Winchester was once the capital of England. As a regular visitor to this small city, I have walked almost every where there is to walk in Winchester. The beauty of it is that one moment you are on a bustling high street and the next walking through the calm water meadows. If you are feeling energetic climb to the top of St Giles Hill for magnificent views of the city and beyond.
Winchester is steeped in history. Henry VII had a castle here where his first son, Arthur, was born. Yes that Arthur, he of the knights of the round table Arthur. The Castle is at the top of the town. At the the bottom of the town, near to the Almshouses and the park is a statue of King Alfred who in 871 AD was crowned King of Wessex and established Winchester as his capital.
Dedicated to God and the public service
Winchester College was established in the fourteenth century by self made man, William of Wykeham. I am not sure how many Bishops or politicians they educate now, but that was his vision at the time. As you walk around the city on the weekend, you will see the groups of handsome rich young men dressed like Harry and Wills. The younger boys will be at a pizza joint with visiting parents. At over 35k per annum to board at this school, I guess pizza is all you can afford.
Winchester Discovery Centre is worth a visit. It houses the library, a gallery with regular exhibitions and a café and shop, where you can buy the book, Look Up Winchester.
Look Up Winchester
The book Look Up Winchester is the perfect book to take with you on a walking tour of Winchester. Available from the Library or the Winchester Cathedral shop for £6.99 this is how they describe the book.
A fascinating book taking you on a tour of Winchester’s historic High Street – from an unusual perspective…
Authors Rodney Graham and Christopher Newberry thought it a great shame that some wonderful architectural details are missed, simply by people never looking up! Above the High Street shops is a wealth of wonderful history; and as well as looking at the features of the buildings, the book also tells the captivating stories behind the facades.
The book comes in a handily-sized small format, perfect for carrying with you as you stroll down the High Street – looking up
Nothing to add. It survived my book cull. That is a good enough reason to buy it.
The French Connection
Every time I go to Winchester I hear people speaking French. Over lunch in the pub on my last visit I met two girls from Paris. You will come across market traders over from France for the day. Many of the waiting staff in the many gastro pubs are French.
The French love Winchester. It is a day trip for the French as much as the English in the south may pop to Dieppe on a day trip. This is because the city is easy to navigate in a day, there are lots of good places to eat and the markets are so very good.
Which neatly brings me to –
I think Winchester has some of the best Market Days in the country. The local council have worked with local and some not so local traders to build these markets and they are now a very popular with local people and visitors to he city.
The Council provide the gazebos, and the pitches are of a reasonable rate. The arguments I have heard from some councils (Sandwell I am looking at you) is that market traders take the custom from the regular shop keepers on the high street. As the occupancy rates of shops is high in Winchester, as is the number of independent stores and coffee shops, this does not seem to be the case. It also makes the shops up their game to be honest. There is no room for complacency when customers have a choice.
Gets off soapbox and continues writing…
The Farmers’ Market is held on the second and final Sunday of each month. It is one of the biggest, if not the biggest farmers market in the UK with between 80 and 95 stalls. Go early and have breakfast, get your provisions and then have brunch. Some days they have cookery demonstrations. All traders are from Hampshire and the quality is very high, organic meat, game, beautiful heritage vegetables and homemade bread and cakes. There are no plastic bowls of cheap veg here.
You can however get bowls of veg (cheap but of the highest quality) from the store in front of Marks and Spencer. This stall is one of the many that you can find at the General Street Market. This runs along the high street, with food stalls and local coffee shops to stop by for breakfast, brunch or lunch.
The Art and Design Market is held on the third Sunday of each month between March and December. Lots of Vintage and Bric a Brac, great for browsing and buying unusual items, such as old cameras and typewriters.
There is also a Christmas Market held in the grounds of the cathedral. It is not as big as the many German Markets in England, yet its location is second to none.
I am not a shopper. I try not to buy stuff. Winchester however, has enough quirky independent shops to keep my browsing habit happy. The staff at Mistral are simply the best. Friendly, helpful, not pushy and the music is good. It is the only place that I actually enjoy clothes shopping. If you like the big chains, they are here, including Debenhams, Marks and Spencer and Primark. However, I urge you to check out the smaller retailers both in the shops and on the markets. Many of these are not on the main high street in the centre, so you do need to leave the main shopping area. If you like Vintage and Retro this is the city for you. More information about shopping can be found here.
The best way to find these is to wander off the main street and explore the city. Who knows what else you will find? There is a particularly good book shop in the Kingsgate area of the city, near to the college.
Leave the city behind
Step off Bridge Street for a moment and you are on the bank of the River Itchen. Winchester City Mill owned by The National Trust sits atop of it, using the power of the river to turn the millstones to grind the flour.
Or you can walk along the river by taking the steps next to The Bishop on the Bridge. This route takes you past The Almshouses, toward The Bishop’s House and then over the water meadows at the rear of the college sports ground. After a 20 minutes peaceful river walk you will arrive at The Hospital of St Cross, a group of Grade 1 listed buildings, dating from 1132. I have walked to almost everywhere in Winchester, yet, despite walking along the river many times I have never been here. That is something I will put right on my next visit.
Food and Drink
I have my favourites in Winchester. For breakfast or brunch it is always Black White Red, opposite the library. They understand brunch. The eggs are perfectly poached, the avocado is smashed and the bacon is free range. Offering healthy juices and granola, pancakes with maple syrup, and the full English, they have breakfast covered. They are open all day, but I have only ever been there in the morning, but if the wine and food in the evening are as good as their coffee and eggs in the morning, you are in for a treat. I am particularly fond of this place as this is where I met a lovely gentleman who inspired me to write this about loneliness.
Addendum January 2017 – Black White Red has now changed – my new favourite brunch venue is Forte Kitchen. Perfectly poached eggs.
There are a number of pubs in Winchester as you would expect. My two favourite are locally run No. 5, part of The Ideal Collection, and a Fuller’s pub The Bishop on the Bridge. The food at the Bishop is hearty pub food, while the food at No. 5 is possibly less pubby, concentrating on locally sourced, seasonal produce. I would drink beer at the Bishop and wine at No.5. Both have good outdoor space.
After dining at either you can cross the road to The Black Bottle for some wine tasting.
The Black Bottle: where new and familiar red, white and rosé wines are available by the glass. A selection of 32 of our 140 strong bottle cellar are dispensed through our Enomatic dispensers. Each of our four machines hold 8 bottles with machines dedicated exclusively to red and white varieties. This means that at any one time we have a wide range of red, white and rosé to sample by the glass. Our machines are individually programmed to serve our specific varieties of wine at their optimum temperature: an ambient room temperature for reds and a gentle chill for whites and rose, allowing all of our wines to express their flavours fully.
A quirky place, with 5 rooms over 2 floors, you load up your token and choose your wine from the Enomatic dispenser. You can also buy wine by the bottle but the dispenser is much more fun.
My most recent discovery is El Sabio a Spanish restaurant that has been in Winchester since 2008. The tapas were excellent as was the organic wine. I will definitely be returning.
Other good places to eat are the recently refurbished Ghandi for Indian food, although I have only ever had take out, and the relatively new Palm Pan Asia which was recommended to me by people I shared a table with at The Black Bottle. There is also The Black Boy a traditional British pub, decorated with an eclectic mix of art, clutter and taxidermy.
Where to stay?
I used to get to stay in The Grade II listed Tudor House when family lived there, and only recently have had to stay in hotels in the city. I have stayed at No.5 which is comfortable and city centre based so while handy for the shops and dining options, there is some traffic noise and it is a very lively pub on Saturday evenings. There is also The Black Hole which looks every bit as quirky as The Black Bottle. For other places to stay, the Visit Winchester website has lots of suggestions. From caravan sites, B&B and Hotel Du Vin, there are plenty of options.
Addendum January 2017 – Most recently I have chosen to stay at The Premier Inn. Although slightly out of town, has plenty of free parking and you can still walk to the centre of Winchester from the hotel. Soundproofed rooms and very comfortable.
It does quirky
I hope this has been useful for anyone thinking of visiting Winchester. I love the city. I find something new on each visit. Yet it is so compact, you could cover a lot of ground in one day. And you can’t help loving a city that does this. Even the street furniture is pretty.
One Mans Trash….
AKA the recycling centre. Regular readers will know that I have spent a fair bit of time in the past few weeks, recycling my stuff. I heard the centre in Winchester ‘rescues’ good quality items and has a little shop. On this visit they had a perfectly good piano, doors, a toy car and some interesting furniture. The only other place I have seen this is at Brecon, where I picked up some Wedgwood China. And the bits they can’t sell they use to decorate the garden. One mans trash is another mans treasure. A great place to pick up some vintage items at rock bottom prices.