Tag Archives: Winchester

Virtual journeys – Winchester to Exeter via Salisbury, Wells and Glastonbury

The Clarendon Way from Winchester to Salisbury

I hope that you are all well and starting to enjoy getting out and about after the lockdowns. Many restrictions remain in place, varying country by country, and there is definitely uncertainty about travelling to other countries. I recently tried a bit of a long distance walk, but it is difficult with no real hospitality available for bed, or board, or even water which was much needed here in England as recent temperatures have been very high; only three Summers have had as much sunlight as this Spring here in England since sunlight records began, I think, in 1923.

In the autumn of 2017, having some time on my hands I decided to make one of my “step out of the door journeys”, taking a pack and a good pair of boots to make my own pilgrimage to somewhere. I like these journeys. They may not be exotic, but as a walker you really feel and experience the ground, the sounds and smells all round you. You see things that travellers on other modes of transport do not, meet and get to talk to people as you pass by, and make your own journey, unconstrained by way-marked walks, just using footpaths that take you in the direction you wish to go.

This journey was to be a “pilgrimage” from Winchester (from my door via the cathedral) to Salisbury cathedral, to the tiny city of Wells with its magnificent cathedral, thence on to the head of the River Exe via the ancient and mysterious holy place of Glastonbury, down the river valley to Exeter and its Gothic cathedral. It took me seven days of walking.

The route:

Day 1 – Winchester to Salisbury 34km. Slept in Sarum College (they will do low cost accommodation) with the best location in Salisbury right in the enormous Cathedral Close. This is a pleasant if long first day along the soft beech lined route of the Clarendon Way via Kings’ Sombourne and the River Test.

Day 2 – Wilton to Maiden Bradley 38 km. A short taxi ride out of the city to Wilton and up out striking west through a very large forest with a straight Roman road running through the middle for miles and miles. I barely saw a soul; Wiltshire can be bleak and is very sparsely populated in the rural areas. I ended up at a place called Maiden Bradley, the only place around with accommodation which turned out to be full. Taxi to Frome to find B&B and a hot meal.

First glimpse of Glastonbury Tor

Wells Cathedral School

Day 3 – Frome to Wells 36 km. A lovely walk in the sunshine after the “harshness” of Wiltshire the day before. I caught my first glimpse in the distance of Glastonbury Tor, an objective for the next walking day. I ended up in Wells just after dusk and stayed in a hotel in the gatehouse of the cathedral close. The next day I took some RnR and looked around the Bishops’ Palace, the cathedral school close, and the ornate cathedral itself. Really worth a day out if you can make it.

Wells Cathedral

Day 4 – Wells to Glastonbury 18 km. A short walk on the Somerset levels to the magical Tor with its magnificent 360 views. I could even see Wells cathedral in the distance. The town itself is a strange place with more shops selling crystals and other “magical” things than I have ever seen. One bookshop had a window display devoted to whittling wood! The next leg was to be to Bridgwater. I had agreed a rendezvous with a friend for a cup of tea and needed to push on, but the maze of drainage ditches and the flat emptiness of the Levels was at the same time going to take some time to navigate and was not an attractive prospect so I took a bus to Bridgwater which is a pretty enough town with statues to men who had struck out for the New World and brought trade to this place. Grabbing a coffee the next morning from Starbucks a lady there was celebrating 10 years’ service as a barista. Good on her; she was happy in her work.

Exmoor stag hunt

The stag that got away

Day 5 – Bridgwater to Wivelescombe 31 km. The landscape changed as I approached Exmoor National Park, meeting a lady from Surrey who had settled in a village but was unhappy as the locals did not easily accept incomers. The day was dominated by coming across a stag hunt. Riders everywhere, with scouts on quad bikes and in 4x4s using walkie-talkies to direct the hunt. The stag kept well ahead of the huntsmen and women who often ended up in the wrong place. They were suspicious of me with my camera but polite. At one point the stag charged out of undergrowth just a couple of hundred yards from me, pursued by just two hounds. With quick reactions I was able to get a shot of the stag in flight running for a small valley full of trees and bushes, well away from the main body of the hunt. I probably saw more of the stag that day than did most of the hunters. Wivelescombe is a tiny village in the middle of nowhere but had a welcoming inn.

Tiverton

Day 6 Wivelescombe to Tiverton 31 km. A pleasant if unmemorable day of walking with nothing really standing out. Tiverton had clearly been a prosperous place in the past with its wealth being founded on the wool trade, having some very ornate public buildings. It is now dominated by the Heathcote textiles factory and many pubs. I experienced my first Wetherspoons drink and meal. A pint of beer being just £2.40, and a special “curry night’ meal and a pint for £5.99!

Choristers practice at Exeter cathedral

Day 7 Tiverton to Exeter 28 km. A pleasant enough walk but my vision of a lovely walk along the banks of the River Exe were not to be. There is no path as such, and a lot of time was spent high up looking down into the valley and walking on roads. It was a little disheartening to see that the final push into Exeter meant a steep climb up to the hill that bears the Roman signal station, or a very long walk around. I chose straight up and eventually found myself walking through the small suburbs of the city, into the ugly modern centre (Exeter was badly bombed by the Germans in April and May 1942 as part of the so-called “Baedeker raids”, in which targets were chosen for their cultural and historical, rather than their strategic or military, value). My goal, the cathedral was worth it, and afterwards, having a pint in a nearby pub, I bumped into an officer serving in the same Regiment as my son, and his fiancé, who were to be wed in Exeter the next day. It was a very good way to end my 216 km (134 mile) odyssey.

If you are able, I thoroughly recommend this mode of walking. Have an idea of a place to walk to. Grab a few Ordnance Survey maps and plot a route with accommodation stops on the way. I was very ably assisted by Booking.com, only making my bookings during the afternoon of my planned stay to ensure I knew that I would make a location.

Happy walking. Real or virtual!

See more of the journey here in this shared Google Photo Album

A Lockdown walk to see the Micheldever bluebells

Bluebells in Itchen Wood, 23 April 2020

First of all I hope that you are all well, and those that you love. We must all be having differing experiences of the lockdowns in our various countries. Some may not have them at all. Others may be under much tighter restrictions than we have here in the UK. I have a friend in Milan who must be into his seventh week or more (don’t you find that getting a grip on time is such a problem?) and they really can hardly go out.

In the UK we are seeing the end in sight – we hope – and perhaps are learning how to adjust our behaviours, and understand better what our instructions mean we can and can’t do. There has been a strong emphasis on taking daily exercise. Here in Winchester we are fortunate that it is a very small city (a population of just 45,000), and we are surrounded by beautiful countryside. For many it will be within not more than a 5-10 minute walk, and we have no major developments of apartment blocks. Most people have (now very clean) air and space.

Nearby we have Micheldever Woods (with its smaller cousin Itchen Wood next to it) which is famous for its bluebells at this time of year. We are discouraged from driving to exercise spots, and I wanted to see the bluebells even in these strange times. So, on St George’s Day, 23 April, I set off late in the afternoon to walk through the beautiful Itchen Valley, past the villages of Easton, Avington (pop. 72), and Itchen Abbas, and up onto Itchen Down to approach Itchen Wood from the south. It was a stunning day. Very warm sunshine, the ground hard and dusty in places (it is only April!). The pretty villages had well-tended gardens. Hand-drawn and painted rainbow pictures, our symbol of hope in our National Health Service (which has done a magnificent job), were in many windows.

There were few people about, but a lot of cyclists taking advantage of the quiet roads and the beautiful countryside to take their exercise. A brand new telegraph pole gave out a strong smell of creosote, a smell that always takes me back to my childhood; the smell of recently maintained fences each summer. I stopped in the beautiful, bucolic Avington Park with its large lake, and the elegant house that was once the home to the Shelley family.

Sometimes I heard families talking in hushed tones behind hedges in their green gardens. An occasional ladder propped against a wall for some essential maintenance task that perhaps could wait until tomorrow, or even the day after that. The birds seemed especially happy singing and chirping to each other, constantly crossing my path. The only other noise was the sound of farm machinery at various places; reassuring that some economic activity is still taking place.

Avington House and park

After about 3-4 hours of walking, passing hares out for their evening socials, I reached Itchen Wood, which is mainly a beech wood, managed by the Forestry Commission to encourage healthy timber and excellent conditions for the bluebells. I decided just to stay there for a while. I have always preferred this smaller wood to it’s larger neighbour Micheldever Wood. In normal times the car parks there would have been full, and cars are parked along the roadside, with many families walking out to enjoy this marvellous blue and green sight. Most miss the smaller Itchen, even at busy times, where it is possible to find peace.

On this occasion I was essentially alone. I did spy one or two other walkers or runners, like ghostly figures some way off in the dappled evening light. Birds sang and I just rested, enjoying the purple-blue carpet all around me, inhaling the subtle perfume of these amazing flowers. I stumbled across some white flowers and had to get closer. Were these some sort of ‘albino’ bluebell? Later research tells me that they indeed were, being quite rare, only one in 10,000 bulbs being albino.

Angel on my shoulder, Itchen Down, 23 April 2020

Eventually I made my way back home via a slightly different route. Looking back the sun was slowly setting and I took more photos, capturing an image of an angel, hopefully looking after us all. My dinner was a can of cold beans (the walk was planned in haste and I grabbed what I had at hand!) as I sat on the edge of Itchen Down overlooking this really beautiful valley with, perhaps, the finest chalk stream (it is a significant river, but we call it a stream) in the world. The trout certainly think so.

As dusk fell I revelled in the fading light and then the darkness. I enjoy walking at night. I dipped back down to the now silent road that runs through from Winchester to Alresford, and joined a path that has many boardwalks to take me across a wide reedy marsh that contains many pools and tributaries of the river until they all join as one before Easton, the closest village to Winchester. In the dusk light I could see many bats flying fast and sure to wherever they were going. Most other birds were now silent. Yes, there was an occasional owl call. Venus was bright in the western sky and was there to accompany me all the way home, slowly descending on its downward arc.

As I crossed onto the small minor road that runs to the south side of the river, there was some excitement amongst the sheep near Avington house. What it was I do not know. With just a mile or so to go I pressed on in the dark, past pretty brick cottages with bright orange-yellow lights, shining out through leaded windows, never seeing the families within. I really was the only person abroad. It was thrilling. Occasionally I was illuminated by house security lights that would pop on, casting my giant shadow across the road, or sometimes on to a house wall opposite making me look 12 feet tall.

Finally I came to the barrier of the M3 motorway, took the underpass and was greeted by an illuminated sign to drivers telling them to keep journeys only to essential ones, a reminder that our life has changed so much so fast. I had crossed from country to town by taking that tunnel. Stopping at the petrol station I bought some beer to have once at home. A policeman was there to buy a snack. We spoke. I asked how things were going and if he and his colleagues were well. He told me it was all fine and the the people of Hampshire were doing what they were told with very few problems. ‘Normal’ crime was way down. There were two police cars. The other was driven by his colleague. Patrolling is now done by social distancing and that means two cars per patrol to keep each officer separate from the other.

The few hundred yards home passed quickly as I walked up what used to be Winnall Down, now a housing estate. The windows of the fire station were covered in children’s rainbow pictures of thanks to all the workers in the NHS who have risked their lives for us.

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I never meant to write so much. It was just meant to be a quick introduction to the photo album which catalogues this short journey. Many of you enjoyed the pictures I posted of my long walk on the Ridgeway last autumn, so I thought that you might like this. Perhaps a little escapism. Excuse the selfies, this album is also for my children. That is my ‘apocalypse beard’. It will go when all this is over. The pictures were taken only with my Samsung smartphone and my technique is pretty much point and shoot. Sometimes you get lucky. I may make up a few more albums to share from my long walks if you wish, so please send me your comments.

The photos can be found here in this Google album. Keep safe and well.

And here is a bit of a map of the route from my Strava.

Finally, a short tour of the grounds of Avington park which shows some of the route. It is a beautiful part of the world.