Day out: River Itchen, Hampshire

Clear, quiet and unhurried, Hampshire’s iconic River Itchen glides with added lustre beneath the soft light of a low autumn sun

River and autumn trees

Considering its renown, especially among anglers, the River Itchen slips through the Hampshire countryside in a surprisingly quiet, unassuming manner. 

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From its source near Cheriton, location of a Parliamentarian victory in the English Civil War, the river eases north to New Alresford, where it collects a couple of tributaries before heading west.

Sunrise over river in whiner
Sunrise over the River Itchen on a cold winter’s morning
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River Itchen wildlife

The Itchen Way follows the path of the river for its 28-mile length and there are several points of access where the path runs right alongside the water. 

The footbridge beside The Bush Inn at Ovington is an excellent place to spot fish and the creatures that feed upon them. The gravel runs glow gold beneath a lowering autumn sun, matching the browns and yellows of the riverside trees, while chalk aquifers ensure a constant clarity and quality of water, which is abundant with life. 

At this time of year, the beds of water-crowfoot retain a rich green colour but are beginning to recede, providing good opportunity to spot brown trout and grayling as they ghost across the current. Above the surface, kingfishers flash as herons and little egrets slowly stalk the margins. 

River and village
River Itchen winds through the Hampshire city of Winchester
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The Itchen then nudges into the western side of Winchester, the city’s lifeblood for thousands of years. The nature reserve at Winnall Moors is an excellent place to spot water voles beneath the yellowing reed stems and possibly the whiskered glimpse of an otter. 

Being a chalk stream, the river rarely floods, and a short stroll from Winchester Cathedral or Great Hall can offer intimate river views, particularly where the river riffles as it skirts the ruins of Wolvesey Castle. Here, the old stone and overhanging trees offer a quiet seclusion that comes alive with pipistrelle bats once the sun has set. 

Bird perching by the river
Kingfisher can be seen perched on low-handing branches above the river
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Below the city, the river slides through water meadows and scattered woodland as it skirts the chalk downland of St Catherine’s Hill on the north-western edge of the South Downs National Park, before maintaining a slow meander through Shawford, Twyford and the village of Bishopstoke. 

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The Itchen refuses to be hurried even as it meets the brackish tides of Southampton Water, a gentle sparkle from source to sea.