Varied heathland and woodland containing some unusual features, returning alongside the Basingstoke Canal
Main Walk: 19¼ km (12.0 miles). Four hours 40 minutes walking time. For the whole excursion including trains, sights and meals, allow at least 8½ hours.
Explorers 145 & (for a short section in mid-afternoon) 144. Fleet, map reference SU816553, is in Hampshire, 9 km E of Basingstoke.
4 out of 10 (1 for the Substitute Walk).
To motorists this walk's title will doubtless conjure up fond images of Fleet Services on the nearby M3, so to avoid disappointment it is worth stating at the outset that the route does not go near this iconic location (or indeed within earshot of the motorway). Instead a path from the station leads straight into Fleet Pond Nature Reserve, an attractive area of heathland and woodland surrounding the large pond visible from the railway line. The route follows the perimeter path around its western and southern sides and then enters a large military training area (see below for information about possible access restrictions).
The long section across these military lands goes past the north-western corner of Tweseldown Racecourse, which closed for steeplechase racing in 2012 but is still used for cross country eventing. Towards the end of this section the terrain becomes hillier and the route takes in one of the more unusual features to be found on a walk in south-east England: a path alongside a water channel cut into the side of Beacon Hill, reminiscent of a Madeiran levada. The walk's only significant climb takes you over this hill and down to a possible pub lunch in the village of Ewshot.
On older OS maps it looks as if there is more MoD land to cross at Crookham Park, but the barracks have been sold off and the walk goes through a new landscaped park being created by the housing developers. A rather nondescript trek around the outskirts of Church Crookham then leads through the small Zebon Copse Local Nature Reserve to the start of a long stretch alongside the Basingstoke Canal.
There is a solid mass of housing between this point and Fleet station, but this is not so obvious from the towpath. Although there are houses and gardens on both sides for much of the way, and occasional road noise, the mature trees lining the canal's winding course make this a surprisingly pleasant route. A welcome bonus is the presence of a highly regarded canalside pub, in a fine location for a late lunch or some mid-afternoon refreshment. The final section of the walk is along the edge of the MoD land and back through Fleet Pond Nature Reserve, this time around the eastern and northern sides of the pond.
The sections of this walk around Fleet Pond and the Forest of Eversley overlap with the middle part of the Farnham to Blackwater walk (#160), a longer exploration of the military lands in the area.
A large part of this walk is through the Aldershot and District Military Lands. According to the Byelaws which are displayed at all its entrances, public access for recreational purposes is permitted at all times when the area is not being used by the military. In practice access used to be freely available at nearly all times, but in 2018 a large area of heathland between Aldershot Road and Bourley Road was fenced off by the MoD. There are several pedestrian gates into this area but these are often padlocked with “Military Training in Progress” signs.
Although a route across this heathland would be an attractive feature, the uncertain access arrangements have made that impracticable and so the walk skirts around it. If military training is concentrated in this area it should reduce the chance of an encounter elsewhere (eg. around Beacon Hill), but you must be prepared to detour around any training exercise if ordered to do so.
A separate issue is that for health & safety reasons much of the MoD land is closed to the public for two weeks in July in even-numbered years, before and during the biennial Farnborough Air Show. The roads and canal towpath under the airfield's flight path are closed too. As any detour would be too extensive no alternative route has been specified, so the Main Walk should not be attempted at this time.
There are three places on the Main Walk – Tweseldown Racecourse, Beacon Hill and Crookham Park – where navigation could be difficult, or access restricted for some reason. In these places the main route takes a straightforward course along broad paths and tracks, but walkers with map-reading skills are encouraged to attempt the more challenging and interesting alternative routes.
There are no other options for the Main Walk, but since you might come across an unexpected closure of the MoD land south of Norris Bridge, brief directions are given for a Substitute Walk to the Fox & Hounds. Its long out-and-back section along the canal towpath is less than exciting but it seems better than simply returning to Fleet.
Fleet station is on the main line between Woking and Basingstoke, served by trains from Waterloo. It has an hourly fast service (Mon–Sat) taking 40 minutes, plus a half-hourly stopping service (hourly on Sunday mornings) taking 56 minutes.
There are few bus services in the area, but if you want to abandon the walk in mid-afternoon Stagecoach 10 runs roughly hourly (Mon–Sat) from a stop outside the Fox & Hounds pub in Church Crookham to Fleet station.
If driving, Fleet has a large station car park which costs £3.50 at off-peak times but £9.90 before 2pm Mon–Fri (2020).
Take the train nearest to 09:40 from Waterloo to Fleet. If you plan to have an early lunch at one of the first two pubs (see below), start an hour later.
There are four pubs on or close to the walk route, but the best ones are not well placed. If you start late and are prepared to stop for lunch after just 4¼ km, The Foresters (01252-616503) serves relatively expensive ‘modern British’ food all day; it is more of a restaurant than a pub, however, with table service. After a further 1¼ km a short detour would take you to The Tweseldown (01252-266657) on the main road by the old racecourse, which serves standard pub food all day.
The pub closest to the walk's midway point is in the quiet village of Ewshot, after 8¾ km. However, The Windmill (01252-850439) currently has very limited opening hours (lunchtime on weekends only) and it would be advisable to call ahead to check that it is serving food.
If you can hold out for another 5 km the last pub on the route is worth the wait: the Fox & Hounds (01252-663686) is in an idyllic location alongside the canal and serves very good and reasonably-priced food until 2pm weekdays, all afternoon at weekends.
If you have had an early lunch stop the Fox & Hounds (see above) is well placed for a mid-afternoon refreshment stop. At the end of the walk there are few places near Fleet station, which is some way from the town centre. A small Café Destino in the station concourse should be open on weekdays, but is likely to be closed by the time you get there on a weekend. The most convenient place nearby is The Station (01252-614839), an Ember Inns pub just across the main road which is open all day.
For a more characterful experience a ten-minute walk along the A3013 to the north of the station would bring you to the Heron on the Lake (01252-812522), a ‘nautical inspired pub’ with a waterside terrace overlooking the small northern part of Fleet Pond; sadly, there is no equivalent place closer to the walk route on the main part of the pond.
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Out (not a train station)
Back (not a train station)
National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline (bus times): 0871 200 22 33 (12p/min) • TFL (London) : 0343 222 1234
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The directions for this walk are also in a PDF (link above) which you can download on to a Kindle, tablet, or smartphone.
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- Main Walk (19¼ km)
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- Follow the perimeter path around the western and southern sides of Fleet Pond to the point where the Gelvert Stream enters the Nature Reserve. Continue on the woodland path heading south-east through the MoD Training Area to Pyestock Hill. Go out onto Ively Road and cross the Basingstoke Canal on the Norris Bridge roundabout.
- Go out through the station's concourse and straight ahead across its forecourt. On the far side go between railings and turn left onto a tarmac path with a purple waymarker for the Brenda Parker Way?. You soon pass an information panel for Fleet Pond Nature Reserve? and the path crosses a water channel on a wooden footbridge. Immediately afterwards, just past steps down from the station car park, turn right at a junction onto a waterside path heading S.
- You will be following sections of the yellow and blue waymarked routes around the reed-fringed Fleet Pond for over 1½ km. Ignore all paths off to the right, at one point crossing Brookly Stream on a wooden footbridge. At the end of a 150m stretch alongside a residential street (Fugelmere Road) fork right to take the blue route where the two split. In 350m turn left with the blue route at a junction; soon a short stretch along a boardwalk brings you to a major path junction in front of Gelvert Stream.
- Cross the stream on a wide wooden footbridge and turn half-right onto a broad path (not the path alongside the stream), leaving the Nature Reserve and entering the signposted MoD Training Area. In about 300m the woodland path turns half-right. In a similar distance, just before the path starts to climb more steeply, turn right at a path junction and then immediately fork left at two further junctions to go gently uphill, heading S.
- In about 300m you will be coming out onto a road which you will soon be able to hear off to the left. After the path levels out and merges with another from the left, keep left at all subsequent junctions to avoid paths dropping down to the canal towpath (although you will end up taking one of these if forced to switch to the Substitute Walk). The leftmost path soon swings left and goes out through a narrow gap onto the road.
- Turn right and go along the footway past a large roundabout, high above the Basingstoke Canal?. Cross the A323 with great care at the designated crossing point ahead. Follow the footway briefly round to the left, where there is a narrow gap in the bushes into another part of the MoD Training Area.
If this area is closed for any reason you will have to abandon the Main Walk and switch to the directions for the Substitute Walk at §G.
- Go onto another part of the MoD Training Area and take the track heading south-west through the Forest of Eversley. At the end continue parallel to Aldershot Road for 300m (passing The Foresters), then turn left to cross the road. Follow a track up to a cattle grid in front of Brock's Hill.
- Go through the gap in the bushes and up the slope to the right to reach a large clearing covered in stones, making for slightly awkward walking. Take the middle of three tracks leading off it, slightly to the left, with the stones soon giving way to an easier surface. Follow the track down through the Forest of Eversley and round to the right. Eventually it straightens out and goes through a more open area, with a cattle grid and side gate along the way.
- The track gradually approaches Aldershot Road and eventually you go past another grid into a small parking area. Do not go out to the road, but veer right through another gate/grid and take the leftmost path. This runs parallel to the road and soon goes past the back of The Foresters, with a gate into its car park at the far corner if you want an early lunch stop.
- To continue the walk, carry on past the pub for 150m and then turn left through a metal kissing gate. Cross the road carefully and go past a metal vehicle barrier onto a track curving left through the trees, into another part of the MoD Training Area. You soon emerge into an open area of heathland and go up to a cattle grid, where the main track continues towards the low hill ahead.
- As the route across the heathland ahead is problematic, turn right in front of the cattle grid and go up to the belt of trees surrounding Tweseldown Racecourse. Either follow a perimeter path around it or (if no event is taking place) cut across its north-western corner. To the west of the course follow a broad grassy strip under power lines heading south-southeast and continue in the same direction through a small wood to a T-junction with a track in front of Parkhurst Hill.
- To continue the walk, therefore, do not take the main track ahead. Instead turn right in front of the cattle grid onto a broad path alongside a low wire fence. In 125m this forks in front of a belt of trees, with the left-hand path leading through the trees to a gate onto Tweseldown Racecourse?.
- To skirt around the racecourse ignore the path into the trees and fork right. Keep the trees on your left for 600m, initially heading WSW but veering left a couple of times. Eventually you go through a metal gate into a parking area and out onto Bourley Road. If you want to visit a nearby pub, follow the detour below.
Detour to The Tweseldown pub (+250m)
A 2 km stretch across this attractive heathland was the intended route for this walk, but in 600m you would come to the start of the fenced-off area which is now often closed to public access. You could detour ahead for 200m and gaze wistfully across the heathland from Brock's Hill, but to avoid complications the route steers well clear of this military training area.
A notice by this gate states that walkers are welcome except on the six or seven weekends each year when an equestrian event is taking place. To avoid any possible complications the main route in [?] skirts around the outside of the course, but the more interesting alternative route in [?] cuts across it.
- Turn right and go along Bourley Road to its junction with the B3013; the pub is on the left. Afterwards you can either return the same way and turn right onto the path opposite the parking area, or turn left out of the pub onto the main road and then cut diagonally across a playing field to join this path 150m further along.
Alternative route (−200m)
- To cut through the racecourse fork left onto the path through the trees, soon coming to a metal kissing gate leading onto it. Providing access is permitted, go across the old racetrack and through a gap in the hedge opposite. Turn half-right and take any convenient route past the horse jumps, heading roughly SW.
Aim to pass just to the right of a white fence rail 300m away; as you approach it you will see the old racecourse control tower on a low hill to the left. Maintain direction past the rail (which surrounds a pavilion area), aiming for a pedestrian gate in a high chainlink fence in front of a road.
- In the unlikely event that this gate turns out to be locked, a path off to the right goes through a gap in the perimeter trees into the parking area on the main route.
- Go across Bourley Road via this gate and a similar one opposite onto a warm-up area for horses. Bear left in front of the trees ahead to continue alongside them, parallel to the main route on the other side. In 400m you come to the end of the trees and merge with the main route.
For a route along main tracks and paths, turn right onto the track. Take the first left, then keep right at junctions to skirt around the eastern side of Beacon Hill, eventually going up a slope to meet the levada running along the hillside.
- Alternatively, take a narrow path across Parkhurst Hill and straight up the side of Beacon Hill to the levada.
- Ignore the stile and turn right onto the broad track, heading SW. In 250m turn left at a track junction, going past a cattle grid.
- The track goes over a low rise and swings left downhill, in 200m coming to a three-way track junction. The main route continues on the track slightly to the right; the narrow path going up Beacon Hill on the right is the alternative route at [?·c] below.
- For the main route, take the broad track heading SE. There are some more tempting side paths up Beacon Hill, but for the simplest route stay on the track and turn right at a four-way track crossing after 225m.
In a further 250m keep right at another track junction, now climbing steadily. In 125m you reach a level path alongside a water channel at an oblique crossing, shortly before the track swings left. Bear left onto this levada?, merging with the alternative route.
- If this path is blocked for some reason you could stay on the main track to the ridge at the top of the hill, going parallel to the B3013 (Beacon Hill Road) on the right for the final 100m.
Alternative route (−200m)
- For the more direct route go straight across the track and over the stile. Take the right-hand of two narrow paths going up the wooded hillside, initially heading S and bending right at the top of the rise.
- Keep right at a path junction, avoiding a path dropping down to the left. In about 100m the path swings left across a dip and up the other side, then drops steeply down to emerge from the trees at a three-way track junction. The alternative route continues on the narrow path opposite, while the broad track on the left is the main route at [?·c] above.
- For the alternative route, take the narrow and potentially muddy path climbing steeply up Beacon Hill (but beware off-road cyclists, who like to descend en masse at breakneck speed). Follow any of the sets of tyre tracks up the hillside.
- About 100m inside the treeline you come to a level path alongside a small water channel and turn left onto this levada?. As you follow the path along the contours of the hillside you will see some broad stony tracks in the valley below. In about 400m your path goes across one of these at an oblique crossing, merging with the main route.
- Follow the meandering levada along the wooded hillside, heading roughly S. In 350m you meet another broad stony track and turn right onto it. The track winds its way uphill for 250m to the ridge at the top, with the B3013 (Beacon Hill Road) behind the trees opposite.
- At the top turn left at a T-junction, go past a cattle grid and turn right to come out onto the road. Cross the B3013 with great care and take the signposted bridleway just off to the left. Follow this steadily downhill for 400m and continue along a short street into the village of Ewshot, soon reaching the The Windmill pub (a possible refreshment stop) on the right.
The main route in [?] follows main tracks and paths to Beacon Hill, including 350m along an unusual levada. The alternative route in [?] takes a narrow path straight over the low hill ahead, crosses over the main route and climbs steeply up Beacon Hill for a longer stretch along this picturesque levada. You could switch between the two routes at this crossover point.
Go down Church Lane, across Tadpole Lane and up past the Village Hall into Crookham Park. For a straightforward route through this country park take the right-hand of two surfaced paths ahead, then in 500m turn left onto a sandy horse ride heading south-west and skirting around Riddings's Copse to Ewshot Lane.
- Alternatively, find your own way along grassy paths across the landscaped parkland, optionally ending with a woodland path through Riddings's Copse.
- Go downhill through the village on Church Lane. At the bottom of the hill bear right, going straight across Tadpole Lane and through a wooden gate leading to the Village Hall. Make your way around the right-hand side of the building, through its car park and up a grassy slope beside a children's playground. At the top follow a short path to the left of a tennis court and through a wooden gate into Crookham Park?. Take the right-hand of two surfaced paths ahead into this country park.
- Stay on the main path for 500m, going steadily downhill and through several wooden ‘SANGS’ gates along the way. After a stretch of boardwalk go through a side gate to the right of a wooden fieldgate and turn left onto a sandy horse ride, which you will be following for the remainder of this section.
- The ride soon crosses a lane and turns left to go alongside it for 150m, then bears right up a slope. Shortly before reaching the corner of a wood the alternative route joins from a side gate on the left.
Alternative route (−150m)
- For a more complicated route go along the main path for just 75m, then fork left onto a narrow side path through a belt of trees. This comes to a wooden gate leading out onto open grassland, with a fine view ahead of the Hampshire Downs.
- Keep ahead briefly on a grassy path and then fork right to head N over a low mound. Follow the path as it curves left past three pillboxes, then down to the right towards a belt of trees.
- Go through a wooden gate in these trees and fork left onto a grassy path going alongside them, heading NW. In 100m fork right and follow the path round to the right.
- Shortly before reaching another line of trees turn left at a path junction and go down to the corner of the meadow. Follow the path down a bank and out onto a lane, with a sandy horse ride (the alternative route) on the far side.
Cross the lane (slightly to the left) and go through a gap in the trees under power lines into another meadow. Follow a grassy path alongside the horse ride for 50m, then go through a wooden gate to join it.
- The more adventurous could go across the horse ride and take a grassy path into the wood on the left. At the time of writing there were some faint paths through it to the opposite corner where a gate would bring you back out onto the horse ride, but these were not sufficiently well-defined to be entirely suitable.
- To complete this section follow the horse ride up to and around two sides of a wood (Ridding's Copse), passing several pillboxes in the trees. At the end of the country park the ride turns left and comes out onto Ewshot Lane.
- Turn right briefly onto the lane and continue on a footpath heading north-west across a field and through Redfields Business Park to Redfields Lane. Continue in the same direction along Watery Lane, just off to the right, eventually going through Zebon Copse Local Nature Reserve to the Basingstoke Canal. Turn right and go along its towpath to the Fox & Hounds pub on Crookham Road.
- Turn right briefly onto the lane. Where this bends right in front of a metal gate leading into a yard, take the signposted footpath in a belt of trees between the yard and the lane. This soon turns half-left to stay alongside the yard's metal fence, a narrow and potentially overgrown path. In 100m it emerges into a field and you continue along a fenced-off section on its right-hand edge to a stile in the far corner.
- A short path through some trees takes you into Redfields Business Park. Go straight ahead on the main road through it for 250m (still on a right of way) to Redfields Lane. Cross the road carefully and turn right, then take the first left into Watery Lane. Follow this long straight lane for 400m, ignoring ways off. After the last house on the right the path splits: you could keep ahead on the (often flooded) bridleway but there is a much better parallel footpath on the right, across a stream.
- In 200m, just after the path rejoins the bridleway, fork right at a path junction to stay on the bridleway. In 175m go straight across the access road to a community centre onto the continuation of the right of way, entering Zebon Copse Local Nature Reserve?. Stay on the main path, in 250m turning half-left in front of an information panel. In a further 50m go across Crookham Swing Bridge and turn right for the start of a long stretch along the towpath of the Basingstoke Canal, initially heading N.
- In the next 1 km you pass under Malthouse Bridge and Coxheath Bridge, after which the canal makes a long turn to the left. In a further 600m you come to the beer garden of the Fox & Hounds pub, a tempting refreshment stop.
If you want to finish the walk here, there is a stop across the road from the pub for buses to Fleet station. To complete the walk, go to §H.
- Return to Pyestock Hill and take one of the paths going down to the canal. Turn right and go along the towpath for 3¼ km to the Fox & Hounds pub on Crookham Road.
- For the Substitute Walk, retrace your steps past the roundabout and over the canal. Go back into the woods on the left and make your way onto any of the paths going down through the trees to the canal. Turn right onto its towpath, away from the high road bridge.
- You now simply follow the tree-lined towpath for 3¼ km, with the canal always on your left. You go under the two Pondtail Bridges after 750m and then the very low Reading Road Bridge after another 1½ km. In a further 1 km the towpath runs close to Crookham Road and comes to the Fox & Hounds pub, situated between the road and the canal.
- Head north along the canal towpath, which gradually curves round to the right. In 1 km it passes under Reading Road Bridge, then in a further 1½ km the Old and New Pondtail Bridges. 200m after these bridges, turn left off the towpath and follow a path around two sides of a residential area, Pondtail. Opposite Pondtail Road turn half-right onto a path heading north, re-entering Fleet Pond Nature Reserve by the Gelvert Stream.
From the beer garden at the back of the pub turn left onto the towpath, heading N. After a long slow turn to the right you eventually come to a small patch of open ground with an information panel about the canal's history.
- Fleet town centre (with pubs and coffee shops) is 350m off to the left along the A323. The station is a further 1¾ km away but several bus routes go along the A3013.
- After ducking under the very low Reading Road Bridge (carrying the B3013) a further 1½ km along the towpath brings you to the Old and New Pondtail Bridges in quick succession (the latter carrying the A323). 200m beyond this second bridge, and immediately after the last house on the left, turn left off the towpath.
- Follow this long straight path between the residential area and a wood. In 350m, at the end of the houses, turn left to continue with an open meadow on your right. In a further 350m, with a wood ahead and Pondtail Road on your left, turn half-right through a wooden side gate to go along the edge of the open area, with trees on your left. In the far corner go through another side gate to re-enter Fleet Pond Nature Reserve, at a major path junction which you should recognise from your outward route.
- Go across your outward route and follow the path alongside the stream. In 350m either turn right across a footbridge, or detour ahead to Sandy Bay and rejoin the main path a little further ahead. Continue along the perimeter path around the eastern and northern sides of Fleet Pond to reach the station, with possible detours to the nearby Station pub or the Heron on the Lake on the small northern part of Fleet Pond.
- Go straight ahead onto the broad woodland path running alongside Gelvert Stream, crossing over your outward route and now back on the blue waymarked route. In 350m the suggested route is to turn right to cross the stream on a wooden footbridge and continue on a broad path, but if you are not in a hurry the detour below leads to the edge of Fleet Pond.
Detour to Sandy Bay (+300m)
- Go straight ahead past the footbridge, staying on the blue route beside the stream and soon merging with the yellow route from the left. The path eventually swings right and crosses the stream on another footbridge, coming out into a small open area with a view across the pond from the water's edge. Return on the path to the left of the one you arrived on, turning left at a T-junction at the end of the boardwalk to rejoin the main route.
Detour to The Station pub (+250m)
- Continue along the tarmac path to a roundabout. The pub is off to the right on the far side, so cross the main road with great care and go through the pub's car park. Afterwards, return via the roundabout and the station approach road.
» Last updated: August 28, 2020