A Historical Walk of Winchester

One of our most anticipated stops during our stay in England was Winchester, a city with a great deal of history. There’s more than enough in the city to fill a full day. We decided to take a self-guided walking tour of the historical city using a pamphlet we picked up from the city’s information building. The walk is divided into three sections, starting with the heart of the ancient capital.

The first stop was, of course, a statue of King Alfred on the High Street. King Alfred seems to be regarded as the city’s founding father (they follow him on Twitter).

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Nearby is the Mayor’s official residence, located right next to excavated remains of St. Mary’s Abbey. The gardens here are fantastic, as meticulously maintained as all the other public gardens we encountered in England.

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Across the way we glimpsed St. John’s House, originally part of a medieval hospital. Like all the old buildings in England, these places bear a certain amount of charm, and it’s easy to stop and stare. Incidentally, St. John’s House has been turned into private residences, so you have to be careful not to stare too much.

From there, we crossed the river and passed by Wharf Mill, the site of a medieval mill. We opted not to go inside, since there was a great deal to see, and instead continued past the only remaining chunk of the city’s original roman wall, first built in the third century AD.

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From there we continued to our first ruin of the day; Wolvesey Castle, home of the medieval bishop. The ruin here is extensive, especially when compared to places such as Donnington Castle or Guildford Castle, yet the place that it occupies in the city is much like a park. You can walk in at any time during the day, have a look around and it’s free. You could probably sit among the ruins and eat lunch every day if you wanted to, which blows my mind.

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When we finished exploring the ruins, we wandered past Winchester College and the building where author Jane Austen spent her final weeks of life. She’s buried in the nearby cathedral, the next stop on our walking tour. Though we had seen the exterior of Westminster several times by this point, this was our first time entering a cathedral. It was, in a word, stunning.

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(There is a mirror set up for taking pictures of this particular stretch of ceiling. I have rotated the photo so that it is not viewed as a mirror image)

I could probably write an entire post about the cathedral’s interior. The centerpiece was the the high altar, featuring a 15th century stone screen with statues of biblical figures and saints. At one point, all of the statues were painted, but the original piece was destroyed during a period of church upheaval. A replica has been reconstructed, but was never painted.

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Aside from all the statues marking tombs inside the cathedral, the most impressive features were the vaulted ceilings and intricate stained glass windows.

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We were also able to visit a small section of the church’s library where they had old, hand-written bibles on display. Unfortunately, the catacombs were closed due to flooding, much to my husband’s disappointment. He assures me that ‘some major players’ are buried there.

Leaving the cathedral, we continued into the upper city, where we finally viewed the second most photographed clock in England (having already seen both the first and third). If I went into detail about every interesting building in the city, we would be here all day. There’s never a dull moment wandering Winchester. We eagerly made our way to the second set of castle ruins; this time of Winchester Castle, begun by William the Conqueror in 1066. Sadly, not much of the castle remains. There is a wide, circular area and a small passage leading into a tunnel. Across the street, lies the Great Hall, the only part of the castle to survive above ground. There you can view the famous Round Table.

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There is also a spectacular statue of Queen Victoria.

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Our final stop of the day was Queen Eleanor’s Garden, located behind the remains of the great hall. This is a reconstruction of a medieval garden including a bench, a fountain, and a small tunnel of planted flowers to walk through.

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There were so many places in Winchester that sparked my imagination and my muse. It’s the kind of city I’d love to live in, if only because I could visit those ruins every day and they would never get old. Alas, we had but one day to experience the historical city, and it was a memorable day indeed.

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