Large block of ancient beech, ash and yew woodland, and small meadows, on steep, south-facing chalk slopes, with many wildflower species. Part of South Downs National Park. Known as 'Little Switzerland' on account of the wide-ranging views
A hanger is a variant of the old English term 'hangra', meaning a block of woodland on a steep slope, as if hanging on to the hillside. Many examples are found amongst the chalk hills of South Downs National Park, in Hampshire, East Sussex and West Sussex, and one of the best known is Ashford Hangers, a 360-acre national nature reserve, just north of Petersfield. This area is also known, informally, as Little Switzerland, owing to the steep terrain and the far-reaching views - southwards, over many square miles of fields and woods.
Trees in the reserve are mainly beech, in a narrow band 2.5 miles from end to end, and around 500 feet wide, across undulating slopes on the south side of a ridge of high ground, spanning elevations from 380 to 800 feet. Within the trees are a number of clearings, grassy meadows, and the reserve is home to a great variety of wildflowers, most notably orchid species such as sword-leaved helleborine and greater butterfly orchid in the meadows, bird's nest orchid and white helleborine in the woods. Other trees in the reserve are ash and yew, this latter including many huge, ancient specimens.
This part of Hampshire was popularised at the start of the 20th century by poet Edward Thomas (killed Arras, 1917), who is commemorated with a stone monument, in the largest of the sloping meadows.
Minor roads run at the foot of the slopes, and another along the upper edge - this is Cockshott Lane, later Old Litton Lane, which from the west passes a few houses then narrows to an unpaved track. There is room for parking a few vehicles at the end of the paved section, and this is probably the best location from which to start a walk into the woods. Other access/parking places are along the southern road, or on roads near the east and west ends of the wood.
The westernmost section of the national nature reserve contains a belt of ancient woods winding around three sides of a little summit, Stoner Hill, the slopes of which are crossed by a road from Petersfield. This initial woodland is Ashford Hanger, and the next section, north of a narrow valley named Lutcombe Bottom, is Ashford Hill, which in turn adjoins Berryfield Hanger, location of the most extensive grove of yew trees. This is bordered to the east by Shoulder of Mutton Hill, the largest meadow in the reserve, which is narrow towards the top, widening below, and contains many chalk wildflowers, including greater butterfly orchids. Towards the lower end is the Edward Thomas Memorial, and a bench from which to admire the southwards views. The next section of woods has no particular name, since is it more recent in origin, but extends past two smaller valleys to the easternmost part of the reserve, Wheatham Hill. Within this section are three smaller tree-lined meadows, one of which, the most hidden, contains hundreds of sword-leaved helleborine plants. Paths traverse the slopes, on several levels though not continuously, while other routes run north to south, these all linking with Cockshott Lane/Old Litton Lane along the edge of the reserve.