Whether you are staying or just planning a day trip to Winchester you will get the most out of it with a little knowledge about what you should see and why. It’s Englands oldest city and so there are ancient tales to discover. Apart from the history of Winchester you have great shopping, riverside walks, parks filled with flowers and more.
The must see things in this article includes The Round Table (awesome – it’s the legend of King Arthur!), the ruin of Wolvesey Castle (ancient and striking), Winchester Cathedral (with it’s really long nave), the last home of Jane Austen (a sweet yellow brick house near an old bookshop) and loads more..!
It was our 28th Wedding Anniversary and as we are both history lovers we decided a day in Englands first city was a perfect treat for us both. We set about planning an awesome day trip to Winchester
But, less about us and more about discovering all the best things to do – and why you should do them during a day trip to Winchester.
PIN for later!
We received a warm welcome as we approached Winchester Cathedral. As you enter the church it’s easy to miss the entrance to the Treasury which is straight on the right.
The 12th Century Font is made of marble and depicts scenes from the life of Saint Nicholas.
Winchester Cathedral boasts the longest Medieval nave in Europe.
The best view is actually to stand on the steps to the Quire and look back.
The Quire itself has intricately carved Medieval choir stalls.
Looking back towards the West window – which was destroyed by Parliamentary troops during the English Civil War. It was rebuilt in 1660 using pieces of the broken glass.
Look out for the 12th Century tomb within the Quire, it is thought it may be Henry De Blois, Bishop and brother of King Stephen who is laid to rest here.
The High Alter is columns of 19th Century statues. Impressive but the roof is a little distracting!
I like this story: Below is William Walker. The Cathedral nearly collapsed in the early 20th Century, but this diver single handedly saved the Cathedral by underpinning the foundations. It took 5 years.
This interests me greatly because it is Joan of Ark who is a saint of the church of Saint-Helier in Beuzeville, Normandy. The church there is covered in the same pointy barbed thing that is above the figure of Joan in Westminster. It goes to show how so much is symbolic.
Another lady worthy of a visit is Jane Austen. I’ve read all her books, relish every film that relates to her and think I love being English all the more because of her.
So, don’t miss the grave of one of our favourite female novelists. If you are facing towards the High Alter, it is on your left.
There are 6 Mortuary chests containing the bones of bishops, a queen and early kings, including Canute.
Due to some repair work we didn’t get to see the bones of Saint Swithun, the patron Saint of Winchester, you know, from the old Nursery Rhyme.
There is (or maybe was) a Saint Swithun’s feast day on 15th July. It was on that day in 971 that his bones were moved to be outside the old minster Cathedral. A terrible storm broke out that lasted for 40 days and 40 nights, leading to the belief that if it rains on the 15th July it will rain for 40 days again.
Below is the site of the 7th Century old Minster, right by todays Winchester Cathedral.
Stuff we missed:
- best surviving 12th Century English Bible. It’s meant to be dazzling with vivid pages.
- A sculpture in the Crypt called Sound II
Things to see around the Cathedral
This is a beautifully kept historic part of town and it’s well worth a wander. There are some interesting things to see so it’s worth make time during your day trip to Winchester.
This house of Jane Austen, in College Street, is not her actual home (that is a little outside Winchester) but it is the home she spent her last months in before she died.
Do visit the delightful independent old book shop a few doors down, P & G Wells. They still have a traditional book binder on site, story times, a writer society and a poet festival.
Winchester College, a few door down from the Jane Austen House in the other direction, is a beautiful building and you can join a tour to see inside this private school.
There are gates everywhere near the Cathedral.
It’s very lovely to walk about because the properties around the Cathedral are unspoiled and although we weren’t sure what there use is now or once was they were intriguing.
Look out for the Deanery Porch. It was being worked on during our visit, but it is a bijou bookstall where second hand books are donated. It raises money for choirboys scholarships.
It would be amiss not to at least wander down the High Street on your day trip to Winchester. It is a thriving centre with great shops and quality market stalls everywhere.
The High street is full of delightful Regency and Elizabethan bow-fronted windows. It was once the Roman Road.
The High Cross, also known as the City or Butter Cross, dates back to the early 15th Century. It was once used by countrymen to sell produce, hence the name Butter Cross.
Look out for the Square and Market Lane where you will find a quality independent shops besides well known high street names, fine bars and restaurants.
Other notable buildings at the end of the High Street are the Town Hall…
… the City Museum…
and the statue of King Alfred – he’s the one out of ‘The Last Kingdom’!
The Mayors House and garden
This was a surprise and a delight to us. You’ll find it towards the end of the High Street near the Town Hall.
It is the residence of todays Mayor of Winchester so you can’t go in, but it is pretty cool with it’s towers.
Best of all around the back is a wonderful garden that is open to the public. It has a stream on two sides (safe with iron fencing) and is full of blooms.
The eerie remains of Wolvesey Castle is next door to the current home of the Bishop of Winchester.
When we arrived, children from Winchester college were playing sport on the grass within the outer walls of the remains. It made a pretty awesome school field!
Head down a narrow track between the school field and the Bishops current house to get to the remains.
Wolvesey Castle was the Medieval home to the immensely powerful and rich Henry De Blois (mentioned before – tomb in Winchester Cathedral – Winchester Bishop and brother to King Stephan).
It’s hard to believe today, but Queen Mary I and Philip II of Spain celebrated their wedding feast here in 1554.
You go from room to room and it really comes to life with the help of these description boards.
The Round Table and Great Hall
‘Where history and legend meet’
That line gives me shivers and so obviously I have it as one of the must do things on a day trip to Winchester.
If you head up one end of Winchester’s main shopping street you will see this gate. It is one of a few remaining parts of the old Winchester Castle. Head through and you will see the Great Hall open up on your left.
It is surrounded by Henry VIII’s ‘Castle Avenue’ which he had built to give the hall a dignified entrance.
The Great Hall is at the end and is the last remaining piece (above ground) of William the Conqueror’s Winchester Castle. It was built around 1222. The castle was raised to the ground by Parliamentary commander Cromwell during the Civil War but the Hall was protected, despite being a refuge for Royalist troops, as it was being used as a law court (so belonged to the Justices of the Peace).
These were tunnels both for escape or for surprising attackers by going around the back of them.
It was William the Conqueror who arrived in 1066 and built a castle here using the remains of the Roman walls. During the next century it became the centre of the Anglo Norman government. The Great Hall was it’s social and dining centre.
The Great Hall is one of the finest surviving aisled hall of the 13th century. Many, however, (like us) come to visit to see the Round Table, possibly the greatest symbol of medieval mythology. Although there is little to prove it is actually part of the Camelot but rather it is thought that Edward I commissioned ‘Arthurs Round Table’ for a tournament celebrating his children’s marriage arrangements. That makes it about 700 years old.
As the myth has existed for 1000 years it is easy to imagine how it could be used by those in power to associate themselves with it. So, later, in the 16th century, a young Henry VIII decided to ‘repair’ it. Before then it was unpainted.
So, that is how the Tudor rose ended up in the middle of King Arthurs table and how King Arthur looks remarkably like King Henry VIII. It was a way of reinforcing the Tudor claim that they are direct descendants of Arthur.
Notice the beard – that was actually painted on by the Victorians who wanted King Arthur to look a bit more mature!
Take a look at the wall below the table, where you will see a load of bricks protruding. This is the remains of the King and Queens throne pedestal.
Facing the other end of the hall are the modern ‘Wedding Gates’. Installed in 1983 to commemorate the Wedding of Prince Charles to Lady Diana. The letters C and D can be seen in the design.
On the wall itself there is a great tree of names. It displays the Parliamentary representatives of Hampshire between 1283 – 1868. As great as this is (spotting a few names we recognised) previously there was a map of the world dating back to Medieval times.
The windows are interesting as they show the Kings, Queens, Bishops and one very important commoner (it was thanks to him that Salisbury Cathedral has a copy of the Magna Carta) (oh also did you know, the Magna Carta was signed by King John right by the castle?) from the time of Edward the Confessor to Charles II.
Queen Victoria colossal statue, built to celebrate her Golden Jubilee, has finally found a place in the hall after being placed in various places around Winchester (apparently the pigeons were unkind).
There are only a few statues of Queen Victoria seated – and this seated body was a copy of the sculptures own mother.
In honour of our Queen Elizabeth and her Diamond Jubilee there is a bronze Hampshire rose with her face on it.
Queen Eleanor’s garden is named after two Eleanor Queens.
There are foundations at the back of the garden of the King’s House. Charles II in the 17th Century had built a noble palace resembling Versailles. Alas, it was never completed and his son James II abandoned the plan.
The bronze falcon topping the fountain is based on a writing from 1272 and a Medieval drawing.
A tremendous amount of effort has gone into the herber garden. In Medieval times plants were used for domestic and medicinal purposes. Today we appreciate mint for it’s digestive qualities. Others have symbolic meanings. For example, the Broom is the emblem of the Plantagenets.
Some however, were simply used for their perfume – so that ladies can refresh their aroma as their clothes brush up against them. I was too busy chatting to my son about our weekend plans to take much advantage.
These Tunnel arbours were made of coppiced poles with grape vines and roses grown over them for shade. The ladies of the court wanted to keep their prized white complexion. However, the gaps are kept so the ladies decency in case a man was walking with them.
Other things to note about the Great Hall:
- Sir Walter Raleigh was tried and condemned here. He was charged with plots to overthrow James I.
- There was a notorious ‘hanging judge’ who would threaten the jurors until they came out with a guilty verdict. Once he wanted to burn a women at the stake and coerced a guilty verdict. The Kind stepped in and showed (some) mercy allowing her to be beheaded instead.
- Look out for the trap door on the floor where the prisoners were held before their trials.
The River Ichen
There are some beautiful river walks in Winchester. My favourite is near King Alfred’s Statue. He has his back to the bridge you see in the photo below.
Garden gates in crumbling walls line part of the route.
The last remaining piece of Winchester’s Roman wall (above ground) can be found (rather unceremoniously) here.
As we wandered around the centre of the city we were coming across so many delightful waterways.
There is another walk favoured by the poet Keats, but you will need your wellies. Look for signs for the Water Meadows. Legend has it Keats was inspired to write Ode to Autumn while walking through the water meadows of the River Ichen. Amusingly, he was trying to escape the violin lessons of his landlady’s daughter.
So, hopefully that’s more than enough to fill an awesome day trip to Winchester. But, it would be amazing if you could share your favourite things to do in Winchester in the comments below. I always love to hear from you.
Let’s stay in touch!!
Where to eat and stay nearby