A frenzy of dog walkers, joggers and cyclists passed us the next morning as we meandered back down the Test Way from Stockbridge; the bright autumnal sun shining against the blue sky as we rejoined the Clarendon Way for our second and final day of walking. A gentle climb up a small hill gave us a fine view of nearby Kings Somborne whose church bells were ringing as we walked ever closer.
Mentioned in the Domesday Book, the village’s quiet streets were lined with thatched cottages, and even a thatched corner shop although the impact of that was lessened by the corrugated iron roofed extension tacked on one side of the building.
Such things were a mere diversion from the true task of the day; ambling along to the end of this diminutive walking trail at Winchester. Quickly did we leave Kings Somborne and the path headed up hill once more, alongside fields and farmland as well as the odd gallop too.
The further we walked, the moor downsland-like the area became, although that should come hardly as a surprise given our relative closeness to both the North and South Downs. Gentle hills, the odd bit of limestone and a bright blue sky. Oh yes, this was the life indeed. With this warmth, could it really be the middle of November? Hard to believe as we stripped off outer layers of fleece and rued the fact that we hadn’t brought sun cream.
After a quiet morning of walking, suddenly people were everywhere as we arrived at Farley Mount and folly. The pyramid shaped building was erected as a monument to a horse. But not a horse that died, oh no. This was a monument to a horse that survived. A horse that, in September 1733, fell into an 8m deep chalk pit during a fox hunt, and did so with its rider still on its back. Neither were killed and the following year the horse went on to win at Worthy Downs under the name “Beware Chalk Pit”.
Most presume the folly was built at that time. Indeed if you read the plaque inside the building, it’s almost taken as read. But curiously though, the bricks used to make the folly aren’t contemporary to the 1730s, whilst the local council managed to find a picture of the folly from 1860 which showed it in a more boxy shape.
I doubted most people cared about the conundrum. For the plethora of loud, shouting children, there was more fun to be had by running around, whilst their parents pushed their younger siblings in giant buggys and occasionally paused to take in the view.
The reason for so many people was found slightly further on as we passed one of the many car parks that serve Farley Mount Country Park. Located just a few miles from Winchester, the whole of the local population seemed to have decanted in to Farley Mount’s collection of trees and paths in an attempt to escape the city.
The city was, however, where we were heading and the trail now headed along the busy road that connected Winchester with the park. Cars came rattling down, penning us closely to the side until the Clarendon Way took an elaborate detour along a side road near Crabwood Farm. Even then there wasn’t much escape from the traffic as local motorists attempted to beat the parking woes by trying to find a spot to pull up near where we were walking.
The diversion barely seemed worth it, although the excuse was later made clear as we passed a road sign – the Clarendon Way’s diversion had been very literal indeed as it had gone down a road named “Clarendon Way”. Which came first, the road or the trail, would probably not make an interesting discussion.
Whilst we’d seemed to escape the clutches of Salisbury very quickly, the traverse through Winchester’s suburbs was far slower as we followed signposts around a motley collection of sideroads and suburban enclaves. The end was at Winchester Cathedral but the route planners had decided that the quickest possible route to it wasn’t appropriate and we were instead sent on a journey through Winchester’s history.
The lengthy diversion to Oliver’s Battery hardly seemed worth it. Sat in the middle of a housing estate sat a series of small, insignificant looking earthworks. The land was once used by Oliver Cromwell’s army during the Civil War, but they hadn’t exactly left much worth seeing.
A series of bungalows followed by some fields and a bridge over the railway line saw us eventually get to the Hospital of St Cross, although there’s no blue sirens, medication or paramedics in green jumpsuits. Oh no. The Hospital of St Cross is more sedate than that, using the term “hospital” in its ancient sense – somewhere you can get a hospitality.
Dating back to the 12th century, the hospital was set up by one Henry de Blois. A grandson of William the Conquror, and a Bishop of Winchester, he founded the Hospital of St Cross to house thirteen men who were too frail to work, and to feed one hundred men at the gates each day. And so Britain’s oldest charitable institution was founded.
The medieval buildings are now home to 25 elderly men, whilst the ancient tradition of Wayfarers Dole also continues. Those appearing at the Porters Lodge can, to this day, get a goblet of ale and a square of bread.
By all accounts, it’s even good ale and has been so since the 1990s when a manager from the nearby Gales Brewery partook the Dole and found it to be from a can of supermarket beer. Deciding tradition could be better served, the Gales brewery began to provide ale to the hospital for the Dole, and whilst Gales has gone, new owners Fullers continue to donate the drink.
After a day of walking we were hungry and thirsty, but a sign outside told visitors that the hospital was closed to the public. Was the Dole still available from the Porter’s Lodge? Well we didn’t like to disobey the sign so still hungry and thirsty, we moved on.
The River Itchen flows merrily through Winchester and the Clarendon Way headed up north near its banks. As we weaved our way through the throngs of tourists and their offspring, we arrived at the historic streets. Fighting our way through the crowds, we found ourselves at the back of the Cathedral.
A host of wooden huts suggested a Christmas Market would be opening soon, and if the number of visitors was anything to go by, it would be one that would make a lot of money. For us though it was the mark of a journey end. Our second cathedral marked at the end of our journey through history.
Whilst our job was done, for some others the journey was just beginning. The Clarendon Way walker doesn’t need to end at all. From the exact same spot we could head off on the South Downs Way; only a mere 99 miles to Eastbourne. Or there was the St Swithins Way – another short route that would take the walker to Farnham where they could then join the North Downs Way to Dover.
That’s all assuming that the walker didn’t have to go to work the next day. And that wasn’t true for us. With jobs to go to and wages to earn, our only choice was to head off somewhere far less glamorous. As the cathedral bells rang, we headed off north. London awaited our arrival home. And we weren’t getting there by foot.