Ancient mill becomes gateway to South Downs

One of the National Trust’s most unusual historic buildings, Winchester City Mill, is to become an official gateway to the South Downs National Park this summer. Set in the heart of England’s former ancient capital city, Winchester City Mill has a history dating back more than a thousand years, and is one of just a few surviving urban watermills in the country.

This summer a new permanent exhibition will tell the story of the Mill, its produce, and introduce people to the delights of walking, cycling and enjoying days out in England’s newest National Park. As well as watching flour being made, and then taking it home to bake with, visitors can discover more about the South Downs’ special landscapes and wildlife, find ideas for local walks and experiences, as well as how easy it can be to explore by trains, buses or bicycle.

Visitors to the Mill’s launch weekend as Hampshire’s gateway to the South Downs (21 and 22 June) will receive FREE entry, a delicious sweet treat devised by TV chef and Winchester restauranteur Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall using the Mill’s flour, and the chance to win a place on a bread cookery course at Hugh’s River Cottage Cookery School.

“Winchester is famous for its magnificent cathedral, medieval Great Hall, and the atmospheric ruins of Wolvesey Castle,” says Ric Weeks, Winchester City Mill’s manager.

“But people may not realise that they’re also just a short cycle ride or walk from one of our most beautiful stretches of countryside, which has been worked by people for thousands of years.

“These landscapes are a key part of the story of our mill and the river that powers it, because without our farmers and wheat fields there would have been no wheat to grind, no flour and no bread!”

Trevor Beattie, Chief Executive for the South Downs Trevor Beattie, Chief Executive for the South Downs National Park Authority, said:

“For the first time we are creating a central point in Winchester for people to find out about the wonderful wildlife, historic attractions and adventures that the South Downs National Park has to offer. This new partnership with the National Trust singles out Winchester as a historic gateway to this very special part of England.”

Winchester City Mill lies just a few metres from the start of the South Downs Way National Trail – a 160km route which follows old paths and droveways along the chalk escarpment of the South Downs.

Local treasures include:

  • St Catherine’s Hill, an idyllic nature reserve of wildflowers, butterflies and spectacular views.
  • Cheesefoot Head, a natural ampthitheatre with views of the Solent and Isle of Wight.
  • National Trust estate Hinton Ampner, glorious 20th-century gardens with views of the South Downs and a café serving seasonal produce. A bus stop outside the property takes you directly back to Winchester.

Television presenter and keen walker Julia Bradbury said:

“I can’t think of a better place to invite friends to join you for a good walk. Winchester Mill is a perfect start to the South Downs Way, reminding us that the rolling landscape and criss-crossing tracks that lure us for the next 100 miles are only there thanks to centuries of stewardship from local farmers.”

The National Trust cares for almost 6,500 hectares in the South Downs National Park – 30 breath-taking locations encompassing dramatic coastline and ancient sun-dappled woods, historic houses and cottages, gardens and wildflower-rich downland.

The Mill has a long association with the nation’s love of walking and cycling. For over 70 years it was a youth hostel, and regarded as the start of the South Downs Way. It welcomed thousands of travellers, who slept in dormitory-style accommodation, and washed and swam in the icy waters of the mill race which rushes beneath the Mill.

Visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/winchester-city-mill to find out more.