Hill of the Windhovers
As a child I stood on its summit and felt I was on top of the world. Since then, I have visited Old Winchester Hill many times and it’s still a special place to me.
Situated near Meonstoke in the Meon Valley, Old Winchester Hill is 646 feet high. The panoramic views from the top are stunning. On a clear day you can even see the Solent and beyond that the Isle of Wight.
The people who built an Iron Age fort on the summit of the hill must have seen any potential enemies coming from miles away. Dating from sometime in the last 500 years BC, the ditch and bank of the hill fort are still visible. So too, are some burial barrows from the earlier Bronze Age.
Today Old Winchester Hill is a ‘Site of Special Scientific Interest’. It is also a ‘National Nature Reserve’. The 164 acre site is managed by Natural England.
The hill is a mixture of chalk downland and woodland. This provides habitats for a variety of wildlife. Particularly notable are the butterflies. Some 37 species have been recorded at Old Winchester Hill. These include Essex skipper, marbled white, speckled wood, silver-spotted skipper and chalkhill blue.
I remember a sunny day when scores of chalkhill blue butterflies were on the southern slope of the hill. It was a truly memorable sight.
Old Winchester Hill is also a haven for plants and wild flowers. These include clustered bellflower, wild thyme, horseshoe vetch and orchids such as bee and frog orchids.
Badgers, deer and dormice are to be found in the woodland and kestrel’s sometimes hover above the hill in search of prey. Indeed, Old Winchester Hill was once known as ‘Windover Hill’. This was perhaps inspired by ‘windhover’, which was the old dialect name for a kestrel.
The army used Old Winchester Hill as a mortar testing range during World War Two. This means that unexploded ammunition may remain in some areas and these can be avoided by following the marked paths on the hill.
Take a look at the photo gallery below to see it is well worth a visit.
Further information and resources below:
Photo gallery of Old Winchester Hill. Photo credit: Bob Hart