The Clarendon Way runs from the River Avon close to Salisbury Cathedral in Wiltshire to the River Itchen near Winchester Cathedral in Hampshire. It is 26 miles and runs through ancient Wessex, mainly along downland and through woods.
The Herald’s chairman, his milliner wife and myself assembled by pre-arrangement at the west front of Salisbury’s 13th-century cathedral on a Saturday morning last September. The Wiltshire weather was overcast with a hint of rain. In distant Naples, the blood of St Januarius was doubtless liquifying in the cathedral there. We were greeted by Anna Macham, the Canon Precentor, who kindly gave us a tour. Masks were worn.
We admired the shrine and tomb of St Osmund, who died in 1099 AD, being buried originally on Old Sarum; he had to wait 357 years before being eventually canonised by Pope Sixtus IV. We also were shown the cathedral’s ‘priceless’ Magna Carta copy in the Chapter House. We were glad to report that security had been improved since an attempt to steal it in July 2020.
We walked out of the beautiful Trollopian close and made our way through the depressing eastern suburbs of Salisbury. Three miles gently, uphill, however brought us to woods where the poignant ruins of Clarendon Palace stand. Only a wall remains of the scheduled monument, but there is in compensation no car park and tourist buses. It is a pleasantly lonely spot, shared only with a herd of alpacas introduced by the estate owner.
Here once stood the great royal palace of Henry II and Henry III. Now, as Pevsner wrote, “…today Clarendon is a tragedy. A footpath leads into the wood. One threads one way through elder and wild clematis. A solitary old iron notice-board of the Ministry of Works indicates that one has arrived. One crag of walling stands up. All the rest is back to its sleeping beauty.”
In 1164 Henry II here issued the Constitutions of Clarendon, which restricted ecclesiastical privileges and placed limits on papal authority in England, leading in due course to the martyrdom of St Thomas in Canterbury Cathedral some six years later. In 1844, a sign was put up which rather splendidly, if inaccurately, stated “the spirit awakened within these walls ceased not until it had vindicated the authority of the laws and accomplished the Reformation of the Church of England.”
Chastened by thoughts of “change and decay” we pushed on across fields to the village of Pitton and, more particularly, the Silver Plough, a pub that was a favourite of former prime minister Edward Heath. We were joined by investigative author Tom Bower and his recently ennobled wife, Veronica. They joined us for the first half of the afternoon, peeling off at West Winterslow. We then walked the straight Roman road to Buckholt and Broughton and on to Houghton in the Test Valley where our friend Sally Fitzharris had kindly agreed to put up the three of us, plus my non-walking wife. After a welcome rest, we were regaled with delicious rare beef and claret.
We rose punctually the next morning (the Feast of St Eustace, martyred by Hadrian in 118, the patron saint of hunters and one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers) and crossed the river by a footbridge on to the village of King’s Somborne; the medieval church of St Peter and St Paul was sadly, but perhaps inevitably, locked.
A fairly steep climb brought us arduously to Farley Mount overlooking Winchester. After a few miles, we descended into Winchester past the iron age fortifications known as “Oliver’s Battery”; it was here that Cromwell conducted his siege of Winchester in 1645. The western suburbs of the city through which we walked to St Cross were no more prepossessing than those of Salisbury. We even encountered a limited amount of hostility from certain of the natives! I was now after some 13 miles showing my age, to a modest degree, compared to the sprightliness of my younger companions.
Arriving at the Bell Inn, in my case accompanied by a welcome couple of pints of ale, I mused upon Chesterton’s The Secret People. “It may be we are meant to mark with our riot and our rest God’s scorn for all men governing. It may be beer is best.”
Refreshed after lunch, we ventured into the medieval almshouse of the Hospital of St Cross, founded by Henry of Blois in 1136 with its great Romanesque church overlooking the quadrangle. Amazingly the Hospital survived the vicissitudes of the Reformation and still provides accommodation for twenty-five elderly men. Some belong to the original Order of the Hospital of St Cross (dressed in black), and some to the Order of Noble Poverty (dressed in claret), founded by Cardinal Beaufort in 1445. We refrained from requesting the “Wayfarer’s Dole”, consisting of a small horn cup of ale and a piece of bread.
We then walked pleasantly along the River Itchen up towards the centre of the city past playing fields to arrive at the College of St Mary of Winton founded in 1382 by William of Wykeham. The outer gate still possesses a well preserved medieval statue of the Virgin and Child, and two further medieval statues of Our Lady survive inside the College. Obviously, powerful educational establishments such as Winchester and Eton (cf the painted 15th century Assumption on Lupton’s Tower) were able to ignore the iconoclastic currents of the time.
Past the temptations of the Wykeham Arms, we pushed on to our destination, Winchester’s medieval cathedral. We were able to look round the cathedral before Evensong at 3.30. Sadly the cathedral suffered more than the College. St Swithun’s shrine was an early casualty in 1538; the tomb of Henry of Blois was wrecked in the 1640s. However, amazingly, the chantry chapels of various medieval Catholic prelates remain intact; William of Wykeham, Henry Cardinal Beaufort, William Waynflete, Richard Foxe, Stephen Gardiner – ora pro eis.
Tired but happy, we collapsed into the stalls for a suitably self-distanced Sung Evensong. The words of the Nunc Dimittis, “Lord now lettest thy servant depart in peace according to thy word,” seemed pleasantly apt.
Image credit: Jim Linwood Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0