Here's my secret....
Cheesefoot Head. There, it's out. The secret I vowed to keep, the place I didn't want to share because the car park is tiny and I wanted to make sure of a space every time. It's the one we always stop at whenever we head west to see the in-laws, and again on the way home. Blink and you'll miss it: it's at the Winchester end of the A272, just as you've climbed up onto the South Downs coming towards Sussex, or just before you drop down going towards Hampshire. No facilities, nothing commercial, just a small place to stop your wheels against a bank of nettles and start walking.
Don't stay in the car, even if it's windy, which it probably will be; take your picnic or your flask into one of the nearby fields (just the edge, obviously - country code and all that) or better still, put on your stout shoes and walk along the South Downs Way for a while, looping back on a different track with the help of an OS map to make the most of the stunning views and huge skies.
The local dog-walkers come up here, the long-distance drivers stop here to refresh their lungs and stomachs, as do the not-so-long-distancers like us who just love it and can't resist its charm. Long-distance walkers doing the South Downs Way breathe deeply here, either because they've just climbed the long hill from Winchester or because they've just seen the downhill denouement of their journey, or pilgrimage, or whatever personal quest they are on.
One of these days we intend to stop in Winchester itself and explore this historic and beautiful city, but somehow we never have time because Cheesefoot Head beckons instead. We've been there in the rain, on bright, clear spring and summer days and at sparkling, frosty winter twilight and it's always been gorgeous. There's always time for a stroll. It's not always easy explaining to the in-laws that no, the traffic was fine, and of course we tried to get here as quickly as possible, we just couldn't resist the lure of the South Downs at their finest. I'm sure the answer is to stay in a comfy holiday cottage nearby and walk to our hearts' content, we just don't seem to have the time... Click here to view our cottages in the South Downs!