RETIRED NHS worker Jane Bartlett set off on her lockdown walk to Buriton following paths she had never walked before, starting in Sussex Road just past the flint cottages on the right.
The signpost said Buriton three miles – but once across a field, and over a couple of wooden bridges, the signs disappeared.
Facing me were two well-worn paths – and a dilemma.
Which to take? Following my instincts, I turned left past a duck pond.
Looking ahead I saw a well-dressed elderly couple with a black Labrador, so observing the social distance rules, I called to them asking if I was on the right route to Buriton.
They said I was, and if I followed them they would lead me part of the way.
As we walked we enjoyed an amicable socially-distant chat. I have noticed recently people out walking are either keen to chat at a distance or completely ignore people – which even in these anti-social times seems unusually anti-social!
We crossed another field and stile, and after a small pasture entered some woods through a kissing gate.
Because of the lockdown, many people who wouldn’t normally be out walking are now discovering the joys of the glorious countryside around Petersfield.
But for novice ramblers, kissing gates can prove tricky!
On a previous walk I was nearly at one when I saw a family coming the other way would get to it first.
I waited to let them go through, and watched as the young father on the phone casually walked into the gate entry.
He pushed the gate away from him until it stopped; he came to a puzzled halt, while his wife and two young children piled into the entry behind him – and jammed there.
He pushed the gate harder and it didn’t move. He pushed again and it didn’t budge. He turned to his wife and said shortly: “It must be locked – told you we should have walked round the Heath.”
To which she smartly replied: “Off you go then, we will be very happy here.“
But shouted advice from a safe distance on how to use the gate saved the recriminations escalating.
As they walked past me, the dad said thanks with a rueful grin, while the mum smiled and added quietly: “The sooner he’s back at work...”
Meanwhile, once through the kissing gate on the way to Buriton, there was a small, but steep, incline.
This was covered in pretty white celandine, and it will soon be carpeted with bluebells.
At the top of the woods there was a ploughed field, from where there were lovely views of surrounding fields and, away to the right, Butser Hill, the highest hill in the South Downs National Park.
By now the sun was warming the day and a gentle breeze was very welcome – fortunately I had plenty of water in a small rucksack.
Once across the ploughed field, there was a left-hand turn and another field to cross, before an opening into a lane.
The friendly elderly couple with their dog from earlier had said this was the way to go.
Turning right, there was a footpath sign on the left almost immediately. But when through the gate, there was no visible sign of which way to go.
Buriton was to the right, and the path seemed to lead that away around the edge of another large ploughed field.
Unfortunately there were no more signs and no obvious way into the fenced fields ahead.
So doubling back on my tracks to the lane, I decided to follow it to Buriton.
One lockdown bonus is the roads are emptier than they have ever been, and the lane to the village was undisturbed, sunny and a quiet pleasure to walk.
But 100 yards or so along it, a frenetically-pedalling cyclist came round the corner towards me at pace – as it turned out, a local landowner I know.
He braked and stopped near by for a distance-chat, so I asked why some of the paths across the fields seem to be blocked, or had no signs.
He said some popular footpaths might have been shut because of coronavirus.
I wasn’t entirely convinced about this, but after a debate we shared some banter about older people riding a bike so fast, or walking so far alone, and he cycled off laughing.
The lane led into Buriton and its picturesque church and duck pond.
Walking through the quiet village in the afternoon sun, I thought how lovely it was, before turning right just after the village school on to the Petersfield Road.
The lane was dry, dusty, bathed in warm sun and filled with scent from banks of primroses, daffodils, buttercups, campion, violets, forget-me-nots and cow parsley among the ferns and dock leaves.
Cycling families passed me and I zigzagged the narrow lane to avoid runners – adhering to social-distancing guidelines can cause some amusement!
The lane comes out at The Causeway; a right turn takes you back to Petersfield past fields that have been newly ploughed.
This walk is about four miles and takes about an hour.
ONE OF the pleasures of walking remains, despite social distancing, meeting other walkers.
On her latest walk, Jane Bartlett distance chatted with an elderly, well-spoken and well-to-do couple with a black Labrador; she said she was recording her walk for the Post.
He said: “The new Heath boardwalk should be mentioned in the Post – it looks finished but isn’t open. People have to walk on the Sussex Road pavement, which isn’t wide enough for two people – not ideal at the moment.”
He added brusquely: “I have written to that bloke at the council about it again, but as usual he hasn’t replied – don’t put my name in the Post, I don’t want to be accused of being antagonistic.”
His wife said: “The money spent on that ridiculous boardwalk should have gone to the open-air swimming pool.”
Hoping to change the subject, I asked if the path we were following would join the one to Buriton.
The dog owner pointed at some mature trees on the far side of the field, and said: “It joins by that big tree.”
I pointed at what I thought was the one, and he said in a pained voice: “No, the big one there.”
I pointed again, and he replied in a higher voice: “No, no, THAT one.”
At this point his wife, perhaps to head off a debate about what makes a tree ‘big,’ quickly said: “Well, it’s been lovely, but we must leave you as we go a different way to get home.”
If YOU choose to walk as your form of exercise, please use the following guidance to stay safe, says the Ramblers Association.
n You should stay local and use open spaces near to your home where possible – do not travel unnecessarily.
n Only go outside alone or with members of your own household.
n Keep at least two metres (6ft) apart from anyone outside your household at all times.
n Gatherings of more than two in parks or other public spaces have been banned and the police will enforce this.
n If you have a garden, make use of the space for exercise and fresh air.
n Take hygiene precautions when you are outside, and wash your hands as soon as you are back indoors.
A spokesman said: “We have received an increasing number of queries concerning landowners closing paths or access to land.
“While everyone should be staying local to their homes, these closures can, in some cases, limit opportunities for local exercise.”