April 12 : South Downs Way : Butser Hill to Harting

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

Butser Hill

Butser Hill

The next section of the South Downs Way (SDW) was calling to us, and we set off from high up, walking up the gentle ascent leading to the summit of Butser Hill, and admiring the views to the west over the Meon Valley. It wasn’t far to the first cache of the day – Hill Bagging Series #7 – Butser Hill Marilyn. Sadly, a muggle was parked up almost on top of the cache, looking at the view while talking on his phone. What to do? We decided to ignore him and had soon found the cache.
Meon Valley

Meon Valley

(Editor’s note: A Marilyn is “a hill of any height with a drop of 150 metres (nearly 500 ft) or more on all sides”. So it is a hill which is relatively high compared to its surroundings. The Marilyns are so-called by the list’s compiler, Alan Dawson, after the more famous mountain list – the Munros.)

Soon we were out on the springy turf of Butser Hill, part of Queen Elizabeth Country Park https://www.hants.gov.uk/thingstodo/countryparks/qecp/explore It seems silly that the SDW bypasses one of the highest spots for miles and miles, so we left the official route to bag the hill-top. Skirting some bickering cattle (a dominance fight between two of them?), and we were soon at the top of the hill with views all round. A couple appeared from another direction, touched the trig point, as did we (you just have to, don’t you?). We stopped for a chat. They were on a short walk to break in their new walking boots before walking the entire SDW in the summer.

Butser Hill trig point

Butser Hill trig point

Chat finished, we assembled the information for the earthcache based upon the summit point (the are usually based around geological things), and stopped for a cup of coffee with a great view before rejoining the SDW and setting off down the hill. The way down the ‘nose’ of the hill towards the A3 is very steep indeed, and my walking pole came out as my knees began to protest. Just as the slope eased, we contoured around the hill to find another cache, on Oxenbourne Down. It was not strictly on our route, but we had been intrigued by the number of favourites given to the cache, so stopped for a look. On arrival, nothing was obvious at first, but another look – and think – suggested that there was something there that needn’t be there – and sure enough, it was the hiding place for the cache, almost invisibly integrated into part of the landscape.
(Editor’s note: The nearby stile and gate are a great viewpoint for photos of Butser Hill. We’ve tried and failed to take decent pictures of it in the past and this is a good spot.)
A3 from Butser Hill

A3 from Butser Hill

Returning to the SDW, we went under the noisy A3 and into the main car park for Queen Elizabeth Country Park. Our next cache was to be another earthcache, this one based upon an old milestone which is now at the entrance to the visitor centre. Or maybe not: we arrived at the appointed spot to find building work going on and no chance of getting anywhere near any milestones. After answering most questions, and a circuit of the building works, we went to the shop to question Beth, the ranger, about the milestone. She made a couple of phone calls and gave us some answers (which turned out to be wrong, but at least we tried). We were not the first to ask, it seems, so we explained why we were asking …
Nice sign!

Nice sign!

About now we checked our GPS and realised that we’d walked around four miles, but were still less than a mile from our geocar, parked on the other side of the A3. That was slightly dispiriting! We walked on through the park and turned away from the A3, going uphill through the woods towards the ridge of the SDW. And it became quiet; it was hard to believe that we were less than a mile from a major road.

There was one more cache to find in the park, hidden among a dark, forbidding grove of yew trees. Thick tree cover is bad news for geocachers as a GPS can’t get an exact fix if it can’t see the sky. We spent a while on a steep slope in the gloom searching tree after tree after tree, before finding the cache in a place we thought we had searched earlier. It happens like that quite often!

The eastern edge of the park is a major crossroads for long distance footpaths: at one point we were stood on the South Downs Way, and the Shipwrights Way, and the Hangers Way, and the Staunton Way. The Shipwrights Way is marked by sculptures relevant to the places they pass though and we passed two, a Hampshire Downs sheep and a Cheese Snail
Shipwrights Way - Hampshire Downs sheep

Shipwrights Way – Hampshire Downs sheep

Shipwrights Way - Cheese Snail

Shipwrights Way – Cheese Snail

Once out of Queen Elizabeth Country Park, we were back on the South Downs Way alone, walking along narrow lanes and chalk surfaced tracks, up on the ridge of the downs at last. We crossed the border from Hampshire into Sussex, the woods fell behind us and the views opened out, which gave us panoramas to admire.

After a long walk, we arrived at the next cache, part of the Petersfield Plod series. We had done some of the caches in this series before, and now we collected a few more. Then there was another cacheless gap before we neared Harting Down and reached the last three caches for our day’s walk. All were by the same setter, two of them placed for the local scout group, and the other, Badgers, a little way down a garlic-fringed side path. On finding this cache and signing the log, we spotted the signature of the last-but-one finder of the cache … the very same cacher we met three weeks earlier in Warwickshire … it’s a small caching world!
Don't tread on the garlic!

Don’t tread on the garlic!

We found the remaining (scouts) caches, but both led us a merry dance. One was hidden in undergrowth by a stile which had been turned into a gate, and the other had been dislodged from its hiding place and was lying out in a field. But find them we did – eventually. And the day’s walk, and the caching, were over for the day, for the geocar was close by.

Here are some of the caches we found:

April 5 : South Downs Way : Exton to Butser Hill

The next section of our South Downs Way walk would take us from Exton to a small off-road car parking space just a little distance from the top of Butser Hill (part of the Queen Elizabeth Country Park estate).

Meon Valley

The route would take us away from Exton, briefly following the River Meon, and then climbing and contouring around Old Winchester Hill, descending to cross the River Meon before ascending once more towards Butser Hill.

When we walked the South Downs Way (SDW) seven years ago, today’s section was one of those which enthralled us least. Today though was different. Early spring, verdant green colours abounded. Birds sang from the tree tops.
The slightly-hazy views were far reaching. And what we both remembered as a traveller’s caravan site had disappeared revealing farmer’s fields.

No caches in this tree!

The path out of Exton is quite tricky terrain. Following recent rain, the path was slightly muddy, narrow and covered with tree roots. We picked our way carefully, aware that the River Meon was only feet away. We were slowly climbing, and eventually reached the Meon Valley Cycle Trail. As we did so, we heard voices behind us, and two gentleman were approaching quite quickly.

They too, were walking the South Downs Way, and also paused at the Cycle Way. This was a slight problem as there was (or at least could have been) a cache for us to find. The cache had had many DNF’s as well as being temporarily archived. We thought it would be good to give a quick search anyway. After the two men disappeared, we undertook our search – but, of course, to no avail.

The next section of our walk involved the steep climb up Old Winchester Hill. Like our preceding visit, 7 years previously, the path was wet following the recent rain, and being chalk was very, very slippery. It was a case of two steps forward and one slither back !

Steep up, slippery mud!

About two thirds up the hill, the South Downs Way contours away the top, and the highest point of the hill is not visited. (Editor’s note : probably because the hill is Iron Age Fort and Bronze Age Cemetery). As we contoured round we passed a field full of sheep and new lambs.

Busy counting sheep!

A farmer on a quad-bike was zooming around the field, subconsciously checking the sheep, but not going close to any of them. We wondered how he was going to leave the field, as we was roaring at speed to the footpath near us. As he approached the wire fence, he stuck leg out, pushed the wire down with his foot, and drove straight over. Clearly its not always walkers that damage wire fences!

A bit higher now!

We proceeded onwards and arrived at a seat. Sadly for us, the two men we had seen earlier were there, having a brief stop. We cast our eyes further and saw another bench about 100 yards away…we went to this bench and paused ourselves for coffee. It was fortunate we were ‘forced’ to use this bench as it was a cache host! We’d walked close on 2 miles and this was our first cache of the day! The cache was called ‘Life of Bryan’ and we were expecting to find a snail cache. (We knew ‘Bryan’ was a mis-spelling, but we’ve seen worse).

But no, it was a cleverly attached cache. The reference to ‘Bryan’ was the bench marked the life, and passing, of Bryan.

Having found our first cache we had several more to find in the next mile and a half.

Is there a cache nearby ?

The first a multi which we had researched before we left. We had read the logs and discovered that if we had solved it on the walk we would have had a half-mile back-tracking to reach the final. However the cache owner had just given enough away in the cache description we could google our way to the two answers. So we arrived at GZ hopeful our internet research was correct, and when the cache hint matched our locale all we had to do was search! We found it after a couple of minutes – quite pleased we had saved ourselves a half-mile walk!

A simple descent to the farm below

As we left the Old Winchester Hill, the South Downs Way takes a large V shape to avoid a steep descent. We walked along a road, passing an enterprising man selling coffee from a van (Mon-Fri 10-3), before we had a more simple descent towards a farm by the River Meon. Halfway down we found another cache, and at the farm too our fourth find of the day was our simplest.

Lunch at the River Meon

This way!

As we crossed the River Meon, we espied some picnic tables, close to the Meon Springs Fishing Club. We chose a table furthest away from the club, as the club sold food, and we had our own. The Fishing Club, is part of the Meon Springs Experience. You can glamp in yurts or shepherds huts. You can clay pigeon shoot as well as fish. The South Downs are available to explore. There’s even self-storage units too ! A good little sideline for the farmer whose land the various activities are held on!

More up, more mud!

We saw the yurts from afar, as replete from lunch we slowly climbed out of the Meon Valley. Three caches broke our climb, one placed by the South Downs Authority, another was cracked, and broken it was full of water. The other, an ammo can, placed way back in 2006 by Esscafe. We met Esscafe at cacher’s meet in Imber shortly after we started geocaching. She was a prolific geocacher (the cacher with the most finds the UK at the time of her untimely early passing a few years ago).

Somewhere in this valley is the source of the River Meon

Esscafe’s Ammo Can

The effort climbing away from the River Meon was worth it, a slightly hazy, but recognisable view of the Solent and the Isle of Wight were visible.

Towards the top of our climb, near a pair of transmission towers, were two more caches. One was magnetic and stuck to a gatepost, the other well camouflaged as something unsavoury!

The remainder of our walk, was broadly flat, with views over the Meon Valley to the North. We passed the Sustainability Centre, which promotes greener living with various courses and wildlife sessions.

And then a major landmark on our 100 mile South Downs Walk. The 20 mile marker! Placed again by the South Downs Authority, this was the cleverest hide of the day and worthy of the favourite point we gave it.

20 mile marker!

Three of our last four caches were part of mini-trail called SOUTHDOWNS MEON VIEW 1, 2 and 3. These varied in difficulty from a barely hidden container, to a film canister squashed into a tree crack. The cache that gave us most difficulty was a bison. There were two main reasons for our problems at this cache; firstly we were expecting a film canister, secondly a family of three and two dogs parked right next to us as were searching and we had to wait some minutes for them to move on.

Our last cache, ‘The Box in a Box’ had recently been checked out by the cache owner, and the two boxes were pristine.

So in the end we found well over a dozen caches. Most yielded a great view, over the very scenic Meon Valley.

Some of the caches we found :