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
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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