The Itchen Way is a 31.8-mile (51.2 km) hiking route which follows the glorious River Itchen from its mouth in Southampton Water to its source in the pretty Hampshire countryside. This river is an exceptional feature despite its modest length; it’s one of the finest chalk streams in the country and is a thriving habitat for fish, birds and river mammals.
I’ve planned this Collection going from south to north because that’s the way I first walked it when I was about 12 years old. Leaving the hectic waterways of Southampton behind and discovering the magic of the Itchen’s stunning willows, subdued meanders, and aquatic grasses, gently wafting in the flow, was an exceptional experience. You can absolutely hike from the source to the mouth though which is not a lesser choice.
The Way begins at Sholing Station which doubles as a good way of getting to the beginning; this branch line connects to Southampton Central Station, which is on the mainline to London. The route heads over to Southampton Water at Weston Point and starts working its way north, through this historic maritime city.
As you walk, you’ll see innumerable sailing yachts and small fishing boats in the lower reaches, with the water getting quieter the further you walk. While Southampton is a major shipping port, it’s the neighbouring River Test that takes the traffic; the Itchen is blissfully relaxed.
Leaving Southampton and its suburbs behind, the trail gets greener and more beautiful with every mile. It won’t be long before you can truly appreciate the wonderful clarity of the water, spying fish darting about and aquatic plants shimmering beneath the surface. The trail wanders into the South Downs National Park, a region of astounding beauty. Towns give way to tiny, historic villages and eventually you reach Cheriton. This sweet little village is a stones’ throw from the source, which is really just a damp field.
Hiking the Way is a perfect opportunity to explore some of Hampshire’s loveliest scenery and is achievable in two or three days, depending on how experienced a walker you are. I’ve split the route into three days to make the most of the route and the sights along the way. Largely flat and rarely leaving the Itchen’s curves, there’s nothing technical on this walk and it can be done throughout the year. After extremely wet weather, there is a risk of flooding along the Itchen, so keep an eye on the forecast if you’re walking in winter.
The first two-thirds of the trail, from Southampton to Winchester, are well served by nearby accommodation and food outlets. Careful planning is recommended for the last third but finding amenities is by no means challenging.
You can reach the start by catching a train to Southampton Central and changing for Sholing. There are ample buses in the area too. At the end, you can catch the number 67 bus from Cheriton to Winchester to pick up the Southampton to London mainline railway. Alternatively, you can catch the same bus in the opposite direction, to nearby New Alresford, and catch a train on a different line, which also goes to London.
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