02 Jun Cathedrals and countryside: Walking the Clarendon Way in a day
The historic British cities of Salisbury and Winchester are linked by a long-distance footpath. It’s one of the south’s best but also least well-known. Walking the Clarendon Way is a wonderful way to explore rural Hampshire and Wiltshire. And although just shy of marathon distance, the route can be tackled in a day by keen runners and walkers – as we did.
The Clarendon Way is one of several long-distance footpaths that criss-cross Hampshire. Whilst many of the other follow rivers or old railway lines, the Clarendon links two cathedrals: Winchester and Salisbury. The path itself weaves its way through a beautiful swathe of Hampshire downland and woodland, farms and sleepy villages. Of all the long-distance paths I’ve followed in this part of the world, it has to be my favourite. The idyllic countryside, the peace and quiet and the phenomenal views – punctuated with cathedral spires as you reach journey’s end – are all rather special.
But I digress. I’ve forgotten to tell you why I’ve gone off-piste. You’ll usually find me writing about adventures abroad and weekend getaways to places unknown. And here I am writing about something almost on my doorstep. Sometimes I don’t even know myself.
Here’s the thing. For most of us, travelling further afield is something that’s not possible for most of the year. But what we can do is get to know – and love – our local areas more. So Ben and I have challenged ourselves to spend more time on mini-adventures, not far from our front door. Trying to do what we enjoy when we’re away from home, at home.
With a long weekend at our disposal, we chose to tackle something we’d not done before – walking the Clarendon Way in a day. Now we’re not complete strangers to this path. Ben has completed the Clarendon Way trail marathon in the past and I’ve been part of a relay team for the same race. But we’d never tried it together, never taken it slowly enough to soak up our surroundings and never tackled it east to west. So we bundled up a picnic lunch, pulled on our trail shoes and hopped on the bus to our starting point – ready for a day of firsts.
The route of the Clarendon Way
The Clarendon Way runs between Winchester and Salisbury and is signposted from each cathedral. You can follow the route in either direction, although most of the organised events that follow the Way begin in Salisbury. Heading east to west, as we did, it hops across to Farley Mount then through the villages of Kings Somborne and Houghton before reaching the mid-point at Broughton. The path from here to Salisbury is much quieter, although no less picturesque, meandering through the Winterslow villages before heading determinedly in the direction of the spire on the horizon.
In total, the path runs for around 24 miles. I say around, because there are plenty of deviations that can be taken should you wish to. We adapted our route slightly to follow the course of the Clarendon Way marathon in places. It’s a little different to the main footpath as it has to find another two miles to make up a marathon distance.
Is this doable in a day? If you’re an experienced hiker or runner over this distance, then yes. We’re used to completing 20 miles in a day a couple of times a year and comfortably managed the distance in just over 8 hours.
Of course, if you’d prefer to take it slower then you can. There are a few places to stop on en-route and public transport connections that allow you to pick up the path at other points.
How to follow the Clarendon Way
There are, in theory, signs all along the Clarendon Way. Some are sturdy wooden posts, others are little badges tacked onto trees, posts and fences. You could follow attempt to follow it using just these waymarkers, but given that they’re hard to spot in places, you’re best off with a map.
The easiest option is to download the OS Maps app. This covers for the whole of the UK (and also tells you where you are). But if paper maps are your style, you’ll want the OS Explorer 131 for the majority of the route. For the few miles between Clarendon Palace and Salisbury Cathedral though you’ll need the OS Explorer 130.
The Long Distance Walks Association have a helpful overview of the route on their site. It’s not enough to navigate by but gives you a feel for where it goes.
From Winchester to Farley Mount
We set off, bright and early, from just outside Winchester.
And here’s my first confession: we didn’t start at the Cathedral. If I’m honest, we’re so familiar with this part of the route we skipped it in favour of a more convenient starting point. Sometimes it’s best not to be precious about these things. A few easy miles on footpaths and we were on the Way.
From Winchester, the route first weaves it’s way out of the city streets and then onto a Roman Road. This leads you in the direction of Farley Mount, one of the high points along the Clarendon, approximately a quarter of the way into the route.
The morning was warm if a little overcast, but it felt great to be quickly ticking off miles as we skipped along full of enthusiasm. Getting away from urban Winchester you’re met first by vast fields, lush with green swathes of wheat and barley at this time of year. As we met the Roman Road we dipped into woodland and the path began to rise.
Reaching Farley Mount
It’s a gentle climb to Farley Mount. As you reach the top the trees start to thin and heathland emerges. Farley Mount monument marks the highest spot. Stop here for a moment, if you’ve time, as it’s a wonderfully curious place. Atop a grassy mound, you’ll find a small, white building with an angular spire pointing skywards. There’s a little room inside where you can sit and take in the panoramic view of the Hampshire countryside beyond (or in our case, tuck into the first snack of the day).
Oh, and the curious part? It’s actually a monument to a racehorse. A metal plaque tells the story of ‘Beware chalk-pit’ who made quite the name for himself in the late eighteenth century by supposedly leaping into a 25 foot-deep chalk pit. Not to be recommended based on my limited experience of riding horses across country, but rather impressive nonetheless.
Reaching Farley Mount, it felt like we’d make a good start on our route. It had taken us less than two hours, and I was thrilled to have re-visited somewhere I’d rarely returned to since I was half my size. With stoic determination to come back here more often, we pulled up our socks (literally, in my case) and headed onwards.
Across the Test and into Broughton
What goes up must come down, as they say. Having reached the fourth highest point in Hampshire, we were now in for a treat of several miles downhill.
The next part of the route winds through verdant fields and chalk downland. There’s some fantastic views as you head down off Farley Mount, but it gets no less interesting once you’ve descended. It’s time for some of the prettiest villages in this part of Hampshire: King’s Somborne, Houghton and Broughton.
King’s Somborne is a triumph of thatched cottages, country gardens and winding waterways. It’s ridiculously lovely, so lovely that I couldn’t bring myself to take any photos knowing that the grey day really didn’t do it justice. The Clarendon Way winds through the village and out the far side, back up onto the downs. The margins of each field we skirted were bursting with wildflowers, injecting a bit of colour against the leaden sky.
Beyond the Test
Heading up and over Cow Drove Hill, the next village was almost in sight. But first, the river Test. Here the path crosses another of our local favourites, the Test Way. Over the bridge, we said a quick hello to a herd of buffalo (as you do) and then followed the bridleway into Houghton.
The path skirts the village centre, but a left turn and a short jaunt along the quiet road leading to Houghton took us past some more charming houses before onto our next stretch of gravelled path. Again, it’s time for another up and down, but this time with woodland on the horizon rather than farmland. The downhill leads into Broughton and the mid-point of the Clarendon Way.
It took us just shy of four hours to reach the outskirts of Broughton, almost bang on noon. And after a morning of determined British optimism about the weather, we acknowledged that at this point it was actually now drizzling. Hayter’s Copse, on the left-hand side of the path, came to our rescue. We made ourselves comfortable on a fallen log under the trees and tucked into our picnic lunch, commiserating ourselves about the rain. Twenty minutes later we were comfortably full and happily, the drizzle had disappeared. It was time to head on.
On to the Winterslows
Broughton itself is another delightful village. I’ll let you be the judge of how pretty it is compared to others en-route, but I’ve got rather a soft spot for it.
It’s worth noting that if you’re not planning to fill up on your own sandwiches and flapjacks like us, Broughton is the perfect place to stop for lunch. There’s a couple of good pubs here, and from this point onwards, villages are fewer and further between.
Once you’ve meandered through, you’re on to the next bridleway up and over a wooded hill. In fact, the next few miles are largely through woodland. It’s quiet countryside here, and we didn’t share the path with many others. Slowly and very gently the route heads uphill towards Middle Winterslow in an almost dead straight line.
The Winterslows, a cluster of villages on the Wiltshire border, may not be as picturesque as their Hampshire neighbours but they’re a bustling little spot. Reaching Middle Winterslow felt like a real achievement. We’d completed almost three-quarters of our walk and arrived in a new county. Notching up almost 20 miles underfoot hadn’t been as hard work as I was expecting and we were loving the sense of purpose that comes with walking from point-to-point. We were excited to continue on, and to finally see the Cathedral spire in the distance.
With Salisbury on the horizon
Before you plunge downhill into the village of Pitton, take a moment to appreciate the panoramic views as you head out of West Winterslow. Salisbury is now directly ahead of you, but you can’t quite see it yet. To the south, you’ll see the top of Pepperbox Hill that’s an excellent waymarker. The city and its cathedral spire is tucked just below the woods on the horizon.
Pitton is smaller than the Winterslows but, there are some wonderful old houses here. We pressed on and out of the village along a narrow path between fields and then disappeared into woodland. The next two miles are all shaded by trees and are a pleasant contrast to the previous few. When the path finally breaks out from under the trees you’re at an important point on the route: the 12th century remains of Clarendon Palace.
It’s this palace that lends its name to the Clarendon Way. Of course, if you’re feeeling keen you could stop by to explore. But we knew the end of our walk was in sight and were enjoying skipping along at pace.
Heading into town
All of a sudden, there’s a bend in the road and view opens up. A spire has appeared on the horizon and the end – and Salisbury Cathedral – is in sight. It’s a lovely walk to the outskirts of the city, gently downhill along a private road and earthy footpath across a field. Almost too soon, you’re at the tiny stone bridge at Milford and heading into town.
The very last mile or so takes you through residential streets and under the ring road. Ploughing on down the very familiar Milford Hill we were now in the heart of a city I know so well. But I’d never before approached it in this way. The streets were fairly quiet, late on a Sunday afternoon, but as we reached Cathedral Close we were no longer alone. People are always milling around the cathedral, and this day wasn’t an exception. We made our way to the front entrance and touched our hands to the stonework. City to city, we’d finished the Way.
Walking the Clarendon Way was brilliant.
Not only was it a wonderful way to remind ourselves of the diversity and beautiful of the Hampshire countryside on our doorstep, it felt like an adventure. Checking out of normal life for a full day on our feet was like being far from home. And I loved stitching together so many fragmented runs and walks I’d done in the past into one Clarendon Way.
It’s a long walk, and not one I’d recommend tackling in one go unless you’ve tried this sort of thing before. But we loved it and were delighted to find the walking easier than we’d expected. I’ve no doubt we’ll be trying some more routes like this in future. Let me just get my stack of maps out to start searching…
Want some more walking inspiration? Check out my other hiking posts.