The Pilgrims' Trail
Follow a medieval route from the shrine of St Swithun at Winchester Cathedral, weaving across the landscape by way of Bishop's Waltham and Southwick to Portsmouth in the footsteps of the Miquelots, pilgrims who made the long journey to worship St Michael in Normandy. Today travellers have the advantage of special waymark signs - green in Hampshire, blue in France leading to the medieval sanctuary of Mont St Michel in Normandy France, 155 miles away.
The cult of Saint Michael was widespread in the British Isles from the 9th century. By the time of the reformation in the 16th century, there were more than six hundred churches in England dedicated to Saint Michael. Saint Michael's day, Michaelmas, is celebrated on 29 September.
The Norman sanctuary of Mont St Michel attracted pilgrims from Scandinavia, Italy and Germany, as well as from Britain. Most pilgrims stopped at the Mount on their way to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. They landed at Barfleur, near Cherbourg, walked to the Mount and continued to Santiago.
Venta Belgarum was a Roman town and became the fifth largest city in Britain. Over the ensuing years, Winchester saw many changes before becoming what we see today. People from Alfred the Great to those attending Mary Tudor's marriage to Philip of Spain in the Cathedral all played their part in Winchester's history.
Winchester to Twyford
Winchester Cathedral has been a place for pilgrims from Saxon times. The Pilgrims' Trail starts at the west door, continues to the south of the Cathedral and passes through the passage into the cloister. Keeping the lawn (garth) on your left, you pass the deanery and continue to the right into The Close, passing the mediaeval priory's storehouses. The building to the far left is the Pilgrims School, while directly in front is the Porters Lodge (Cheyney Court) where you leave The Close through the Priory Gate into St Swithun's Street. Turn left, passing under Kings Gate's 14th century arch. In College Street, follow the road to the left, passing the home in which Jane Austen died, then on to Winchester College. Once past the College, to your left are the ruins of Wolvesey Castle.
Turn right into College Walk, following the road left, and continue over the River Itchen. As the road bears left up Wharf Hill, turn right into Domum Road. There are several exits from Domum Road, but take the second right to the footpath, beside the Itchen Navigation, until it meets the road. At the road, cross over taking the path through the car park, follow the path to" Plague Pit", turn left up the valley to the M3 crossing, take time to go to the top of St Catherine's Hill with stunning views across the water meadows, Winchester and across towards the Hospital of St Cross. This is Britain's oldest charitable organisation and was founded by Henry de Blois, William the Conqueror's grandson. Its church dates from Norman times, and the Brothers of St Cross still worship in it daily.
Continue over the foot bridge crossing the M3 leaving St Catherine's Hill behind you. Once across, the series of parallel hollows to your left, are of mediaeval or earlier date, crossing the downs are known as the 'Dongers'. Follow the well defined track over Twyford Down, with views over open grassland, to the fairway of Hockley Golf Club. All around is the rolling landscape of the East Hampshire Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Continue in a southwest direction towards a tree belt, over the track and down to Hazeley Road, passing Hazeley Down's gallops and a war memorial to the troops stationed on Hazeley Down during the First World War. At Hazeley Road, cross over and continue up Mare Lane to the crossroads.
Twyford to Owslebury
Cross over Hatchers Lane to Whites Hill and, after 20 metres, take the footpath on the left to Owslebury, a village, with mediaeval origins, which pilgrims passed through and is the highest village in Hampshire. The Ship Inn, with its large outdoor children's play area, is a good place to stop for a drink or meal.
The medieval church of St Andrew has examples of early English architecture (chancel and lancets), although extensively renovated during the seventeenth century. The trail continues through the church yard to stone steps leading down to Pitcot Lane to a gate, then turn left into the fields towards the tree line and follow a farm track upwards through the tress. The trail crosses open fields before going downhill to cross Lower Baybridge Lane.
Walk across Lower Baybridge Lane to the lane opposite, following the gravel track to the edge of Austin's Copse. Within the coppice, the Roman road survives as an earthwork. The trail meanders through the copse to open land and track. Turn left, then right, until you meet another track on your left, continuing along this for 900 metres. This will take you across high open farmland, before descending to a hedge.
Owslebury to Bishop's Waltham
At the hedge, turn left, continuing to the stile before descending diagonally. Follow the trail through the trees and then up a steep slope into woodland. Once through the wood, the trail follows a grass track. Continue along the track to its fork. Take the left fork until you reach Upham. At the road, turn right and continue until you urn left into Church Street, passing the church with its 13th century arch and eighteenth century brick tower.
The nearby Brushmakers Arms provides a welcome stop. Retrace your steps along Church Street, turn left and follow the road for 100 metres to Oak Close. Turn left into the close, following the trail to a stile and keeping left of the hedge to another stile. Reaching a farm track, continue along for 500 metres to a further stile. Continue straight on, keeping the woods on your left, and follow the trail to the road and down to Winchester Road. Cross over to the footpath, following the line of the ancient Roman road, passing through a wet area caused by springs rising to feed ponds, the largest of which can be seen through the trees.
The trail continues along the line of the old earth road to Wintershill Farm, crossing several stiles until you meet Winters Hill road. Cross over to the driveway marked 'Woodlea Nurseries', crossing the stile which is just inside on the right. Passing Tangier Farm, the trail follows the field's edge and under electricity lines towards Brooklands Farm. Just before it reaches the farm, the trail forks. Take the left fork to the dismantled railway line, turning left into the line until you reach the roundabout. Turn right and follow Station Road to the ruins of the Bishop's Palace which is run by English Heritage and open to the public.
Ordnance Survey Explorer maps 132 and 119 (1:25000) are useful for this section of the trail.
Continuing the route in France to Mont St Michel
You can continue the route onwards to Mont St Michel, by taking the ferry from Portsmouth to Cherbourg and following the way-marked route southwards through the pretty Normandy countryside.
A 127 page colour guide (in French) is available that details two separate routes from Cherbourg (7 stages) and Barfleur (8 stages) to Mont St Michel. Each stage varies between 25-30km and consists of on and off-road sections. The guide gives details of where you can find tourist information, including accommodation and refreshments foreach stage.
You can obtain a walker's pack detailing all of the route, local features and history, tourist information and watering holes to ease the journey, price £2.99. Send a cheque payable to Hampshire County Council to the Countryside Service, Castle Avenue, Winchester SO23 8UL.