The road turns to the right as you approach Ecchinswell, and it is on the outside (ie left-hand side) of this corner that you will find the footpath that leads to Nuthanger Farm. As usual, there was no indication of its destination on the sign, but there was no chance of my missing it since it's not only clearly signposted but also fairly wide and open, as can be seen from the photo below.
You can see the near edge of Nuthanger Copse directly in front of you just over the brow of the hill, and further away to the left is also the first view of the downs themselves. Not Watership quite yet, though; since we're walking almost due south at the moment, what you see here is Cannon Heath Down a little further to the east, along which I would walk on my descent from Watership. The pleasure of a lovely view can sometimes be tempered by the knowledge that before long one has to walk all the way up it, but not this time! =:)
The verges to either side of the path were absolutely riddled with rabbit holes, which certainly lifted my spirits further. The rabbits weren't making much effort to hide them - unlike Cowslip's, "a couple of hrududil" couldn't have got down them, but certainly they must be very well known by the local inhabitants. Although you can't really tell from my photo above, the one pictured here was certainly in use, with both fresh hraka near the entrance and a couple of quite well defined runs leading into the field beyond.
The path runs (mostly unfenced, which was nice) along the western edge of Nuthanger Copse, a pleasant but not particularly memorable wood with views to the west over nice rolling farmland. Here I saw my first (but not my last) buzzard of the day, soaring on the thermals in that effortless fashion so characteristic of these birds. In spite of their favourite food (guess what?), I've always loved buzzards, so this was a bonus. Now, however, as much of one as when the path began to curve rightwards and I got to the top of the hill, as in the gap between Nuthanger Copse and Isle Copse, I saw this:
Here at last was my first view of the place I had waited so long to see - Watership Down itself. The somewhat hazy conditions made it hard to tell precisely, but I'm fairly sure that the fuzzy clump of trees on the horizon in the centre of the photo is the beech hanger. Yes, the beech hanger! There will, of course, be plenty more about that particular place later on.
Just a couple of hundred yards beyond where that picture was taken, a straight north-south hedge rises up in front of you, and this was the alert that I was approaching one of the most recognisable landmarks in my whole journey - Nuthanger Farm. Richard Adams says that it is "like a farm in an old tale," but it's been somewhat modernised in the last few decades, and several of the outbuildings (including the hutch rabbits' home) have gone.
However, if you compare my photo above to the one Chris Boyce took in 1981 - at the bottom of this page on his own excellent site - you will see that really very little has changed - although you can't see it in my picture, even that white gate is still there. I was particularly pleased to see that the drive had not been covered with Tarmac, as that I think would have changed the place's character greatly, and not for the better. It's easy to imagine Hazel and Pipkin fleeing towards you away from Tab!
Copyright © David "Loganberry" Buttery 2004. Updated 04/04/04.