Irish Hill Walk  3.75 miles
Hamstead Marshall

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Hamstead Mill to Shepherd's Bridge: 1.5 miles

Begin at Hamstead Mill, where there is some parking (but do not obstruct the entrances to private property). Walk westwards along the canal towpath (towards Kintbury) passing Hamstead Lock immediately and later Copse Lock, where the river leaves the canal. You should see plenty of wildfowl and, if you are very lucky, perhaps a kingfisher.

At intervals you will also see several pillboxes, erected against a possible invasion during the Second World War, and now listed buildings. The woodland on the far bank is Morewood, followed by some open fields.

Next is Dreweats lock, followed by Irish Hill Wood on the far bank. Amongst the trees close to this southern bank it is sometimes possible to see (in winter) the remaining masonry of Hamstead's Victorian whiting factory, an extraction and processing site which employed half a dozen men until the 1930s. (This site cannot be accessed without permission from the landowner.) On the northern bank lies the Wilderness, a fishery belonging to the Sutton estate. Shortly after this comes Shepherd's Bridge.

Shepherd's Bridge to Irish Hill road: .5 mile

Cross the canal over the bridge, at which point the footpath forks at right angles. Take the left fork uphill across a field. At
the summit (about 400ft above sea level) there are good views across the river valley, and to the Hampshire Downs on the southern skyline.

Irish Hill now has only two houses (one old, one modern), but from Saxon times until the 1920s it was a community of several households. The manor was listed in Domesday as independent of Hamstead Marshall. Twentieth-century economics and a bad fire dispersed the population.

At the top of the hill the footpath forks again, the right fork heading down to today's houses. Take the left, crossing a stile under an oak tree, and head SE, down across a field until you meet Irish Hill Road at its junction with Old Lane.

Irish Hill Road to the mill: 1.75 miles

Turn left onto Irish Hill Road. This is usually a very quiet lane, descending into Pear Tree Bottom, where stands one of Hamstead's few thatched cottages. The lane then climbs up to the junction with Warwick Hill, and dog-legs into a straight past Morewood House. This stretch is a haven for rabbits, and badgers have been seen here in the early morning. You may be lucky enough to see lapwings or hare in the fields on the right. After Morewood the lane is joined by Park Lane from the right, after which there may be rather more traffic. From there on it passes beside the old Craven estate wall and St Mary's Church (look for the inset stone plaque dated 1663) as it descends to the river and Hamstead Mill.
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Copyright Penelope Stokes
24 September 2009