10 Aug 5 long-distance walking routes in Hampshire well worth exploring
Think of long-distance walking in the UK and you might think of big peaks or south-west counties by the sea. But if diverse and ancient landscapes, winding rivers, rolling heathland and downs or even picture-perfect country villages sound good, then Hampshire might just be your cup of tea. Here’s my guide to five of the best long-distance walking routes in Hampshire.
With most of our adventures this summer limited to those on our doorstep, we’ve been making more of an effort to explore the paths that run close to our home.
Hampshire might not be the first place you think of when it comes to walking in the UK. But you’ll find a surprising number of long distance footpaths and an extraordinarily diverse array of landscapes here. From coastlines to country rivers, agricultural downland to ancient woodland, there’s something for everyone. The longer I live here, the more delights I uncover – most often when I’m out on two feet.
If you’re local, like me, there are endless options for enjoyable walks and often not far from your front door. It’s also wonderfully easy to reach from other parts of the UK thanks to good motorway connections and mainland rail services from London and other big cities. Whilst it helps to have car to get out and about, many of the routes in this guide can also be accessed wholly or in part by public transport. In fact, this can be hugely helpful if you’re walking point to point.
So whether you’re looking for a day walk with a difference or a multi-day meander, are local or new to this area, hiking in Hampshire might just be for you.
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Long distance walking routes in Hampshire
In this guide I’m going to share an introduction to five of my best-loved long distance walking routes in Hampshire; the Avon Valley Path, the Clarendon Way, the Itchen Way, the Test Way and the Watercress Way.
These routes are each long enough to be split into a multi-day walk, with an overnight stop part way. But we enjoy tackling them as a series of day walks. They’re great springboards for exploring more of rural Hampshire. We’ll often walk 6 or 7 miles along a route and then navigate back on a different series of paths, seeing what adventures we find. Some, like the Clarendon, can be walked in one day if you’re very fit and feeling ambitious. But I’d also recommend taking your time to savour some of these walks, and enjoy the best this county has to offer.
On the whole, these paths are very well signposted. But if, like me, you enjoy getting off piste or doing some serious planning, download the Ordnance Survey app or get hold of a copy of the relevant Ordnance Survey maps.The Explorer series OL22, OL32 and 131 cover this area in the greatest detail, but many of the routes can also be comfortably explored with the Landranger 185.
You can find these maps on Amazon here;
Avon Valley Path
Distance: 34 miles
Route: Salisbury Cathedral to Christchurch Priory, via Ringwood
Skimming the borders of Hampshire, Wiltshire and Dorset, the Avon Valley Path is one of the newest trails we’ve discovered.
The Avon Valley Path stands out thanks to it’s ever changing scenery. Starting at majestic Salisbury cathedral, set amongst the rolling hills on the edge of the Wiltshire downs, it loosely follows the path of the River Avon through arable fields, watermeadows and then the leafy fringes of the New Forest. It picks it’s way through picturesque market towns like Ringwood and Fordingbridge, and hidden gems like the villages of Downton and Sopley as you head towards the coast at charming Christchurch.
It’s a little ambitious to tackle in one day, so is best broken into two parts with a overnight stop near Ringwood. Good rail connections at both Salisbury and Christchurch help to make it easy to walk point to point. I’d also highly recommend tackling it as we have, as a series of day walks. The Avon Valley Path is the ideal diving off point for exploring the western New Forest and it’s surroundings. Follow the path from Fordingbridge to Downton, and create a circular route returning via the beautiful Breamore estate – or through the picture-perfect forest villages of Hale and Woodgreen. Stray a little from the path between Sopley and Ringwood and find yourself on the Castleman’s trail – a disused railway line now converted to an easy-access path.
Find out more on the official route map of the Avon Valley Path here.
The Clarendon Way
Distance: 26 miles
Route: Winchester Cathedral to Salisbury Cathedral
The Clarendon Way is one of my favourite long-distance walking routes in Hampshire. It’s one that we’ve run, walked and raced along several times before. Keen trail runners out there might be interested to know that the Clarendon marathon offers several ways to enjoy this route at a less sedate pace, if you fancy a challenge.
With fabulous small cities to explore at the start and finish points, you’d be forgiven for thinking these landmarks might be the star of the show. But the rolling countryside, pretty villages and wide vistas make this one of the most enjoyable footpaths in this part of the world. It’s a quiet, ancient route. There’s no busy roads to traverse or traffic (the only let-down, in places, of the Avon Valley Path), just you and the wide world – and occasional wildlife.
Just about do-able in a day if you’re feeling enthusiastic and are well-prepared, this walk is another than can be broken mid-way with a overnight stop nearer Broughton – or at the very least with a pub lunch. Public transport connections are few and far between en route but it’s delightfully easy to find mainline trains and buses at both Salisbury and Winchester.
Find out more in Cathedrals and countryside: Walking the Clarendon Way in a day
The Itchen Way
Distance: 31 miles
Route: Follows the Itchen river from Hinton Ampner to Southampton, via Winchester
The Itchen is one of southern England’s most beautiful rivers. Clean, clear and a magnet for both wildlife and wild swimmers, it winds its way through the Hampshire countryside past some of it’s most beautiful villages. The Itchen Way largely follows the banks of the river, keeping you close to the water.
Aside from arcing gently through the ancient city of Winchester, most of the places this route passes through you might not have heard of. The sleepy villages of Easton and Avington aren’t on any tourist maps but really should be. Think country cottages with tumbling roses, rambling allotments and riverside gardens. Further downstream past Winchester, the river first flows through peaceful watermeadows at Twyford and Shawford. The last few miles cut through the railway town of Eastleigh and the northern fringes of Southampton. Only you wouldn’t know. The river takes it’s own route, hidden from view, through more meadows and woodland. Eventually it reaches the Solent and it’s tidal reaches – seemingly a world away from it’s start.
I love the Itchen Way for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the stretch between Winchester and Southampton is full of surprises. Take this route by car and it can feel grey and hyper-urbanised. Follow it along the river and it feels like you’re drinking in fresh air and immersing yourself in nature from the very first mile. It’s also well-served with public transport making point-to-point walking easy.
The Long-Distance Walking Association has a comprehensive guide to the Itchen Way here.
The Test Way
Distance: 44 miles
Route: From Inkpen Beacon on the Berkshire border to the Solent near Southampton, following the course of the river Test.
Like the Itchen Way, the Test Way meanders it’s way towards the brackish waters of the Solent through the Hampshire countryside. But whilst the destination may be the same, the routes of both these waterways are delightfully different and each worth experiencing in their own right.
It’s worth taking your time to enjoy this route, which is easy given that it is a little longer than the other paths in this guide. Walking the Test Way gives you a chance to enjoy some the unexpected and delightful spots in the Hampshire countryside you wouldn’t otherwise stumble across. Aside from the historic market towns of Romsey and Stockbridge, each well worth a visit in their own rights, you’ll also come across elegant country estates at Mottisfont and Broadlands (open to the public at various times of the year) and the ancient Eling tide mill near the path’s end.
Unlike the river Itchen, the Test is a beautiful braided stream for much of it’s length. Between Stockbridge and Romsey in particular the path criss-crosses the many river channels again and again, opening up new views and keeping the route interesting. The first few miles flow off the downs before reaching this section, which evolves once more as it approaches the Solent, meandering through watermeadows. It’s the perfect route for warm summer days, when paths by the water are shaded and cool. On misty autumn mornings it takes on an beautiful, ethereal feel. Whenever you walk the Test Way, it’s a joy.
Hampshire County Council have a helpful guide to the Test Way here, including suggestions for breaking it down into day walks.
The Watercress Way
Distance: 27 miles
Route: A circuit that takes in Alresford, Sutton Scotney and South Wonston, close to Winchester
The Watercress Way is another new discovery for us in 2020. We unwittingly stumbled across it as we looked for a way to create a circular route partially following the Itchen Way.
The Itchen valley has been home to watercress growers for centuries, and this path not only takes in some the fertile beds and watermeadows where this peppery crop is produced, but also tracks along old steam railway routes. The now sleepy villages this footpath traverses were once linked by rail, where small stations were once alive with activity as farmers loaded their produce onto trains bound for market.
There’s several good reasons to explore the Watercress Way. The first is that it is an easily adaptable route. Make a long day of it by combining part of the stretch between King’s Worthy and Alresford with the Itchen Way. Or try one the shorter variants helpfully suggested on the Watercress Way website. It’s also a comparably accessible route, as the old railway lines offer largely flat, wide paths. Lastly, it’s a long-distance path that’s packed with history. Orientation boards along it’s route, as well as further information at the Watercress Line steam railway station in Alresford, tell you more about the industrious past of this part of Hampshire.
Find more information, a map and suggestions for shorter circular routes on the Watercress Way website.
Whilst I’ve not explored nearly enough of it myself, I couldn’t write this post without giving an honorable mention to one more of Hampshire’s long-distance walking routes. The Solent Way links Portsmouth and Lymington along the coastline. It may not be as dramatic as coastal paths further west than Hampshire, but it is surprisingly diverse and includes a generous number of Sites of Special Scientific Interest. A new addition to the map, one of my closest friends has been instrumental in it’s mapping and creation, and it’s only fair to give it some love.
Are you ready to explore?
So that’s a wrap. Five outstanding long-distance walking routes in Hampshire. Whether you’re planning a multi-day adventure, looking for an alternative staycation or looking for a day walk with a difference, I hope this gives you some inspiration. Look beyond it’s coastal cities and Hampshire it’s an extraordinarily beautiful county that’s packed with charming towns, villages and rural landscapes that could give anywhere in the UK a run for it’s money. Don’t be deceived by it’s lowland contours, there’s plenty to spark excitement for even the most well-travelled walkers here.