Winchester – England's ancient capital

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




5 miles (8.1kms)

302ft (92m)
2hrs 10mins

About the walk

Historic Winchester, ancient capital of Wessex and England, was first settled in the Iron Age. 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, this walk incorporates 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 the oldest school in England, Winchester College, founded in 1382 by William of Wykeham. Join a guided tour (pre-booking is advised) to view the handsome courtyards and cloisters, the chapel with its early 16th-century stained-glass window, and to savour the 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 ruins of the 12th-century Wolvesey Castle.

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 — only on request at the Porters Lodge, a tradition that survives from the Middle Ages.

Walk directions

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

Turn left down a cloister (signed to Wolvesey Castle), then diagonally right through The Close to Cheyney Court and exit via Prior’s Gate in the right-hand corner. Turn left though Kingsgate, with the tiny Church of St Swithun upon Kingsgate above, then turn left down College Street and soon after pass the entrance to Winchester College. Beyond the road barrier, turn right along College Walk, then turn right at the end of the wall, to walk along a college access road.

Go left by a gated entrance to the college. Follow the path beside the River Itchen for 0.5 miles (800m) to a road. Turn right over the road bridge and follow the riverside gravel path, signed the Clarendon Way, to a kissing gate. Cross a footbridge and head towards the Hospital of St Cross.

Keep left alongside the wall, go through a second kissing gate and walk ahead through an avenue of trees to a third kissing gate. Keep ahead on the path to two further kissing gates and join a farm track leading ahead to a traffic‑free lane. Turn left and pass beside a barrier onto another traffic-free section and continue across the River Itchen and through a gate to reach a junction of metalled paths by the M3.

Turn left along a path, signed ‘Itchen Navigation’. Go under an old railway bridge and pass through woodland. Go through a gate on your right and up the steps to the top of St Catherine’s Hill, and walk around the top to see the maze and enjoy the fine views. Return to the bottom, turn right and almost immediately left to drop down to follow a narrow path by the Itchen Navigation. Go past the car park to the road.

Turn left across the bridge and take the footpath immediately right down through a kissing gate. Pass a memorial to the last river barge of 1869. Keep to the path beside the water, disregarding the path left (College nature reserve). Go through four kissing gates. Soon after, cross the brick Wharf Bridge by a boat house to reach a metalled track.

Turn left, then left again at the road. Follow it along College Walk and turn right at the end onto a metalled path, alongside a high stone wall. Pass the Old Bishop’s Palace (Wolvesey Castle) and follow the path beside the Itchen to Bridge Street, opposite the National Trust’s City Mill. Finally, turn left to return to King Alfred’s statue.

Additional information

Established riverside paths through water meadows

City streets, riverside, water meadow and downland

Keep under strict control

OS Explorer OL32 Winchester, New Alresford & East Meon

Pay-and-display car parks in city centre

The Broadway; in cathedral visitor centre

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About the area

Discover Hampshire

Hampshire’s varied landscape of hills and heaths, downlands and forests, valleys and coast is without rival in southern England. Combine these varied landscapes and terrains with secluded and idyllic villages, complete with thatched and timber-framed cottages and Norman churches, elegant Georgian market towns, historic ports and cities, restored canals and ancient abbeys, forts and castles, and you have a county that is paradise for lovers of the great outdoors.

If you’re a walker, stride out across the high, rolling, chalk downland of the north Hampshire ‘highlands’ with far-reaching views, walk through steep, beech-clad ‘hangers’ close to the Sussex border. Or perhaps take a gentler stroll and meander along peaceful paths through unspoilt river valleys, etched by the sparkling trout streams of the Test, Itchen, Avon and Meon. Alternatively, wander across lonely salt marshes and beside fascinating coastal inlets or, perhaps, explore the beautiful medieval forest and heathland of the New Forest, the jewel in Hampshire’s crown.

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