England Grand Tour (2021): Day 5: Winchester and More

Onwards to Winchester

Today’s breakfast was at Caff√® Nero on Marlborough’s High Street, after which it was back to the Premier Inn for showers and packing. Our next destination was the ancient city of Winchester, less than 40 miles distant. Winchester’s modest population figure of 45,000 belies its historical significance. Founded in Roman times, it had been (prior to the 11th-century Norman conquest) the most important city in England. Today it contents itself with being the county town of Hampshire, outranking far larger settlements like Southampton, Portsmouth and Basingstoke. Winchester is also believed to be one of the UK’s most affluent areas.

On arrival in this venerable city, we parked the car at a convenient facility and set out to explore on foot. We began on the western edge of the historic centre, at Castle Hill. Winchester Castle was built in 1067, following the Battle of Hastings, and for over a century was the seat of the Norman kings of England. The only building left standing today is the Great Hall, which was added in 1235. Today it houses a museum of the history of Winchester. Other buildings in the Castle Hill complex include a number of military museums and Winchester Crown Court.

We made our way down the High Street, past a diverse collection of shops, and paused briefly at the 15th-century Buttercross monument. Proceeding eastwards, we soon encountered the striking Guildhall, a Victorian municipal building in Gothic Revival style. Beyond that was a statue of Alfred the Great and the charming Abbey Gardens. The name reflects the fact that the park occupies the site of the former St Mary’s Abbey, once one of the largest religious houses in England.

We were now at the east end of the star attraction, and it was time to walk round to the great west doors, which we did via the south side of …

Winchester Cathedral

Winchester is home to the longest medieval cathedral in the world that is still intact. The current cathedral was consecrated in 1093, following fourteen years of construction. (The Diocese of Winchester goes back to around 650, a time that predates England itself.) Further building work added Gothic features to the original Norman appearance and the pleasing mix has been further enhanced by a number of major projects, including the astonishing 15th-century reredos behind the High Altar and the Victorian wooden choir screen. With all the superlatives that this cathedral attracts, not to mention the presence of an exhibition, we were happy to pay the admission charge in order to see it properly.

Following our cathedral visit, we bought lunch from a local sandwich shop and ate it in pleasant sunshine in Abbey Gardens.

An unusual Hilton

Our next stop was at our accommodation for the next two nights, the Hilton at the Ageas Bowl, arguably the first of two consecutive ‘destination hotels’. The Ageas Bowl, originally known as the Rose Bowl, was built on the outskirts of Southampton in 2001, as a new home for Hampshire County Cricket Club. The Hilton is a striking and unusual property, built as an integral feature of the ground. Our room had an attractive balcony, with both room and balcony enjoying excellent views of the sporting action – or in the case of our stay, training action. One notable feature was Beefy’s restaurant and bar, named after cricket legend Sir Ian Botham (now Lord Botham). The complex also included a popular golf course. Crucially for our purposes, the Hilton Group classifies this hotel as a resort, and we had a decent balance of resort credits at our disposal.

We set out in a terrible bout of heavy rain for the nearby Hedge End retail park – and in particular the enormous Sainsbury’s there – to buy supplies for an in-room picnic. Back at our new base and not too drenched, we had a beer at Beefy’s, then enjoyed our purchases with a very nice bottle of Pinot Noir, which made for an excellent way to round off the day.