This route is about 70 miles long and runs from Reading to Southampton. For pilgrims wishing to walk the route as part of their journey to Compostela they can fly to France or Southern Spain from Southampton, or they can continue on foot to Portsmouth on another route, the Pilgrims’ Trail, to cross by ferry.
|Artist impression of Roman amphitheatre at Silchester|
The route is based on the Roman road from Silchester via Basingstoke to Winchester, and also includes the St James churches at Bramley, which has wall-paintings including St James, and Wield, as well as the former Benedictine priory at Monk Sherborne, whose church became the parish church at Pamber (not to be confused with the Norman church at Monk Sherborne). From Alresford, the Way follows the Itchen Way to Winchester, England's capital under the Saxons. The cathedral was a Benedictine foundation, of which several buildings, including the Pilgrims’ Hall, survive. Also Benedictine were St Mary's Abbey, also called the Nunnaminster, of which some foundations can be seen, and Hyde Abbey, of which little remains. Nothing remains of the four friaries, though there are some fragments of the hospitals of St John and St Mary Magdalen.
However, the medieval walls of Southampton remain, with the gateways where pilgrims embarked for pilgrim destinations in France, Spain and the Mediterranean. Near the God’s Hospital Tower the Maison Dieu of St Julian’s accommodated pilgrims.
Ferries however no longer run from Southampton to France, so the Pilgrims’ Trail connects Winchester with Portsmouth via Bishop's Waltham, where there are remains of the palace of the bishop of Winchester, and Southwick, where the parish church, dedicated to St James-without-the-Priory-Gate, contains remnants of the former Augustinian priory founded by Henry I. There is an annual pilgrimage around 25 July (St James’s day) from Portchester church to Southwick, recalling the journey made by the Augustinian canons in c 1145 as they moved to a larger site.
Portsmouth, though largely a naval port, had a 13 century Hospital of St Nicholas, and wine trade with South West France. Recently, Time Team has excavated land around the Royal Garrison Church (founded 1212) to discover the plan of a medieval pilgrim hospital and Maison Dieu, where pilgrims would have stayed. The modern cathedral is based on a chapel of Thomas Becket, built by the Southwick monks.
There I was welcomed as a pilgrim in the great cathedral. The visitors charges were waived. “Yes we have a sello” confirmed the smiling receptionist. The cathedral is breathtaking in its size and beauty and the sun shone as I left to make my way just a few miles further along the river to the Church and Hospital of St Cross. I had a seen a television programme about it and wanted to see it for myself. Soon it loomed large sitting with perfectly manicured lawns. I made my way through the arched entrance and bumped into one of the brothers.
The Hospital was founded to support thirteen poor men, so frail that they were unable to work, and to feed one hundred men at the gates each day. The thirteen men became the Brothers of St Cross. Then, as now, they were not monks. St Cross is not a monastery but a secular foundation. Medieval St Cross was endowed with land, mills and farms, providing food and drink for a large number of people - don't forget the water was unfit for drinking so copious amounts of ale and beer were needed!
“Are you coming to Matins?” he said with a smile. “May I?” I asked. Next thing I was ushered in to meet the others. They beamed when I said I was a pilgrim. Their smiles broadened when I explained about the St James Way and the guidebook. The service lasted 15 minutes and was a perfect start to a day’s walking. Before I left I was offered the traditional “dole” – a slice of bread and a cup of ale. I have to say it was a little early for beer, even for me.
From there the route meanders along river and canal reaching Southampton easily within the day.
And so dear friends I’m off. It has been a week or so of farewells. Tough at times but the tears shed herald a different future. My next post will be from my new home in Santiago after I have walked the Camino Ingles with a friend from London who has long wanted to walk to Compostela. Then with another friend I am off to walk from Valencia. I’ll keep you posted. 2 days to go!