• Graham

One of the somewhat dubious advantages of a classical education is the ability to render sentences like, Caesar, having given the Helvetii a good kicking, decided to return to his winter-quarters, from and into the Latin tongue. I had always assumed that this particular skill, acquired over more years than I cared to remember, would be of little consequence in later life.

I was wrong. I now find that an understanding of the term hiberna that was so critical to the great general’s success is exactly what I need. Whether it is “winter” in the strictly seasonal sense or “winter” in the more metaphorical sense of advancing age, the time inevitably comes when the mountaineer, like the mighty Caesar, has to search out more clement climes for his or her winter-quarters. Therefore, in preparation for both of these circumstances, a reconnaissance had to be made. Rather than beat the well-trodden track north to the Cumbrian Fells or the Bens of Caledonia, it was decided to investigate the mysteries of the A34.

Unlike the bleak moors of the south-west of England, an internet enquiry suggested the higher lands of the more eastern parts of the south were not particularly taxing and therefore ideal hibernating country. I decided that the North Wessex Downs might be a good start and determined to add the high point of Berkshire to my collection of County Tops climbed. To my surprise, I discovered Walmbury Hil (974ft), although nearer to Bristol than London, was listed as the highest point in the whole of the south-east of England. Still a County Top is a County Top and earns the climber a tick in the relevant list. So, I set off to discover the best course of action to be taken, if this mighty peak was to be brought to heel.

As it turned out, an examination of the appropriate map showed the difficulty was not in navigating the way to the top, but to the start. It seems in this part of the country that roads when confronted by a hill do not run into a valley and, as is usually the case, come to a full stop, but cheerfully drop a gear and drive straight over the top. In the end the choice seemed to be to fork left to a car park and walk a few hundred yards in a westerly direction to the summit or fork right to an even more commodious car park and walk a few hundred yards easterly to the same place. It is improbable that even in the harshest winter an ice axe and crampons will be required.

But as is so often the case the sting is in the tail. The Trig Point that marks the apex of our endeavours lies in the middle of a field and, one assumes to keep all the sheep safe, the gates thereto were heavily padlocked. Circumstantial evidence suggested that to achieve our objective we would have to commit the tort of trespass. So, with the conciliatory shilling in hand, we elevated arthritic limbs over a rather awkward hurdle and started along what was clearly an overgrown but carefully laid track. It led directly to the desired object but seemed an unnecessary extravagance to facilitate the crossing of what was no more than a flat field of grass. Later investigation revealed that it was the work of the BBC who, in the early days of outdoor broadcasting, selected this particular high point to beam pictures of the Newbury Races to the general public.

Mission accomplished, there was little alternative but to go for a walk. As it happens you are well placed for such an eventuality as, in one direction, you are at the beginning (or end) of the Wayfarers Walk which offers a suitable meander through Hampshire or, in the other, the Test Way which follows the river of that name to Eling. At the very least you could stroll up nearby Combe Gibbet and examine its rather unusual summit furniture. A suitable conclusion would be to follow great Caesar’s example and after your mighty struggles retire to the The Jack Russell at Faccombe where we received a more than warm welcome.

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