International travel enthusiast and expat from New Zealand, currently living in Germany. https://indie-road.com
Published March 22nd 2017
I'm a Wessex Boy
I grew up in the city of Winchester in the South of England, and until I left to go travelling and returned, I never appreciated the beauty of what was on my doorstep. So, from the perspective of somebody who once considered the modest southern city home, allow me to quickly guide you around the old stuff in the middle.
Firstly, and most importantly, there's the Cathedral, one of the largest in Europe in fact. Seldom will you see it without scaffolding somewhere around the outside, but when the lighting is right and you're in the right place, it makes a damn good photograph. You can actually walk all the way around the outside, which takes you through cute little gardens and passageways which nurture lots of hidden spots of a moment of peace and quiet, or you can sit out the front and entertain yourself with a parade of tourists and locals from every corner of the globe ambling past.
The outside is impressive, but the inside is equally awesome. The sheer size of it is enough to disorientate you, and if not, then there are sections where if you're walking along with your eyes closed, you will feel the floors sloping in weird directions. The Cathedral was originally built on soft land and began to sink, which was stopped by a diver called William Walker armed with cement bags and a knife, meaning that the building is still on a bit of an awkward angle. A lot of information can be found on him in the Cathedral Close. When the conditions are right, it's worth visiting the crypt in the Cathedral to see the Antony Gormley sculpture, perfectly reflected in the water table.
The High Street also holds some historic gems. At the top of the hill, near the train station is the West Gate, a medieval gate and disused prison, still etched with prisoners graffiti, now existing as a museum. As you continue down the hill you will pass The Buttercross, a fifteenth-century monument used for preaching. At the bottom of the High Street is the statue of King Alfred, standing tall over the city and next to Abbey Gardens. Just beyond this is the Chesil Rectory which is the oldest house and best preserved medieval building in Winchester, built in 1450, and is now home to a gourmet restaurant of the same name.
Somewhere a little off the beaten track is Kingsgate Street. Just a short walk, straight from the Cathedral Grounds, the cute cobbled road will lead you through Winchester College. Surrounded by tall stone walls, it feels like something out of Les Miserables - actually, it is, they did some filming for the most recent movie here. You can also view Jane Austen's house where she spent the last eight years of her life, and take a pleasant walk around the Itchen River. And while you're at it, you may as well finish up at The Bishop on the Bridge for a well-deserved pint.
If you're up for a moderate fifteen-minute walk, you can head up to the lookout at St Giles Hill which provides views over the entire city, providing you haven't got carried away at the pub and had one cheeky pint too many to attempt anything uphill (it happens to us all). This is an excellent place to finish up and lose yourself in the magic of the historic capital city.
Winchester is a very beautiful little city, and well worth an afternoon of exploring if ever you happen to be in the area. Being just an hour on the train from London, it would be criminal not to visit. And if all of this isn't enough reason to visit, maybe Winchester's own Frank Turner can convince you.