There are several comprehensive reviews by other Silver Travellers about places in Winchester, so I won’t go into much detail about those; my review is just a quick snapshot of things I’ve enjoyed when I’ve stayed for a weekend. Sometimes it’s good just to amble, as Winchester is a beautiful city with a centre that’s easy to explore, although those with mobility problems might prefer to stick to the lower, flatter areas. I’ve usually set out to explore from the Winchester Royal Hotel in St Peter Street, which is sandwiched in the middle of the infamous one-way road system. If you drive there the public car parks have always been free on Sundays. If you don’t have a map of the centre a good place to start is The Guildhall which is at the bottom of the High Street, where the Broadway starts. Inside is the Tourist Information Office where you can pick up tourist maps and leaflets; there’s also a cafe there. While in this area have a peep round the corner in Abbey Passage along the side of The Guildhall, where there are the remains of the Nunnaminster, an abbey founded around 900 by Ealhswith, the wife of Alfred the Great. A statue of Alfred sits in the middle of the road a bit further down the Broadway.
THE CATHEDRAL PRECINCTS AND GROUNDS: Obviously I recommend a visit to the famous gothic cathedral but as there’s a good review of it by another Silver Traveller I’ll concentrate on the surrounding areas, which are extensive, and free to enter. There’s a large refectory/cafeteria serving a good choice of food and drinks; it can become very crowded, but there is outside seating. There’s also a very good gift shop and toilets. Near the shop entrance is a bust of William Walker, the diver, who is credited with saving the cathedral from collapse by packing the waterlogged foundations with bags of concrete; he worked for six years from 1906 as part of a team of 150 workers: there’s also a memorial to him inside the cathedral.
I discovered DEAN GARNIER GARDEN by chance but since then I’ve returned many times just to rest for a while on my walks. It’s up some steps through a gate off Cathedral Close (round the back of the cathedral). It’s a small garden with views of the side of the Cathedral and on occasions I’ve heard the choir practising. There are plenty of other seats dotted around the cathedral grounds if the Dean Garnier Garden is busy.
The famous Winchester Christmas Fair is also held in the cathedral grounds. I’m not a great lover of Christmas fairs, but I think I’ll make an exception and visit Winchester’s one day. There are also various food/agricultural fairs held in the grounds throughout the year, which I’ve enjoyed, both in the area in front of the cathedral and round the side, in Cathedral Close.
I love trawling round bookshops and Winchester has some good ones, but my favourite is the DEANERY BOOKSTALL which is hidden round the back of the cathedral, in Cathedral Close. It always has a good selection of second-hand books and proceeds go to the upkeep of the choir; it’s run by helpful volunteers. If you exit the Cathedral Close through Kingsgate you’ll find a book and prints shop under Kingsgate and a bookshop and stationers round the corner in College Street, near Winchester College.
WINCHESTER COLLEGE: The college, founded in the 14th century, has more than 80 listed buildings. It owns 250 acres of land around Winchester, including ancient water meadow and St Catherine’s Hill. On occasions Winchester College is open to visitors: I once happened to walk past and saw a sign advertising conducted tours, so I obtained a ticket from the porter’s lodge and returned at the appointed time to be shown round with a few other visitors. It was really interesting – particularly the chapel, which still has its original wooden ceiling and some beautifully carved misericords. It’s well worth a visit if you get the chance. For more information and history of the college see the website: www.winchestercollege.org.
MORE PLACES TO SIT: The Abbey Gardens next to the Guildhall with the King Alfred statue just opposite is also a very pleasant area with flower beds and seating and the public toilets near the bus stops are well looked after. Also, just off Bridge Street, opposite the City Mill (National Trust) is The Weirs path (see below) and a short way along is a small piece of garden up some steps with a couple of benches. It overlooks The Itchen and the backs of houses in Chesil Street; there’s also the remains of a Roman wall here.
The Winchester Royal Hotel has a very pleasant walled garden. If you are not staying there you can still book a table in the garden in the summer for lunch or afternoon tea (as long as there’s not a wedding booked).
MY FAVOURITE RESTAURANTS: have come and gone in the time we’ve been visiting, so there are only a couple left that we enjoy and can afford – Cote Brasserie, at the top of the High Street – is part of the chain but doesn’t disappoint. We’ve also had some very good meals at Chesil Rectory in Chesil Street, not far from the King Alfred statue; in the past they’ve had early evening deals, but it’s advisable to book.
SHOPS, MARKETS & FAIRS: The pandemic has been the death knell of a lot of town centre shops and Winchester will have been hit badly, not least by the closure of Debenhams, which was a very large store. However, most weekends in the past there was always a street market of some sort; you can check online (see above) which ones are being held on particular weekends – Food, Vintage and Antique, Craft and Art – the stalls line the pedestrianised High Street and part of Broadway. Occasionally food fairs are held in the cathedral grounds. There’s also often a good boot fair on Sunday mornings in the Worthy Lane car park on the Andover Road, only a short walk from the northern end of Jewry Street; I’ve found local history books and postcards here.
Another good bookshop is the Oxfam book and music shop in Parchment Street in the city centre (cut through by W H Smith).
SHORT WALKS: Opposite the Winchester City Mill (National Trust) in Bridge Street is an entrance to a path (The Weirs) alongside one of the tributaries of the Itchen. It’s wheelchair accessible. For a short walk turn right at the end of the path, near the ruins of Wolvesey Castle, (which has been reviewed by another Silver Traveller and is well worth a look) and follow the path to College Street, back through Kingsgate into the Cathedral Close. For a longer walk turn left opposite the entrance to Wolvesey Castle onto College Walk and follow the path, taking a right fork onto Keats’ Walk alongside the river; this path can get muddy at times. The path ends at Garnier Road and for a return via another river route turn left along the road and then left again opposite Garnier Road car park and that narrow path leads back to Domum Road and then onto College Walk. It’s a really pleasant walk, but actually there are many variations on these walks and the signage around Winchester is very good.
UP THE HILL: The High Street continues up the hill and does get a bit steep. On the left, opposite `Eat Drink and Be` cafe is a bronze sculpture by Elisabeth Frink of a horse and rider; further up on the right are the offices of Hampshire County Council, outside of which is a bronze statue of a Hampshire Hog, which is the name by which people born and bred in Hampshire were known. The Westgate is just up on the left and houses a museum with access to a viewing area at the top: a joint ticket can be bought that covers entrance to the Winchester Museum in The Square, near the cathedral. Close to Westgate Museum is The Great Hall which is the only surviving part of Winchester Castle, although remains of tunnels can be viewed from street level before reaching the entrance to the hall. The hall is a lovely building, but there’s little else to see, apart from the round table, but on the plus side the admission is cheap.
Just round the corner in the Romsey Road is the main entrance to:
THE MILITARY QUARTER: I first found this area when I was looking for where my father was based after his initial training on the Isle of Wight when he joined the Hampshire Regiment in 1939. He spoke about a large parade ground and I assume that it was where Peninsula Square now is – the buildings around which have now been beautifully converted to upmarket housing. At the main entrance to Peninsula Square are several military museums but see the website mentioned above for more details of opening times and cost of admission (although some are free). I didn’t go into any of these as I wanted to go to the Hampshire Regiment museum in Southgate Road, but luckily the signage in this area is very good and directed me down Archery Lane which eventually led to the side of the Royal Hampshire Regiment museum (which has free entry). See www.winchestersmilitaryquarter.org for details of open days and prices.
THE DISCOVERY CENTRE: is well worth a visit, especially if the weather is wet. It’s at the end of Jewry Street, which is the road full of restaurants, mainly chains. The library has an excellent non-fiction section and there’s also a really good coffee shop and an art gallery. There are toilets inside plus outside access toilets.
HAMPSHIRE COUNTY RECORDS OFFICE: in Sussex Street. I once spent a whole Saturday here researching my Hampshire ancestors; I had to register and book online in advance to be allowed in. It had a lot of useful local history and ancestry information but much of it is now online.
“See the city website for information”:https://www.winchester.gov.uk/.