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Alfred's Ancient Capital

Winchester's historic streets, Cathedral Close and the beautiful Itchen Valley.

Distance 3.5 miles (5.6km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 499ft (152m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Established riverside paths through water-meadows, 3 stiles

Landscape City streets, riverside, water-meadow and downland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 132 Winchester

Start/finish SU 486294

Dog friendliness Under control through water-meadows and by golf course

Parking Pay-and-display car parks in city centre

Public toilets The Broadway, Winchester


© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

1 From King Alfred's statue on the Broadway, walk towards the city centre, passing the Guildhall (tourist information centre) on your left. Join the High Street, then in 100yds (91m), turn left along Market Street. Continue ahead into the Cathedral Close to pass the cathedral main door.

2 Turn left down a cloister, then right through the Close, (signed to 'Wolvesey Castle'), to Cheyney Court and exit via Prior's Gate. Turn left though Kingsgate, with the tiny Church of St Swithun above, then bear left down College Street and shortly pass the entrance to Winchester College. Beyond the road barrier, bear right along College Walk, then turn right at the end of the wall, along a track.

3 Go left through a gate by a private entrance to the College. Follow the path beside the River Itchen for ½ mile (800m) to a gate and road. Cross over and follow the gravel path, alongside a tributary, to a gate and cross open meadow towards the Hosptial of St Cross.

4 Keep left alongside the wall and through an avenue of trees to a stile. Proceed ahead along the gravel path to two further stiles and join a farm track leading to a road. Turn left and walk the length of the now gated road (traffic-free), crossing the River Itchen to reach a junction of paths by the M3.

5 Turn left along a path. Pass a gate on your right (access to St Catherine's Hill and where Walk 19 merges). Keep left at a fork and drop down to follow a narrow path by the Itchen Navigation. Go through the car park to the road.

6 Turn left across the bridge and take the footpath immediately right. Keep to the path beside the water, disregarding the path left (College nature reserve). Soon cross the bridge by rowing sheds to join a metalled track,

7 Turn left, then left again at the road. Follow the road left along College Walk then bear right at the end, signed 'Riverside Walk'. Pass the Old Bishops Palace (Wolvesey Castle) and follow the metalled path beside the Itchen and up steps to Bridge Street, opposite the City Mill (now owned by the National Trust). Turn left back to King Alfred's statue.

Winchester, ancient capital of Wessex and England, lies steeped in history in the heart of the Hampshire countryside. First settled in the Iron Age and influenced by royalty since the 7th century, the city boasts some remarkable architectural treasures.

Beginning from the imposing bronze statue of King Alfred the Great, who made the city his capital, the walk incorporates some of the famous sights, with a stroll through the water-meadows to the Hospital of St Cross and St Catherine's Hill.

From the Victorian Guildhall, you walk up the High Street, which has been a main thoroughfare to a crossing point on the River Itchen for some 2,500 years, before reaching the Cathedral Close. The magnificent cathedral was founded in 1079 on the site of an earlier Saxon building and remodelled in the 14th century. It is the longest medieval church in Europe and among its treasures are the 12th-century illuminated Winchester Bible, medieval wall paintings and the tombs of early English kings and more recent notables, including Jane Austen and Izaak Walton.

In the close you will find half-timbered Cheyney Court, formerly the Bishop's court house. Beyond Kingsgate you'll pass the entrance to Winchester College, founded in 1382 by William of Wykeham, the oldest school in England. Join one of the guided tours (in summer only) to view the handsome courtyards and cloisters, the chapel with its early 16th-century stained glass window, and to savour the unspoilt medieval atmosphere. At the end of College Street you'll see the Bishops of Winchester's house, the surviving wing of a grand palace built in 1684 overlooking the striking ruins of the 12th-century Wolvesey Palace.

Set in the wide, lush water-meadows beside the Itchen, at the end of the beautiful riverside walk beside the College grounds, is the Hospital of St Cross. Founded in 1132, it still functions as an almshouse and is the oldest charitable institution in the country. Here you can visit the fine Norman church, the Brethrens Hall and medieval kitchen, and take the 'Wayfarer's Dole' - bread and ale - a tradition that survives from the Middle Ages.

Where to eat and drink

Old pubs, tea rooms and restaurants abound around the cathedral and its close. Try the excellent Cathedral Refectory or the Courtyard Café behind the Guildhall, or the Wykeham Arms, in Kingsgate Street, for atmosphere, imaginative food and Hampshire ales.

What to look for

St Catherine's Hill, Winchester's most prominent landmark, is well worth the detour as you head back into the city. It was the site of the area's first settlement and on its summit are the rampart and ditch of an Iron Age hill fort, the Norman remains of St Catherine's Chapel, and a 17th-century turf-cut maze. You'll also be rewarded with excellent views of the city.

While you're there

Allow time to visit Winchester's City Museum on the edge of the Cathedral Close. It tells the story of the city, as an important Roman town and the principal city of King Alfred, through Anglo-Saxon and Norman England to modern times.


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