London was finally warm so I could not bring myself to stay in the city, where I would most likely spend the day watching TV. We caught a train to Winchester out of Waterloo for a perfect day spent outside exploring a new city.
Winchester is about an hour southwest of London by train and a great daytrip destination. It was originally on my list because it is Jane Austen’s final resting place (see? I’m not just obsessed with Harry Potter!) and has a beautiful cathedral, but it was so much prettier and much better than I expected.
We stepped off the train and decided to head to the Great Hall because it was closest to the train station. We got there at the right time too because right as we were about to leave, they were closing for the day!
The Great Hall
The Great Hall is all that remains of Winchester and is “one of the finest surviving aisled halls of the 13th century”. And man was it fine. It was built between 1222 and 1235 when the castle needed extensive repair. Oliver Cromwell ordered its destruction but it was kept and used as an assembly hall. Sir Walter Raleigh was tried in the Hall in 1603. Perhaps more notably, it contains the legendary Round Table of King Arthur. Although it wasn’t created until about 1290 (centuries after King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table met), it is still a fascinating piece of history. They believe it was created to celebrate the betrothal of one of Edward I’s daughters. It weighs over one tonne and has hung within the Great Hall since at least 1548 and probably since the 1300s. The table was painted with a Tudor Rose during King Henry VIII’s reign. It is thought to portray King Arthur on his throne surrounded by the 24 places for his knights.
Perhaps more notably, it contains the legendary Round Table of King Arthur. Although it wasn’t created until about 1290 (centuries after King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table met), it is still a fascinating piece of history. They believe it was created to celebrate the betrothal of one of Edward I’s daughters. It weighs over one tonne and has hung within the Great Hall since at least 1548 and probably since the 1300s. The table was painted with a Tudor Rose during King Henry VIII’s reign. It is thought to portray King Arthur on his throne surrounded by the 24 places for his knights.
After looking around at the Great Hall and its garden, we decided to walk around an explore the town a little. It was such a perfect day so we did everything we could to stay outside—it seemed the rest of the town did so as well! We walked around the stalls of the market on the main street and then headed towards the River Itchen. It wasn’t a very large river and there was a nice wide walkway along which many people were strolling, trying to make the most of the sun and warm weather!
We ended up making our way to Winchester College, believed to be the oldest continuously running school in England. It was built in 1382 and its 14th-century Gothic chapel has one of the first examples of a wooden vaulted roof. Today, the college educated around 700 boys aged 13-18. It would be so cool to live in and go to a school that old! Unfortunately, we couldn’t make the tour of the college (the only way to see the college) so we just peeked in and looked around for a second. Maybe one day I’ll go back and see it!
When we finished walking around the part of the college that we could walk around, we happened upon the house the Jane Austen died in. The picture I took of the house had awful lighting so you’ll just have to live with the plaque! There was an adorable stationary/book store right next door to her house…I wonder if it was there when she lived there. That’s the wonderful thing about England (and Europe for that matter), it’s not uncommon for stores to have been around for multiple centuries.
Our next stop was the cathedral, aka Jane Austen’s final resting place and one of the reasons why I chose to visit Winchester. The site of the cathedral has over 1500 years of history. Wow. The original church was built in 635 and is no longer standing. However, we could see the remains of the foundations of Old Minster right next to the current cathedral. It became the most important cathedral in Anglo-Saxon England- King Alfred the Great and King Cnut and his wife Queen Emma (the latter two ruled England and Denmark in the 11th century) were buried there.
After William the Conquerer ascended the throne, Old Minster was demolished and its bricks were used for the new cathedral, which was consecrated in 1093. Today, you can see the Norman remains in the crypt of the cathedral (pictured below). William the Conquerer’s son was buried in the cathedral in 1100. We weren’t allowed to take pictures of it, but the Winchester Bible is a brilliant illuminated Bible that was created for monks to use in their daily worship.
The Cathedral has been remodelled in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries to make it even grander. Mary Tudor was married there in the 1550s, Jane Austen was buried there in the early 1800s. One of the things I found most quirky was the slight obsession with deep sea diver William Walker. He worked for 6 years in total darkness underwater to save the east end of the cathedral, which people feared would collapse because of centuries of subsidence.
The cathedral was massive! We spent quite a while wandering around it. The clerestory made it full of light and it reminded me very much of a French cathedral.
When we were finished wandering around the cathedral, we were starving so we decided to grab some lunch that we could eat it in the beautiful outdoors. It seemed like literally everyone in the town was outside enjoying the beautiful weather.
After some sandwiches, crisps and berries from M&S we decided to be adventurous and figure out how to get to the top of the giant hill that was at the end of the main street of town. It was quite a hike, but we made it! It was totally worth it for the views of the town and the sunny weather made it even more worth it. Plus, we found some more dream homes, you know, for when we will inevitably have millions to spend!
After our hike we just decided to head to the mill. It is one of the oldest working mills in Great Britain. A Saxon mill existed on the site 1000 years ago and is mentioned in the Doomsday Book of 1086. By 1471, the mill was abandoned because of the Black Death and the loss of wool trade to Calais.
Henry VIII took the mill under his ownership in 1539 and Mary Tudor gave it back to the city in 1554 to offset the cost of her wedding at Winchester Cathedral. In 1743, James Cooke rebuilt the mill to its present building. Some of the roof timbers still date back to the 15th century though! It stopped being used in 1900 but became a working mill again in 2004. The mill is also home to a group of otters but unfortunately, they weren’t home while we were there. It was cool to see how the mill worked though!
The day was simply too perfect when we finished at the mill to go home, so we just wandered around, looking at the pretty houses, adorable dogs and a slightly obnoxious amount of tweens in belly shirts. Winchester is a great town and I definitely recommend a day trip there, especially when the weather is nice!
Not only can you see a magnificent cathedral and cute town but you can also visit the oldest school in England, one of the oldest working mills in England and even hike a little—if giant hills aren’t your style, we saw a walking trail by the college! I’m not sure if it was the bright sun or warm weather or just the charm of the town, but I think Winchester has been one of my favourite day trips thus far!