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Leckford Hutt to Alresford (1)



In “High Hampshire”, on a lonely road 3 miles north east of Stockbridge, is a fine French Restaurant called “Clos de Marquis” (SU 405367).  In the 18th century this inn went under the more prosaic name of ‘Leckford Hutt’.  No connection with Star Wars, presumably; hutt was an old term for a sheath to cover the spur of a fighting cock.

 

While the cocks fought, the drovers drank (probably fought too).  The Hutt had a stance for itinerant beasts and made a living from droving.  Across the main road the byway starts emphatically with a stance of pine, and leads ESE, bound for the Thursday sheep fair in New Alresford1

 

The walk to Alresford is about 10 miles.  True, we had to pass over the A34, across the A33 and under the M3; true, we skirted a housing development at South Wonston, met a few dog-owners ...but, apart from that, it is a lovely, lonely walk with wide, spectacular views hiding behind the hedge for much of the way.  (There is also a song thrush with an incredible repertoire on guard duty at Wonston, and we saw 12 species of butterfly.)

 

One never quite knows how the road is going to behave: sometimes it’s a noble highway, often it shrinks to a narrow path choked with shrubs and almost loses its way altogether.  It passes through a magnificent beech wood then suddenly emerges into a wide expanse where not a house, not even a sheep, is to be seen. 

South of Abbotstone we met a farmer’s son who'd returned to where he’d been born.  He was leaning on a gate, absorbing the view of his old home (but glad not to have followed in his father’s footsteps).  He told us he remembered his dad driving geese to Alresford Fair before it finally closed in 1972.  (Of course the advent of the railway in 1861 had made the end inevitable: the beasts lose hardly any weight that way.)

 

As an extra bit of charm, yew trees mark the route every now and then.  They were planted (maybe) before the hedges  that came with Enclosure. They may not grow fast, but you don't need a tall tree to show you the way, up on the Downs; all you need is distinctive, preferably dark, foliage all the year round. So the yew meets all the requirements.

 

There are some interesting place-names too.  Bangor Copse (613393) was home to a well-known drovers’ inn run by two Welsh brothers: one murdered the other to get his hands on all the money they had earned from the droving trade.  A mile south of Lunways Inn – now defunct & mere building site – is Rutherley Copse (515348), mentioned in a charter of 1695.  Ruther is from Rother and Rother means cattle.  Finally, of course, is the “Ox Drove” itself.  We thought there wouldn’t be enough water for a herd on the move – a flock of sheep hardly need water – but were assured that there used to be many ponds on the route...

 

And so to Alresford (say “Allsford”).  “Like living on a film set, living here”, one resident told us.  I can see her point: the trout in the Alre unashamedly flirting, the watercress beds, an old eel house, a fulling mill, wide streets and everyone so damned happy and nice.   Grrrrr!

 

 

1 It also branches NE, halfway along, to Totford (570380), heading for the fairs of Odiham and Farnham, feeders for London.

Leckford Hutt to Alresford (1) image 1
Pine-Starter
Leckford Hutt to Alresford (1) image 2
Route-marker #1
Leckford Hutt to Alresford (1) image 3
Beech woods SU 420360
Leckford Hutt to Alresford (1) image 4
Closing in...
Leckford Hutt to Alresford (1) image 5
Skirting South Wonston