ST SWITHUN'S WAY ROUTE
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We wrote up for the Farnham Herald and the Farnham Walking Festival in May 2019, and, with their permission, we are reproducing it below. We hope it all makes sense. When we walked the route, we took two days. A reasonably short one from Farnham to Alton (12 miles) and a longer day from Alton to Winchester (22 miles). As mentioned above, you can split it where you like. We have shown the major bus and train links in the map at the top of this page.
Part One, Farnham to Alton.
St Swithun's Way runs from Winchester to Farnham, largely along the route of the Old Pilgrim's Way, but making allowances for the fact much of the old route is now under the A31. Today, we're going to be looking at the last section, and we're going to be going backwards. However, no worries, on a fine morning, the route is as beautiful whichever way you do it.
Swithun was Bishop of Winchester from 852 to his death in 863. He is the Patron Saint of Hampshire, Winchester and rain! The sign of the walk is the scallop shell and crossed croziers. Why the scallop shell? We'll leave that for you to Google, but it has connections with St James of Compostela and the Roman Goddess Venus!
The path is fairly well signed, once you get out of Farnham, so, without further ado, let's get you out of Farnham. The route heads down Station Hill towards Hickey's corner and the crossroads with the A31. Cross the main road, and turn left past the Emmanuel Church into the Gostrey Meadow. Walk around the War Memorial, cross the River Wey on the footbridge and diagonally across the meadow past the bandstand. Exit by the far gate, cross the side road and follow Downing Street around the right-turn corner and up the hill to West Street. On meeting this main shopping street, turn left and look for a road called 'The Hart' on the right. Follow this, past the car park, and in front of you is the University of Creative Arts. On the right side of the University building, and just before the upper section of the car park is a public footpath heading up the hill. Pass through the sculpture park and the student village, before several sets of steps take you up into open fields. MADE IT! At the first hedgerow, glance back and marvel at how much height you've gained already and how fine Farnham looks below you. There's plenty of climbing still to do, so press on! The path crosses a second small field before kinking right between a couple of fences.
When the path meets a small road, by an attractive row of cottages, turn left. Now follow the road uphill for about 500m, before a road turns off left, which you take. (Ⓐ on photo 3 below) At the time of writing, there's a new housing development in the crook of the bend - avoid getting sucked into that! A kilometre down this road and the track turns right. Ignore this, and head down the footpath straight ahead. This new track descends to a muddy bottom and back up the other side. It passes Middle Old Park Farm, rounds a corner by Lower Old Park Farm, descends again and rises up wiggling right and left until it meets Dora's Green Lane. Turn left at the Lane and be careful as it is busier with traffic than it should be. Shortly you meet the even busier Crondall Road, but this is merely crossed (left and immediately right) into the second half of Dora's. 300m farther cross Dippenhall Lane, and the path now becomes much more rural. There's a confusing junction with a helpful photo. Follow the path Ⓑ in photo 5.
Eventually, you cross Old Farnham Lane and walk up beside the Solar Farm. 300m more and the path meets a road where you turn left, pass the entrance to the solar farm on the left and immediately opposite on the right is a barrier gate blocking a field with a well-defined path over it. Follow this path, through a gap in the hedgerow beyond, and now walk along a hedgerow until the path cascades downhill. At the beckoning corner, your path crosses a small plank bridge, turns right and immediately left again up the hill through woods. The path turns a left-hand corner and soon reaches the main road. If you look directly ahead, you can now see your route ahead of you, but there's a field in the way. The official route turns left here, first right and around a right-hand corner to get you around the field. This is marginally quicker than turning right and left! Going the official way, cross the unofficial route and look for a nice stile on the right into a field Ⓒ. The path almost parallels the fence, but take the small gate, cross the farmyard, and keep walking straight. Exit this farm by a stile, and cross the field beyond.
Now comes an important junction, and it's not obvious or well signed. As you pass through a hedge line, the straight-ahead route leads out across a field and passes a solitary tree. IGNORE THIS! As indicated in photo 9, turn a diagonal right here, between the young saplings and lead off right Ⓓ. Although this turning is hard to see, the path is obvious once taken. It crosses a field, goes around a new steel gate and follows the side of the field (kinking right). At the corner of the field, exit by a stile to the road and turn left. Ignore a left turn junction in the road and continue straight, until a road on the right, which leads up to St Mary's Church (in the corner of the road). Follow the road left at the church, and follow it until it tees with a larger one. Turn right and immediately left into a farm track. The newly-moved footpath now circumvents the new vineyard by turning right, left, left and right, instead of going straight past the new wooden building. Exiting the far side of the diversion, it heads on straight ahead. Confused? This part is actually far easier on the ground.
Follow two fields, and ahead of you are the modern buildings of Pax Hill Residential Home. As you turn left and shortly right, look out for the old house of Pax Hill. Built in the early 1900s, the house had two very famous occupants in the past; Lord Baden Powell and his wife, Olave. After World War II, Olave gave Pax Hill to the Girl Guides to be used as a centre for members from the Commonwealth of Nations. The house became a Domestic Science Training School run on Guiding principles before being sold with the consent of Olave. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Pax Hill was a boys' boarding school until it was taken over as a nursing home in 1988. Cross the front of the house, turn left by its gate and after 100m turn right over a stile and a good footpath leading out across a field.
Ahead of you now is Coldrey House. However, to get there, you have to cross a field and walk up a path through some woodland. The pond on the left looked dark and spooky even in bright sunlight! However, the house looked fine and took a nice picture with its blossoming tree out the back. Walk past the house, down the lane to the side road, where you turn right. 200m down the road is The Anchor Pub at Lower Froyle, and you turn left just before it. 300m down this track, the path crosses a small plank bridge (Ⓔ on the photo below). Keep beside the hedge and then a wire fence until eventually, you emerge on a lane in Upper Froyle. Turn right and immediately fork left into the grounds of the magnificent Froyle House Hotel. The path formally turns right halfway along the track, but I suggest you stay on the hotel's road right up to the gates, where a permissive path skirts the edge of the grounds and enters the churchyard through an 'Alice in Wonderland' type gate. Out of the churchyard and turn left along the roads until reaching the village centre. Take a track slightly left (signed to Rawles and marked Ⓕ on the photo below).
Pass the fascinating Rawles buildings and make sure you take track Ⓖ rather than following the side of the field. Yes, the path will cross just behind the pylon in the picture, but please stay on the right track rather than being tempted by shortcuts. Cross the huge field diagonally when you get there and turn left out the far corner. Now follow the edge of a hedge until the bottom of a slight hill, where you cross a large gap in the hedge and walk with the hedge on your right side. Cross two fields, and enter some woodlands. The path carries on straight, until reaching the side of a large stone wall and exits the pathway in front of the church. You are now in Holybourne, and Howard's Lane leads off straight ahead past the church of the Holy Rood. Howard's Lane turns left, and almost immediately there's a footpath on the right Ⓗ. Now, this is the home straight! Follow the path for a full kilometre, past Treloar College and the playing fields of Eggar's School. Eventually, the path turns a definite left, and swiftly leave the path by the side of a tree on the right. Cross the playing field, Ⓘ pass the left side of the building, and exit the playing fields by a chicane-type barrier. A short walk through the streets of Alton and a couple of alleys, and you reach a dead end where you turn left. You are now on the main Alton Road, and the station and train (or bus) home are directly on your left.
Look out for next week, when we continue 22 miles more all the way to Winchester!
Part Two, Alton to Winchester.
This is a pleasant, if long, wander through the Hampshire countryside. Yes, there are a couple of towny bits, notably as you leave Alton, but these soon fade as the beautiful country is reached. Unlike previous walks, the directions for this one will not include every 'turn left' and 'turn right'. Much of the walk is well signed and waymarked, and on these sections, we assume you can follow the marker disks. The St Swithun's way mark is the scallop shell and crossed Bishops' croziers for St Swithun and Thomas a'Beckett (from Canterbury). Intro over, let's get walking. After all, there's a lot to do.
Leave Alton Station and walk West, past the car park and into Normandy Street, heading towards the town. The route now heads along Normandy Street, which becomes the High Street and eventually Butts Road. After a generous kilometre, the route heads under the Watercress Line railway. Here, currently, there are major road works. However, the route heads straight on, and you have to negotiate the works to continue down the Winchester Road. (See letter Ⓙ in the photo below). Now you're on the back roads and continue until you reach the main dual carriageway, which you cross under using the subway. The route now takes you out through Chawton – Jane Austin country.
Take a right up Ferney Close (well signed), and look for the footpath in the far left corner of the housing estate. Cross the A32 (easy) and take a left, right and left (all well marked). Walk for a kilometre along the shaded, tree-lined path until you reach a barn on the right. This turn is NOT well signed, and I have indicated it on the photo below, Ⓚ. After 150m, the path turns left, then reaches a tarmacked road. Turn right on the road and head up the hill. The road eventually turns into a good track, which follows a wood. The path climbs steadily until it reaches the high point of the route and turns right. I'd love to say it's all downhill from here, but alas it's not! The track turns left and crosses Headmore Lane. Now it follows the back road until it reaches Garthowen Garden Centre. The track goes through the yard of the centre, and down the right side. It goes out the back of the yard and along a footpath. There's a badly signed right over a stile (Ⓛ in the picture below).
Follow the paths through Hawthorn Farm to the hamlet of Kitwood. At the top of the footpaths in the farm, the route exits as Ⓜ on the picture. In the crook of Kitwood, a new path sets out through fields towards a wood. A nice kissing gate leads into the woods, where the path is fairly straight forward, apart from a sharp left turn. Cross the Desmond paddocks and a diagonal path takes you uphill, over a couple of stiles and into some large fields. I've added a route map to help you over the largest of the fields Ⓝ. In the village of Ropley, pass the school and take the second left, which eventually brings you out into South Street (a tiny back road) and then crosses a slightly more major road. The route is now easy and signed, crossing a variety of fields and walking along roads until it reaches Manor House Farm. Turn right here, cross the really main dual carriageway of the A31. The footpath turns right after the roundabout and then parallels the B3047.
This is the village of Bishop's Sutton, and you walk through the village to the Ship Inn. Now you have three choices. There is a half-hourly bus through the village which will take you back to Alton (or on to Winchester), or you can continue up Whitehill Lane, opposite the Ship. The final choice is to linger in Bishop's Sutton. The village has a splendid church, which last time I visited had free squash and biscuits for pilgrims and a stamp for your pilgrim's passport. If you linger long enough, the Ship might be open! If you are like me, and started super-early, then the Ship will not be open for an hour at least, so continuing is not a worry. Whitehill Lane continues uphill and down again, past a solar farm to Sun lane, where a left and an immediate right takes you into Tichborne Down. The Cricketers on the right was not open either, so continue along Spring Gardens. The main road forks right (and passes the final bus stop) where our path turns left. Now you follow the watercress beds and pass an interesting deep ford before t-junctioning at a hill. Go straight on, Ⓞ below, and up the hill to the junction with the complicated dual carriageway junction. Our path is along East Lane, directly opposite when you reach the main road. A gentle hill down now takes you to the Bush Inn along the River Itchen. A left and then a right in the village of Ovington takes you eventually to Yavington Farm.
Just past the farm, the path now turns left up the hill, through a kissing gate and a wiggly path. I've marked this Ⓟ & Ⓠ. This section of the route now parallels the Itchen Way, and the signs are interchangeable. There are plenty of St Swithun's Way disks but there are also some Itchen Way ones. Pass Avington Hall and turn left in Itchen Abbas. The track is now very picturesque as it follows the river. Martyr Worthy with its curious church dedicated to St Swithun leads to Abbots Worthy and finally the outskirts of Kings Worthy.
The final section of the route leads to the outskirts of Winchester (close your ears as you pass the now very busy A34). Even within the city itself, the route is well signed and ends at the Cathedral. Enjoy the triumph as you reach this edifice – you've done it! Maybe you've walked the 34 miles from Farnham, or maybe you've just come in from New Alresford, but whichever way you've walked this footpath, it's a very splendid end marker. Relax, have a well-earned drink and ponder which way you're going to get back.