RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Country walk: Harting Downs

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There are two places to park for this 3.7-mile (6km) St George’s Day walk.

One is in South Harting near the church and the public house. The other is on top of the green mountain at the National Trust car park for which you will need a card payment.

I start at St Mary and St Gabriel in Harting high street.

This church was rebuilt after the 1576 fire, with the sort of Elizabethan carpentry found in barns and mill houses for the nave and transepts, more elaborate elsewhere. The font is Purbeck marble, the cover Jacobean, and the famous Caryll and Fetherstonhaugh ancestors recline in stone while the later war memorial is by Eric Gill.

Harting has masses more history. There were the grommet-makers, (a cottage industry to do with rope hausers for the Royal Navy) the witch who befriended hares, Trollope the novelist, Wellington who was offered Uppark after Waterloo, but feared the hill for his horses, and the vintage car hill climb to compete with Shelsley Walsh and Prescott. Once there were three pubs, now only one.

The footpath going south towards Harting Hill starts almost next to the church to the west of the road and runs parallel to another ascending through the ash and beech forest. Half-a-mile from the church you come to a crossways of the South Downs Way. Turn left, crossing the B2146, and follow SDW up to the National Trust car park.

It continues east along the crest of Harting Downs. This is perhaps the best bit of the walk since there are incomparable views over the weald to the Solent, the Shoulder of Mutton Hill, Blackdown and Leith Hill. Also, this is a nature reserve with some of the finest chalk grassland on the South Downs, with 360 species of flowering plants. Just now you will see early purple orchids, wild strawberry, and three species of wild violets.

Raptors such as buzzard and kestrel use this hill, together with crows and jackdaws for soaring.

After a mile from the NT car park, you come to Bramshott Bottom, where you turn left and leave SDW.

This bridleway wends its way downhill along Telegraph Hill, so named because it led back from the camp of the Napoleonic Wars signalling crews who manned their post above on Beacon Hill and also back in time.

Turn left on reaching the road. It is about a mile now to the high street, passing as you go through Turkey Island Corner. Nearby at East Harting is where old Mother Digby lived in Hog’s Lane. She was accused of turning herself into a hare and running the hills in the 1740s, and then escaping the hunt by running into the drain next to her house.

She was actually caught in her house, rubbing her rump, the same part of her body which Squire Russell’s hound had only a few minutes before seized in its jaws (when she was a hare) just before she escaped down the drain.

So you see, you just don’t know what will happen next in this quaint corner of the world on this or any other saint’s day.