Circular walk 7 – in the footsteps of highwaymen at Yateley

A walk that links two of the most important habitats in the Valley – heathland and wild flower meadows

About the walk

Start point: Second car park off Yateley Common if approaching from the west, which is Gravel Pit Pond car park off the A30 (post code GU17 0AS), near Blackwater. SU 838594

Distance: 8 km/ 5 miles

Walk time: 2 hours 30 minutes

Terrain: relatively flat with some slopes, areas of uneven ground and steps

Getting there

Rail to Trail: from Sandhurst station use the footpath along the railway line to Swan Lane. Turn right and continue along the pavement, cross over the river and join the Blackwater Valley Path immediately on the left. Start the walk half-way through point 7.

Round Yateley Common

Blackwater was once a large cattle market. Farmers would drive their cattle from Wales and the West Country down the A30 on their way to London and stop to graze the cattle on the Common.
  • 1. Leave the car park by the main track and at the junction take the path to the left towards the pond. Walk past with the pond (which dries out in the summer) on the left until you see a house on your right. Take the central path between house and pond. Follow the sandy path slightly uphill to the junction with five tracks.
  • 2. Take the third track from the left and immediately follow the path heading left away from the houses. Follow the track downhill to fields with a pond on the right.
  • 3. Turn left to follow track along fence line. This track heads round to the right then away from the fence line, running parallel with the road. Keep to the main track which heads uphill. When the track forks head right, parallel with power lines. Then at a group of three pylons, continue with pylons on your left and take the second track on the right. Then take first turning on the left.
Historically the route across Yateley Common was used by travellers trying to avoid highwaymen on the main roads. According to local legend they were in for a surprise. The curate of nearby Eversley, 'Parson Darby' supplemented his income by indulging in highway robbery himself. He was hanged in 1841. Today Yateley Common is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), the land is lowland heathland, an internationally rare and declining habitat.
Common Heather is the most common heather species found on British moors and heathland. Also known as Ling, derived from the Anglo-Saxon word 'lig' meaning fire, this recalls the importance of heather in early times as fuel. Heather was also used to make brushes, brooms and baskets, for thatching and as a bedding material. Heather is an evergreen plant and provides food for many forms of wildlife. Birds eat the ripe seeds and the flowers provide nectar for bees.
  • 4. At the bottom of the hill turn right at the crossroads. Then keep left at the fork. The path now bears to the right and heads uphill. Take a narrow path to the left away from the Nature Trail Sign. This will take you along the side of Wyndham's Pool. Walk around three sides of the Pool then continue along track straight ahead. At fork take left track then at crossroads continue straight on to come out onto Stevens Hill.

Through Yateley

  • 5. Turn left into the lane and at the T junction, turn right. Continue following the road, keeping to the right-hand side. Cross Cobbett’s Lane and head straight, along Round Close and then Potley Hill Road, which takes you to the Reading Road.
  • 6. Use the pedestrian lights to cross Reading Road. Once across the road, turn left onto Adam Brown Avenue and straight on into Clarke’s Farm Way. Turn right into Cuckoo Crescent and enter Swan Lake Park via the gate and turn right.

Station link: to Sandhurst

Along the Blackwater River

  • 7. Follow the main path and turn right at the allotment car park. Cross the car park and the road. Turn left onto the Blackwater Valley Path next to the river.
  • 8. On reaching a large metal bridge, cross over the river and railway line, then continue straight to a crossroads. Turn right over a wooden bridge to cross back over the river into Shepherd Meadows. Continue along the Path with river on the left.
During mediaeval times, this area was regularly used by hunting parties from nearby Chertsey Abbey. By the beginning of the 20th Century it was used by the Royal Military Academy as a training ground for the British Army, with cadets practising their drawing and map-making skills. Today the site is called Shepherd Meadows, named after wildlife artist David Shepherd. The site covers about 40 hectares of wet wild flower meadow, which supports 600 insect species and is designated a SSSI.
Look out for butterflies such as the Common Blue, which can be seen from late April until early October. As the name suggests this very attractive blue butterfly can be seen in many flower-rich areas across the Valley. The undersides of the wing are greyer in females and brown in males and both have lots of black and orange spots. Their round flat eggs are laid on Bird's Foot Trefoil and the caterpillars are green and slightly hairy.

Through Blackwater to the start

  • 9. At the next crossroads turn right taking the path towards houses. Carefully cross railway line and road on the other side. Then continue along the grass strip that runs along the backs of houses to the left of Binsted Drive. Turn right along second grass strip, to emerge onto Rosemary Lane. Cross at the bollards.
  • 10. Turn right and then left into Bell Lane. At end of this lane cross the road and walk through green with hall on right. Continue through bollards, cross private road to follow Green Lane past school on left to Reading Road. Cross busy road with care and enter Yateley Common. Follow the bridle path straight ahead back to the car park.
Castle Bottom National Nature Reserve is on the Yateley/Eversley Border and is a Special Protection Area because of its important bird populations of nightjar, Dartford warbler and woodlark, vulnerable ground-nesting birds. The stream in the reserve attracts an assortment of dragon flies and damselflies. It contains a network of permissive footpaths, linking up with existing footpaths and bridleways outside the boundary of the reserve. A herd of six Exmoor ponies roams free across the site.