Tower to spire, the Clarendon Way is a gentle two-day hike linking the historic cathedral cities of Salisbury and Winchester. It is also the hike that inspired me to start HikerHero.
Winding through woodland, farmland and rolling downland, the route is a gentle introduction to the world of multi-day hiking, with great transport links from London and beyond.
At 26 miles, the Clarendon Way is the same length as a marathon. But don’t worry if you’re not an experienced walker. It doesn’t require six months of sweaty training and chaffed nipples to achieve. Sure, some speedfreaks could bang it out in a day but for those new to long-distance walking (like me) this is the ideal hike to take slow and find your feet.
You can’t go too wrong with the Clarendon Way as there aren’t too many options. Your main decision is which way to tackle it, Salisbury to Winchester or vice versa.
Both cities have well-connected railway stations and both cities have big and old cathedrals. So it’s a win-win either way.
Apart from that your only other decision will be which village to overnight in, either Broughton or Houghton. Both are well equipped with places to stay, places to eat and most importantly, places to pint.
Even if you accidentally walk to the wrong village – easily done if you’re not paying attention – they are only a mile or so apart.
Option 1 (My route)
Winchester Cathedral > Houghton – [14.5miles]
Houghton > Salisbury Cathedral – [12 miles]
Winchester Cathedral > Broughton – [12 miles]
Broughton > Salisbury Cathedral – [14.5miles]
Both Winchester and Salisbury have a nice selection of accommodation from fancy to less so. The two spots I stayed in were ideal as they were both a short wander from the train station. Mid route both Broughton and Houghton have shops and pubs to satisfy your snack and pint needs.
Winchester – My “bijou” pad
Houghton – My pad. Ideal as it’s directly on the route
Broughton – Didn’t stay here but here’s a link to Booking.com to check out
Salisbury – Hotel I stayed at in the centre of Salisbury
Intro – The preamble to my Clarendon ramble
They say when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. Well, I wasn’t tired but I was looking for some countryside…and I needed to get out of the city. Stick a fork in me, I was Lon-done!
I’d been down in the Big Smoke for a fun weekend to celebrate my girlfriend’s birthday. But now everyone had gone back to work like sadsacks, leaving me with three days of freedom to kill.
Rather than fill up my girlfriend’s sink with tea bags or slink back up north to my place in Shrewsbury, I decided to think like an interesting person and look for a micro-adventure.
Having recently reached my thirties, I’d heard about this new activity. Walking. It’s like running but slowed down for those of more advanced years. After a total of 2 minutes of extensive research, I landed upon the grand-sounding Clarendon Way.
It wasn’t far from London, it could be conquered in just two days and it looked like it didn’t have too many hills. I wasn’t yet prepared for too many hills. Perfect.
Day 0 – London > Winchester
Hugging my girlfriend goodbye, I ambled through the streets busy with stressed-looking commuters. A smug half smile on my face knowing I had no need to rush anywhere, ahead of me was a two day walk full of charming villages, wonderful scenery & water meadows. I was the king of my own clock.
Turns out either my clock was off, or I can’t read train timetables.
Cut to me flinging myself Tom Cruise-like through the closing train doors, with one second to spare, covered in a thin film of sweat and bursting for the loo. Ok, not the smooth start I was hoping for but at least I was in motion. Clarendon Way, here I come.
It was only once I sat my sweaty self down on the already sticky train seat that I began to think about a) the walk ahead and b) why are train seats always sticky.
Both my minutes of research assured me the Clarendon Way is doable for a newbie. But looking out the window at the gathering clouds and down at my denim jacket, Levi jeans and Vans, I started to doubt myself.
A walk in the woods. In November. In the UK. Dressed in double denim like a 1990s Ronan Keating. What were you thinking, Mike?!
Pushing my worries about the weather and fashion choices to the back of my head, I got down to business and booked all my accommodation for the next two nights.
Many places were fully booked so my choices were limited – but being on my own made life easier. Got a bed? Yeah. Good enough. Booked.
Arriving in Winchester
“Let’s go to the Winchester, have a nice cold pint, and wait for all this to blow over.” Shaun, Shaun of the Dead
Winchester is supposed to be a lovely town. I’m told it has some nice old architecture: oh, you know, like the world’s longest intact mediaeval cathedral. But hopping off the train, the main thing I notice is the clouds and the drizzle that’s, well, drizzling from them.
“Ah, it’ll be fine in the morning,” I tell myself and set off in search of my home for the night.
Twenty minutes of circling the same block looking for an entrance to my Airbnb later, I’m getting slightly damper and slightly less enamoured by this whole plan. Thankfully, a friendly smoker hanging out his window takes pity on me and directs me in the right direction.
Phew. My digs are legit decent. Not the manky Rat King pit I feared anyway. Bed? Check. Scented candles? Check. Red mood lighting? Check.
Less a hiker’s bothy and more a love den for a romantic couple’s getaway. I probably should’ve guessed by the word “bijou” in the listing. But hey, the bed was comfy, I’m not complaining. Time to get some rest before tomorrow’s adventure.
“I don’t desire to change anything in England except the weather.” Oscar Wilde
Waking in from my satisfying slumber, I leap out of bed raring to go. I devour some cflakes, brush my toothypegs, pull on my backpack, step out the door and straight into a fat slap in the face by the cold fish of the British weather.
Sideways, one hundred-mile-an-hour rain. Fuck the fuck off!
Back inside, head in hand, I consider calling the whole thing off. Thinking I could easily spend the next two days in this Winchester love shack sniffing scented candles and watching Love Actually on repeat in the bath. Who would know?!
I was looking for a casual stroll in the countryside and I now have a self-induced sufferfest on my hands, oh my poor gloveless hands.
“Pull yourself together man!“ When in doubt, find coffee. Everything is better after coffee.
Swimming through the rain to the closest coffee shop, I jot out on a napkin what I need to get by the end of the day.
I scratch hiking boots from the list. They are needed but I’ve ordered a nice pair already, and they are waiting for me in Shrewsbury. And I can’t bring myself to cough up extra cash for something I already have. Tightness trumps comfort. So soggy Vans it will have to be.
Say what you will about the homogenisation of the British high street. I’ll say this. God bless you, Mountain Warehouse.
30 mins and a pile of £££ later and I’m kitted out. Hat, gloves, raincoat, bag cover and even some jazzy waterproof spray stuff for my shoes. I hold out little hope for the latter – looking at my soggy trainers, this stuff would have to have time travel properties to keep them dry. But other than that, I’m good to go.
With no excuses left, I wave goodbye to the wet streets of Winchester and begin.
The Route Begins – Salisbury to Houghton
The route itself isn’t marked that well. Or at least I’m not good at wayfinding. Hey, I’m new to this! So, I’m glad to have my phone for the map, as I find myself checking it often.
I’d say if you were trying to do this route just by looking at the waypoint markings, you’d probably take a wrong turn somewhere along the way.
Clomping along in my soggy socks and feeling very sorry for myself, I bump into a friendly chap walking the opposite way. He tells me he’s the sole survivor of a much bigger group. The only one brave enough to face the rain that morning.
This little tidbit gives me a nice warm feeling inside. Suddenly I’m feeling less like a wimp for being scared of the rain and more like a hero for marching out into it. And if by magic, as if the weather is controlled by my perspective, the rain stops.
Suddenly my stride lengthens, my arms swing more, and my backpack feels lighter. My feet are still soggy but I care much less. The day is now getting kinda good.
I leap across stiles, skip along paths, and wave hello to fields of horses, and I feel pretty good. Maybe I am a hiker. Perhaps this is what I was born to do…
…Ah, shitsticks! I’ve arrived in Broughton but my AirBnB is in Houghton. WTF?! Honestly, who would name two towns so close to each other with such similar names?! That’s just asking for trouble.
Ah, double shitsticks! The rain is back and I’ve got an extra 2 miles to walk, thanks to not paying attention to the signs. Cursing myself for making such a newb error, I squelched through the worst rain of the day. But just as I reach Broughton, I’m met with a stunning rainbow-sunset combo and suddenly everything is good again.
I splash up to my Airbnb around 4:30 pm just as the light is fading, so pretty well-timed. I’m exhausted and my toes – after soaking in a shoe bath for six hours – look like tiny pickled shrunken heads. Despite this, I’m pumped. I’d tested myself under tricky conditions and I’d survived. This must be that sense of achievement that people always talk about. Go me.
Now, If you allow me to toot my own trumpet a moment. I’m not unfit. I cycle, I gym, I only eat cheese five or so days a week. But that said, Day 1 of the Clarendon Way floored me. I ache everywhere. Maybe the repetitive motion is to blame. Or more likely my overpacked bag and terrible choice of footwear.
Whatever the reason, I’m dead. Too tired and creaky to venture out and explore the rain-sodden streets of Houghton. I’d heard the Boot Inn nearby does a plate of tasty grub but instead, I devour a makeshift dinner of trail snacks and pass out.
Day 1 Claredon Way – Points of interest
“Just a spire in the grass; my first view of Salisbury, and the better for not being expected.” Laurie Lee
I wake on Day 2 to the sound of rain on the roof. A lovely meditative sound, if you’ve nowhere to be. But a heart-sinking sound if you’ve got a hike to hike.
Luckily I don’t have to put wet togs back on. My digs had a dryer so I was able to fully dry all my stuff before crawling into bed. Pulling on wet clothes for another day of rain would’ve been too much to take. All hail the modern-day wonder of tumble drying!
Sitting, coffee-in-hand, looking out the window, I harness a lifetime’s experience of British weather, and I can tell instinctively that this rain isn’t the same type of rain as yesterday’s variety. It’s lighter and less oppressive. Dare I say it’s even optimistic? It’s not the type of rain to fear.
As I’m leaving, my Airbnb host hands me a bag of homemade sandwiches, just like a kid heading off to school, which I very much appreciate. That’s lunch sorted.
But first: breakfast. From accidentally scouting out the town one day early, I’m already armed with the knowledge that neighbouring Broughton has a village store that does food, so I set off early to arrive for its opening at 9 am.
Due to the sun setting around 4 pm, and knowing I have 6-7 hours of the Clarendon Way ahead of me, I need to leave early enough to make sure I get to Salisbury before dark. So these guys better not sleep in.
They don’t. With a belly full of breakfast and pockets bursting with apples and oat bars, I head out into the rain one more time. Salisbury ho!
The rain rains, then it doesn’t. The clouds clear and I’m treated to another rainbow. The first of many today.
There’s nothing better than finding a well-stocked purveyor of brand-named confectionery on a hike such as this, and luckily the stretch between Broughton and Winchester has the mighty One Stop shop. I stopped and I shopped. Things were going well.
To drown out the annoying noise of birds tweeting and trees swaying in the breeze, I pop in my headphones and listen to a podcast. I opt for a little self-improvement with an episode of Dr Chatterjee’s Feel Better, Live More. He’s interviewing an expert in chronic pain. As if by magic my regular companion of recent years, back pain, flares up a little to let me know he’s listening along, too.
Then some more magic happens: as I listen to the discussion about how chronic pain can be “unlearnt”, I start unlearning. The ache in my lower spine fades and I swear on all that is holy, I walk the final six miles into Salisbury completely pain-free. (Or at least without back pain, my feet still hurt like shit!)
This was a revelation. It made me wake up to how important emotions are to how we feel physically. That pain isn’t always the problem. Sometimes the pain is a signpost to the solution. It’s pointing to another aspect of our lives we need to look at, to adjust.
Confused and excited, I walk on in silence: thinking about how potentially, some of my other issues could be things I’d be able to “unlearn”.
Jeez, sorry. Got a bit deep there didn’t I?! But that moment really stuck with me. So much so that I barely even realise I’ve arrived. Two days, 26 miles, countless rain showers, numerous rainbows and I’m here. Salisbury.
I slump my weary self down on a bench overlooking the cathedral – which I’m told is the country’s tallest – and plan to rejoice in my achievement by nibbing a scotch egg while the sun sets. Alas instead of a sunset I get a bit of gentle rain.
But hey! I’m immune to a bit of drizzle now and I chomp my scotch egg down with a great sense of satisfaction. Washing it down with a mighty slug of Sprite. A victory meal fit for such grand surroundings I think.
And when the rain begins to pour, no fear, luckily, I’m crashing 200 metres from the cathedral at the White Hart Hotel. (I’d checked for an Airbnb but couldn’t find anything so I’d booked myself into this nice little hotel instead.)
The room is small and lacks the scented candles and mood lighting of my Winchester lovenest. But it’s in the centre of everything and to be honest, I’m so tired I could sleep in a wheelie-bin.
This was my ever first solo multi-day walk. I did it completely unprepared. I did it in the wrong clothes and at the wrong time of year. But I did it. And despite some low points (November rain is a bastard), I’m pretty sure I enjoyed it.
I’d banked on the cool, dry weather of the weekend rolling on into the week. Which it didn’t. But at the same time, if I’d stopped to think about it too much, I never would’ve done the walk. I would’ve spent three days lolling about the house eating cheese and rewatching Rick and Morty episodes.
If I hadn’t done the walk, I wouldn’t have listened to that podcast. Or I wouldn’t have listened to it with such open ears and an open mind. I would’ve missed a revelation I think is going to have a profound impact on the next few years of my life.
Finally, If I hadn’t done the walk I wouldn’t have found a new passion for walking and wouldn’t have started this site. So, Clarendon Way, you were my first – and I will always remember you fondly.
Dear readers, this is also the first hike I’ve ever written about. Did you enjoy reading it?
My goal in sharing the tale of this walk is to inspire anyone out there to get up and go on their own mini adventure. If it does inspire you, drop me a message I’d love to connect.
Also please let me know if there is anything info I should add for future posts like this.
Until then, happy hiking you brave trail warriors!
This reflects the estimated time the majority of users will take on this trail. If you are slower, add time to the top-end figure. If you are fast, then you may complete this route faster than this time range.
This reflects the Hike Hero difficulty rating for each route. We aim to keep ratings consistent across regions.