So… Winchester. Located in Hampshire, keeper of a rich history, former capital of ancient England. Home to a proud military heritage and incredibly photogenic to boot. Worth a look, right? I thought so. Hence our first day out exploring anywhere beyond our immediate local area in a long, long time involved a self guided walk around the city.
This walk didn’t begin in the city though, it began with a view across the it from St Giles Hill. It’s a good place to start; handy for parking and gives a great overview of the place. Also, given that it involves a steep slope and steps, better to do it at the beginning than the end. Worth the effort for a clear look at the city’s past; from the elevated look out point you can pick out the medieval streets, the Georgian developments and standing grandly central to it all, Winchester Cathedral.
The St Giles area today is a peaceful green space in a pleasant neighbourhood but it’s past is a little more colourful. Turn your back on the view of the city and look up the hill in front of you and you’re seeing the site of the St Giles Fair. In medieval days, this was the biggest fair in Europe and I can imagine it all got a bit raucous. Apparently delicacies on offer at the fair back in the day included fish in custard. I’ll stick with a little something from Greggs or Costa, thanks.
I missed a trick up on St Giles hill. Unbelievably, I walked right past the edge of a big old historic graveyard and missed it. Didn’t realise it was there until I got home and started looking at old maps for something else entirely. Not like me at all, I love a good graveyard. I did spot this little chap perched on a branch though, isn’t he lovely? I’m one of those people who believe in superstition about birds. Robins are supposed to be messengers. Wonder if this one was trying to tell me about the graveyard?
Heading back down the hill the route into the city took us past some old timber framed buildings- including the oldest in Winchester- and across the River Itchen via an old stone bridge. Sitting alongside the bridge is the still working Winchester Mill. Still working, but closed due to Covid. That’s becoming a depressingly familiar line, isn’t it? I see hope on the horizon though, so let’s not dwell on that.
Across the road, past a great big, really-can’t-miss-him statue of Alfred the Great the Abbey Gardens is laid out before you. I’m just discovering Winchester but this I know for sure; this city does green space really well. And the gardens are a prime example. Space to wander, space to play, places to pause and lots of pretty planting. The gardens were once home to St Mary’s Abbey and an order of Benedictine nuns. You can still spot some excavated remains here and there. I didn’t get as many pictures as I’d have liked, it was crazy busy. As well as trying to social distance, I always feel a bit strange about capturing people I don’t know in my shots. Slightly awkward.
Moving on from a religious site of days gone by to one that is still standing and very much in use, a short stroll through some very pretty back streets brought us out at Winchester Cathedral. Whatever your religious/spiritual leanings, it’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer scale and grandeur of the place. It’s also a bit of a social hub, there were lots of people enjoying coffee in the sun and dog walking in the gardens around the place. I like the idea of a historic place being a hub of comfort, gathering and positivity. Especially in tricky times. And since this place was standing when the Plague was doing the rounds, it knows a thing or two about seeing off a pandemic.
Beyond the Cathedral, a short walk through more pretty lanes and historic streets lies the beginning of the city’s Military Quarter. A note on historic and pretty streets; this city is full of them. I spent all day saying, ‘ooh this is pretty’ and ‘ah, isn’t this nice’ as we turned pretty much every corner.
Just as attractive, in a totally different sense are the former Peninsula Barracks. If Mr THL had told me he was taking me to see some old barracks, I’m not sure how impressed I’d have been. Unless they were abandoned and out-of-bounds and we were sneaking in, because I love that kind of thing. I’m not going to say too much on it, I’m going to give them their own post. But I’ll say this. I loved what they’d done with the old place. Sneak peek picture below.
Just beyond the old barracks we found ourselves outside the Great Hall. Now a stand alone building, beautifully preserved, the hall was once part of Winchester Castle. I’ve had a quick google and the interior looks amazing and can boast about being home to the legendary King Arthur’s Round Table. But once again, Covid closed. The exterior and excavated remains in the courtyard still gave an idea of how impressive Winchester of old was. I’m currently reading The Meonbridge Chronicles, a fascinating series of books set in Medieval Hampshire so I’ll be back to see inside with imagination fired up when rules allow.
Honestly, we all kind of ran out of steam at this point so it was back to the car via Greggs the bakers for a little something after all the walking. Our walk was by no means a complete tour of Winchester, just a scratch on the surface. But I loved it and I’d highly recommend the city as a day trip or a short break. Especially this year, when going abroad looks a gamble and so many British businesses and destinations are crying out for support.
We loosely followed a self guided walk I found on the Secret Stories app from Ordnance Survey. We went off piste a few times and ended up just meandering in the end ( I’m rubbish at following instructions at the best of times and Mr THL spends enough time following orders at work so we do tend to end up winging it. It’s worked so far!) but I’d still recommend it. It’s a great source of inspiration and the routes do take you beyond the well worn, well known to places you’d likely not find on your own.
I really hope everyone is enjoying a bit more freedom now we are ‘staying local’ rather than ‘staying home’. I’d love to hear what everyone’s been up to, lets chat in the comments.