees, elderflower and poppies. Those of you with small ones may wish to amble slowly back from here and cut out the rest of the walk. Otherwise, keep going along the bottom of the hill.
5 After a good stretch over this rather bumpy, grassy terrain, you will see a path in the grass heading diagonally uphill to the top corner of Watership Down and some low thorn trees. You can tell you are in the right place as there is a hedgerow cutting across the fields opposite. The view of the fields beyond is fabulous.
6 You will reach the top corner of the field – take care as the trees have sharp thorns. Right in this top corner, where the two fences meet, climb over where there is no barbed wire, taking care not to damage it in any way. This is perfectly fine – the Countryside and Rights of Way Act of 2000 allows CROW public land to be accessed in this way, even if there is not a stile.
7 At exactly this point, join the public footpath, turning right, over a stile and into a large, flat field on the top of the hill, used as a racehorse gallop. Follow the fingerpost towards the gallops.
8 At the number three sign on the gallop, follow the direction of the next fingerpost diagonally across the grass, towards a gate in the fencing on the far side.
9 Turn right on to the wide path, fenced on both sides from the surrounding gallops. After a while, the path passes a set of horse jumps and bends round gently to the right.
10 At the wooden gate, the path narrows into some woods with the trees on your right and Nuthanger Down to your left. The path is marked here as the Wayfarer’s Walk. The hedgerow is beautifully stuffed with wild flowers and hogweed. Follow the path downhill and back to your parked car at the bottom. Remind children to stop before the lane as there could be cars.