The forecast was for a rare and warm sunny day so I made plans on Sunday evening for an epic 14 mile walk. Just before I set out, I had a thought - the clocks had gone back an hour, would there be enough time? A quick calculation indicated I'd probably be still walking at 5pm at which time it is pretty much dark. So I opted instead for a shorter 10 mile one, and even then I completed it just as dusk was setting in.
The walk extends my exploration of the Wayfarer's Way a little bit, but more significantly follows a section of the ancient Harrow Way. This path is second only to the Great Ridgeway in importance as an ancient track and roughly follows the route of the A303 and so goes past Stonehenge on its way to Basingstoke and ultimately Canterbury. It links with the last walk in this area at Hannington. Here is a map of the walk:
I started at Overton church, which is a Victorian rebuild and only retains some early Norman pillars in its structure. The main door is curious as it folds back in the middle and claims to be of date 1350-1400 - which looks possible.
I followed the lane out to the west which leads to Southington Mill on the stream which is the head water of the River Test, much loved by anglers. On the bridge I could see a large fish (trout?) shyly lurking in the shadows and would not come out to have its photograph taken.
Around the mill were some attractive old cottages.
As I walked along the side of the stream/river I saw a jogger accompanied with a labrador heading my way. The labrador launched itself in the stream and I prepared myself to be greeted by a wet dog. However as it spun-dry itself and trotted off it disturbed a butterfly, and I was able to get quite close to the Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta).
I left the river and headed north towards the Harrow Way. Soon I saw a bird of prey diving on a wood pigeon, I think it was one of a pair of kestrels.
A few yards further on and I saw something fluttering a little in the warm breeze and it turned out to be another Red Admiral, this time a little harder to spot. It shows that the bright top of the wings is not echoed underneath.
The weather was so warm (I stripped down to a shirt) for the end of October that it was hard to think I should really be looking for fungi rather than butterflies. So here is what I think is a Parasol mushroom, I saw it in at 'bud' stage on Saturday.
Only a little further on and there was a strange mushroom, it had a very white, shiny, flat top and outward turning brown gills.
I then reached the Harrow Way, and this stretch is impressive. It is as wide as the Great Ridgeway - about a chain in width (that is 22 yards) and some large, mature trees have grown up alongside it. This one goes on my list of 'notable' trees.
The trees offered some shelter from the quite strong southerly breeze, and insects came and settled in the sun. This is I believe a Hornet (Vespa crabro), it had rather red coloured wings. The last one I saw at Savernake Forest, so may be they like ancient woodland.
The belt has quite a lot of fallen dead wood, and fungi were busy processing it. Not sure what type of bracket fungus this one is. The 'white' looks like it has been freshly plastered on and felt soft to the touch.
In another small clearing sheltered from the wind, another type of butterfly was enjoying the sun. It's a brimstone (Gonepteryx rhammi) looking extra-ordinarily leaf-like.
The Harrow Way then diverts briefly onto a narrow lane and then I turned off it to join up with the Wayfarer's Way. On the lane were hazel bushes that had been so ravaged by leaf miners that there was more air than leaf remaining.
I haven't included any flowers as yet although there were a fair number still out, and where there were flowers there were bees. This is a common carder bee (Bombus pascuorum) feeding on knapweed.
The path took me to an unusual sight. Is this a volcanic eruption in rural Hampshire? No, it was a farmer burning some old straw.
As the path climbed up (to 500feet) it entered woodland. These woods are fairly young with only a few old trees.
Having joined the Wayfarer's Way I saw good views out to the East.
The 'official' route cuts across a large field, cutting out the necessity of going around the edge; it required careful detective work to trace the path as only a few walkers had dared to cross it since the crop had been sown. The path follows part of the Harrow Way again and here were some attractive cottages.
Coming over the fields down to the village of Deane there were quite a few arable weeds still in flower but was delighted to find a plant with bright blue flowers. It is borage (Borago officinalis) and there were two plants directly on the footpath, it is considered a garden escape rather than a wild-flower.
At the bottom of the hill there were more borage plants and this time with a bumblebee enjoying one of its last chances to feed before winter sets in.
I then reached the hamlet of Deane. Locals will know this village from the name of 'Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council'. Knowing how large is Basingstoke it is surprising it is paired with Deane which has no more than a dozen or so houses. Basingstoke developed rapidly with the coming of the railway as a commuter town to London. Wikipedia suggests that when naming the Council they chose the largest town and smallest village to indicate the borough's diversity.
Anyway, having passed the manorial church at Deane I walked the short distance over the fields to the next tiny village: Ashe. Ashe has a 'typical' north Hampshire style church.
The main claim to fame for Ashe is that it marks the source of the River Test. The river soon heads south through Stockbridge and Romsey before forming the estuary of Southampton Water. It is noted as being a good river for fishing.
I then walked back to Overton along the rapidly growing river. The light was beginning to fade as dark clouds had come over. This stretch of the walk was notable for the many birds I saw: heron, little egret, mallard, shoveler, moorhen, coot and a grey wagtail. Away from the water there was a noisy party of rooks and a charm of goldfinches high in a tree.
As it is the time for autumn fungus I thought I would end on one. I saw a fair number of different species but nothing very spectacular.