This article was written by Damian and published in this week's editions of the Herald and Petersfield:
"Recognised as one of the best in Britain, the Alton Walking Festival starts this week, offering more than 100 walks that cater for a wide range of ages, abilities, and indeed interests.
Now in its 10th year, the month-long festival is a not only a wonderful way to get out and enjoy guided walks across the local area, it also demonstrates the best of community life in action, with so many local groups and volunteers involved in making it happen.
From hedgerow foraging to vineyards, civil war walks to ghost trails, as well as walks along rivers and rail lines, strolls through towns and across fields - there really is something for everyone.
As well as being a highlight for many local people, the festival also puts Alton and East Hampshire firmly on the map for visitors.
And the new Petersfield Walking Festival - which will take place in late August - will also have its official launch next week, with information and booking details for the walks due to be available later in June.
Visitors are important part to our local economy, supporting our pubs and shops. Enjoying the countryside is one of the principal reasons that people choose to visit East Hampshire.
A gateway for the South Downs National Park, walking brings thousands of people into the area, some of whom will be tackling the 100 mile South Downs Way.
Running from Winchester to Eastbourne, the route runs high up across the chalky downs, offering wonderful views and linking historic and welcoming villages and towns along the way.
There is also the 65 mile Serpent Trail that snakes its way from Haslemere to Petersfield, the historic 50 mile Shipwrights’ Way that links Alice Holt Forest to the dockyards of Portsmouth, and the Writers’ Way that charts our rich literary heritage in Alton, Chawton, Selborne and around.
There are of course many other areas for a shorter or gentler stroll, including the many paths across the Queen Elizabeth Country Park, Alice Holt Forest, the Liss Riverside Railway Walk and both the Bordon and Hogmoor Inclosures.
Although many people will be happy to explore these walks on their own, there are a number of local walking groups that organise and lead walks, of all shapes and sizes.
One of the most established is Walk Alton, a community group that not only leads the annual Alton Walking Festival but also offers links to a wide range of regular walks in and around the town.
These include weekly Walking for Health routes, which are short and across easier terrain, a monthly Alton Women Walkers group that meets on a Saturday morning for a couple of hours, and monthly walks that cover 5 to 10 mile routes.
The Ramblers Association has active branches locally in Alton, Liphook and Petersfield, with routes that also cover the Bordon area.
For the more adventurous, there is the Hampshire Hikers for walks between 10 and 13 miles, and the Wessex Long Distance Walkers Association for those keen to take on 20 mile routes.
Add to this local Nordic Walking Groups, the Wandering Wayfarers, as well as specialist walks organised by The Friends of Gilbert White’s and Oates Collection, and the choice is vast.
So, whether you’re looking for a stroller-friendly path for young children and family groups, routes that tell a story along the way, an informal walk to enjoy with others, or a challenging hike, there is so so much to enjoy across East Hampshire and the wider area."