Winchester is a City you always hear good things about from others. After many conversations and comments heard about this pretty place, my curiosity overtook me and I decided to make my way over and find out what all the fuss was about. Just an hour and a half from London or for me, a pleasant train ride along the South Coast lead me to my destination and I found myself among a few other tourists all trying to find our way to the town centre. Fortunately as long as you go down hill from the station, you can’t really go wrong.
The Westergate with its square structure and archway, welcomes you into the town and as you wander down into the central streets beyond, you begin to get a sense of the historic richness here from the winding streets, various time-period buildings and olde-worldy signs scattered all around. Adopted as a hometown by many recognisable figures throughout English history, Winchester serves as a living time capsule guarding some true treasures from the previous years. It is a real joy to discover these surprises around every corner of the town. It is rumoured that Winchester may be Arthur’s Camelot and after spending a day or two exploring the City, you can’t help but think that this might be true. With this all these rumours and legends to explore, here are my top 10 things that you really shouldn’t miss on a Winchester trip!
Charles II – The Palace originally being constructed for Charles II was left half-finished for many years before being used as a shelter for refugees. The house was then completed and now serves as a barracks. Steal a look at this beautiful building whilst visiting the nearby Military Musuems just a short walk up hill from the Westergate.
Round Table – The 11th Century Hall is the home of what was once believed to be King Arthur’s legandary round table. Although it is now known not to be true, this 12th century table created by King Stephen is still worthy of a visit. The hall in which the table is situated has served many purposes including a stronghold and royal residence and features an impressive wall display of the Parliamentary representatives of Hampshire between 1283 and 1868, painted as part of the 19th century Hall restoration work. The hall keeps guard over many other jewels including the Queen Victoria statue, gilded gates and fantastic stained-glass windows. Through a side door is a pretty garden named after two Queen Eleanor’s, (Queen Eleanor of Castille and Queen Eleanor of Provence) and proudly displays a bronze falcon in the middle of the water feature there.
King Alfred the Great Statue – The memorial statue of one of England’s earliest Kings and the founder of Winchester stands by the Abbey in The Broadway. As his Capital, Winchester was the largest of the fortified areas during Alfred’s reign from 871 to 899 and helped him recover land taken by the Vikings at this time. Stand humbled in front of the statue of this great King, uncover more of Alfred’s life in Winchester City Museum or follow the Kind Alfred’s Winchester City Walk with a map guide from the Tourist Information Centre.
Winchester Cathedral – The Cathedral in Winchester is a stunningly preserved gothic example and is one of the largest Cathedrals in Europe. With roots reaching back to 1079, this limestone structure took my breath away with the beautiful stained-glass windows, nave space and high altar being particularly special to see. Do not miss the crypt with its sculpture, Sound II by Antony Gormley standing serene in the watery archways.
Jane Austen’s Burial Place – One of the highlights of the day was seeing the resting place for one of Britain’s much loved authors, Jane Austen. The burial place can be found in the North Aisle of Winchester Cathedral. The stone epitaph makes no mention of Austen as a writer but does celebrate her gifts as a person and was very endearing to read. A brass plaque was added to the cathedral in 1872 and can be seen next on the wall next to the stone.
Wolvesey Castle is now in ruins, but was once a house to the Old Bishops of Saxon times. This Castle was the place where Queen Mary I and Philip II of Spain stayed in preparation for their wedding, before hosting their wedding banquet. It was used up to the 1680s before falling into disrepair. Wolvesey Castle is open between April and November each year.
River Itchen Walk – To the right side of Wolvesey Castle, is a riverside path of the Itchen. The pretty pathway forms part of The Itchen Way and Pilgrim’s walk trails and will take you through many other spots with links to Winchester.
St Giles’ lookout – Past the King Alfred statue and across the bridge you will steps leading up the hillside of St Giles. It is a short steep walk, but if you can make it up the view of the city at the lookout point is absolutely worth it. The map on the platform shows you old and new versions of the view and pointed out some attractions that a first time tourist like myself would have otherwise missed.
St John’s apartments – These tucked away apartments were one of these attractions. The lane leads you to some quaint houses, now converted to flats but keeping all of their charm.
The City Mill – This rare working corn mill was one mentioned as particularly profitable in the Domesday Book in 1086 and been through its fair share of events throughout its thousand year (at least) lifetime, being classed as derelict in 1471, given as a gift to the City by Queen Mary I in 1554 and restored to its former glory in 1743. The Mill is now a shining example of a working watermill, hosting baking and milling demonstrations as well as otter spotting in the river below. Enjoy a tour before heading to the shop to pick up a bag of freshly milled flour.
Main street – The main shopping street in Winchester leads down the hill from the Westergate and is a central point leading to all of the City’s key locations. Side streets look like the paths to the past with their period signs and window fronts. Glimpses of the Cathedral can be spied through these lanes and statues decorate the small squares dotted around. Stroll through this bustling street and soak up the atmosphere of this lovely City.