The River Itchen is a beautiful chalk stream which flows for approximately 28 miles from mid-Hampshire to Southampton. The river has international importance and is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) due to its high quality habitats which support a range of protected species including the water vole, otter and white-clawed crayfish. Kingfishers, butterflies and dragonflies are also frequently spotted along the banks.
The source of the Itchen is situated in Cheriton, near Alresford, and flows down to the historic city of Winchester passing through nature reserve Winnall Moors, and Winchester City Mill.
A walk along the River Itchen will provide a fantastic opportunity to not only explore the ancient capital of England but sample some of the finest eateries in Hampshire. Visitors to Winchester can escape the bustle of the city centre and take a leisurely walk along its banks which offer excellent views of the city's medieval defences.
For much of its length the River Itchen is divided into two or more separate channels running parallel to each other, including the Itchen Navigation. This is a modified part of the river and a former canal which runs for just over 10 miles from Wharf Bridge in Winchester to Woodmill in Southampton. A public footpath called the Itchen Way runs next to the Navigation along its entire length.
The Itchen Navigation was constructed in the late 17th century to allow the transport of cargo on barges between Winchester and Southampton. It was also economically important for irrigating the extensive water meadow system along the valley floor which is now used to grow Hampshire's famous watercress. Locks, sluices and hatches were built to control the water levels and manage flow to the adjacent water meadows and mills. The remnants of these can still be found today. The Navigation was used until 1869 when the London to Southampton railway was constructed.
Parts of the Itchen Navigation are currently undergoing conservation so it can be enjoyed by future generations to come. The Itchen Navigation Heritage Trail Project is running for five years between 2008 and 2012.