Clarendon Way Day 1: Salisbury to Stockbridge

Published 1 August 2012

Lamas, seen on the Clarendon Way

Setting off on a long distance walk is like setting off on an epic adventure. One that will take you across a huge distance and provide you with many things to see. Over many days you will travel across part of the country, or, in some cases, even across a whole country.

Or will you? After all, what is a long distance walk? Well the Long Distance Walkers Association’s website considers that any walk over 20 miles will do, and that means you could do a whole long distance route in a weekend. If you can find one that’s that short anyway.

And we did. Which is why, on one Saturday morning in November, I was stood outside the ruins of an old Norman hunting lodge being looked at by a lama.

Salisbury Cathedral

At twenty four miles the Clarendon Way is probably do-able in a day if you really wanted to push the boat out. Running between the cathedral cities of Salisbury and Winchester, over not particularly lumpy terrain, makes it even more achievable. But where would the fun be in that? Far better to take your time and do it all at a leisurely rate. Spread it over two days; maybe make a weekend of it. Which is exactly what our plan was.

A not-so early morning mist clung to the outside of Salisbury’s ancient cathedral; its spire poking out of the mist in a way that could easily be described as “atmospheric” although that would be a slight understatement.

Inside the place was almost deserted. Just a few staff and two people carrying rucksacks and wearing hiking boots as we took in the sights of a wonderful building. The old, decaying flags of long defunct army units; an Anthony Gormley structure hanging from the ceiling; a massive font which water cascaded out of at each corner before running into special drainage holes in the floor.

It seemed a most dignified way to start proceedings. After all, if you’re walking between two cathedral cities then you might as well start within a cathedral rather than outside. But with sixteen miles to do and the sun setting around 4pm, we couldn’t linger too long and soon we were heading through Salisbury’s streets. Past the shops, near the busker guitar picking with serious skill, down a road lined with dubious looking night clubs, under a dual carriageway and eventually down a series of roads and tracks of ever decreasing importance.

It didn’t take long for the Clarendon Way to lead us down farm tracks and through the grounds of Clarendon Park. But it’s not the park that lends its name to the walk but an old Norman hunting lodge; a place to stay when the royalty of the era hunted in the surrounding Clarendon Forest. The lodge was rebuilt in the 13th century as a royal palace by Henry II, and invested in heavily also by Henry III but as successive monarchs spent more and more time in London, Clarendon Palace began to decay. By 1500 the building was no longer being maintained and eventually the whole site fell into ruin.

Ruins of Clarendon Palace

Now the dominant survivor is a large wall, once a side of the Great Hall, and stubs of various walls uncovered during archaeological digs in the 20th century. A few information panels attempt to tell the story about how the site once looked but it was almost impossible to picture it from the ruins. The presence of a flock of lamas didn’t help; nonchalantly munching grass and yawning as they casually watched two walkers wander round.

That age old autumnal pleasure of kicking through deep layers of fallen leaves provided the soundtrack as we walked through the former forest, now little more than a series of ancient woodlands. And then as we left the woods, the trees presenting their finest golden colours, the village of Pitton came in to view; a tiny local church and the bus stop providing focus to the muster of houses dotted around the area.

Anyone waiting for the handful of buses to pass through the village would have been able to travel on to the plethora of locations all named with something prefixing “Winterslow”. West Winterslow, Middle Winterslow, East Winterslow… Err… Well actually the Clarendon Way only covers the first two but that was more than enough.

A small piece of hill between Pitton and Middle Winterslow provided more than enough space for three teenage girls to gleefully gallop their horses as they rode past us merrily; their steeds brought to a more sedate trot as they reached the field boundary. There was more activity on the outskirts of West Winterslow as we passed a sports ground whose pavilion with people milling around.

Then, seemingly bored, a lad in his late teens walked up to a bag on the ground, swung it round his head and flung it off in to the distance. Strangely no one seemed to bat an eye lid about this, leaving someone else – presumably the bag’s owner – to casually stroll off to collect it; the flinger’s attempt at some sort of macho bravado rather unrewarded by the crowd.

An alleyway and some more fields led us to Middle Winterslow which provides most of the focus to the whole Winterslow thing by means of shop, pub and post office. Despite being a relatively small place though, Winterslow still seemed to find enough of a population to justify having four churches in its boundaries, although a sign outside the Anglican churches in the Middle and the West proclaimed them to belong to a network of nine places of worship to the run by the “Clarendon team” of clergy. Nine churches, one team. Back in the day each would have had its own vicar. Such is progress.

St Peter's Church, Pitton

Mention truffles and most peoples thoughts will inevitably start thinking of pigs. And probably the pig will be in France and Italy too. But Winterslow also has a truffle connection. Britain’s last professional truffle hunter once plied his trade in the area. Alfred Collins would head out with his two dogs and would track down and uproot up to 11kg of truffles a day.

Collins retired over eighty years ago in 1930 and few thought much of the truffles that he no longer collected, but in 2004 truffles were found in the area once again; this time collected by a local farmer. Since then there’s been a mini truffle revival; the local chalky ground and beech trees being declared to be perfect conditions for them. Just don’t take your sow with you when trying to find them; they have a habit of eating the ones they find.

The Roman Road (and it’s official name really is “Roman Road”) out of Winterslow also has its fame as it goes along Noades Copse. The attractive tree lined road is said to resonate to the sounds of the Roman soldiers marching along it, although all I heard was the sound of pheasants squarking in the nearby woodland.

Crossing in to Hampshire

Leaving the ghostly army and their pet birds, we crossed a road, bade farewell to Wiltshire and entered Hampshire in which the Clarendon Way spends most of its time as it heads off to Winchester.

The county may have changed but the scenery hadn’t; the Clarendon Way continuing along a track usually hemmed in from all sides by trees and bushes. Soon though it was a welcome in to the village life as we headed in to the near deserted village of Broughton and we set about seeing the local sites which consisted of a circular brick-built dovecote in the church graveyard which houses 500 nesting boxes, and a well that was dug in 1921 after a long drought. That done, a leaflet I’d downloaded from the council website encouraged us to pay a visit to the nearby Tally Ho Inn. Curiously the village’s other pub, The Crown Inn, wasn’t deemed important enough for a recommendation although had a certain benefit over its neighbour – the Tally Ho was closed and empty.

A sculpture stood outside the village, showing four birds on top of a stone block; the base displaying a rather faded route map of the route. But there was no time to dawdle and work out where we were (well we knew – just outside Broughton) for with November comes short nights and we needed to get a step on if we weren’t to find ourselves hunting our digs in the dark.

A trip along field edges to nearby Houghton saw the sun slowly begin to set; the sky losing its radiant glow. A waymark, emblazoned with the grammatically awful slogan “Walk 4 Life”, congratulated us on having successfully walked a whole mile, inviting us to “record your time on the website”.

The River Test

Scoffing at such antics we came alongside the River Test as it meandered down towards Southampton where it would meet the Itchen. Despite having a name that will scare schoolchildren (“Time to take you to the Test, Tabitha!”) the river is better known for more sedate activities, namely the fishing of salmon and trout.

Quite where the name comes from seems to be unknown, although it has other connections with literature forming a backdrop for the novel Watership Down. After the Watership rabbits escape from Efrafa, chased by the General Woundwort, it’s a punt on the River Test that allows the rabbits to escape to freedom.

With no dark and evil warrens to escape from, we had a slightly more sedate journey along the Test; with no room for us to stay nearby, we headed up along the Test Valley Way to Stockbridge where a pub was waiting with our room, some beer and some good food. Once we’d found it in the dark, anyway.

Next – no sooner has it started and it’s all over. But that’s what happens when you do a 24 mile walk.


Des Rynne

11 May 2024 at 10:22 pm

Hi i have just walked the Clarendon way and i must say it could do with a few more signs for walkers new to long distance walks .Also a list on where you could find a water tap on the walk Des

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