Scorching sunshine and brilliant blue skies mean it’s the perfect time to get out and explore Hampshire. While the rolling hills of the South Downs and the sands of the Hampshire coast are big attractions, there’s also plenty to explore in Hampshire’s towns.
Having visited Winchester a number of times for shopping and visiting the Christmas market, I thought it was much like any other town – a place with a few retail stores to browse (most of which are out of town price range of a 24 year old). ) and an abundance of cafes and restaurants to dine in.
But there’s so much more to explore in this beautiful city that was once England’s capital. While the formidable statue of King Alfred and the iconic cathedral are must-see landmarks, there is also a wealth of history hidden in the city that can be explored on the short ‘Heart of the Ancient Capital’ walk.
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So armed with my instructions and slathered in a generous amount of sunscreen, I hit the trail and came away with a newfound appreciation for the city. My walk started on the Broadway at the statue of King Alfred the Great, a 17-foot creation erected in 1899 to mark one thousand years since Alfred’s death.
Famous for his battle victories, the statue reflects his military might with a raised sword and shield at his side. A short distance will take you straight to City Bridge and Winchester City Mill.
Considered one of the oldest working mills in the country, the site produces more than 10 tons of wholemeal flour each year and is open to visitors from Wednesday to Sunday. Following the path to the right, you will find yourself strolling along the peaceful Itchen River.
To the right is a surviving piece of the city’s original Roman walls which were built in the 3rd century. The river itself is also an important feature of the city’s history as it formed a moat to defend the city.
As well as the wildlife viewing opportunities and the perfect picnic spots, there is also the chance to spot some of the Hampshire hares currently scattered around Winchester. The path turns right and passes the entrance to Wolvesey Castle.
Once a grand 12th century palace for Bishop Henri de Blois, the brother of King Etienne, the castle now lies in ruins. However, it was the center of many important royal celebrations in the past, including the wedding banquet of Queen Mary and Philip of Spain in July 1554.
Well worth a detour from the road to explore the castle ruins. The site is free to enter and signs show visitors how the castle was used in the past, including where the treasurer’s quarters were and the bakery where kitchen staff worked to produce elaborate spreads.
Starting at the castle and passing the current residence of the Bishop of Winchester, the route continues along College Street (where Winchester College is located) and continues to an inconspicuous gray brick house. Upon closer inspection, visitors can see that this now private residence is adorned with a plaque marking the spot where famous author Jane Austen died in 1817.
A right turn at the end of the street takes you to Kingsgate where the hidden church of St Swithun stands above the arches. The small chapel is open to visitors and holds regular masses.
A right turn through Prior’s Gate takes walkers to Cheyney’s medieval court, where bishops used to hear court cases, and past the main Pilgrims’ School buildings, parts of which date back to the early of the fourteenth century. Ahead of you is the Dean before the road winds around the back of Winchester Cathedral.
Columns mark the entrance to the old chapter house while some of the cathedral’s naves date from the early 20th century. On the west facade, the site of the old cathedral dating from the 7th century is marked out in brick.
According to the guide, The New Minster, which was built on the instructions of Alfred the Great and completed by his son Edward the Elder, was located next to the Old Minster until 1110, when the church was moved to the northern suburb of Hyde.
Following the path diagonally through the site of the New Minster Church, the walk takes a left turn just before the Wessex Hotel towards the tower of St Maurice’s Covert where this loop ends. However, if after a stroll through the city’s history you’re looking for a break, the grassy expanse outside the cathedral is a great place to stop for a picnic in the shade.
Although this walk does not cover the entire history of Winchester, it does provide insight into some of the city’s fascinating features and reveal hidden hidden gems that tell important stories of the past. The one-mile walk will reveal a side of Winchester that you could easily miss and is worth a visit if you are in the area.
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