England has many fine, historic and beautiful towns and villages but it would be hard to find a town that could surpass Winchester in its beauty.
When you think of the quintessential ancient, historic English town, what does you imagination conjure up? The town would be full of old medieval, Georgian and Victorian buildings that are nestled into one another. There would be a beautiful winding river running through the centre of it. Of course it would have a beautiful Norman church set in a green. The roads and lanes would be small and intimate, crammed with delightful shops and restaurants. What imagined English town would not have a king or two buried in the church grounds: perhaps even a saint or two. And of course it would have a long association with artists and writers, beguiled by the town charms; and would it be stretching the dream too far to suppose that world famous writers lived, died and were buried there.
If you come and visit Winchester you may think you are dreaming, for the town has all of the above and so much more.
The town is settled into the soft rolling hills and meadows that are found on the edge of the chalk-downs in the county of Hampshire. It would be fair to say that the county of Hampshire is what most envisage when the think of what the English landscape should look like. And the approach into Winchester on any road is delightful.
The River Itchen runs through the middle of the town. In fact many tributaries and streams run through the town. In medieval times the town was famous for it's cultivation of watercress (the plant is still grown outside of the town). Watercress requires water of exceptional clarity and purity in which to grow, and the River Itchen's water is crystal clear. In fact the river is so clean that when you stroll along its banks you can see the many fresh water trout in the river. And I'm not lying when I tell you that you can see anglers fly-fishing in the middle of the town! When you walk along the many riverside walks you will also see ducks, moorhens, swans and all manner of wildlife.
Winchester doesn't have a Normal church as its focal point; it has a Norman cathedral; arguably, the finest cathedral in England. The setting is also perfect. The cathedral has a park-like setting of grass and shady trees. In summer the vistor can picnic on the lawn along with the local residents.
Winchester was once the ancient capital of Anglo-Saxon England; the other half of England being occupied by Vikings. It was one man who kept the southern half of England free of Vikings and that was King Alfred the Great. He was a local boy, you know. He was crowned king of England in the cathedral and lived and died in the city. You can visit the spot where he was buried alongside his wife and eldest son. He is the only English king to have ever been given the epitaph ‘the Great’.
You can also visit the tombs of other ‘minor’ kings of England in the cathedral.
And what about the saints I mentioned earlier. Well, we've all heard about St Swithin's day and how, if it rains on this day it'll rain for the next 40 days. St. Swithin was tutor to King Alfred and was also buried in a tomb in the cathedral. It'll be no surprise to the reader now, to be told that there are other, lesser saints buried within the cathedral.
The beauty of Winchester has always attracted royalty, the wealthy and famour people of the day. It has always been a magnet for writers. Keats was a frequent visitor as was Anthony Trollope; both writer based works on the city and its surroundings. Perhaps the most famous writer who lived in Winchester was Jane Austen who wrote some of the most enduring novels in English. Jane Austen was born in Hampshire and lived most of her life in the county. She died in Winchester and was also buried inside the cathedral.
The items of interest mentioned above are just a fraction of what the visitor can find of interest in this city. There is much, much more. Even if the visitor was oblivious to the town's rich and proud history and the famous citizens who live and died there, the visitor could not miss the incomparable charm and beautiful that the city has in abundance.
Robin O'Brien lives and works in Winchester and is founder of Winchester Tourist Information where you can find more information on the city such as, places to visit, walks, restaurants, photographs and hotels in Winchester