We planned an autumn break in the historic city of Winchester, located in Hampshire, south west England. The previous night we’d stayed with family close by allowing us two full days to explore the city. On arrival in the city, we left our car in the Chesil Street multi-storey car park just a couple of minutes walk from the bottom of the High Street and strolled up the hill admiring the beautiful Tudor buildings as we passed by.
Our first stop of the day was to Winchester Great Hall on Castle Avenue which houses the medieval round table linked to King Arthur and his knights (entrance £4). The Great Hall is one of the finest surviving aisled halls of the 13th century with its painted archways and marble columns. It once formed part of Winchester Castle which was founded in 1067 by William the Conqueror shortly after his victory at the famous Battle of Hastings.
Thomas Mallory, the 15th century author of ‘Le Morte D’Arthur’ identified Winchester as the site of Camelot and we were so excited to view the famous ‘Round Table’ linked to the ancient legends of King Arthur and his knights.
The magnificent table dominates one end of the hall and we read with interest the information boards explaining its significance. The hall also contains a 14ft statue of Queen Victoria which was created to mark her Golden Jubilee of 1877.
From the Great Hall, a few steps lead up to the Long Gallery containing paintings of Kings, Queens and local dignitaries and after viewing these we strolled through Queen Eleanor’s Garden located to the rear of the building. This attractive small garden was opened by H.M. the Queen Mother in 1986 as part of the Domesday celebrations.
The recreated medieval garden is named after Queen Eleanor of Provence and features a fountain, camomile lawn, herbs and various plants that were abundant in the 13th century.
On leaving there it was then just a short walk to the Westgate Museum located inside a surviving fortified medieval city gateway. Entrance is £3 with joint tickets available with the City Museum priced at £8 and valid for unlimited return visits within a year.
We climbed the stone steps up the tower to the museum entrance which served as a debtors prison for 150 years. This museum tells the story of the building together with the history of Tudor and Stuart Winchester.
Of particular interest on display is a famous collection of pre-imperial weights and measures. We read that in Anglo-Saxon times a law decreed that all measures must agree to the official standards. From that time, the bushel for weighing dry goods became known as the ‘Winchester’ measure with the Winchester Bushel still in use today in the USA.
Before leaving, we clambered up the ancient steps onto the Westgate rooftop. Here we were rewarded with fine views along Britain’s oldest high street which stretches from where we were standing all the way down to the bridge over the River Itchen near where we had left the car.
We then walked down the high street pausing to look in some of the shops along our way until we reached Winchester City Museum close to the cathedral. This museum tells the story of the city which was England’s ancient capital and the seat of Alfred the Great. Arranged over three floors, the galleries document its origins from the Iron Age.
There’s a large scale model of the city in Victorian times, recreated shop fronts and a section on Jane Austen who travelled to Winchester in May 1817 to seek medical help but died two months later aged 41 and was then laid to rest in the cathedral.
We were then ready for some lunch and noticing The Old Vine opposite, we called in there. It’s a charming 18th century inn with beamed ceilings. On the menu were lots of things to tempt us but being a Sunday we couldn’t resist Roast Pork with all the trimmings.
The roast was beautifully presented and tasted as good as it looked. After desserts of Jubilee cheesecake, macaroons and cups of coffee we were refuelled and ready to continue exploring once again.
Our next stop was to the Winchester City Mill owned by the National Trust but free to visit. The City Mill is one of the oldest working water mills in the country and between 1931-2005 was repurposed as one of the youth hostels along the former Pilgrims Way which ran from Winchester to Canterbury. The mill was then taken over by the National Trust with a new waterwheel and granary installed to restore the mill and return it to its former use.
Flour is milled each weekend and we watched the process as the miller emptied sacks of grain down a wooden chute into the hopper above the millstones.
The grain then passes between the millstones to be ground into flour before going down a second chute to the lower floor by the water wheel where it is collected in sacks.
One of the volunteer millers told us that the mill produces about 20-30kg of flour per hour depending on how fast the flow of water is. The flour is then bagged up for sale in the shop with the remainder being used for baking cakes in the cafe.
It was fascinating to watch the process and to then take a walk along the picturesque riverbank afterwards. The waterside path looked beautiful with its autumnal colours and we paused frequently to take photos.
Access from the footpath leads to the ruins of Wolvesey Castle operated by English Heritage (entrance free). The castle was the main residence of the Bishops of Winchester throughout the Middle Ages. The extensive remains date from the 12th century and have information boards explaining their original layout.
To one side of the ruins stands the grand 17th century Wolvesey Palace which was built as a replacement for Winchester Castle. This has been the official residence of the Bishops of Winchester ever since.
Leaving there, we made our way to the nearby Winchester College, founded in 1392 by William of Wykeham and now one of the UK’s leading independent schools. As we were slightly early for our 3:30 pm booked tour (one hour guided tours £10) we first had chance to explore the school’s Treasury Collection. This contains an extensive collection of art and archaeology and is open to the public between 2.00 – 4.00 p.m. each day (entrance free). The artefacts are displayed in the medieval warden’s stables which were converted into a museum in 2016.
Following our visit to the Treasury Collection our tour commenced by the Porters Lodge which leads into the Outer Court. Our informative guide told us that the school’s first pupils arrived in 1394 comprising 70 scholars and 16 choir boys. Education was free for these 86 boys who were mostly from families with limited means similar to that of their founder.
The tour took us into the Chamber Court, Chapel, College Hall, Cloisters and parts of the 17th century school building including the kitchens and oak panelled dining room. The taking of photos is not permitted indoors so I’m unable to illustrate these to you but it’s a splendid tour and a wonderful insight into the school’s history up to the present day.
We’d enjoyed a wonderful first day exploring Winchester and on returning to the car it was just a five minute drive to the Holiday Inn Winchester where we’d arranged to spend the next two nights. The reception was located at one end of the stylish lobby and shortly after checking in, we were relaxing with cups of tea in our comfortable room.
After a short rest we enjoyed a meal in the hotel’s Odyssey Restaurant. From our table we were in a good position to watch the chefs prepare dishes in the open kitchen. My choice of chilli garlic lemon tiger prawns followed by a juicy fillet of grilled salmon with new potatoes and green beans accompanied by a glass of Merlot was the perfect end to our day.
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