This is a varied walk on the Hampshire/Surrey border, incorporating ancient forests (Alice Holt Forest, Farnham Heath and Bourne Wood), some large and popular heathlands on Frensham Common (with several large ponds, one of which has dedicated swimming areas, and the Devil's Jumps) and the more remote Hankley Common, a large Scots Pine and heather-covered area including the heathland ridges of Kettlebury Hill and Yagden Hill, which make for some very scenic views.
On Hankley Common you have an opportunity to explore a D-Day training site with a replica section of The Atlantic Wall and assorted other defensive structures. From the picturesque village of Tilford, north of Hankley Common, with its pub and cricket pitch on the green you follow quiet woodland paths and lanes (with the occasional steep ascent) to Farnham.
A Shortcut from Frensham Little Pond to Tilford cuts out the Flashes area of Frensham Common with the fascinating Devil’s Jumps and all of Hankley Common. An Alternative Ending from Tilford cuts some steep ascents. A bus stop and a car park at Frensham Great Pond enable Circular or Lasso-style routes.
Before embarking on this walk, please read below section on Managed Access on Hankley Common.
Dog Owners: On the Commons, dogs must be kept on a lead during ground nesting season (01 March to 31 July) and under close control at all other times.
Bentley station is on the Alton Line from Woking via Aldershot, a branch of the South Western Main Line that used to continue to Winchester. Bentley has an hourly service (journey time from Waterloo 62 mins Monday to Saturday, if changing at Woking, and from 73 mins Sunday). Farnham is one stop closer to Woking, with a half-hourly service (journey time from 56 minutes, if changing at Woking). Buy a Bentley return.
Saturday Walkers’ Club: Take the train closest to 9.00 hours.
The roads around Frensham Great and Little Ponds are "no parking/no stopping". The car park is free for NT-members and on weekdays.
The Shipwrights Way is an 80 km (50 mi) waymarked Long-Distance Footpath through East Hampshire, leading from Bentley Station to Portsmouth. The route and name reflect the use of oak grown at Alice Holt Forest (east of Bentley Station) for shipbuilding in Tudor times. It passes through Bordon, Liphook, Liss, Petersfield, Queen Elizabeth Country Park, Staunton Country Park, Havant, Hayling Island and (via ferry) to Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard. https://www.hants.gov.uk/thingstodo/countryside/walking/shipwrightsway
Alice Holt Forest
Alice Holt Forest is a royal forest in the western Weald in Hampshire, situated some 6 km south of Farnham. ‘Alice’ is believed to be a corruption of ‘Ælfsige’, the Bishop of Winchester in AD 984, whose diocese had rights over the forest. Old English ‘holt’ = a wood or thicket, usually a managed wood of a single species.
Once predominantly an ancient oak forest, it was particularly noted in the 18th and 19th centuries for the timber it supplied for the Royal Navy. It is now though planted mainly with conifers and the Forestry Commission (FC) took over the management of the forest in 1924 and established one of only two British forestry research institutes here in 1946. Since 2010 it is part of the South Downs National Park and forms the most northerly gateway to the park. Alice Holt is one of the FC's most popular destinations, attracting over 290,000 visitors a year, with facilities including a café, play structures and outdoor spaces for children, a cycle hire, and over 15 km of waymarked trails for walking and cycling.
The River Wey
The River Wey is very unusual in that it has several sources feeding two separate rivers that share the same name. The northern branch rises near Alton in Hampshire, while the south branch has two sources: one rises just over the West Sussex border on the western flank of Blackdown near Haslemere, the other at Inval, below Gibbet Hill, Hindhead. Both arms of the river join south of Farnham at Tilford in Surrey. From there the Wey as a single river flows east to Godalming and then northwards towards the Thames.
The name ‘Wey’ may be derived from the Old English word Éa meaning "river".
The main sub-tributary is the Tilling Bourne flowing from the slopes of Leith Hill.
Frensham Ponds/Frensham Common
Frensham Common is an SSSI heathland of 3.7 km2, owned by the National Trust which includes two large lakes and is managed by Waverley Borough Council. The terrain is elevated and undulating with some high points in ridges to the south-east but it has few streams due to the permeability of the soil.
Four prehistoric bowl barrows are situated in a line along a ridge in the centre-east of the common. They are passed on the walk route.
Frensham Great Pond and Frensham Little Pond were built during the Middle Ages to provide fish for the Bishop of Winchester's estate, and the former was the largest lake in Surrey until the early 20th century when larger reservoirs and lakes from ex-quarries were constructed.
The Devil’s Jumps are a series of three conical shaped hilly outcrops of an ironstone variety of sandstone set among acidic heathland on Frensham Common. They are linked to a variety of local landmarks by folklore, including Mother Ludlam's Cave near the ruins of Waverley Abbey, the Devil's Punch Bowl at Hindhead, the village of Thursley and the parish church at Frensham. There are no public access rights to the two jumps not covered in this walk.
The Greensand Way is a 174 km (108 mi) waymarked Long-Distance Path through Surrey and Kent, from Haslemere to Ham Street, running broadly parallel to and south of the North Downs ridge. It follows the ridge of greensand rock, to the edges of Romney Marsh and almost to the Kent coast. The Greensand Way takes its name from layers of sandstone, in each of which is found the green coloured mineral glauconite.
The Atlantic Wall
During World War II, D-Day training sites were created in Britain in order to practise for Operation Overlord, the invasion of northern France by the Allies in 1944.
In 1943, in an area of Hankley Common known as the Lion’s Mouth, Canadian troops constructed a replica of a section of the Atlantic Wall from reinforced concrete. It is around 100m long, 3m high, and 3.5m wide. It is divided into two sections, between which there were originally huge steel gates.
Nearby are other obstacles (mostly types of tank traps) such as dragon’s teeth, huge reinforced concrete blocks and lengths of railway track set in concrete, and wire entanglements. The main wall has two large breaches caused by a variety of demolition devices. Over the years, the wall has become colonised by alkaline-loving lichens, mosses, ferns and other plants which are found nowhere else locally.
This walk was designed to be a train-friendly walk to Frensham Swimming Pond, as well as - and especially - to Hankley Common, which is uniquely remote for the south east. Unfortunately, the Common is a long way from the nearest train stations (Bentley, Farnham, Milford, Witley and Haslemere), the buses are poor, and the A3 (motorway) has few crossing points, which lengthens possible routes from Milford and Liphook. The length of the 'approach walks' caused the walk to be longer and tougher than I would have liked.
That aside, this walk - and its sister walk SWC 144 Haslemere to Farnham - gives access to these beautiful and remote areas as well as to the splendid Thursley Common, on a variety of routes, all based on public transport.
The shorter option of this walk, while still a great walk (Ancient Forests, Frensham Swimming Pond, heather and gorse filled commons and heathland), misses out though on the Devil's Jumps, and the very best bit - Hankley Common.
For drivers, there is now a shorter circular walk that covers the highlights without the approach walks to/from the stations.
Another place I wanted to pass by, but was unable to, was the fabled abandoned billiard room under Thursley Lake. If there is ever a safe pedestrian crossing on the A3, a Witley route option that passes it would be a possibility.
Thanks for the kind feedback. Thanks also to John L and Thomas G, for writing detailed directions (in the pdf) and the shorter and circular walk options.