a Winchester Walk

I’m so glad I made the drive to Winchester. I had been before, but I couldn’t remember anything of this city. And oh, how I wished I had kept a blog as a kid (maybe a diary, blogging didn’t exist back then)! You could say I was spoilt as a kid; aren’t all kids these days? Not with the latest gadgets or fashionable label. I was spoilt by my parent’s passion to show me not only the world but the country which I call home. It’s with slight sadness of heart that I didn’t appreciate the efforts they made then as much as I would have now.

Winchester was once the capital of this land. This medieval, cathedral city has an abundance of incredible buildings and has history etched all over it. My visit wasn’t long enough, nor did it do it full justice. I did not see it all. Oh, how that disappointment of not seeing everything has already whetted my appetite for a return visit. The city is surely a must see for anyone who lives in England or wants to visit these shores. Not too far from central London or the southern coast, its development at this location can be understood. It became a Saxon capital and a powerful base for bishops. It also plays host to two of this country’s mystical characters – Alfred the great and Arthur and his knights of the round table.

On arrival, I quickly left my car and headed on foot in the direction of the cathedral. Why not, I thought, as I had done no planning or research. Why not just get lost and explore? Immediately I was captivated by the wonderful architecture that is spread all over the city. After capturing a charming pub with oak and white washed walls bathed in glorious autumn sunshine, I crossed the charming river Itchen. Rumour has this was the inspiration to John Keats ‘Ode to Autumn’. It was by chance I noticed a National Trust property on the bridge (a mill) and immediately marched in. It wasn’t my intention to visit a National Trust place today, so a quick peep before leaving in search of other sights was complete in no time.

Straight after leaving the river, the statue to Alfred the Great casts its watch over the city. A sword and not a wand is in his hand. He looks directly up the High Street, and what was described as the oldest high street of the land in a visit to a museum. His statue is as old as the building to his left. The guildhall attracts you to the brighter side of the street. A look in it its doorway distracts you for a little while. But wait! In search of more than a doorway, I stroll off in search of better things. Not much further up the street, a left turn was made through one of the 5 gateways in the walls that once guarded the city (not much left now) and towards the cathedral.

There it was, a 11th century masterpiece, one of Europe’s longest. To say I wasn’t impressed on first view is an understatement! Crowds, enticed to the local lawns for entertainment, were distracted from an interest in the building. Who could blame them, for on the outside it is unremarkable; not one of England’s finest. Taking an inquisitive step inside changes all of that and confirms that truthful saying that beauty is only skin deep. I stood in amazement first of all at the sheer size of this incredible building. I felt so small and lost in such a vast space. After picking up my jaw off the floor I spent my time taking those customary pictures. Every step seemed to discover a fresh, mind-blowing view. I feel that I could have spent all day in there.

I was sad to leave especially as the organist was enticing me to stay with the pleasant sounds he generated. Outside, the amazing autumn sunshine was waving its magical light all over the city. My meanderings took me off the beaten track – as they always do – in search of that amazing discovery. It led me to two things. Firstly, a church that had been converted to flats – an epitome of how religion is portrayed in this ever-dysfunctional modern era. The second discovery was, after getting lost around the converted barracks which have now been converted to flats, the Great Hall. References to King Arthur and knights of the round table were a thing of childhood imagination. There is a round table mounted high up on the wall of this 13th century building. Sadly, this was closed to me due to an event. My fascination with this myth will ensure that this is ticked off on my next visit.

A wander to the top of town seemed like a chore and nothing like the wonders below. A quick visit and a climb up into the Westgate museum, didn’t give the desired city views. So as the autumn chill set in and a need to leave, it was with haste that I left. A visit to “England’s oldest pub” was completed before departure. Can this be true, how will we ever know? It just seems that this statement is published to entice the people in.

Another walk in Winchester will be done. I cannot wait – castles and colleges await! Until then I shall try and remember those long-lost childhood visits.

Wonderful Wells

I’m very fortunate that my job takes me to some of England’s more intriguing places. Today I was in Wells, my destination being blessed in glorious spring sunshine had to be appreciated both before and after work. I noticed it described as “a hidden gem in the heart of Somerset”. No truer words have been put on an advertising leaflet. Even though the film Hot Fuzz was filmed here, locals and tourists don’t flock to Wells to explore; their loss and my gain.

 

England’s smallest city doesn’t disappoint! Dominated by its grand and impressive cathedral and bishop’s palace, this city leaves the mind to wonder at its very existence. How? Why? Why here? The ‘when’ is quite clear as there are plenty of plaques to say that this or that was put up in this or that year with most reading a date in the 15th century. The two dominating parts of this city are slightly more than a stone’s throw from each other but are clearly linked through religion. It looks like bishops lived well back then!! But it is the why that remains unanswered by a casual stroll through what is nothing more than a small town but has city status. Like some of its neighbouring towns it offers no reason for its presence. It doesn’t appear to have been a strategic position in yesteryear battles, there is no castle, there are no signs of industrialism, confirmed by its lack of railway.

Bishops Palace

Firstly, the palace resembles a castle with its impressive moat. First impressions may well have confused more people than I but this is rectified upon entrance through an imposing gateway to read the informative signs. It is the home for the bishop of Bath and Wells. It’s fortifications, moat, drawbridge and portcullis wouldn’t look out of place at most castles around the country. Such a well-fortified home for a religious leader. Why? Does this highlight even more how much religion once played a huge part in this country’s history and how little it will play in its future? Step inside these fortifications and wonder where is the missing keep? Instead one is greeted with some ruins, and what looks like a stately home.

Secondly, the impressive cathedral, a spectacular example of British architecture. This cathedral gives the city its rights. Stand and admire this grand and impressive building from the greens to the front, marvel at the level of detail on the outside alone. Ponder the hours and effort that must have gone into making this cathedral

look so amazing. The western front facade is dominated by small figurines. We are so blessed in these isles with amazing heritage that it is all too easy to take these buildings for granted. Anything looks more beautiful in the sun, this was confirmed in my springtime visit as the sun waved its magic wand and lit up this majestic building. Standing there my breath was taken away.

Vicars Close

To the north of the cathedral is the charming Vicars close, a fascinating parade of similar houses and constructed way back (actually 1363 as a notice proudly displays). Walk to the end to get an impressive view of the cathedral with the forefront of the picture dominated by these ancient houses and chimneys.

My visit inside the cathedral took place back in Autumn last year. Stepping inside these buildings I marvel and wonder why they were designed this way. To have such high ceilings seems like a waste of space or was it part of an acoustic design? Perhaps a visit when this place is in full choir or song may prove the theory, not that I expect to see these places over packed with worshippers.

I would challenge anyone to discover some of these beautiful buildings and lovely locations that this country has to offer and let me know where my meanderings should take me next.