Old Winchester Hill hillfort and burial mound
Old Winchester Hill hillfort and burial mound

Old Winchester Hill is one of the most intriguing prehistoric sites in southern England, combining an Iron Age hillfort with a Bronze Age burial site, all contained within a magnificent downland nature reserve in idyllic countryside.

Despite the name, Old Winchester Hill is over 11 miles from the cathedral city of Winchester and has no direct connection to its namesake.

Old Winchester Hill nature reserve covers some 140 acres of grassland, woods, and open fields. To the south are remains of a Celtic field system with the fields linked by ancient trackways.

The eastern entrance, southern rampart
The eastern entrance, southern rampart


Old Winchester Hill was settled in the Bronze Age, when the hill was divided into small agricultural holdings linked by trackways. A small settlement grew up on the southern slope of the hill, but the major visible remains from this period are a series of burial mounds on top of the hill.

Three round barrows were erected in a linear arrangement on top of the hill. A fourth barrow was added to the east of this line. This last burial mound was unusual; rather than a raised mound of earth around a burial chamber, it consists of a circular depression in the earth. This is called a pond barrow and is essentially the opposite of a round barrow.

Another seven barrows were built around the western edge of the hill's summit and three to the south.

The hill fort's southern bank
The hill fort's southern bank

Around 2,500 years ago, the hill's summit was encircled by banks and ditches to form a hill fort. The fort enclosed an area of about four hectares, with timber huts and granaries inside the banks. The site consisted of an inner bank with a timber palisade and an outer bank with a V-shaped ditch between the two banks.

There were entrances in the east and west, defended by timber gates. The eastern gate may have been double width and was likely enforced with a gateway lodge.

The Iron Age banks sliced through three barrows on the southern side of the hill's summit.

A Bronze Age burial mound within the fort
A Bronze Age burial mound within the fort

Every one of the burial mounds was excavated during the Victorian period, but the hill fort itself has never been investigated.

Old Winchester Hill was abandoned around 2,000 years ago, before the Roman invasion, as settlement patterns changed.

During WWII the British Army used Old Winchester Hill for testing artillery. Unexploded mortar shells have been found, so some areas of the reserve are fenced off for safety. Sheep are free to wander, however, so the risk to visitors who keep to the signposted trails is negligible.

An unusual pond barrow
An unusual pond barrow

National Nature Reserve

Today, the site is preserved by Natural England as a downland nature reserve, home to a wide variety of chalk-loving plants. Hardy breeds of sheep such as Herdwick and Beulah graze the grasslands. Acidic soil conditions make it a haven for gorse, broom, and heather.

In addition to the grasslands, Old Winchester Hill is home to two distinct areas of woodland habitat; yew woodland and deciduous woods, home to varieties such as ash, hazel, and beech. Stands of hazel are coppiced to create a habitat for dormice.

Come in summer for a stunning display of wildflowers in the grassland areas.

Old Winchester Hill is directly on the line of the South Downs Way National Trail.

Butterflies abound in the nature reserve
Butterflies abound in the nature reserve

Getting There

The main car park for Old Winchester Hill lies on the minor road between Warnford and Clanfield. There is a second parking place, little bigger than a small lay-by, several hundred yards further east along the same road. This lay-by is useful for people with limited mobility who may want a shorter route to the hillfort than the main car park offers.

From the main car park to the hillfort is a distance of about 1.6km (1 mile) each way. The going is mostly level.

More Photos

About Old Winchester Hill
Address: Hayden Lane, West Meon, Hampshire, England
Attraction Type: Prehistoric Site
Location: On the minor road between Warnford and Clanfield. Well signposted. Free car parking.
Website: Old Winchester Hill
Location map
OS: SU640205
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


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