A MINISTRY?of Defence (MoD) team based at Longmoor have been working closely with Hampshire County Council’s countryside service to complete the final section of the Shipwrights Way, which will run between Whitehill, Greatham and Liss.

It means that for the first time the MoD’s training ground will be open, even during military training, to cyclists and horse riders.

A joint project between East Hampshire District Council, Hampshire County Council, South Downs National Park Authority and the Forestry Commission, who pooled their resources and expertise to bring the route to fruition, the Shipwrights Way provides a new long-distance path which links villages and towns in East Hampshire through some beautiful countryside.

The name reflects the use of oak grown at Alice Holt Forest for Tudor shipbuilding, linking this site with Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, home of the Mary Rose and HMS Victory.

Starting from Bentley station, the route passes through Alice Holt Forest, Bordon, Liphook, Liss, Petersfield, Queen Elizabeth Country Park, Staunton Country Park, Havant and Hayling Island and continues to Portsmouth via the ferry, finishing at the Historic Dockyard – around 50 miles in all, and including seven railway stations.

There are 20 stone sculptures along the way, beautifully carved to show the history or wildlife of each place.

As much as possible, the route is off-road, using rights of way and permissive paths.

In agreeing the final route and path design, officers have been able to meet the training requirements of the MoD, as well as taking into account the concerns of conservationists, residents and other interest groups who use the area for leisure.

The county council has formally decided to accept the bridleway dedication and a planning application has now been submitted to the national park authority seeking permission to build the path on the ground.

In addition to the new section, which will run over MoD land alongside the A325, the plan is to use existing cycle routes and pavements through Greatham, as well as Greatham bridleway 11, which takes users south toward Liss Forest and crosses the A3 by bridge.

Lieutenant Colonel Mark Ludlow, DIO Service Delivery Training’s senior safety officer for the South East, said: “This new route works well for us. A large number of service families live in Bordon and many will remain with the garrison gone. At the same time, Bordon’s population is set to increase by about 8,000. We have always felt that a safe cycle route alongside the A325 was required. This route should match that need while still ensuring that our training requirements are met.

“It is probably not widely understood that even with the loss of the garrison we are set to see a substantial increase in military use of the training estate. A large number of troops are returning from Germany and in future many more will be permanently based in the UK. Many of those will be coming to the South East or have already arrived. In the Longmoor and Bordon area, we have already noticed a significant increase in activity and that can only rise.”

He continued: “It goes without saying that public safety is paramount and while we maintain a presumption in favour of access when military training is not taking place, we have a duty of care to members of the public who make use of the estate for leisure as well as to our troops.

“Most people understand this and appreciate that there will be times when we have to close off parts of the training areas just as we do with our range danger areas. This is particularly the case when we have heavy armoured vehicles operating on an area, which can be by day or night.

“The beauty of the new route is that it provides a permanent, always open route for walkers, cyclists and horse riders which we will not have to close.”

Hampshire county councillor Andrew Gibson added: “We have worked with the MoD to find a route parallel to the A325 which will be attractive, which won’t interfere with training and which will complete the Shipwrights Way.

“It will be around 10 to 20 metres from the road for most of its length, screened from the road by existing trees.”