any parents will agree with David Attenborough’s recent claim that we “have lost touch with [the] Natural World”, but where can you take your family that’s safe, easily accessible and is packed with the potential for encounters with Nature? The answer may be Magdalen Hill, just outside Winchester, “possibly the best Hill in Britain that can be accessed with a pram or buggy”.
I’ve lived in the centre of Winchester for eight years and at least once a fortnight I walk to the top of Magdalen Hill with my two year old daughter. Here are some of the reasons why we keep returning to this wonderful place:
“Henry Horse, where are you?” my daughter loves to shout as we approach the St Swithins entrance to the hill where four horses live, who we’ve named, “Henry Horse, Peter Pony, Melanie Mule and Chestnut Tony”. We often bring a bag of carrots with us so that my daughter can give the horses a treat.
Once we get to the hill it’s safe to let my toddler out of the buggy to run around as the hill has half a square kilometre of space enclosed by fences and gates. We like to look at the unusual breeds of cattle and sheep that are frequently left to graze on the hill. In the summer we enjoy playing near the hill’s butterfly reserve that hosts at least fourteen rare species of butterflies and moths and a diverse population of fragrant flowers which they feed on. The view is better from the Top (and the Picnic tastes better as well!)
The walk to the top of Magdalen Hill from Winchester City Centre is good exercise, especially if you’re pushing a pram! (it’s a 2 kilometre walk and a climb of 100m from Winchester centre). A “metallised” path runs from one end of the hilltop to the other which is suitable for prams, pushchairs and wheelchairs.
There are several benches near the summit, where you can sit and experience the spectacular views on three sides of the hill and perhaps eat a picnic (we like to bring pork pies and peanuts).
There are also many excellent places to eat and drink en route to the hill notably the rustic “Black Boy” family pub at the foot of Magdalen Hill serving at least five Hampshire beers and superb pub food at a reasonable prices (the Sunday Roasts may be the best meal you can buy in Hampshire for under a tenner).
Winchester is England’s ancient capital and has many sights to interest the casual or serious history lover, including several at Magdalen Hill. The hill was once the site of the medieval St Mary Magdalen hospital (that’s how the hill got its name; it was previously known as “Mourne Hill”). It was also the site of Winchester's ancient fair and a large army camp during World War One.
Today several Bronze Age Round Barrows, listed as Scheduled Ancient Monuments, can be seen at the hill and an archaeological dig (featured on Channel 4’s “Time Team”) is revealing evidence for an Anglo-Saxon leper’s hospital.
The amazing Intech Science Centre and Planetarium can be found at the far end of the hill (my daughter calls a trip to Magdalen Hill a journey to the “Moon & Stars”). A visit to a science centre may not sound like a fun day out to some parents, but the Intech Science Centre with its interactive exhibits, demonstrates science and nature works in an engaging, exciting and above all hands-on way that are a smash hit with our family and everyone else we know who’s been.
We’ve visited a few Planetariums, but the “Astrium” Planetarium at Magdalen Hill is the biggest (it’s the UK's largest capacity digital Planetarium) and most spectacular. All my daughter could say as we watched the show of “Secret Cardboard Rocket” flying all over the solar system was “Ooooooh!” and “look Daddy!”.
So if your family’s feeling the need to get in touch with Nature why not take a trip to Magdalen Hill, but don’t forget to bring a carrot for Henry Horse!
✽ www.intech-uk.com SO21 1HZ
The INTECH Science Centre is open from 10am-4pm every day (except December 24, 25, 26). Summer extended opening hours (10am-5pm August). Prices: Adult £8.50; Child (age 3-16 years) £6.00; OAP/Student £ 7.00; Family Ticket (2 Adults/2 Children) £26.10.
Getting To Intech
To reach Intech from Winchester City Centre:
Take the Alresford Road (B3404) out of Winchester until you reach the Percy Hobbs roundabout. Take the last exit, i.e. the B3404 signed Winchester, one hundred metres on the left is the entrance to INTECH.
From Winchester railway station
(4 miles away):
Buses run from the front of station to Winchester bus station. Change to X64 or 65 bus to INTECH (6 mins away).
From Winchester bus station (by King Alfred Statue) X64 at 10 mins past the hour Mon-Sat or 65 at 40 mins past the hour. Sun/public holidays, 0853, 1053,1253 and 1453
X64 at 20 mins past the hour and 65 at 50 mins past the hour. Sun/public holidays 1418 and 1618. Both go to Winchester bus station only 6 minutes away.
Getting To Magdalen Hill
Magdalen Hill lies between the A31 and B3404 just outside the eastern edge of Winchester, over the bridge that crosses the M3. Arriving by car - the main North entrance is the track adjacent to Magdalen Hill cemetery at SO21 1HE. A small gravel car park across the B3404 from the track should be used.
The closest entrance to the city is opposite St Swithin's School. It is only a mile walk from Winchester City centre and there are entrances by bus stops on the B3404.
For the south entrance park in the small lay-by on the Petersfield Road (A31 - Petersfield direction) opposite the minor road to Chilcomb.