After enjoying a hearty breakfast at the Holiday Inn Winchester we decided to leave our car behind and take the bus into the city centre. With a stop at the end of the drive it couldn’t have been easier as the journey only took 7 minutes. (Bus 64, day tickets £4).
The bus terminated close to the Visitor Information Centre which was ideal as we’d arranged to take a Guided Walking Tour from there. The visitor centre is located in the Guildhall, a magnificent Victorian building now mainly used as a venue for functions and events. As we’d arrived slightly early, it gave us an opportunity to look around the centre which was stocked with lots of interesting gifts, useful guidebooks and maps.
At 11.00 a.m. prompt we were introduced to our guide who led us outdoors where we made our first stop close by at the statue of Alfred the Great. Winchester was the capital of Alfred’s Wessex and an extensive programme of events took place to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of his death in 1899. This culminated in the unveiling of Hamo Thorneycroft’s statue in 1902 which has become one of the city’s most recognisable landmarks.
From there, we moved on to the Abbey Gardens which are part of the former site of St. Mary’s Abbey, once one of the largest religious houses in the country. Pausing to look around, our guide explained that in 1539 the abbey was surrendered to Henry VIII as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries and was destroyed. A townhouse and formal gardens survive to this day as the Mayor of Winchester’s official residence and these are known as Abbey House.
Our tour then continued along a pathway passing Winchester Cathedral, through the 15th century Prior’s Gate, the main entrance to Cathedral Close. This led us through to Cheyney Court, a beautiful example of half timbered architecture that was once the Bishop’s Court House.
Moving on, we explored the high street stopping to admire the 15th century Buttercross which is a stunning piece of stone carving located in the middle of the main shopping street. The monument has octagonal steps and a pillar carved with the faces of renowned local figures. It was restored by George Gilbert Scott in 1865 and is a popular meeting place and is where street entertainers frequently perform.
Our tour then continued uphill through the Westgate Arch and onto The Great Hall where we had visited the previous day. I’d recommend joining one of these tours as although it’s possible to wander around on your own, I always find that the tour guides point out interesting things that we wouldn’t necessarily have noticed ourselves.
Following the tour, we explored Peninsula Square which was just around the corner. This was the site of the old Peninsula Barracks and is the centre of Winchester’s military history. It’s a stunning Victorian complex that now contains 6 military museums and stylish housing within the landscaped gardens of the former parade ground transforming it into a very desirable place to live.
On this historic site, William the Conqueror built a Royal castle which was extended by King Henry III. In 1796 the site was leased from the Crown for use as a military barracks until 1994 when the Ministry of Defence relinquished its ownership of most of the site. Three buildings were retained to accommodate some MOD offices including the regimental headquarters of the Royal Green Jackets together with the six military museums.
It was then time for some lunch so we headed back downhill to the Buttercross as we’d spotted the lovely Winchester Bakery located in one of the heritage buildings. We chose our lunch from the wide selection of artisan breads and pastries on offer at the bakery counter and then found a table upstairs. The cafe has large bay windows overlooking the high street and with its original stone fireplace and wooden ceiling beams is very cosy.
We shared a New York style pastrami sandwich, almond croissant and salted caramel cake which were all delicious. It was very relaxing sitting by the window with the melodic sounds of the buskers below adding to the ambiance.
Rested and refuelled we set off again, this time just around the corner to visit Winchester Cathedral. Entrance to the cathedral is £10 allowing return visits within one year and included in the ticket price is the option of a ‘free’ guided tour.
We had pre-arranged a tour due to commence at 2.00 p.m. but it didn’t quite work out that way as we had literally just stepped inside the church and spoken to our guide when the fire alarm went off! The cathedral had to be evacuated and, along with dozens of other people, we had to wait on the lawns outside for 20 minutes until we were given the all clear to return inside. Fortunately, it was only a faulty sensor that had caused the mayhem and our tour finally got under way.
Tours are run by volunteers and Fran who led our group of 12 was very informative and clearly passionate about the cathedral. She told us that there has been a cathedral in Winchester since about 648AD with the foundation stone of the present church being laid in 1079 by the first Norman Bishop. During its 900+ year history the cathedral has been remodelled and extended numerous times.
Notable events that have taken place within its walls include the coronation of Richard I (1194) and the marriage of Queen Mary (1554). Many of the ancient Kings of England are buried there along with the author Jane Austin who came to Winchester in 1817 to seek medical help but sadly died shortly afterwards aged just 41.
It was wonderful to be able to view the intricate carvings on the choir stalls as each of the people’s faces are unique. Also of particular note are the exquisite medieval floor tiles, Jane Austen’s gravestone and the 13th century bible font.
Our delayed tour ended at 3.30 p.m. and we then dashed along to the bus stop as I had arranged to have a massage in the hotel’s ANA Spa at 4.00 p.m. and didn’t want to be late. My neck, shoulder and back massage was blissful and just what I needed, so relaxing in fact that I almost fell asleep.
Afterwards, I enjoyed my first ever Rasul treatment which begins with cleansing and exfoliating the skin before being plastered in a clay mixture. This was followed by time in the steam room and a cleansing rinse to wash away the clay and leave my skin feeling silky soft and glowing. I really should indulge in these spa treatments more often as it was heavenly.
Back in the room I caught up on the news and then we then enjoyed dinner once again in the hotel’s Odyssey restaurant. After ordering salmon the previous evening, I opted for a juicy rump steak with peppercorn sauce which was grilled to perfection and then ended my meal with a sweet treat of a chocolate and orange tart which was very yummy.
After breakfast the next morning we packed up the car and bid farewell to the historic city of Winchester. In 48 hours we’d seen so much from viewing King Arthur’s Round Table in the Great Hall to experiencing the splendour of the cathedral. We’d had time to tour the famous Winchester College, take a riverside walk and wander along one of Britain’s oldest high streets. We’d enjoyed it all and hopefully this short series of posts might inspire some of you to consider visiting Winchester too!
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During our visit, we were guests of Visit Winchester and as always all views and opinions are entirely my own.