We had to take the train to Newbury. At the bookstore there, the staff was quite helpful in locating the government map of the area, even though they thought we were raving lunatics for making such a trip. The map was detailed - right down to the phone poles and the listing of Nuthanger Farm. Boarding the bus on the Basingstoke line, the first stop was the Sandleford area, which is where the book began.
Then it was on to the village of Kingsclere in the Hampshire Downs. Kingsclere was a picture postcard of a village. We stopped long enough to get a glass of bitters in the Swan Hotel's pub. We were foolish enough to tell the bartender why we were there. "There have been four books written about this area," he told us, and he couldn't imagine why people were making such a fuss over this one. As we finished the last of our suds, he said "Well, whatever brought you to Kingsclere, I hope you enjoy your visit." The downs are adjacent to a country road about a mile out of town, just past the ancient church and the memorial to Kingsclereians who never made it back from the wars. Within five minutes, we were into the awesome countryside described by Richard Adams.
Just before I headed up the hill, I stopped to take a look at the barns at Nuthanger farm, which played such a major role in the book:
Watership Down is 300 feet high - a gentle slope all the way up, but still as tall as a 30 story building, so an exhausting climb for an out-of-shape librarian. When I got to the top, I didn't see any rabbits, but I did hear voices, and the sound of dogs barking. It turns out that the road from Basingstoke to Kingsclere goes past the top of the down, so it was a popular picnic spot with a view for many miles in any direction. It brings to mind a quote from the book: "Hey, you can see the whole world from up here."
For me it was a literary pilgrimage. For everyone else it was a nice place to walk the dog or fly a kite. I was embarrassed by walking around with a camera, though I did see one other photographer. It looks from the picture like the top would be rounded, but it was actually a broad plateau. The most prominent feature is a concrete surveyor's marker about four feet tall at the Western end. I walked back to Kingsclere along the top of Watership Down and Cannon Heath Down, and then along the highway. I spotted this perfectly aligned shot right at the base of Watership Down. The second after I snapped the picture, the horses moved apart:
You may not be stunned to learn that this spot is only a couple of miles from another major landmark - Highclere Castle, better known as Downton Abbey.