15 February 2023

  • Date:               15 February 2023
  • Distance:      12 miles
  • Start:             10:00 at Lady Place CP GR:  SU  716 393
  • Leaders:        Sandy Arpino & Lynne Burge

Petersfield Ramblers continue their journey along St Swithun’s Way

St Swithun’s Way is a 34-mile long-distance footpath from Farnham to Winchester Cathedral, roughly following the route of the Old Pilgrim’s Way. Swithun was Bishop of Winchester in the mid-800’s and is said to have performed miracles both in and beyond his lifetime – raising him to sainthood. So his shrine in Winchester became a site of pilgrimage.  

Given the delightful countryside that St Swithun’s Way passes through, Petersfield Ramblers decided to walk the route, spread across three separate days. The first of these was in mid-October, when 10 walkers set off from Farnham Station to hike 13 miles south-westerly to Alton. We had to wait until February before embarking on ‘part 2’, as the daylight hours in mid-winter are too short for long walks – but after an extended break, 12 keen Ramblers finally set off from Alton. Our destination for this leg was Bishops Sutton, 12 miles away.

The weather was uncharacteristically sunny for mid-February which put a spring in our step – and a lack of recent rain meant that the ground was firm underfoot.

Heading south at a lively pace we quickly left the sprawl of Alton behind, replacing it with the tranquillity of delightful Chawton village. Shortly after passing Jane Austen’s house, we left roads behind, to walk along pleasant tree-lined paths. These included a section of the historic Meon Valley Railway route, providing an opportunity to admire one of its imposing Victorian brick bridges.  

The route then steadily climbed to its highest point, passing south of Four Marks and cutting directly through Garthowen Garden Centre. What better place to stop in the sun for coffee!

Resuming our walk we reached the little hamlet of Kitwood – notable for its abundance of delicate snowdrops and friendly sheep!

Crossing fields of emerging cereal crops and ploughed up turnips (fodder for sheep), we spied a single tiny lamb tottering alongside its attentive mother – a sure sign of spring. Onwards we strode through woodland and more fields, over a series of well-constructed stiles, until reaching tarmac and the outskirts of Ropley. Stopping in the churchyard for lunch, we enjoyed both the warmth of the sunshine and the wonderfully restored church.               

Sadly, Ropley’s St Peter’s church, originating in the 11th century, was devastated by a huge fire in 2014. The blaze engulfed the main body of the church destroying its roof and bell tower. Eight years after the fire, the restored building – designed by John Alexander – was re-opened to considerable acclaim in August 2022.  Preserving everything possible of the old, the building has been enhanced to create a multi-functional, intergenerational space.

Our group of Ramblers was certainly very impressed by the rebuilt structure; it is light, spacious and contemporary – a perfect example of a modern church.

From Ropley, refreshed, we headed east to Bishops Sutton and the end of our walk – crossing first the unattractive A31 dual-carriageway and then a pretty, crystal-clear chalk stream by the side of a ford. On this final stretch nostalgia beckoned when we spotted a black steam train with three coaches chugging in backwards formation along the Watercress Line – and then a ‘fox stalking a rabbit’ straw finial on the ridge of a thatched roof.

By this time, with 12 miles under our belts, we were ready for the bus to take us back to Alton and our waiting cars. It had been a lovely day, full of sunshine and interest. Next time: the final part of our journey to St Swithun’s shrine in Winchester Cathedral. 

Words and photos: Sandy Arpino

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