Clarendon Way - narrative
Salisbury Cathedral to Winchester Cathedral

This is a lovely week-end walk. Although we did it a bit late in the year (November 2011), we were incredibly lucky with the weather: mild days, with high clouds, and the feel of autumnal mists and mellow fruitfulness. As well as surprisingly good weather, another benefit was the light: starting early on Saturday morning and walking with the darkening afternoon sky, with interesting early evening red clouds.The Path itself passes many places associated with Roman, medieval and Royal history, and gives a lovely taste of Olde England. The way-marking was quite good (a logo of green arrow, with Bishop's mitre in it); but we needed the OS maps a few times. We actually started our week-end with a nice drink at the Napolean Bar at Waterloo, before catching the train.

DAY 1. Salisbury to
                              King's Somborne.

We spent half an hour looking round the elegant, historic Cathedral, which is an impressive landmark, and has an entertaining new statue called 'Man with Cup'. The town centre includes many fine, old, half-timbered house, leaning sideways with age. Then there was a nice walk out of town, with some gardens showing autumn colour: orange chinese lanterns and deep pink fuchsia. The Milford Hollow was a pretty exit to the town and we were soon out among the trees and fields. Being late autumn, many of the trees were a fine burnished gold; sometimes we walked on carpets of rust-brown leaves, under 'cathedrals' of statuesque trees.

Then we came to the ruins of Clarendon Palace, on our left; this is now just fragments of flint walls, echoing wih history from around 1240, when various Henries, and even Beckett, used it as a hunting lodge. However, what we saw were llamas - grazing quietly on the grass. They were so tame, we got quite close. But (we thought) the resident male was not happy with this, and ran in to round up his harem and assert his possession. We backed off; it gave the morning a little frisson of excitement.

We went on through the woods, now Forestry Commission, but it probably dates back many centuries. Some of the fields were ploughed for winter, showing rich, brown earth. The charming village of West Winterslow had a pretty, squat, flint, Norman church; next was Middle Winterslow, with the friendly Lord Nelson pub, doing a good ploughman's lunch and homemade curried parsnip soup.

The afternoon started with some welcome blue sky and sunshine. The Path included several hollow ways, frequently fringed by golden-leafed beech trees. The Roman Road meant easy route finding. Some views had no pylons or other man-made elements; the fields and hills were unadorned. And we had a few surprises: seeing some pheasants and a young deer. The birds' crockle-calls were sadly interspersed with the popping sounds of an autumn pheasant shoot.

There were some attractive autumn berries around, particularly on the colourful pyracantha bushes. Sometimes the gently undulating hillsides had an elegant sweep, the best with a silhouetted copse on the top. A few fields had tall corn plants still standing in them. Other fields were showing the fresh green growth of winter wheat. After Broughton, it was an attractive walk down to the River Test. Fast flowing, with surprisingly clear water, this was looking specially beautiful in the dimming afternoon light, with gently swimming swans and pretty reflections of trees. Surprises and all, our full day finished by shambling up the hill, with a lovely red sky behind us, and into King's Somborne, famous for its John of Gaunt connection.

DAY 2. King's Somborne
                              to Winchester.

Greeted by rain, first thing, I felt slightly anxious for our walk - I was completely wrong: by the time we were on the move, it was a lovely sunny day. We were so lucky with this gorgeous weather. We struck out, up hill, to the sound of the Sunday church bells, with winter wheat all around and a beautiful blue sky. Today's hills were a bit bigger than yesterdays'; with the clear weather, we had wonderfully big, broad views, with layers of hills extending to the horizon. Everything shone in the sun. It was just paths and countryside, no villages, and very little sound of cars or machines. There were some lovely balcony paths, overlooking farms and estates. Having had the Path to oursleves previously, around Farley Mount Country Park there were more walkers - it was a lovely place. There were several green tunnels, often made from aged larch and yew trees leaning together. We met some Highland cattle, with sharp horns; so as not to engage with any aggro, we made a circuit round them.

As we neared Winchester we were shocked to re-encounter the glut of motorists. We decided to follow the dogs-leg route of the Path round the town, going through suburban streets to Oliver's Battery; this was a slightly disappointing space, with no historical information. After that we skirted the town suburbs, through small footpaths and southern meadows, to meet the River Itchen and its water meadows. We wove our way northwards towards the Cathedral, sometimes on a path between ribbons of water, finally arriving in town, among the multitude visiting the Christmas Market there.

The slightly squat Winchester Cathedral has the longest nave in Europe. Many people find it awe-inspiring. It's certainly a fine part of our history, and a fitting conclusion to such a historical walk.

As one who hates the English winter, I was delighted with the weather and the walk: it warmed the cockles of my heart. It illustrates the rich texture of England's history and country life in a moving and nurturing way.

© Diana Ambache 2011