WALK THROUGH HISTORIC WINCHESTER
WINCHESTER’S ST. CROSS
St. Swithun, the Bishop of Winchester, passed away over a thousand years ago, in the year 862 A.D. It rained heavily for 40 days after his remains were moved from a simple tomb in the cathedral grounds to a splendid shrine in the inner sanctum, which was done against his dying wishes.
The hospital was established to provide for 13 disabled, poor men and to feed 100 men begging outside its gates every day. The group of 13 men eventually became known as the Brothers of St. Cross. Neither then nor now did they hold the monastic title.
Land, mills, and farms in medieval St. Cross provided food and drink for a large population, but since the water was undrinkable, a steady supply of ale and beer was also essential.
Since its inception in 1136, the hospital has provided a safe haven for elderly gentlemen, and one of them was more than happy to tell me all about how England’s historic capital is ripe with opportunities for history buffs. You can’t possibly exhaust the wealth of historic sites, museums, and monuments in England without visiting London.
The city of Winchester has been shaped by the influence of the church, the state, the law, and the military throughout its history. In the compact city center, visitors can stroll from one neighborhood to the next, each shaped by the impressive buildings that still represent these institutions.
It is recommended that first-time visitors take one of the local walks so that they can get oriented to the area. The Winchester Walk will allow you to see some of the sights in King Alfred’s city, while Keats’ Walk is where the poet found his inspiration and where you might find it, too.
(In the years 849-899, King Alfred the Great of England fought off a Viking invasion of the south and made peace with them through a treaty.)
Participating in a tour led by one of the Blue Badge Tourist Guides is yet another great option for getting to know Winchester. Their infectious enthusiasm for their city, its history, and its humor keeps visitors coming back for more. Visits are available at any time of the year.
THE CATHEDRAL REFECTORY
The world-famous Winchester Cathedral, a place of worship for over 900 years, was the first stop on my sightseeing itinerary. The building’s design is impressive, but what makes it truly special are the secrets it conceals.
Outstanding works of art compete for attention with the tombs of Jane Austen, Izaak Walton, and early English kings in the longest medieval nave in Europe.
The Winchester Bible, with its massive size and lavish illumination, stands out as the best of the great 12th-century bibles. The crypt serves as a fitting backdrop for Antony Gormley’s 1986 installation, Sound II.
The future Henry III was likely baptized in a carved, black marble font from the 12th century in 1207. Santa Claus, or Saint Nicholas of Myra, is depicted in scenes from his life on two sides of this Romanesque-style ornament.
The Cathedral Refectory can be found in the enclosed garden to the west of the main building. Having a meal here in such peace and quiet sounds like a wonderful idea. Also common are themed events, such as Scottish nights complete with plenty of tartan and rousing pipe tunes. Everything on the menu is made from scratch using fresh, regional ingredients.
As a matter of fact, more and more restaurants in Winchester are starting to use seasonal, locally grown ingredients in their dishes. Acres of watercress thrive in the Itchen and Meon valleys, and the rivers are well-known for the trout that flourish in their clear, swift waters.
Located on Kingsgate Street close to Winchester College, the Wykeham Arms is a fantastic old pub full of history. Old school inkwells sit atop each table, which are actually repurposed college desks.
Hearty ale stew made with locally brewed beer, spicy Hampshire pumpkin soup, and the restaurant’s signature savory Wyke Pie made from a secret recipe are all available here.
The original Hotel du Vin & Bistro, established in 1715 and located in one of Winchester’s most significant Georgian structures, can also be found in this historic city. On warm days, dine in a pretty walled garden while feasting on traditional dishes made with seasonal, locally sourced ingredients.
FOLKLORE AND FUN IN WINCHESTER
Winchester is home to many unique stores, including boutiques and bookstores selling rare and out-of-print books. Bow-fronted Regency and Elizabethan shops line the pedestrian-only High Street, which was once the east-to-west Roman thoroughfare of the city.
The Lloyds Bank building, formerly the Guildhall, is where the nightly curfew has been sounded for hundreds of years, signaling that all good burghers should be inside by 8 p.m.
Wells Bookshop, Winchester’s oldest bookstore, is conveniently located just a few doors down College Street from the house where Jane Austen spent her final days.
The only remaining part of Winchester Castle is the 13th-century Great Hall, which features lavish stained-glass windows and can be reached by strolling through peaceful streets and leafy courtyards alongside the sparkling waters of the River Itchen.
You can get there from the crumbling castle’s foundations by crossing an open courtyard. Only by descending a steep, narrow, and dark stairwell can you access the castle’s underground dungeon.
There was a time when the Domesday Book, a record of a survey of English settlements commissioned by William the Conqueror in December 1085, was kept in the castle. This castle was once a gathering place for influential people in the political and judicial spheres.
For over 600 years, this has been the location of the legendary Round Table where King Arthur and his Knights feasted. As the legend goes, this table was crafted by the wizard Merlin. but shh! this is a fake, though it looks like a Tudor. Westgate Museum, located just a few feet from the uncovered base, showcases life in medieval Winchester.
I made a final stop at Winchester College, the country’s oldest institution of higher education still in operation, before heading back home. As part of our tour, we got to see the Gothic chapel from the 14th century with its wooden vaulted roof and the red brick schoolroom built by the famous English architect Sir Christopher Wren in the 17th century.
The first dining hall for academics was College Hall. With its high timber ceiling, fixed benches and tables, and paneling dating back to the 16th century, this space is perfect for themed dinners and other special occasions.
Without a doubt, Winchester is England’s beating heart, and it’s packed with amazing attractions. but I must warn you, you can’t just stop by once. Surely, you’ll want to make a return visit.