ST SWITHUNS WAY
This delightful walk might start your pilgrimage. If not, it is still a beautiful walk. A 34-mile trail from Winchester, the capital of Saxon England, to Farnham, this route technically treks from the Cathedral which bears the Saint's name to the Station in Farnham. The start is impressive, but the ending is a little anti-climactic, which leads us to offer the advice to "Stay a Little Longer" and explore Farnham. Most people walk the route in 2 or 3 days, but there is a "St Swithun's Challenge" to walk the entire length in a day. If you do that, you will certainly need to Linger in Farnham.
The Patron Saint of Winchester Cathedral lived from roughly 800 AD to 863 AD. He was Bishop from his consecration on 30 October 852 until his death on 2 July 863.
Click the picture above for a full map in the OS app. Map detail depends on your subscription.
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. On his deathbed, Swithun begged that he should be buried outside the north wall of his cathedral where passers-by should pass over his grave and raindrops from the eaves drop upon it. Popularity made sure that Swithun became a saint, although there was no decree from Rome.
More than a hundred years later, when Dunstan and Æthelwold of Winchester were inaugurating their church reform, Swithun was adopted as patron of the restored church at Winchester, formerly dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul. His body was transferred from its almost forgotten grave to Æthelwold's new basilica on 15 July 971; according to contemporary writers, numerous miracles preceded and followed the move.
Bishop Swithun’s body was transferred from its almost forgotten grave to Æthelwold's new basilica on 15 July 971. His bones were dug up and placed them in a precious reliquary inside the building, given by the King – an act later seen as against the saint’s wishes. According to contemporary writers, numerous miracles preceded and followed the move. 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. His Anglo-Saxon reliquary was carried with great ceremony to its new position behind the high altar, where it stayed until 1450. In 1476 it was moved to the chantry until it was finally destroyed in the reformation in 1576.
Legends of the Saint
One legend claims that Swithun tutored the young Alfred the Great. Another says is that he built the first stone bridge over the River Itchen that runs through Winchester. His most famous miracle tells of a simple act of human kindness to a poor woman. When crossing the bridge, she was jostled and dropped her basket of eggs. The saint took pity on her – and made her broken eggs whole.
And then there's the rain
The name of Swithun is best known today for the weather lore proverb, which says that if it rains on St. Swithun's day, 15 July, it will rain for 40 days.
St Swithun's day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St Swithun's day if thou be fair
For forty days 'twill rain nae mare.
If you're planning to undertake a pilgrimage, take heed!
The route starts at the Cathedral, which should be visited despite its entrance fee, and heads north from the town to the village of Abbot's Worthy. It ducks under the M3 and follows the Itchen Valley, past the watercress beds to New Alresford. Passing delightful farmers' fields around Ropley, it reaches Chawton, the home of Jane Austen. From there it passes through Alton, before heading over through the villages of Froyle and Bentley, finally ending in Farnham.
The route is not too hilly and is mainly along footpaths and minor roads. It is very well waymarked and easy to follow.
The route as laid out is 34 miles. The map above will display the journey;
style depends on your level of subscription with the Ordnance Survey.
The definitive website for the St Swithun's Way, should you want to know more or get in touch with the nice folks in Farnham is https://www.stswithunsway.com/