- Date: 15 March 2023
- Distance: 11.5 – 12.5 miles
- Start: 09:15 GR: SU 488 281
- Leader: Sandy Arpino & Lynne Burge
Petersfield Ramblers Complete their Journey Along St Swithun’s Way
St Swithun’s Way – a 34-mile long-distance footpath from Farnham to Winchester Cathedral – broadly follows the route of the Old Pilgrim’s Way. St Swithun was Bishop of Winchester in the mid-800’s and is believed 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 – but we then had to wait until February before embarking on ‘part 2’, as the daylight hours in mid-winter are too short for long walks. Finally in mid-March we set off from Bishop Sutton for the final 12 miles. Whilst a variety of ramblers (and dogs) joined different segments of the extended walks, only ten keen walkers completed the whole route – being rewarded with a celebratory badge!
Logistically, this final walk presented some challenges. We met early at Winchester’s spacious, easterly St Catherine’s Park & Ride and immediately took the short bus ride into the town centre. A quick dash to bus stand 5 found a double-decker conveniently waiting for us. Alas, on alighting, we discovered we were too early to use our bus-passes! Never mind, with the half-hour journey back to Bishops Sutton reduced to only £2, we agreed that such a bargain was irresistible! So, thanks to such timely buses, we were on our way – walking – just before 10 o’clock.
The first mile and a half comprised a rather dull road and pavement walk with the rumble of traffic on the nearby A31 ever present – though we were impressed by the huge fields of solar panels under-grazed by sheep along Sun Lane.
Leaving Alresford (which we had skirted) behind, the route assumed a much more picturesque, rural air. A little lane took us beside verdant watercress beds washed by crystal clear chalk-stream waters, so appealing that two of our party sort out an ‘honesty box’ selling watercress; their intention being to make soup. We then crossed a ford – without getting wet feet! – and spotted a beautiful little white egret before following an uphill footpath, emerging at a large roundabout.
Carefully crossing the rather complicated dual-carriageway junction, we gladly dropped down onto a country lane running alongside the fast-flowing River Itchen.
For more than two miles we enjoyed the quiet lanes running parallel to the river, before reaching the golf course at Avington Park and crossing the Itchen into Itchen Abbas. Intrigued by the unusually shaped church here, we wandered inside to investigate. Aptly prepared for walkers and their muddy boots, the church offered blue plastic shoe covers which we gratefully donned for our visit.
Resuming our walk, a footpath now took us in a westerly direction, along the north bank of the swirling River Itchen. Notable was the abundant mistletoe rooted in the tops of all the mature trees – whilst at ground level we were charmed by the unusual sight of adjacent miniature daffodil and snowdrop flowers.
At Martyr Worthy we fittingly stopped at St Swithun’s curious church for lunch in the churchyard. Not unsurprisingly the church – mentioned in the Domesday Book – presented an image of St Swithun high-up within a stained-glass window on its back wall. Also of interest was the church’s unusual rounded east end, built with flints.
Refreshed, we continued on our way, walking closer to the river now, sharing our path with the Itchen Way across open meadows. The first sign of Winchester – our destination – was harsh: a concrete subway under the M3. Only the colourful graffiti softened the landscape.
Fortunately, we emerged onto a delightful footpath through water meadows which extended south for the next mile and a half – only broken by a sprint across the busy A34. We were well within the sprawling suburbs of the city when we finally left the marshland and headed into a largely empty industrial estate. Even this had a lovely surprise for us: a vast expanse of dainty violets.
Entering the busy shopping streets was jarring but our endpoint was clearly in sight. On reaching Winchester’s stunning cathedral we gathered for a last group photo, gratified that we’d completed our long journey. But we had one last duty before travelling home …
Inside the cathedral – behind the high altar – is a shrine to St Swithun. It was here – like the many pilgrims before us – that we ended our long-distance walk.
Author & Photogapher: Sandy Arpino