- Date: October 2022
- Distance: 13 Miles
- Start: Farnham Station
- Leader: Sandy Arpino
Petersfield Ramblers start their journey along
St Swithin’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 – much of which now lies under the A31. 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 occurred in mid-October when 10 walkers, accompanied by 2 dogs, set off from Farnham Station to hike 13 miles south-westerly to Alton station.
After crossing the busy A31, we headed for Gostrey Meadow where we spied a large – very still – heron on the banks of the River Wey. On through the main shopping centre and a sizable car park, we traversed the grounds of the University of Creative Arts with its concrete sculptures, before finally reaching open fields.
Leaving bustling Farnham behind, we followed ever-more-rural, undulating lanes and tracks for 3 miles with lovely names like Dora’s Green Lane and Dippenhall Lane. The role of walk leader was soon taken by one of our furry companions, Doodle, who – straining on his lead – set an exacting pace!
Notable was the emergence of beautiful autumn colours, though the weather was anything but autumnal: we bathed in the warmth of unexpected sunshine.
On reaching a vast solar farm we paused for a coffee break before continuing on footpaths – up and down – through fields and copses.
At almost half-way, circling well north of Bentley village, we arrived at Bentley’s St Mary’s church – a rather mishmash building dating originally from the 12th century but subsequently added to, especially during the Victorian era. The path to the church is lined by some very ancient yew trees, providing a quite magnificent sight.
Leaving the road again, we walked down the side of a vineyard and across further fields before arriving at Pax Hill Residential Home. This impressive house, built in the early 1900s, has a fascinating history including being home to Lord Baden Powell, a domestic science training school and a boys’ boarding school. A bicycle outside was colourfully decorated with autumn produce.
Our path then took us south of Lower Froyle, where we stopped at the Anchor pub for lunch. Our second four-legged friend, Pickle, was by this time very ready to share our sandwiches and crisps!
Revitalised, following footpaths through barren fields, we reached the attractive grounds of the magnificent Upper Froyle Hotel, leading into the churchyard. Within this cemetery we found unusual brick-arch-covered graves – but have been unable to discover why these structures were built.
Passing interesting Rawles garage which specialises in classic car restoration (a magnet to some of our male members!), and traversing a number more fields, we met tarmac again at Holybourne church – another interesting building. Here we found the ‘leper squint’, a curious hole penetrating the wall, with a view to the altar, which provided a window through which sufferers of leprosy could observe services. There was also wonderful, recent woodwork in the form of new pews and doors.
From Holybourne we hit the sprawling outskirts of Alton and the trek to the station. Tired, we collapsed on the waiting train for a journey back to Farnham where we’d parked our cars.
Given that St Swithun’s Way is a pilgrim route, it seems fitting that some of our most interesting moments were spent in the churches and churchyards along the way.
Author & Photographer: Sandy Arpino, Club Treasurer