As mentioned in my previous blog post relating to Southampton, prior to taking a cruise from that port city, I opted to take a day trip to Winchester. Located in the county of Hampshire and on the edge of the South Downs National Park, Winchester is a city steeped in history and a must stop for those interested in the tales of Author and the Knights of the Round Table. For those who focus on factual history as opposed to mythical stories, the city has a lot to offer. For example, Alfred the Great, who became the king of Wessex, made Winchester his capital following his crowning in 871.
Winchester is an easy day trip from London and for those visiting Southampton, an easy trek involving the local bus. Just hop aboard the #1 Blue bus which can be caught fairly close to the Bargate. I paid £7.30 return per person (I have seen different costs listed on various websites but this is the price I paid). I sat on the top level of the double decker bus and from my vantage point at the front, I enjoyed the panoramic view enroute to my destination.
The trip to Winchester was uneventful and took about a half an hour. I was dropped off near High Street and I was able to easily walk to most of the sights I wanted to see. I started off moving up hill towards the Westgate. It is free to enter and offers a little museum that was both interesting and informative. Those who have difficulty with stairs might have a problem as the museum is located on the second floor and it is necessary to negotiate a number of stone steps.
The Westgate was used as a debtor’s prison from the 16th to the 18th century. Information displayed stated:
One prisoner, Joseph Shelley, petitioned the city authorities in 1727 asking to be allowed
the tools of his trade in ore to support himself and pay off his debts:
“Your petitioner humbly begs you to consider the hardships that I labour
under for I have no bed to lay on nor have my clothes been off my back
for 59 nights and what is yet worse I have neither money nor vittels to eat
nor can I get of drop of water but what I am forced to beg of somebody that
I photographed some graffiti etched in the stonework. By 1745 the Westgate was no longer used as a prison but it did continue to be in use for various activities and as mentioned, today it is a museum.
Exiting the building, I walked to what remained of the 800 year old Winchester Castle. The only building remaining is the Great Hall although there are remains of a tower and various bits and pieces of the castle wall. There were some restored passageways in the basement of the tower that reportedly lead out to the dry moat that surrounded the castle however I was not able to access those passageways so a photograph of the sign and a doorway is the best I could manage. The original Winchester Castle was built by William the Conqueror and just as a side note, when I first started visiting castles in England, it appeared that every castle I visited was either built or strengthened by William the Conqueror. He was fully engaged in fortifying and building strongholds.
Next up was the entry into the Great Hall and access was fairly inexpensive at a cost of £3. It is heralded as one of the best surviving aisled halls of the 13th century and contains a round table mounted on a wall. It is tied to the myth of King Arthur and thus is a drawing card for those who want to follow the legend of Camelot. The signage stated that the round table is most likely from the period of Edward I, who may have commissioned the table as part of an “Arthurian” tournament he organized. At a later date, King Henry the VIII is reported to have ordered that the table be painted and that is the form in which we see the table today. There is a large statue of Queen Victoria and other items of interest to see and a garden accessible through a side door. As with the Tudor House in Southampton, October is the wrong time of the year to be able to truly appreciate the garden. A quick visit to the gift shop finished my tour of the building and I was off to my next destination.
Leaving the castle area I found myself in close proximity to The Royal Green Jackets (Rifles) Museum. Ok in all honesty, I was looking for the post office in which to buy stamps and mail the postcards I bought in the Great Hall gift shop when I stumbled across this museum. Never one to pass on entry to a free museum, I spent about 30-45 minutes in the museum. I would have liked to have spent a longer period of time but there was much to see and do in the rest of Winchester and my available time was short.
While in the museum, I learned that the Royal Green Jackets and their predecessors were three of the finest and most famous regiments in the British Army. The Museum’s displays uniforms, and numerous items of interest however the most exciting for me, was a Victoria Cross display. The regiments had an impressive 59 Victoria Cross winners. The Victoria Cross is the highest and most prestigious military medal and is awarded for gallantry "in the presence of the enemy". I recall doing a paper on it in school and in researching that award, I found that it is most often awarded posthumously. A fact that for me, shattered the illusion that the extraordinarily brave souls who fight for their country, always return home in triumph.
Upon finishing up in the museum, I made my way down to the High Street, part of which was pedestrianized. It was a Saturday so the street was crowded and there were market stalls and loads to see. Sightseeing can be hot work so it was time to take a break and visit a pub. Attracted by a sign on High Street that pointed down an alley and touted the Royal Oak as the oldest pub in England, I grabbed my husband and went to explore. He opted to give the draft beer a try while I decided that a sparkling water would be the better choice for me.
The current pub structure was built around 1630 but the records (dating back to 1002), mention the pub. A fellow patron told me that some of the current interior beams are reported to be from the ancient building that first housed the pub. The place was busy and clearly a popular place to eat and drink. We were lucky to find a seat. It is believed that King Edward the Confessor (1003–1066) spent a lot of time there when he as a young man but then of course at that time it would have been the new place in town and therefore the trendy place to drink.
Following that short break it was time to take on the medieval Winchester Cathedral. With its 17th-century Morley Library and the Winchester Bible, it was number one on my must see list. It did not disappoint and despite a hefty entrance fee, it was an impressive sight. It features a Norman exterior and the perpendicular interior arches of the nave were beautiful as were the delightful carvings of monkeys, dragons and owls. King Canute and William II are buried there, Henry III was baptised in the place, and it's where Mary Tudor, who later became known as Bloody Mary, married Philip of Spain. I missed seeing the 12th century Winchester Bible in the library so obviously a return visit is a must.
The nearby cathedral gift shop also offered up delights that were too good to pass on and consequently we left it a little poorer than we were when we entered.
Quickly running out of time, I had to pass on seeing the ruins of Wolvesey Castle and the Winchester City Mill. I did manage to photograph what I believe to be St Catherine’s Hill that has the remains of an Iron Age hill fort.
There is much more to see and do in Winchester and plenty of other snippets of interesting history (such as the legend that the poet John Keats wrote Ode to Autumn while walking through the water meadows of the River Itchen as an escape from his landlady’s daughter’s violin practice). Since I am currently researching material for my book on cruising, I will be back in Southampton soon and as such, Winchester will definitely be on my radar.