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A nostalgic climb - TrustNews Mar 17

Last August Phil Yates retraced a part of the countryside he remembers from childhood. Here he shares the memory.

In the late 1930s, as young teenagers, we combed the countryside around Winchester on our Hercules and Raleigh bicycles. One of our favourite locations was St Catherine's Hill which we climbed with our bikes from the Garnier Road entrance at Tunbridge. There were no steps in those days - just thick long grass to clamber over. Our first target on reaching the top was to run around the miz-maze (see footnote) and then walk over to the other side of the hill. And that’s where the fun, for us anyway, began. The aim was to skid down the slope and see who reached the bottom first. It wasn't me! Today it might be called vandalism desecrating the countryside in that way.

Fast forward 75 years; on a hot August morning last year l set off, once again, with my friend Rod Youngman, to climb the hill from the same starting point. Steps, though very uneven, have been installed to reach the top. After regaining our breath, we stood for a few moments taking in the magnificent views across the city before walking through the famous clump of trees and tracking down the miz-maze, which is now unfortunately very overgrown – no chance of running round it today! Walking over to the far side we found the spot where the fun began all those years ago. This time, however, we walked sedately downthe steps placed there some years ago and called Jacob's Ladder, counting them as we went - all 331. Walking along the footpath leading the Five Bridges Road, we couldn't resist inspecting the Hockley viaduct before crossing the meadows to reach the Hospital of St Cross, where my grandfather was one of the brethren in the 1920s, and receiving the Wayfarer‘s Dole (a small beaker of beerand a piece of bread) at the Porter's Lodge which is part of the Beaufort Tower. After a tiring but pleasant day we then headed to the Bell inn, which stands at the entrance to the Hospital, for a well-deserved pint and lunch before catching the bus back home.

Phil Yates


St Catherine's Hill: the two hills which overlook the city are St Giles ’s Hill and this one, which was inhabited during the Iron Age (400-1500 BC) when Celtic tribes settled here. The Hill takes its name from a Saint, said to be a virgin queen of Alexandria in the 4th century AD. Condemned to be ‘broken on the wheel’ (hence the name of the firework ‘Catherine wheel’) her body was said to be buried at the top of Mount Sinai. In the 11th century chapels were erected on hilltops dedicated to her memory. Beneath the famous clump of trees on the summit of the hill are the foundations of a chapel which was excavated in 1926 and covered up again. The hill was purchased in 1930 by Winchester College from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.

The miz-maze: One of eight surviving turf mazes in England, its origins are obscure. This one is believed to date from the 17th century when tradition has it that a Winchester College boy cut it out one summer having been banished to the hill for bad behaviour.