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Winchester – Prosperous Cathedral City on the South Downs
While best known for its vast cathedral, Winchester offers visitors much more than just this attraction. A prosperous city set in lovely countryside, it is also close to London and other population centres in the South-East. As a result, it is a simple matter to escape the hurly burly of the capital for a day and explore this quintessential English city with its traditional atmosphere and terrific views over the countryside.
Winchester Cathedral – As Enchanting as it is Grand
The vast majority of visitors to Winchester, after first checking in to one of its hotels, make a beeline for its cathedral. Featuring the simple but beautiful lines typical of many Gothic cathedrals, it is considered one of the grandest in all of Europe. Its nave is the longest of any Gothic cathedral in Europe, and together with the vaulted ceilings inspires feelings of wonder and awe in those who step inside. The site features a number of statues, including one of Joan of Arc. Her statue is placed directly opposite the chancery chapel of Cardinal Beaufort, the very man who condemned her to death by burning at the stake. There are also several recent sculptures, including “Sound II”, which commemorates Saint Swithun. This is located in the crypt, which is prone to flooding, with the pool of water only adding to the beauty of the statue and the crypt as a whole. The cathedral is located right in the centre of town, close to the hotels, restaurants and other practical amenities.
A compact City Centre Ideal for Strolling
As grand as it is, there’s a lot more to the city centre that just Winchester Cathedral. The High Street, and many surrounding it, have been pedestrianised and hold not only many of the services visitors are looking for, such as pubs, shops and hotels, but also plenty of historical buildings from the Norman period onwards. Winchester Guildhall is an extravagant building dating from the 18th century. It has a cafe where visitors can enjoy a quick bite and a number of event spaces used by the local community and visitors alike. A little further up the High Street you’ll find the Winchester Buttercross, a monumental cross dating from the 15th century that is often used as a convenient city centre meeting spot. At the end of the High Street is Winchester Castle. Dating from the Norman period, it is best known for its Great Hall. This hall displays the Winchester Round Table. While analysis has shown that it dates from a little after the period referred to in the tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, it is nonetheless of great historical value and features depictions of King Arthur and all 25 knights.
From Literary Giants to Entertaining Street Festivals
Hampshire, and its county town of Winchester, has been associated with a number of literary greats over the years. Perhaps most prominent of these was Jane Austen. Fans of her work often visit the house on College Street where she spent her final days before succumbing to Addison’s disease. Her burial site is in the nave of nearby Winchester Cathedral. Aside from literary history, the city also promotes the arts in general. A visit to the Winchester Discovery Centre is a good place to start exploring this. It contains a library, an art gallery and exhibition and performance spaces which allow it to showcase new and exciting talent in the arts. A more informal cultural experience is available at one of the city’s many street festivals. One of the best known is the Winchester Hat Fair. Ranked as the longest running of the UK Street Fairs, it was initially conceived as a busking fair, but now includes all manner of performance and visual arts. A number of stages are set up around the city centre, close to all the hotels. No hat required for attendance. The Winchester Chamber Music Festival is held at the Discovery Centre each spring, with Winchester Cathedral also being a great venue to experience classical music, from solo recitals to symphony orchestras.
The Bucolic English Countryside of the South Downs
Winchester is in the heart of especially attractive countryside. The beautiful South Downs National Park stretches out from the city limits and offers visitors the chance to experience traditional rural England in a number of ways. Those with access to a car could do a circuit all the way to Eastbourne and back in a day. No hotel check-out required. Most guests tend to choose a particular area of the park and explore it by bike or foot, resulting in a more intimate connection with the land. The park has a number of stately National Trust properties. Hinton Ampner is one that showcases the arts and culture of aristocratic times, including exquisite formal gardens and a Georgian interior with valuable objets d’art. Travellers with an abundance of energy and time could consider completing the South Downs Way national trail. Running for 100 miles, from Winchester all the way to Eastbourne, it is one of the more popular long distance paths that form part of the National Trails of England and Wales.