Winchester is a really lovely ancient City to visit but as a modern city, it has a young creative vibe. At one time, it was the Ancient capital of England but today it seems to have overlooked by visitors to the UK. If you are interested in medieval history, Winchester is the place to visit. It’s only an hour from London. The abundance of good schools and accessibility has made it a commuter favourite.
We spent a day with a guide exploring the history and the modern day Winchester. Besides the history, there is a lot of places to eat and drink. Something I didn’t know, Winchester has a big design background and also has a burgeoning tech community. These industries are fed by a flow of creative talent from the local art school. The new businesses run by new young blood like the Cabinet Rooms and Forte Kitchen is changing the face of this charming city.
The last time I was there was for the Winchester Christmas Market which is loads of fun, lots of food and great for Christmas shopping.
Exploring the History of Winchester
We had a guided tour of the City with one of the very knowledgeable guides from the Tourist office. He took us on a walk through the areas near the Cathedral and told us lots of stories, over 2000 years of history.
The people of Winchester are really proud of King Alfred. Alfred, King of the West Saxons (AD 871-899) drove the Danish invaders from Wessex. He created fortified centres, of which Winchester, the largest, was his capital. During his reign, the streets in use today were first established. He encouraged the revival of learning and monastic life. As he was the fifth son of the king, he was not expected to rule so he spent his time studying. He was said to be more of a thinker than a fighter. Alfred was the most esteemed of English Kings and the only one called The Great and his dilplomacy led to the formation of England.
The Cathedral is a really impressive structure that has been revised and rebuilt quite a few times since it was founded in 642 AD. It is the one of the largest Cathedrals in Europe. Over the years, it has been added to and you can read about all the architectural changes here and here.
Follow one of the guided tours to hear all about the treasures in there. It’s quite fascinating.
Where to eat and drink in Winchester
Around Hampshire, there are some great food producers, from Hampshire Wasabi to Watercress. Watercress is one of the big crops here and has been grown here since the Roman times. At some point, workers were paid in watercress too, which led to this being called poor man’s bread. Alresford is the Watercress capital and hosts an annual Watercress Festival. The old steam train that used to transport the produce to market still runs, take a ride on the Watercress Line from Alton.
Of restaurants and pubs, there are a lot of choices in Winchester. We did a quick visit to a few of them but unfortunately didn’t have time to eat at most of them to do any reviews. Look out for this sign of independent traders in town.
The Chesil Rectory, built in 1450, the oldest house in Winchester is today one of England’s most romantic restaurant. It’s a collection of characterful little dining rooms serving a modern British menu.
The Wykeham Arms is a charming and historic old pub that seems to have collected the towns bric-a-brac over the centuries. It has an olde worlde feel and is furnished with the old school desks from Winchester College around the corner.
Cabinet rooms does great coffee and cocktails and being just opposite the theatre, it’s a good place to stop for a pre theatre bite.
Eclipse Inn is another old pub, of interest as it is said to be haunted by a lady who was hanged right in front of it. Inside the pub is a full description of this event if you like ghost stories.
The Green Man Pub is another haunted pub, near one of the old gates. Workers have seen and heard Roman soldiers in the basement.
The Old Vine is a boutique hotel and restaurant that serves great modern British cooking.
The Forte Kitchen is run by Olly Biggs, a new breed of young chefs changing the face of dining out in Winchester.
Another reason to visit is for the numerous food and drinks festivals.
- Taste of Wickham Festival, 10 September
- Winchester Wine Festival, 24 November – 25 November
- The Ginchester Christmas Market, 2 DEC
- Alresford Watercress Festival, 20th May 2018
Watch the video of Things to do in Winchester
Jane Austen in Winchester and Hampshire
Jane Austen one of Hampshire’s most famous daughters, is buried in the North Aisle of Winchester Cathedral. Today, we know her for her writing but at the time of her death, this was not acknowledged. Her ecclesiastical family connections led to her being buried in the Cathedral and not because of her fame as an author as in those days, this was not seen as something to be proud of.
There is a memorial brass plaque on the wall over Jane Austen’s grave. This was paid for from the proceeds of James Edward Austen-Leigh’s memoir of his aunt, published in 1870.
Another memorial is the window with stained glass to Jane Austen in the Cathedral, below. This window was designed by Charles Eager Kempe, and was installed in the north wall directly above Jane Austen’s memorial tablet. This was paid for by a request for donations in 1898 by way of public subscription, with an individual limit of 5 guineas.
At the head of the window is a figure of St. Augustine, whose name in its abbreviated form is St Austin. It is, therefore, a visual pun on Jane Austen’s surname. The central figure in the top row of the window is King David playing his harp. The figures in the four remaining lights are the sons of Korah who each carry a scroll upon which are inscribed sentences in Latin which allude to the religious nature of Jane Austen’s character.
Around Hampshire as part of the 200th anniversary of her death, you will find a lot of Jane Austen’s related sites by following the Jane Austen Trail. Until September 2017 you can find benches from the Sitting With Jane public art trail in the city.
More Interesting Places in Winchester
Not far from that spot is the only visible section of the city’s Roman wall that remains. It was completed in the 3rd century enclosed an area of 144 acres.
Near this spot below stood the Eastgate, one of the five main gates of the City. In the medieval period, the structure included a porter’s lodge and the chapel of St Michael on the first floor.
The nuns of St Mary’s Abbey maintained the gate and the nearby City Bridge in return for the right to collect tolls on all passing goods. The gate was demolished in 1768.
Take a walk along the River Itchen
In pre-historic times, the Itchen flowed in two main channels in the centre of the river valley, near the Cathedral. Following the foundation of the Roman town, about 70AD. This new artificial channel was created. This both reduced the chance of flooding in the town centre and provided a defensive moat. Over the years, the width has halved and is lined by homes.
It’s a lovely serene place for a walk.
Winchester College was founded in 1382 by William of Wykeham to educate the poor and needy scholars for the clergy. He was Bishop of Winchester from 1366 to 1404 and twice Chancellor of England.
The College is the oldest continuously running school in the country. Most of the 14th century buildings survive, including the Outer and Chamber Courts, the Chapel and the Cloister. You can take guided tours of the College from Porter’s Lodge on College Street.
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EatCookExplore was a guest of Visit Winchester