City of Winchester – Travel Review
By @Roger Crow
The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is upon us. For years that was one of Terry Wogan’s favourite quotes, but for me it’s never become more relevant than now, seeing it in the grounds of Winchester College, where John Keats himself was inspired to write ‘Ode to Autumn’. Or maybe it was round the corner at Winchester Cathedral, a magnificent construction which has been inspiring folks since 1079.
I’ve been invited to explore the best this city has to offer, and there are times when the itinerary seems tailor-made for me. I’ll be honest, my knowledge of Winchester is minimal at best, but I’m ever up for exploring new cities. So my cultural co-pilot and I head off one rainy Friday lunchtime for a feast of culture and local food.
Four-hours later, we check in and freshen up at the local Holiday Inn. Our evening entertainment is just a short walk up a hill to The Science Centre Planetarium. Personally 2019 has been an annus horribilis, and one song has been my go-to answer when folks ask how I am: ‘Comfortably Numb’.
“Incredible to see”
So the fact there’s a double bill of Pink Floyd albums projected across the amazing planetarium dome leaves me stunned. I’ll never hear Dark Side of the Moon in the same way again. And a few weeks after chatting to one of my heroes, genius artist Gerald Scarfe, it’s incredible to see some of his imagery illuminating this version of The Wall. That album has lost none of its power in the past 40 years, and is not for the easily shocked, especially when it’s such an immersive experience.
We’re back at the hotel in time for dinner and in a good way, attempt to re-acclimatise to normality.
After a good night’s sleep and breakfast, we head into town on the bus. For a few quid return, it saves us worrying about parking expenses, and obviously there’s the bonus of having the odd tipple to counter my man flu.
Thankfully we have such a packed schedule that there’s plenty to see and do, including a fascinating hour-long tour of Winchester Cathedral (take a bow Derek, our excellent guide who keeps things lively and interesting).
My imagination is inspired by William Walker, a local hero who spent six years diving in mud, six days a week to shore up the southern and eastern sides of the cathedral. The fact he fathered many kids is only one element of his amazing life. Little wonder one of the local pubs is named after him.
Current exhibition ‘Kings and Scribes: The Birth of a Nation’ is as stunning as the promo material suggests. It’s all very tastefully done as you might imagine, and offers a fascinating glimpse at the history of one of the world’s greatest edifices.
“Doesn’t cost a fortune”
Lunch at The Old Vine overlooking the cathedral is terrific, though given how popular it is, best to book in advance. I enjoy a terrific burger and cappuccino, while Rachel’s tomato and basil soup, and Brie and grape sandwich on granary with salad also goes down rather well.
Later we check out the local museum (boasting a terrific model of the city), before an hour-long tour of the aforementioned Winchester College. Since it was founded by William of Wykeham in 1382, this is one of the world’s most distinguished schools. A lot of Harry Potter fans will feel like they’re walking the grounds of Hogwarts, though as a fan of the Kingsman movies, I’m more fascinated by the school motto. ’Manners Makyth Man’ (one of those pop culture references that seems to have bypassed our excellent guide).
At times it feels like walking around a 14th-century college, though the fact Buffy creator Joss Whedon spent three years here (long before writing and helming the first two Avengers movies) gives it a degree of cool that may also go over the heads of its grand fromages. The eye-watering fees mean there’s extra pressure on students to be the best of the best. Thankfully it doesn’t cost a fortune to look round, and just breathing in that air makes you feel slightly smarter.
We enjoy a quick visit to The Great Hall, home of King Arthur’s Round Table. It’s “one of the finest surviving aisled halls of the 13th century”, apparently.
Having nourished our brains, it’s time for a little more formidable sustenance. Dinner at Three Joes Sourdough Pizza (also near the cathedral) is a delight, not least because of the fantastic food and service.
My Teriyaki (local beef in teriyaki with edamame, spring onions, toasted chili, sesame seeds and coriander) is one of the best pizzas I’ve had all year, and Rachel’s veggie option gets an equally enthusiastic response. A dozen superlatives are liberally sprinkled in-between bites. They also do some great beers if you fancy something a little different. (A branch is opening in Sheffield at some point, so that’ll be well worth trying out).
“So many things to choose from”
In the space of 24 hours we’ve managed to cram in so many attractions, it’s proof you don’t need to spend a week here to enjoy Winchester, though obviously it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to have a few more days.
The short bus trip back to the hotel is as efficient as it was on the way into town.
After another good night’s sleep, we pack up and head back to where we were the previous day for the arts and crafts market, which spans most of the high street. There are so many things to choose from, it’s almost impossible to come away empty handed.
Obviously it’s not a short drive back to Yorkshire, but there’s plenty of attractions on the way back up north, from Stonehenge to Avebury (where Children of the Stones, one of my favourite shows of the seventies, was shot).
As the future of Blighty looks more precarious than ever in the coming weeks, my advice to anyone seeking a fine cultural experience is to paraphrase the eponymous star of Shaun of the Dead.
“Let’s go to Winchester, have a nice cold pint, soak up the culture, and wait for this all to blow over.”
Or to put it another way: a fabulous weekend break in one of Blighty’s greatest cities. Highly recommended.
The Holiday Inn Winchester has 131 luxury and contemporary bedrooms starting at £99 per night including complimentary high-speed wi-fi, power showers and luxury toiletries. You can enjoy lunch or dinner at the Odyssey Restaurant, Bar and Pizzeria, or relax with a drink or light meal in our open lobby or on our sunny terrace. The Hotel has recently opened the beautiful ANA Spa which is available for guests to use at an additional cost. www.hiwinchester.co.uk
Winchester Cathedral is open for sightseeing from 9am – 5pm Monday to Saturday and 12:30pm – 3pm Sunday. General admission is £9.50. The ‘Kings & Scribes’ exhibition is open Monday – Saturday, 10am – 4pm and Sundays, 12:30pm – 2:30pm and entry is included in with General Admission. Please check the website for latest opening information: winchester-cathedral.org.uk
Winchester Science Centre offers an exciting and fun family day out. General admission is £13.20, with up to 25% discount for booking online in advance. Free for children under 3 years old. Planetarium tickets: £3.50 with general admission or £6.60 standalone. Included in admission every weekend and school holiday are explosive live science shows and themed activities that offer a great introduction to the inspiring world of science. For grown-ups there are adults only sessions including talks and audiovisual extravaganzas in the Planetarium. winchestersciencecentre.org
Three Joes serves freshly made wood fired pizza, craft beer, shakes and a range of innovative salads. New restaurant opening in Sheffield Meadowhall Shopping Centre 11th November. threejoes.co.uk
Tours of Winchester College take place Monday to Saturday at 10.15, 11.30 and 14.15, Sunday at 14.15 and 15.30. Tickets: Adults £8, Concessions £7 (seniors 60+ and students), Children under 11 are free. Check their website for further details: winchestercollege.org
The Old Vine is an 18th century inn steeped in character and charm: oldvinewinchester.com
For all other information to help you plan a trip go to visitwinchester.co.uk