Hillside Garnier Road, Winchester SO23 9PA
St. Catherine’s Hill is a small but dramatic chalk hill to the south east of Winchester. Rising steeply some 67 metres from the water meadows of the River Itchen, the summit of the hill at 97 metres provides a fine view over Winchester. It is the perfect place for a summer evening stroll.
While not the highest of Winchester’s surrounding hills (Cheesfoot Head tops out at 167 metres), it is the oldest, geologically speaking.
St. Catherine’s Hill is at the westernmost extremity of the South Downs National Park, having previously been designated as part of the East Hampshire Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Much of the hill and adjoining Plague Pits valley is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) due to its chalk downland flora.
Walking up the hill, you might spot a few downland orchids and chalkhill blue butterflies. Overhead, you might spot a hunting kestrel. But you are most likely to meet a few friendly British White cows.
At the summit are the earthworks of an Iron Age fort, buried ruins of the Norman chapel that gives the site its name, and a copse of beech trees. If you look carefully, you may be able to make out one of England’s 8 surviving historic turf mazes. Known as a mizmaze, the one on St Catherine’s Hill is unique because it is square, rather than circular in design.
To get to the hill, take junction 10 off the M3 and take the first exit off the roundabout. Immediately after the railway bridge turn left into small car park.
From the kissing gate at the car park entrance, follow the worn grass paths that criss-cross the hill, valley and ridge. These provide the best means of exploring the hill and the valley below. If you venture off the path, be wary of rabbit holes.