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Walk the Pilgrims' Way with a Cicerone guidebook - Sample Route

Cover of The Pilgrims' Way
2 Feb 2017
17.2 x 11.6 x 1.3cm
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The Pilgrims' Way

To Canterbury from Winchester and London

by Leigh Hatts
Book published by Cicerone Press

This guidebook describes an ancient pilgrimage route in southern England from Winchester in Hampshire, or Southwark, London to Canterbury, a 133 mile walk through wood and farmland, with views across the Weald. Divided into stages of about 10 miles, with route summary and information on public transport, accommodation and places of interest.

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This guidebook details the Pilgrims' Way, an historic pilgrimage route to Canterbury Cathedral in Kent, home of the shrine of the martyred archbishop, St Thomas Becket. The route is described both from Winchester in Hampshire (136½ miles) and London's Southwark Cathedral (90¼ miles), with an optional spur to Rochester Cathedral.


With relatively easy walking on ancient byways, the route from Winchester is presented in 15 stages of 4¾-13½ miles: it can be comfortably completed in under a fortnight. It follows a major chalk ridge through scenic countryside, taking in characterful towns and villages and historic churches. The route from Southwark is described in 10 stages and includes a visit to the ruined Lesnes Abbey.


Detailed route description is accompanied by 1:50,000 OS mapping, advice on making the most of a trip and information on the historical background to the pilgrimage, key historical figures and local points of interest. Accommodation listings and details of facilities and transport links can be found in the appendices.


Pilgrimages to Becket's shrine began within a few years of the saint's death in 1170, although Canterbury was a popular destination even before this time due to the nearby shrine of St Augustine. The route has featured in literature, drama and film, and forms the setting for Geoffrey Chaucer's famous Middle English work, The Canterbury Tales.

  • Activities
    walking, trekking, pilgrimage
  • Seasons
    Medieval pilgrims were hardy and often undertook the walk in winter but summer and autumn offer the chance of seeing hops, hillside vineyards, lavender fields and orchards bursting with growth.
  • Centres
    Winchester, Alton, Farnham, Guildford, London, Dartford and Rochester, with plenty of accommodation and easy transport on the two routes.
  • Difficulty
    The first pilgrims always sought the easiest route so while there are unavoidable rises in ground and sometimes steep hills there are also long flat stretches. No special equipment is required beyond a water bottle and sandwiches in case progress is slower than expected. The ancient rutted path can be partly flooded in wet winter months.
  • Must See
    The Pilgrims' Way is often along a shelf on the side rather than the top of the North Downs but still high enough for long views. The downs are broken by valleys marked by chapels, castles and river crossings.

June 2017

On page 74 the second sentence in the last paragraph should read: “Near the top of the hill go left by Southbrooks Farmhouse.”

On page 78 the second sentence in the last paragraph should begin: “At a second bus stop go left…”.

On page 80 remember to start counting the flights of steps as soon as you leave the stepping stones. At the turn off point there is an arrow on the left pointing to the right.

Appendix B Shooters Hill, page 201
Rose Cottage bed & breakfast has closed.

May  2017

Seale, page 62
Totfield Lane should be Totford Lane.

St Martha’s Hill, page 70
After St Martha’s Church look out for purple waymarks which are a good guide as far as the kissing gate opposite the post box at Albury Street (page 71).

Hackhurst Downs, page 75
Once through the kissing gate onto Hackhurst Downs note that the National Trust sign calls the spot 'Blatchford Down'.

Appendix B Wouldham, page 202
Wouldham Court Farm bed & breakfast has closed.

April 2017

Bishop's Sutton, Page 40
At the bottom of the page: note that the road runs downhill followed by a slight incline before going further downhill. The stile on the left is a little further along the road than maybe expected and is seen at the last moment.

Ropley, Page 42
The "unusual corrugated iron gate" has been replaced with a kissing gate.

Woodside Hill hamlet, Page 44
Start of last paragraph: At the bottom of the hill you pass Lower Woodside Farm (left) before the road double bends. After 0.25 miles turn left when the road goes sharp right.


History of the Way
Renewed interest
Historical figures along the Way
Variations to the Way
Walking the Way
When to walk
Where to stay
Using this guide
Winchester to Canterbury
Stage 1 Winchester to Alresford
Stage 2 Alresford to Alton
Stage 3 Alton to Farnham
Stage 4 Farnham to Guildford
Stage 5 Guildford to Box Hill
Stage 6 Box Hill to Merstham
Stage 7 Merstham to Oxted
Stage 8 Oxted to Otford
Stage 9 Otford to Wrotham
Stage 10 Wrotham to Halling
Stage 11 Halling to Aylesford
Stage 11a Peters Village to Rochester
Stage 12 Aylesford to Harrietsham
Stage 13 Harrietsham to Boughton Lees
Stage 14 Boughton Lees to Chilham
Stage 15 Chilham to Canterbury
London Route
Stage 1a Southwark to Shooters Hill
Stage 2a Shooters Hill to Dartford
Stage 3a Dartford to Otford
Appendix A Itinerary planner
Appendix B Accommodation
Appendix C Further information
Appendix D Further reading

Sample Route

Winchester to Alresford
StartWinchester Cathedral
FinishThe Cricketers, Alresford
Distance9 miles (14.4km)
MapsOS Explorer OL32; Landranger 185
RefreshmentsWinchester Cathedral Refectory; pubs at Kings Worthy and Ovington
Public transportRailway station at Winchester; bus at Alresford

The PW begins in a busy city with a feel and size which will not be found again until Canterbury. The first landmark is Hyde Abbey on the edge of the old city. But beyond there is almost immediate countryside and after Kings Worthy, the first village with a church and pub, there is a rural remoteness until Alresford is reached. This country town, like Winchester, owes much to early Bishops of Winchester.

From Winchester station

Go down the hill and ahead along City Road, right into Jewry Street, left into the traffic-free High Street and right under the arch at the Butter Cross to see the cathedral (½ mile/0.8km).


Hampshire’s county town was Britain’s Roman capital. King Alfred, who rebuilt the city as the Wessex capital, opened a mint here and the origins of the Treasury can be traced to here. Near the west gate is the Great Hall, the only surviving part of the Norman castle, where a circular table top known as King Arthur’s round table is displayed on a wall. The Butter Cross, or city cross, in the High Street dates from 1427 and the shops behind were the ‘Hevene’ and ‘Helle’ taverns, familiar to pilgrims passing between the two. A curfew bell is rung from Lloyds Bank, the old Guildhall, at 8pm.

Successor to a Saxon building, Winchester Cathedral was consecrated in 1093 and early pilgrims came to venerate St Birinus. By 1200 there were so many pilgrims to St Swithun’s shrine that the east end was extended. West of the shrine site is a tiny door, known as the Holy Hole, which led to the location of Swithun’s relics before a final short move in 1476. The crypt, dug deep into the water meadows, is prone to flooding and has a statue of a diver by Anthony Gormley which is often surrounded by water. The cathedral’s Benedictine community was dissolved in 1539. Fifteen years later Queen Mary chose to be married here to Philip of Spain on St James’s Day, 25 July. Outside in the close is the Pilgrims’ Hall, with an early hammerbeam roof, dating from about 1300. Beyond the gateway opposite is a second gateway where tiny St Swithun’s Church is situated above the roadway.

Pilgrims wishing to start at St Swithun’s shrine in the cathedral should contact the reception (preferably by phoning in advance 01962 857200) to ensure free entry and a formal sending off by the canon-in-residence or another staff member. Pilgrim records are obtainable from the cathedral shop next to the refectory.

From the cathedral’s west door bear half right past the Rifle Corps memorial (right) and down the avenue of trees to enter the narrow street known as The Square. Pass tiny St Lawrence Church (right) and go through an arch to the High Street. Go right past the Butter Cross and then left at WH Smith, which has a rustic frontage.

Cross over St George’s Street (pelican crossing) and continue down Parchment Street to North Walls Road. Use the pelican crossing to the right to enter the car park opposite. Walk to the far end and turn left to meet Gordon Road at a bend. Go right to pass St Bede’s School (right) and St Valentine Place (left) and cross a stream (a branch of the River Itchen), on the boundary of the lost Hyde Abbey.

Hyde Abbey was built in about 1110 for monks forced out of the New Minster (cathedral) by continual disputes over singing and insanitary conditions. Hyde’s own pilgrim attraction was the head of St Valentine which had been given by Canute’s Queen Emma, mother of Edward the Confessor. The abbey was dissolved in 1538 but an inner gateway survives opposite St Bartholomew’s, built for the abbey’s lay people. This was extended and a tower added using stone from the monastery. The churchyard is thought to hold the body of King Alfred. The sanctuary of the demolished abbey church is seen in outline at the east end of King Alfred Place which runs down the nave. The abbey owned the Tabard inn in Southwark (see London Stage 1a) where Chaucer set the opening of The Canterbury Tales.

At the end of Gordon Road go left up King Alfred Terrace to cross the water again. Bear right along a path to reach King Alfred Place. The abbey gatehouse and St Bartholomew’s are to the left. The road to the right, beyond the stream, leads to the abbey church site.

The PW continues ahead down Saxon Road. The King Alfred pub stands on the northern boundary of the abbey grounds. Before the sharp bend ahead go right into Nuns Road to cross the stream. At once go left to keep the water to the left.

Beyond a road the way, known here as Nuns Walk, becomes rough and soon joins a wider track. At Abbotts Barton, where there are willows, the path changes bank. There are soon views across water meadows. After crossing a bridge, the path comes up against a main road. Bear left on a straight path to find a tunnel running under two roads. The path turns left to a gate. Follow the way through a small industrial estate and pass bow-fronted houses overlooking the green at Kings Worthy. Keep forward to enter the churchyard where the path leads to the church’s west door.

The church of Kings Worthy, once under Hyde Abbey, has a 12th-century porch and a 13th-century tower. St Swithun is shown in a tiny 1490 window. On the churchyard’s east side is a memorial to Open Spaces Society founder Lord Eversley who as postmaster general started the parcel post.

Walk along the north side of the church and past Chestnut Cottage to bear half right into St Mary’s Close between the Old Post Office (left) and Tavern Cottage (right). Only stay on the main road for the pub and bus stop at the present Post Office. Pass between two garages and under an apple tree by Eversley Cottage (left) to reach Albert’s Gate. Cross the usually busy dual carriageway. Ahead, a footpath leads down into woods, crossing a sometimes dry stream to reach Abbotsworthy Mill by a ford (right).

Go ahead through the kissing gate. The way soon bears half left up the side of the valley with buildings to the left. The way leads to the main road. Go right for a short distance to pass two gateways to residences before going right on a rough track leading back down towards the River Itchen. Cross a stile by a gate and go through the tunnel under the M3. At the far end, before a gate, go sharp left to a stile. The path continues east following a field boundary (right). Later cross a stile to keep ahead to a kissing gate and stile at Easton Lane. Opposite is Newbridge Cottage.

Keep forward. Before the bottom of a wood there is a kissing gate. Just before the path starts to run into a dip to a low stile on the edge of Martyr Worthy, go left up a grass path. Look for a gap on the right to follow a narrow path past the manor house garden (left) to reach the church. This is a Swithun dedication with a 12th-century nave and Norman doorways.

Martyr Worthy church door

Cross Church Lane to walk up by the side of the church hall (left). On the village edge go through a gate and ahead across a meadow. Later, the path is up against a hedge (left). There are two kissing gates after which the field boundary is to the right. In the far corner, under trees, go through another kissing gate to bear right down a narrow path leading to Chilland.

The river and mill are to the right, but to continue on the Pilgrims’ Way go left for only a few yards to find hidden steps on the right. Go up the steps to a path which at first follows a high wall (right). At the far end a kissing gate leads to a field. The way is ahead as the path runs gently uphill and slightly half left away from the river (right). Go through a kissing gate. Here there is a view down to the river. Keep forward past two houses (left). Go directly ahead across an avenue. The path runs past several houses (left) and joins a track to reach the church lychgate (right) in Itchen Abbas.

The church in Itchen Abbas, unusual in having fitted carpet, is mainly Victorian but with an original Norman doorway and chancel arch. The river here is said to have provided the inspiration for Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies. Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey fished here the day before he saw the ‘lights going out all over Europe’ as World War I was declared in August 1914. The Plough pub on the main road was for some years called the Trout Inn but has seats outside marked The Ship Inn.

Turn right along the road to pass the churchyard (right). The road runs over a millstream and the River Itchen to pass Avington Park gates (right). The mansion of Avington Park. can be seen (right) before the junction ahead.

Avington Park

Charles II’s mistress Nell Gwynne stayed at the mansion at Avington Park after her presence was objected to in the Winchester Cathedral precinct. Later the Prince Regent brought Mrs Fitzherbert to stay. After the death in 1822 of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley his family moved to the grand house for the rest of the century. The Georgian church includes a monument to the poet’s brother. The house is open Sundays, Bank Holidays, August Mondays May–September; 2.30pm to 5pm; there is an admission charge.

Go left and after a short distance turn right into Avington Park Golf Club entrance. (Here on the right is a path running into Avington starting at a small gate.) The main route continues ahead to the clubhouse. Go left along a track by a car park. After running downhill to a junction the way continues uphill as a grass way. Beyond a copse, the way bears left down to a stile. Beyond here go half left steeply downhill to a stile at a road.

Turn right on the road to walk past Yavington Farm and uphill towards Ovington. At the top there is a view (left) across the Itchen Valley to Itchen Stoke where its tall church is seen above the houses. As the road rises again there is a view (left) of Lovington House. The road reaches a T-junction in Ovington.

There was a church at Ovington in 1284 when the manor was held by the Bishop of Winchester. The much buttressed church, dedicated to St Peter, was completely rebuilt in 1866 leaving the alleged original doorway isolated in the churchyard. The Bush Inn in the village has outlived the forge, bakery and working mill.

Ovington’s old church entrance

Only for the church go right. The way continues left downhill to cross a narrow channel of the Itchen. The Bush Inn is to the left. But the route continues to the right on East Lane which occasionally has water on both sides. Having crossed the stream, the lane rises to run high above the valley.

On meeting a main road bear left on a pavement for the crossing point. Once on the far side go half right to find a signpost pointing into the trees. A wooded path rises steeply and soon runs downhill to a road junction. Go ahead on a narrow road which runs through a ford and between watercress beds. On joining another road, Spring Gardens on the edge of New Alresford, keep forward past a bus stop to The Cricketers pub at a crossroads.

Only go left along Jacklyns Lane to visit the church and town centre a mile away.

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