St Swithun’s Way runs between Winchester and Farnham. Unable to follow the original route, as much of this is now the A31, St Swithun’s Way follows some of the county’s best countryside paths. Starting at Winchester Cathedral, the route passes through the Itchen Valley.
It then continues northeast passing the towns of Alresford and Alton, as well as Chawton, the home of Jane Austen. Following the path of the River Wey, the route reaches Farnham in Surrey and continues to Canterbury.
Following the route in Hampshire and Surrey
St Swithun’s Way waymarks are based on the shell, a common symbol of pilgrimage, and two croziers, representing St Swithun and St Thomas à Beckett
- Temporarily closed
- Restricted use
Pilgrimages between Winchester and Canterbury
Throughout the mediaeval period Winchester was a centre of royal and ecclesiastical power. With the shrine to St Swithun and the tomb of Alfred the Great, Winchester was also the principal place of pilgrimage in England. However, after the death of Thomas a Beckett, his shrine at Canterbury became more important. Pilgrims from Europe and from the south coast would have wanted to visit both of these shrines if possible. So the 112 miles between Winchester and Canterbury probably became the most important pilgrimage route in the country.
St Swithun was born in Winchester, the capital of Wessex, in about 800. After ordination, Swithun served in the royal household and became an important advisor to the king. He became the seventeenth Bishop of Winchester, in 852, and was famous for rebuilding Winchester’s East Gate bridge.
Swithun died in 862 and was buried in a simple grave outside the west door of the Saxon cathedral. Popularity made sure that Swithun became a saint, although there was no decree from Rome.
The 15 July has become St Swithun’s Day and pilgrims began to pay homage to the saint in increasing numbers even after his remains, were transferred from the Saxon to the Norman cathedral in 1093.