Local churches provide perfect summertime exploration

Now that the summer is finally with us, Winchester City Council’s museums service is encouraging local people and visitors alike to combine a spot of healthy outdoor exercise in scenic countryside with visits to some of the Winchester District’s most ancient and atmospheric churches.

A new publication called Itchen Valley Churches was launched on August 16 by Winchester Museums.  It is designed to raise awareness of these splendid buildings, which can easily be reached via the series of self-guided walks and cycle trails along public rights of way that are set out in the leaflet.

In the stretch of the Itchen valley which runs between Otterbourne and Bishops Sutton are many attractive and unspoilt villages, each with its own distinctive church.  Between them, these buildings tell the story of evolving church architectural styles, from late Saxon (Headbourne Worthy), to Norman (Bishops Sutton, Easton, St Cross) to medieval (Compton, Tichborne) and on to Georgian (Avington) and late Victorian (Itchen Stoke, Otterbourne).

The churches are divided into three groups in the leaflet. Those in the lower Itchen Valley stretch from St Cross to Otterbourne, and those in the middle Itchen extend from Headbourne Worthy eastwards to Itchen Abbas. The churches of the upper Itchen form a group centred on New Alresford. Circular walks and cycle trails are suggested for each group of churches.  Public transport information has also been included, together with suggested refreshment stops and overnight accommodation.

Dick Whinney, the City Council’s principal heritage services officer, devised and masterminded the leaflet. He said “It has been a labour of love. The leaflet means that we can highlight something of the fantastic history and heritage of the Winchester area, at the same time as drawing attention to the beautiful river valley in which the churches are located.”

Cllr Patricia Stallard, the City Council's portfolio holder for culture, heritage and sport, added: “This leaflet should be seen as a starting point only for the exploration of the Itchen Valley, which has a great deal more to offer. In addition to encouraging outdoor exercise, I hope that it will provide an added incentive for visitors to head out of Winchester and spend some time – and money – in our rural shops, pubs and B&Bs.”

The leaflet, like its companion Meon Valley Churches which was launched last spring, has been produced with the help of a grant from the South Downs Sustainable Development Fund. It has also benefited from expert support from Hampshire County Council’s Rights of Way service, and the parish councils and businesses along the routes. 

It is available free from Winchester Tourist Information Centre (tel 01962 840 500 or email tourism@winchester.gov.uk), and other local outlets and will shortly be available on the web at: www.winchester.gov.uk/LeisureAndCulture/TrailsOnline/

For further information about the church trails leaflets, contact principal heritage services officer Dick Whinney on 01962 848 481 or email dwhinney@winchester.gov.uk