The good thing about Winchester is that a stroll around the city centre can be accomplished comfortably in about an hour and a half. This doesn’t include visits to the Cathedral, the Great Hall or the pub mind you, so you’ll need to allow extra time for visiting some of the things that will hold you up on the way around as well.
On the map opposite I’ve compiled a trail which covers most of the interesting things that can be seen. Some places will occupy just a few minutes of your time and others considerably longer, and just a quick reminder for anyone who may be interested, you can always print out this post by clicking on the print icon at the bottom of the page. The map can also be printed out by using the ‘print map’ feature within the map itself.
I’ve chosen to start the trail at the King Alfred Statue in the Broadway (No1 on the map), and if you’ve read my introduction to Winchester – The First Capital of England, you’ll understand why I’ve chosen it as the starting point. I’m not going to describe his achievements here as this blog is mainly about what there is to see.
Opposite the statue is Abbey House and Gardens (No 2), a pleasant and popular place for local shop and office workers to spend their lunch break.
Abbey House is the mayor’s official residence, and almost next door is the imposing Guildhall and Tourist Information Centre (3), where you can pick up plenty of information about King Alfred, Winchester, Hampshire in general, and plenty more besides.
Straight ahead is the High Street, which some people claim to be one of the oldest, if not the oldest city street in Britain. It led down to a ford that crossed the River Itchen back in the Middle Iron Age, around 2,000-2,500 years ago, and consequently became the main thoroughfare through Roman, Saxon and Medieval Winchester.
Continue walking up the High Street until you come to the Buttercross (4) which has been here since at least the early 14th century. Towns and cities up and down the country still have their medieval Buttercross which, as its name suggests were places where dairy goods were bought and sold.
We’re going to carry on up the High Street for now, but will be returning here a bit later. The first building to look out for is the God Begot House (5) on the other side of the street. The present building dates from 1558 but it actually stands on a much older site of the God Begot manor, which King Canute’s widow, Emma, gave to St. Swithun’s Priory in 1052. It was a place where lawbreakers could find sanctuary, and if you want some sanctuary yourself, the passageway next to it leads to the Royal Oak, which claims to be the oldest bar in England, but I’ve lost count how many pubs I’ve been in over the years that have made that claim. Opposite God Begot House is the Old Guildhall with its Great Bracket Clock.
At the top of the street is the Westgate (6), a fortified medieval gateway built on the site of the original Roman gate. There’s a small museum inside which is usually open on weekends with free admission. It’s possible to climb the stairs to the top of the tower which offers good views down the High Street. One word of warning though; at the top of the stairs there’s a low doorway that leads out on to the tower roof, and although it plainly says ‘Beware of the Step’ not many people do, including me. I think I spent more time looking at people come a cropper than I did looking at the view.
After the Westgate is a roundabout, where, by taking the first exit left, you come to the Great Hall (7), the only surviving part of the castle, where the ‘Round Table’ is located. I’m not going to describe it here because I intend writing a separate post about it in due course. All I’ll say for now is that make sure you don’t miss it.
It’s now time to retrace our steps back to the Buttercross where there’s a passageway that leads past the Church of St Lawrence to The Square and the City Museum (8). There are some good Roman mosaics in here as well as the ‘Winchester Model’, which shows how the city looked back in 1870.
The Square leads directly to the Outer Cathedral Close and the Cathedral itself (9), one of England’s great ecclesiastical buildings, and which I’ve covered in more detail in separate posts. Just follow the above link.
The trail now goes behind the cathedral along Curle’s Passage to the Inner Close (10). It’s worth taking your time to wander around here because this is the site of the old St. Swithun’s Priory and there are a few other features as well; look out for the charming Dean Garnier’s Garden next to the Chapter House Arcade, the Deanery (11), Pilgrim’s Hall and Cheney Court (12). Here, you can walk through the Prior’s Gate to the Kingsgate (13) which includes the church of St Swithun-upon-Kingsgate.
If you haven’t had a pit stop yet, I can recommend a visit to the Wykeham Arms (14) on the other side of the arch. The name comes from William of Wykeham, a former Bishop of Winchester who was responsible for the building of nearby Winchester College in 1382. The pub has an intimate atmosphere and furnished with old school desks and other memorabilia from the college.
I hope you haven’t overdone it in the Wykeham Arms because we’re not finished yet. If you walk back towards the Kingsgate and then turn right along College Street you’ll come to the house where Jane Austen (15) spent the last six weeks of her life. There’s not much to see as the house is in private hands, but the novelist is buried inside the Cathedral, just in case you missed it.
A bit further along the street is the famous Winchester College (16) which I mentioned just now. It’s possible to join a guided tour, but as I haven’t made it in there yet, I can’t comment on what it’s like. I can imagine that it would be well worth a visit though.
No 17 on the list also has to be worth a visit. Wolvesey Castle, or Wolvesey Palace as it should be called, was the former home of the Bishops of Winchester and is open from April -November, and under the care of English Heritage. Although it’s a ruin, it’s a ruin worth seeking out in my opinion, especially as it’s free!
In some ways I think I’ve left the best to last because the Weirs Walk (18) is probably the nicest part of the trail. It runs alongside the medieval wall and the River Itchen to the City Bridge (19) and Mill (20), a National trust property.
Turning left here will bring us back to the King Alfred Statue and the end of the walk.
For obvious reasons, I’ve had to keep detailed information about this walk to a minimum so that anyone reading it doesn’t lose the will to live. I’ve already gone into more detail about the city in general, and the Cathedral in particular elsewhere, and there’s more to come. Winchester is without doubt, one of my favourite cities in the South of England and hopefully, if you’ve taken this virtual wander around Winchester with me, you’ll begin to see why.