The Clarendon Way is a long distance trail between the cities of Winchester, in Hampshire, and Salisbury, in Wiltshire. It’s 26 miles (44km) long, and essentially connects the river valleys of the Itchen and the Avon, also taking in a third – the Test – around halfway along the trail.
The trail is named after the Clarendon Estate which lies along the path, just outside Salisbury. If walking east to west, as I did, the ruins of Clarendon Palace, a 12th Century ruin, provide a fitting climax to the walk.
The underlying geology here is chalk and, together with St Swithun’s Way (between Winchester and Farnham), connects the much more extensive chalk formations of the North Downs, South Downs and Wessex Downs. The scenery along the trail consists of chalk downland, woodland and water meadows by the 3 principal rivers already mentioned.
The trail can be walked in either direction, and from my research before tackling it, there didn’t seem to be a preferred direction – typically trails in the UK would tend to be walked south to north or west to east to keep the prevailing weather on the walker’s back, but this doesn’t matter so much when it’s such a short trail and you’re better able to pick a decent weather window.
The trail is equally well (by which I mean not as well as it could be) signposted from either direction, so it really doesn’t matter.
Apart from locals, this is the sort of path that will be most of interest to someone trying to piece together a route across southern England, such as the Southern Coast to Coast. It also connects with the St James Way pilgrimage route from Reading to Southampton created by the Confraternity of St James – the people responsible for promoting the Camino(s).
The usual schedule for a walk of the Clarendon Way is to do it over two days, stopping at Broughton which is near enough halfway. There are other options in some of the other villages too. There are campsites, although as I found on my walk, they’re not open all year around. There is no right as such to wild camp the trail, but in terms of pure practicality it is possible, with enough places to hide a tent away, especially in the darker months, although of course you are supposed to ask the landowner’s permission (if you can even find out who that is).
In terms of other facilities – shops and places to take on refreshment – these are also based around the villages that you pass through on the trail: King’s Somborne, Houghton, Broughton, Middle Winterslow and Pitton. Many people detour to Stockbridge along the River Test for overnight accommodation or services.
I walked the Clarendon Way in January 2023.
Guidebook AND NAVIGATION
At the time of writing there are no guidebooks as such for the Clarendon Way.
There is a drawn map by Nick Hill available, and this is hands down the most useful resource for the trail. This is because Nick has kept it up to date with recent changes to the line of the trail, and moreover depicted these on his map along with the old route – so you can see what’s changed. This makes it invaluable for reconciling with the Ordnance Survey map which, again at the time of writing, has not been updated for these changes. As a trail that is shown on OS maps with pink (1:50,000) or green (1:25,000) diamonds, updating it to the correct current route is really something the OS should do.
All of this makes navigation on the trail harder than it should be. Anyone navigating using the OS map either has to check it against Nick Hill’s map, mark up the changes on the OS map before setting off, or spend time scratching their head when waymarks seem to point the wrong way. The very best thing you can do is mark up your OS map with the changes before starting the walk. I didn’t do this and went wrong several times, including one incident where I chose the OS map route over what the actual waymarks were (correctly) telling me.
The waymarking of the trail is patchy too, with incidences of broken waymarks, missing waymarks and the old challenge of signs showing waymarks for other paths in preference. Taken together with the lack of map clarity, this is a recipe for going wrong, although it has to be said it is difficult to go seriously wrong and end up miles out of the way. In good visibility, the terrain itself helps with this.