Just off the high street you can walk a loop and discover the Winchester Water Meadows.
It’s an easy walk that follows the River Itchen and leads to some of the best hidden parts of the city. The walk takes in part of the South Downs Way, the Clarendon Way, Wolvesey Castle, the Hospital of St. Cross, the Itchen Navigation path, St. Catherine’s Hill.
The water meadows inspired Keats to write ‘To Autumn’, you know the one, imagine this in a rather loud and grandiose overly dramatic style… “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…”
With such a beautiful landscape on display you can see why he was motivated to write such pretty verse.
Get a slice of quintessential English countryside, history and explore Winchester in a totally new way.
The walk follows a nice loop around Winchester and is about four miles long. It can easily be extended at either end or by following another trail when the path breaks in four directions by the Itchen Navigation Path about half way through.
When I last did with walk, I extended it both at the start, in the middle and by visiting the many wonderful places along the route. I ended up walking about ten miles overall!
It’s a relatively flat route with some gentle inclines here and there, unless you decide to take St. Catherine’s Hill on the way round.
While the paths are good some sections will suffer if there has been recent rain fall. Some of the paths later on the trail are a little overgrown too but don’t let that discourage you.
There isn’t anywhere to get cafes or water on the route so make sure you’ve got supplies with you. Equally, you head back into Winchester afterwards and can easily pick something up there.
Head to Winchester City Mill, it is the oldest working water mill in the UK is also the official start if the South Downs. It’s very easy to find at the bottom of the High Street past the King Alfred statue on Bridge Street.
Opposite the mill, on the bridge is a little path down past the pub ‘The Bishop on the Bridge’.
Then follow the river and the old medieval wall to the entrance of Wolvesey Castle.
The castle ruins are great and if you have half an hour to spare it’s worth darting off the path to look around. It’s a free English Heritage site to enter and a wonderful discovery if you’ve not seen it before.
I’ve actually written a separate post for the ruins as it is well worth visiting – read about Wolvesey Castle.
Winchester Water Meadows
Past Wolvesey Castle you veer to the right and come across a T junction, and here you will want to go right again. I mean you can go left, there’s nothing stopping you, it’s just this post will make a lot less sense.
The Winchester Water Meadows meadows are glorious, full of wildlife, flowers and when the sun shines it’s the icing on the cake.
Look out for the very sweet little houses along the paths, some of them even have little bridges across the river to reach them.
The path is relatively straight with the prestigious Winchester College to your right. At the end of this section you reach a wooden gate before Garnier Road.
It’s not clear where the path continues and lots of people tend to go wrong here. Go through the gate and cross the road, you’ll find the path you need to the right of the house. It’s fairly hidden and you can’t really see it when you’re at the gate but it is there. You know you’re on the right path as you’ll see the sign below and see the river on both sides.
Soon you’ll come across some allotments and begin to see the church and buildings across the meadow up ahead. You won’t miss it.
The Winchester Water Meadows span the whole of this loop and you’ll walk through different sections of it. The River Itchen splits into lots of little tributaries which gives the landscape real character.
Hospital of St. Cross
The Hospital of St. Cross is charming, and is still home to twenty five brothers, a bit like monks but not. And, it describes itself as an Almshouse for Noble Poverty which is really quite something once you look into it. My quick summary is that it’s a community for less privileged older males to help the community.
If you decide to visit the Hospital of St. Cross it’s most likely one of the brothers will give you a tour when you visit.
Follow the natural path up, the buildings will be to your right. Go through the gate onto the path lined by trees. Keep following this up, until you reach another gate. Go through this gate, you’ll have cowes on your left and a stream on your right. Don’t worry the cowes are more interested in grazing than in you.
Turn left on the proper tarmac road once you’ve walked up past the cricket pitches and two more gates. Walk past the road closed barrier (if it’s still up) because it only applies to cars.
You’ll then reach a bridge across the river, get your camera out because this is a great view point. You’ll see Winchester’s Water Meadows from a different perspective as well as farm land and areas popular for fishing.
St. Catherine’s Hill
Now you’re on Five Bridges Road. You’ll reach another gate, go through and turn left. Then you’ll have trees either side of you and pass under an arched brick bridge with the river on your left.
Follow this path and you’ll come to St Catherine’s Lock on your left and St Catherine’s Hill in your right.
For stunning 360 views of the Itchen Valley take the steps up to the top of St Catherine’s Hill. It’s worth the climb but be aware that it’s quite steep in places. Once you’ve admired the views, the nature reserve and the trees marking the Iron Age hill fort at the top, head back down the way you came and continue along the path.
Itchen Navigation Bench
A bit further along that path, and under a canopy of trees that dapple the light, is a huge stone bench. Names and historic moments from the Itchen Navigation’s past is carved into it. It’s a memorial bench and its unique shape replicates the barges that used to be on the river it’s next to.
I feel I need to apologise a little bit, I totally forgot to take a picture of the bench. But, at least it will be a nice surprise when you get there.
The Itchen Way
Keep on this trail, it’s called the Itchen Way, with the river to your left it leads you to a car park. Look up to your right, there’s a little cafe that’s opened up. Walk to the entrance of the car park with the stone bridge on your right and cross Garnier Road – cars whizz down here so place take care!
Keep walking with the river to your left, this is the private grounds of the college and a glorious place to stop for a picnic. You’ll then reach some tennis courts to your right.
Take the very narrow path to the left, right by the river, which may be a little over grown and you’ll have some lovely houses on your right.
At the end, the path turns right at a ‘private no access’ sign and there’s a few steps to walk up. Once you’re at the top turn left and you’ll find yourself on a road with some of the prettiest houses in Winchester. It’s not a long road but spent so long looking at the different designs, the houses are amazing. I’d love to live there, it’s total house goals.
When you reach the junction at the end of the road, turn left and cross the stone bridge over the river.
Once you’ve crossed the bridge, turn right and you’ll find yourself on College Walk back near the start of the walk again.
Keep an eye out for the ice cream van that sits on the corner, it’s a lovely treat after a romp around the Winchester countryside. I’ll have a 99 with a flake if you’re ordering by the way!
Now it’s up to you you where you go next. Turn right and you’ll find yourself walking back along the medieval wall of Wolvesey Castle to the start of the walk on the bridge by ‘The Bishop on the Bridge’ pub.
If you’d rather head to the Cathedral grounds, turn left, on this road you’ll walk past one of Jane Austen’s homes. Then you’ll find yourself at Kingsgate stone arch where you turn right, pass through and turn right and go through another arch and then turn left to read the Cathedral grounds.
I found this walk on Discovering Britain which provides very in-depth historic information, a map and route guidance.
The Winchester Water Meadows is a great walking loop around a part of the city that can only be seen on foot. I extended the route to explore some sections areas better and if you’ve got no time limits I recommend doing this too.
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