2. Titchfield to Havant: Lost Shrines and the Oldest Yews

Old Way Sections

18 miles, 2 days

This part of the journey gives you a sense of how the holy landscape has transformed over time. From the ruins of places once considered sacred to those who ultimately destroyed them, or the pre-christian circles and yews supplanted by church building but still enduring alongside.

Transport:Train: Fareham. Cosham, PortchesterBedhampton and Havant. Bus: The X4 and X5 connects Titchfield, Southampton and Fareham. The No. 38 connecting Wickham and Southwick to Havant run infrequently so we recommend a taxi for transfers.The No.23 and No. 21 connect Bedhampton and Havant. Taxi: Radio Taxis, Fareham 24/7 Taxis, Andicars Taxis (Havant)

Accommodation: Wickham: lots of options, we recommend Park Place Pastoral Centre. Southwick: no accommodation currently available, we recommend transfer to Cosham or walking further on. Havant: lots of options, we have stayed in The Bear Hotel; Queen Victoria once stayed here.

Food: Titchfield: Fisherman’s Rest  Southwick: Golden Lion, Village Store Havant Plenty of options, but very little before then. 

Highlights

Titchfield Abbey

Titchfield Abbey was built by Premonstratensian canons (Whitefriars) and was a popular stopping place for those travelling to and from the continent, including Henry V. The large gatehouse replaced the nave of the abbey but you can still find hints of its past such as encaustic tiles in the nooks and crannies of the ruins.

It can be a little tricky to the remains of Southwick Priory, and although much of it has been destroyed, the surrounding woods lend a peaceful place to consider the thousands of pilgrims, including Henry VIII, who visited Our Lady of Southwick.

Both the churches of Boarhunt and Bedhampton have magnificent Yew trees, probably the oldest on the Old Way and may pre-date the churches built alongside them.

Wayfinding

There are no named waymarks to follow on this part of the route, just the normal public footpath arrows.

Guide

Titchfield

From Titchfield village, walk north to the Abbey. This small monastic house once owned one of the greatest libraries in Britain, and was widely reputed for being a place of learning. It was also the site of a Royal wedding (Henry VI to Margaret of Anjou in 1445). 

Converted at the Reformation into a Manor House, where Shakespeare is believed to have played, the Abbey is now a ruin rich with atmosphere. Look out for the beautifully preserved medieval tiles: covered in soil or masonry for 400 years, they were rediscovered in 1923. The monks (in fact, canons) of Titchfield walked the Old Way route at least as far as Lewes, as shown by their famed itineraries.

Many of us have played the childhood game of holding a bright buttercup under a companion’s chin to determine if they do, indeed, like butter. Associated with abundance, their preference to grow in rich meadow pastures like those on the way to Titchfield Abbey led to the idea they encouraged good milk, and their flowers were said to be gold hidden by the fairies. In summer swallows can be seen swooping over meadows like these, which gave rise to the tale that they fed their young on the flowers to give them the power of divination. Buttercups are not edible, but you may choose to lie down amongst them for a while to help with some clarity of thought.

 

From the Abbey, walk north over the ancient Stony Bridge, and take the path northwards, alongside the edge of settlements, under a great big road, and along a forgotten railway line toward Wickham. Mostly the way is green and beautiful.

Wickham

Over the railway line to Knowle, bypass the modern housing estate built on the site of an old asylum, and take the footpath around instead. Approach Wickham through Fiddlers Green Woods and join Mayles Lane to Wickham. At the end of Mayles Lane, cross the A334 taking the Meon Valley Trail to Bridge Street to the centre of Wickham. 

St Nicholas Church, Wickham, stands at the centre of a great ancient circle (it is said). Visit here and revisit your pilgrimage intention. When it’s time to leave, walk southward on the Meon Valley Trail, then along a slightly busy road, before taking the footpath eastward under great pines.

Parallel to the Roman road, pass Wickham Common. If you want, divert to find it. This is the road which once led from this village to Winchester. See the Google Map below to locate the common and the road.

Boarhunt and Southwick 

Over horse fields, approach St Nicholas Church, Boarhunt; a tiny Saxon church with an ancient yew. There is something deeply magical about an ancient yew, and it is likely that sites of these magnificent trees have been considered holy for millenia. There are many places where the trees are as old, if not older than the church itself. No other tree has such an ingrained relationship with pre-Christian and Christian spiritualities, and no other tree occurs so frequently alongside churches. Deeply rooted with magic and symbolism, occasionally you will find one with its own individual story, like the Boarhunt Yew, whose hollow trunk once gave shelter to a medieval family over winter. If you look carefully inside you can see where the inner surface has been blackened by fire or smoke.

Follow lanes to Southwick, a village still owned by the local estate. Southwick has a wonderful village church in the heart of it, dedicated to St James (patron of European pilgrimage). This is the village in which D-Day was planned, in part at the local pub – The Golden Lion.

In woods behind the pub once stood a very great Priory, where even Henry VIII made pilgrimage. One wall still stands.

Leave Southwick, briefly following the ‘Pilgrims Trail‘ – a path connecting pilgrims from Winchester to Portsmouth. Walk through hazel coppice among the once vast Forest of Bere.

Bedhampton

Take the Roman road into Purbrook, through suburbia, via woods, to Bedhampton Church and its mighty yew trees. One of the Bedhampton yews has been propped, delaying the natural laying process. In nature, yews have the habit of laying branches to the ground, which will eventually root and form new trees. As the ancient core splits, cracks and rots away, the tree’s life continues in its saplings, not as offspring but clones of itself. It is this process which some believe gave the tree meaning as a symbol of death and resurrection in Celtic culture. Whatever its origins, the yew came to possess an intimate role in the churchyard.

Bedhampton Yew tree

Havant

Walk via back alleys into Havant, with St Faith’s Church and the famous Homewell Spring, whose water was used (it is claimed) to make the parchment on which the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919.

Havant has a rich and diverse history, with archaeological digs in the 19th and 20th centuries revealing the remains of Roman buildings, along with mesolithic and neolithic remains. Records of a population in Havant is also documented in the Domesday Book, and during the 19th century the town hosted a polling place, a post head office and a newsroom.

The Home Well of Havant

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