This walk follows the first section of the South Downs Way (SDW) from its start in the historic Cathedral City of Winchester. It heads east, through high rolling farmland with distant though extensive views - as far out as to the Isle of Wight - to a remote rustic country pub. It then ascends the start of the South Downs ridge before a very scenic descent from Beacon Hill to Exton, a small village in the Meon Valley. From there it leaves the SDW, following a disused railway path to West Meon, which has an infrequent bus service back to the start.
Along the way, you follow the SDW past Telegraph Hill (162m), Cheesefoot Head (176m, a bowl/natural amphitheatre), Temple Valley, Gander Down, The Milbury's (a remote pub near Millbarrow Down for lunch), Beacon Hill (201m), and the Meon Valley disused railway line path.
This is a long walk (due to a lack of public transport in this remote area), so there are 3 shorter options:
- A) A shorter winter route to Cheesefoot Head and on to the lunch pub, then leaving the SDW, and heading north along the Monarch's Way to Hinton Ampner (a National Trust historic house, open daily in summer) for a regular bus back to Winchester.
- B) A longer route along the SDW, to just shy of Beacon Hill, then a shortcut along quiet roads to West Meon for a regular bus back to Winchester, or on to Petersfield (you'll need a different train ticket, as Winchester and Petersfield are on different lines; see below).
- C) Continue further along the SDW, past Beacon Hill, and a picturesque descent to Exton in the Meon Valley. However, this village only has a very limited bus service: currently it runs only on summer weekends.
- Main Walk : Leave the SDW at Exton, and head north along the disused Meon Valley railway line path to West Meon. Railway line paths can be a bit samey after a while (flat and straight, views in winter, a green tunnel in summer). However, West Meon has a good pub to wait in, and a regular - if infrequent - bus back to Winchester (or Petersfield with the more expensive train ticket).