Days out: The Hampshire Walking and Local Food Festival
The long and winding road leads to bangers and beer
Monday 23 September 2002
Country walks make for a hearty appetite, while country food is the perfect way to refuel after a ramble; combining the two themes is something of a stroke of genius. The Hampshire Walking and Local Food Festival does just that. From 28 September, hungry hikers will be descending on the county to take part in a comprehensive series of walks and sample the best of Hampshire's local produce.
The 36 different walks devised for the festival range from a mile-long stroll accessible for wheelchair users and pushchairs to a more demanding two-day hike along the River Test. Transport from Winchester is laid on at the start and finish of each, and all the walks are led by knowledgeable local guides.
John Cawley will be leading a group along a nine-mile stretch of St Swithun's Way, an ancient pilgrimage route between Winchester and Canterbury. "With a guide, people who don't know the area well can get a better appreciation in a shorter time," he says. His route follows that of the medieval pilgrims, via ancient churches, chocolate-box villages, and the lush banks of the River Itchen. He extols the virtues of Hampshire. "It's superb walking country, with a great variety of forest, moorland, heath and heather, coastline, rivers and hills. We've got unspoilt villages, beautiful architecture – the surroundings are wonderful."
Some highlights of the programme include a tour of the Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve, a wetland rich in bird life, and literary wanders round the haunts of Gilbert White, the 18th-century naturalist, and author Jane Austen. There's a tour of Portsmouth's historic dockyard, and a ramble over Watership Down, home of the famous fictional rabbits. John Cawley says it's all about "learning to walk the easy way". "The easier routes bring walking within reach of everybody, and there are longer routes for the more experienced."
Naturally, no experience whatsoever is required for the gourmet side of the festival. Many of the walks swing by local food producers; strawberry farms, breweries, apple orchards, vineyards, freshly caught seafood and local honey will all be en route. Lazier visitors don't even need to put on their walking boots; there are a number of farmers' markets to stroll around, including the biggest in the country at Winchester, plus various evening events.
Billy Owton is supplying the sausages for the Hampshire Beer and Sausage Party, which takes place in Winchester's Guildhall from 7.30pm next Saturday. His family has farmed in Hampshire for four centuries, and runs Robert Owton Butchers and the Chalcroft Farm Shop in West End near Southampton.
The Owtons are the proud devisers of secret sausage recipes that make award-winning bangers – including the current Supreme Champion of the Great Hampshire Sausage competition, their best-selling breakfast pork sausage. The family has devised a special recipe for the festival, using local venison, watercress and red wine, and will also be serving up the Supreme Champion plus its Cumberland and duck and hoi-sin varieties. "A walk gives you a good appetite, not to mention a swig of beer," says Billy Owton, who expects to be "the most popular man in the room" once his sausages get sizzling. Hampshire born and bred, he reckons there's no better place in England. "Come and see us," he says. "When you've tried us once, you'll come back for more."
The Hampshire Walking and Local Food Festival, 28 September to 6 October. Registration: £11.75 adults, £5.75 for children aged 16 and under. The price includes unlimited guided walks, transport between Winchester and each walk, plus goody bag. Places are limited on some walks. Special offers are available on local accommodation throughout the festival. For more information, a programme, to register or to check availability of walks, contact the local information centre (01962 870500; www.access.hampshire.gov. uk).
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