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     On a dreary Sunday in March I did a 16 mile circular from the town of Alresford in Hampshire. It followed a general line to the northeast along a broad ridge of land that visits the two handsome villages of Wield, Upper and Lower. One point of interest at the start was an obelisk above Old Alresford in a field alongside the rough track of Colden Lane, I took the liberty of wandering over for a better look. There is little information to be found of this curious monument, it's not even marked on the map, but one detail was revealed to me on closer inspection. A tablet at the base of the obelisk had been added recently as it gave the names Camilla, 1953 to 1988 and Melita 1951 to 2014. This was a very important memorial to someone, but who were they? It would have been put there to be seen on the higher ground from Old Alresford House, once home to the Rodney family. The famous admiral Lord Rodney rebuilt the house in the 1750's with Colden Lane acting as a northern boundary to the park and farmland.

I won't lie to you, the sun never shone once during my time on this walk, in fact it rained continually for the first two hours but there was much to keep me amused during those darker times. This included the largest herd of deer I had ever seen passing within 20 yards of me in Barton Copse. I must have been downwind of them as they remained blissfully unaware of my presence until the last moment. In fact, I was that close to them I soon wished they were downwind of me! From Lower Wield I walked a succession of paths that cut across fields. Both ends of each of these paths were marked by a new type of footpath sign I'd not come across before. They displayed the usual footpath yellow arrow only this time set within a sizeable white disk. The idea is to make the far end of the path identifiable to anyone making their way across and prevent the sort of aimless wandering that does little to improve the mood of farmers and walkers alike. In the past landowners often resorted to much more technical methods such as a brightly coloured bucket or sheets of white plastic nailed to a tree, but these new markers certainly served two purposes well enough.

   

     I took lunch inside All Saint's at Bradley and huddled around its radiators, the congregation having dearly departed. The second half of the day saw me drop to the Candover Valley. This is an area I love walking in and never grow tired of, it must be one of the most sparsely populated parts of Hampshire. The landscape rises gently from the valley and though hardly spectacular, it is never boring. I passed three villages in succession named after the Candover Brook, a tributary of the River Itchen fed by a roadside spring. They were followed by Totford, Swarraton and Northington with the Candover Brook seen at its best nearby. At Preston Candover is the tiny and now redundant St. Mary the Virgin Old Church which is always open and cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust. At the latter end of the walk, just prior to a climb over Abbotstone Down, is a worthwhile detour up a track to the dramatic Northington Grange, a neo classical country house built in the 19th century.

   

   

     When Sir Robert Henley bought The Grange in 1662 it was then just a modest country house, so he commissioned architect William Samwell to build him an impressive residence instead. It stayed that way until 1809 when the frontage was dramatically altered beyond recognition by the architect William Wilkins who was an expert on the Greek Doric architectural order. Commissioned by the then owner Henry Drummond, he rendered the exterior of the house to look like a Greek temple. Henry Drummond was after something with a little more pizzazz but didn't quite go for the final result, so he sold it to Alexander Baring in 1817 for £136,000. Baring very much digged the new look of the house and he and his family continued to clad the exterior throughout the 19th century. This included the introduction of a conservatory in 1823 but that was later converted into a ballroom in 1890. Baring was a partner in one of the country's leading financier banks and his descendants remained at the house until the 1930's. Barings was the world's second oldest merchant bank and the most prestigious of financial institutions up until 1995 when it was famously trashed on the stock market by rogue trader Nick Leeson. During the 20th century The Grange fell in and out of owners and into neglect. It was only saved from demolition in 1975 by the Department of the Environment which now operates as English Heritage. They maintain the site which allows for people to visit its remarkable exterior for free at any time, the interior having long since gone beyond repair. In 1998 Grange Park Opera was founded and based at The Grange and in 2003 a 550 seater theatre was built within the conservatory and today stages annual festivals of opera in the months of June and July. To be honest the whole edifice is so surreal, it simply has to be visited in order to get any perspective of what it is, but what is it exactly? A monumental folly! It is all set within a massive and wide open grass parkland whilst just below the portico pillars you can see that even the Candover Brook had been distorted and bloated into a huge ornamental lake. The Grange was, and still is, a strange and curious museum piece, a monument to the profligacy of rich 19th century landowners. I mean, can you imagine anyone building a place like this today and getting away with it, unless you are Nicholas Van Hoogstraten of course! As I departed the site via the same entrance lane its massive form soon disappeared into the Hampshire countryside once again enabling me to complete the last 2 miles of the day across Abbotstone Down.

 
 

Reader Comments (2)

You say "After much research about this curious monument, there is nothing to be found on its history, it's not even marked on the map. There I would normally leave it but for one detail that was revealed to me on closer inspection. A tablet at the base of the obelisk had clearly been added recently as it gave the names Camilla, 1953 to 1988 and Melita 1951 to 2014. Obviously it had been added within the past twelve months. This was a very important memorial to someone, but who were they? I am guessing they weren't someone's beloved pets judging by the lifespan of both. If anyone can throw any light on this for me I would be delighted to hear." I've just been up there and would like to know the background/history of this monument.

By Nick Goulder on Monday, June 13, 2016

I also love walking in this area and have wondered about Camilla and Melisa . Thank you for all the info . Lynne

By Lynne on Monday, February 26, 2018

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