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St. Catherine's Hill

St. Catherine's Hill is a prominent chalk hill not far from Winchester in Hampshire's South Downs. The hill appears to have had a significant place in local life since early times, and indeed the remains of an iron age hillfort can still be seen there today, hinting that St. Catherine's Hill was of military, economic and perhaps spiritual importance.

During the middle Saxon era a Christian chapel was built on the hill, indicating that the place may have previously been a site of pagan worship. The current chapel dates from the 12th century. During the black death the dry valleys around the hill were the site of several plague pits.

Also of interest is a turf maze, one of three in the United Kingdom known as "Mizmaze". The maze was probably cut in the 17th century although it cannot be disproven that previous mazes existed on the hill. The Mizmaze is unusual on several point; it is roughly square whereas most turf mazes are rounded. It also appears to be of the late medieval "labrynth" design rather than the earlier Scandnavian-influenced "walls of Troy" style. Also, the walkways in the maze are the narrow channels cut into the turf- usually the turf itself forms the walkway.

The Hill is owned by Winchester College and is managed as a nature reserve.

P A McHugh

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