There is an 18 mile walking route called the ‘Octagon Way’ that takes in all eight churches, however this month’s trek splits this route in two for a much shorter circular walk visiting the four most northerly of the churches
Park up in the ancient village of Compton which is situated on the B2146, south of Petersfield. Apparently, Compton was mentioned in the will of Alfred the Great and was left to his nephew. St Mary’s Church can be found on a wooded slope at the eastern edge of the village. The church which is the first to visit of the parish which was mostly rebuilt in 1849-51 but still retains the 12th century north arcade and chancel arch. Take the footpath between the church and school up towards Telegraph Hill, standing at 160m the hill was used between 1822 & 1847 by the Admiralty as the site for a semaphore station that formed part of a chain of many such stations linking the Navy in Portsmouth to Whitehall in London, in good conditions messages could be sent in eight minutes, far quicker than any other means of the time.
The path from here gently undulates with views towards Apple Down (site of a 5th century burial ground) before rising up to the remote St Michael’s Church in the hamlet of Up Marden. This beautiful church was built in the 12th century and has been virtually untouched, it has no electricity or water and was voted one of Britain’s most favourite churches in 2013. On the walls inside the church some 13th century paintings have been discovered and preserved, one clearly seen as a male saint with a staff, most likely to be St Christopher.
Head out of the hamlet eastwards on the footpath that descends a steep wooded slope and across fields to St Peters Church that overlooks a small green and well at the crossroads in East Marden. Parts of the church are 13th Century but the building has had a few additions over the years. On the north wall of the nave can be found a millennium tapestry depicting the rural life of East and North Marden. The organ is unique in that it is said to have belonged to Prince Albert and was brought to the church from St James Palace in the 19th Century. Also at the crossroads is the well head, a wooden structure with a conical thatched roof that stands over the well and 18th century pump, the well was the sole source of drinking water until 1924.
Head out past the pond, across more rural farmland and on to St Marys Church in North Marden. This is the most northerly and remotest church in the Octagon Parish, it is 12th century and features a Caen stone doorway, that was probably shipped across the Channel to Chichester Harbour. After admiring the view head on the path downhill that passes Edgar Plantation to Bevis’s Thumb, a 60m neolithic long barrow that is approx 1.8m deep and was named after a fabled local giant. According to legend, Bevis threw his sword from the parapet of Arundel Castle to mark the spot where he should be buried and the sword landed here at Bevis’s Thumb.
A short walk on the path that follows the contours of Compton Down takes the route back to Compton, where some well deserved tea and cake can be enjoyed in the village shop and tea room.
Further information and walks can be found at http://theoctagonparish.org.uk