Princes, Pilgrims and Paupers amid Pastures and Plateaux
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Attention Restoration Theory asserts that spending time in nature aids concentration because it exerts a 'soft fascination'. That said, if the weather is cold and wet then watching a box set at home might well exert a far firmer fascination. This winning walk should lure you out whatever the weather. Princes: The Prince of Wales fleeing via the Monarch's Way following defeat at Worcester in 1651. Pilgrims: The wayfarers walking their trail between saintly shrines from Winchester to Canterbury. Paupers: The brothers in 'noble poverty' at St Cross, the finest medieval hospital (we'll get the dole*). Pastures: The meadows lying by the River Itchen and the fields high up near Cheesefoot Head. Plateaux: The South Downs broadening into deep-cut elevated expanses prior to meeting the Itchen.
St Cross Church and Hospital: A medieval almshouse founded by Henry of Blois, grandson of William the Conqueror between 1132 and 1136. The oldest surviving charitable institution and the largest and finest medieval almshouse in the UK. Grade I listed, the church is a vast and solid Angevin affair, five stars in England's Thousand Best Churches. Used for filming in the BBC's Wolf Hall. It costs £5 to enter (the money goes to the charity) and I've asked for us to receive the dole. (*The dole is a cup of ale and a piece of bread that has been given to wayfarers such as us for nearly 900 years.) (Those not wishing to enter are welcome to sit on a bench by the River Itchen.)
Owslebury: An informal group of flint, brick and timber cottages. St Andrew's Church is fundamentally 13th Century but this is only evident in the chancel as the rest is heavily-restored Victorian. We will have lunch at 16th-18th century Ship Inn (so-named because it was built from a ship's timbers).
Chilcomb: An exposed but charming flint village. The tiny Saxon and early Norman church of St Andrew is tucked under the Downs.
Cheesefoot Head: A famous panoramic viewpoint on the South Downs Way, 167m up. There are views to Southampton and the Isle of Wight to the south and the Hampshire Downs to the north.
We'll set off through the city centre and through the familiar cathedral precincts and then head south along College Road to St Cross (or if the weather has been dry, along the River Itchen). After visiting the hospital, we'll walk along the River Itchen on the Itchen Way (or the road if too muddy) back to the road that crosses Tun Bridge near St Catherine's Hill. The Pilgrims' Way will lead us out of the built-up area, across the M3 and across Twyford Down to Hazeley Down. Heading further south we'll pick up the Monarch's Way which will take us to the lane, White's Hill, and Owslebury for lunch at the pub.
After lunch we'll follow lanes out of the village to the tracks of Stags Lane and Honeyman Lane heading east, then Warren Lane heading north which is now the Allan King Way. At Cheesefoot head we'll turn northwest where the South Downs Way will take us to Chilcomb and back over the M3 at dusk and into Winchester where a walk across the city at eventide, retracing our steps, will lead us back to the station or a pub if you'd like to stay longer.
(All images are from Google Image Search and a labelled 'Free to use and share'.)
What to bring
Footwear: Walking boots are essential, along with thick socks, as the terrain is hilly.
Clothing: Wear cold and wet weather gear if these conditions are forecast and consider gaiters to ease the mud (the terrain will be muddy in parts although much of the walk will be on tarmac and gravel). Waterproof trousers are useful in the wettest weather but avoid jeans as when they are wet they become cold, heavy and chafing.
Additional: I am confident of reaching streetlights by dusk, but bring a torch just in case we are delayed at the pub.
Food & drink
Please bring drinks and snacks. We are booked in to have lunch at The Ship Inn in Owslebury. I will email you two weeks before the walk to ask what you'd like to have for lunch. Alternatively, you are welcome to have a packed lunch. There will be abundant opportunities for eating and drinking in Winchester at the end.