Winchester

During our long weekend in Hampshire last month, we also visited Winchester. Winchester has been settled since prehistoric times, but was developed mainly as a Roman town in about 70AD, complete with a forum (central market place), and public baths. It was then called Venta Belgarum, as it was the regional capital of the Celtic Tribe of the Belgares. In Saxon times, the town was called Wintoncaestre, (with a variety of spellings), but eventually became known as Winchester. In the 9th century King Alfred made it his capital city after he drove the Danes from Wessex, and it remained the capital of Wessex, and then England until after the Norman Conquest, when the capital moved to London.
The River Ichen flows through Winchester in several different channels, the main channel flowing through the Winchester City Mill, and then along a promenaded reach known as The Weirs. We stood sheltering from the rain under the spreading branches of an old tree, and watched the river sliding past; after a wet Summer, it was flowing high and fast. Gardens stretched down towards us on the other side of the river, with wrought-iron water gates, and I half expected to see rowing boats moored up, but there were none.
Winchester has a university, and a public school – Winchester College, and we walked past austere grey stone college buildings, and the headmaster’s offices in a tall grand fronted house.
Winchester Cathedral is the longest in Europe, and was originally built in 1079 on the site of Old Minster, a royal Anglo-Saxon Church. It housed the shrine of St Swithun, the bishop of Winchester from 852AD to 862AD, and later became an important Christian pilgrimage centre, encouraged no doubt by St Swithun’s posthumous reputation for healing and miracle-working! Winchester Cathedral is very imposing, although I felt it was not as grand as Lincoln cathedral, that I visited earlier in the Summer.
On a literary note, Jane Austen died in Winchester in July 1817, and is buried in the Cathedral. And although I had not visited the city before, it felt vaguely familiar. Maybe this was because Thomas Hardy used Winchester in 1891 in ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’, as the basis for his fictional ‘Wintonchester’, and this was a text I studied extensively for my ‘A’ level English, many years ago at school.
Winchester was an interesting place to visit, but I’m sure I would have enjoyed it more had the weather been better!

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