Day 83: Winchester – Chilcomb – Cheesefoot Head – Gander Down – Exton – Old Winchester Hill – East Meon

19.1 miles – Misty to start with, dissolving into hazy sunshine with mushy clouds later

Winchester Cathedral, founded 1079 to replace the Old Minster, dating back to the 7th Century, resting place of St Swithun of Winchester and King Ælfred the Great to name but two.

I left Winchester while most of its inhabitants were still vegetating over their morning tea. A mist swirled its cloak of secrecy about me; the air was heavy with the scents of reaped corn and a week of sun-baked earth; the world was calm.

Morning mist near Winchester.
An hour later the sun begins to break through.

An amplified voice from the other side of the trees… It sounded like a station announcement, but looking at the map I could see there was nothing there, not even a house. Then I saw it: a city of tents and an arena constructed of the entire side of Cheesefoot Head. The trail would have taken me right through the middle of it, but I was forced to take a diversion round the perimeter fence, which boasted watchtowers at regular intervals. This, I learnt, was Boomtown, a music festival of gigantic scale. Cars departing the festival passed me in a constant stream, throwing up clouds of pale brown dust in their wake. I was so glad to get beyond it and enjoy the South downs again.

A tiny part of Boomtown’s city of tents.
…And one of its watchtowers – eerily reminiscent of prison camps.
The South downs
The South Downs Way passing through beech trees.
View to the south a couple of miles northeast of Exton.
Looking north from Old Winchester Hill
The South Downs Way descending from Old Winchester Hill to the southeast.
A combine harvester at work near East Meon.
Intimation of autumn? A beech tree (right), a cherry tree (left), and a lime tree (behind the cherry) all showing the adverse effects of dehydration near East Meon.
East Meon

It is no exaggeration when the guests’ welcome pack at Ye Olde George Inn describes the village as “one of the loveliest places in the valley of the River Meon”. Its quiet streets (its tractors busier than its inhabitants) are lined with pretty cottages… and yet it retains the air of an agricultural community rather than one taken over by the hunters down of the quaint, such as I had encountered so often in the Cotswolds.

Here I recorded my earliest arrival time at a destination on my walk, 14:50, just before Ye Olde George shut for the afternoon. I leave you with the photos, which I hope speak for themselves.

Ye Olde George Inn, my resting place this evening.
Flint House, Eat Meon, showing off with exceptional finesse the local building material of centuries past.
The young River Meon passing through the village.
The Church of All Saints, East Meon, with the Downs rising behind.

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