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Walking the Clarendon Way

History of the Clarendon  Way

The Clarendon Way is rich in medieval, Roman and royal history. This was an important route linking two great medieval cities, royal palaces, hunting forests and rich residences. There are numerous historically important and exciting buildings and ruins to search for and visit along the route.

Two miles from the start of the Way is the massive Iron Age hill fort of Old Sarum (Old Salisbury) re-used by the Romans, Saxons and Normans, before growing into one of the most flourishing settlements in medieval England. This fascinating and dramatic site contains the ruins of a castle, a Bishop's Palace and a cathedral (later moved down into the valley), and is also where the Roman Road begins. It's a wonderful place full of atmosphere with fantastic views, and it's a great location for a picnic or kite flying. Only 9.5 miles from Salisbury is the great and ancient megalithic monument of Stonehenge, a World Heritage Site.

In Salisbury, the skyline is dominated by the medieval cathedral's soaring spire. Built in just 38 years, it is a magnificent example of early English Gothic architecture and stands in the largest medieval close in Britain. Within this elegant close, you can find the most perfect example of Queen Anne architecture, Mompesson House.

East of the city is Clarendon Park. The route takes you through this medieval deer park to the fascinating and largely forgotten. site of a former Royal Palace, one of the finest of the kings' country houses in the 13th century. Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine and Thomas Becket would all have been here in times past. English Heritage and the Clarendon Estate are involved in the reclamation and preservation of this site.

Royal travellers frequented the village of King's Somborne. There was a royal manor there, and by the church is the site of John O'Gaunt's palace and between the village and the river his deer park.

At the top of Beacon Hill is Withering Corner where there is a small Bronze Age barrow cemetery, an alignment of five burial mounds, and further east in Farley Mount Country Park you can find the remains of a Roman villa.

Nearby on the crest of a chalk ridge overlooking Winchester is Oliver's Battery, originally built in the Iron Age and used during Oliver Cromwell's siege of the city in 1645. The ancient earthwork provided a suitable campsite for the besieging Parliamentarian forces.

Looking east, you can see St Catherine's Hill, an early Iron Age hill fort. The turf of this chalk grassland is rich in wild flowers that support many butterflies such as the Brown Argus, Chalkhill Blue and Marbled White, and orchids such as the Autumn Lady's tresses, Musk Orchid and Frog Orchid.

A Mizmaze lies near the summit, close to the original entrance through the ramparts. One legend connected with this maze is that the cutting of it was given as a punishment to a pupil of Winchester College in the 18th century. After completing it, the task had so scrambled his brain that the poor boy threw himself to death off the hill!

At the end of the Way is the welcoming city of Winchester, once capital of the Kingdom of Wessex and later England. In Roman times the city was a regional administrative centre, and through the medieval period it was an important and prosperous town with an impressive cathedral and bishop's palace, as well as a royal residence. Alfred, whose statue stands immediately in front of the site of the old East Gate into the city, is the only monarch ever to have been given the appellation 'The Great'. The Normans built a castle on the higher valley flank, but this was demolished after the Civil War. The Great Hall, which still survives, was the heart of the Castle. When in residence the King dined here, discussed affairs of State with his barons and clergy and sat in court to administer justice.

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