A mammoth hike all the way from Alton to Winchester. But don't fret! There is an opportunity to catch a bus home half way along.
From: A linear walk of 22 miles, starting from the station in Alton and ending in Winchester, Hampshire with an opportunity to split the walk half way through.
Length: 22 miles.
Average Walk Time: 8 to 10 hours, depending on how much time you spend refreshing.
Terrain: Generally gently undulating. There are no severe climbs, and only a couple of muddy paths in the wettest of weather. It's moderate walking on good terrain with the only difficulty being the length.
Suitable for dogs: Yes.
Look out for: A number of historic churches and gorgeous waterside paths. The Itchen with its watercress beds make unusual 'walkmates'.
This is a really nice, 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. Afterall, 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, them 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 a choice. There is a half-hourly bus though the village which will take you back to Alton (or on to Winchester), or you can continue up Whitehill Lane, opposite the Ship. If you are like me, and started early, then the Ship will not yet be open so continuing is not a worry. Whitehill Lane continues up hill and down again, past a solar farm to Sun lane, where a left and 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.