William the Conqueror was a busy guy in 1066 after successfully invading and taking control of England. After being crowned king in London at Westminster Abbey, William immediately took control of the town of Winchester, with historic roots back to the 7th century.
Winchester is approximately one hour outside of London in the Hampshire region and easily accessible by train – about 31 GBP or $50 USD one-way train fare from London Waterloo train station (and only a few dollars more for round-trip ticket if returning the same day).
Blessed with a clear day, I created my must-see and -do list: Winchester Cathedral, The Great Hall with the Round Table, Jane Austen’s house, and a visit to a pub for lunch. Anything else seen along the way would be a bonus, and usually it’s these unexpected sights that turn out to be the most interesting.
At the Tourist Information Center I grabbed “The Winchester Walk. A Tour of King Alfred’s City” pamphlet highlighting three loop tours, each about one mile. The self-guided walking tour started from the visitor’s center with Winchester Cathedral only a few steps away.
A majestic beauty and the flagship of the town, the cathedral is full of history, faith and treasures. This grand place of worship, built nearly a thousand years ago (1079), continues to open its doors for to approximately 300,000 people each year for Sunday services. Jane Austen was buried here in 1817 and the Jane Austen Story is a permanent exhibition.
After leaving Winchester Cathedral, I began walking along High Street, a charming cobblestone, partly pedestrian-only street, and came upon a farmers market where I chatted with vendors and bought a small jar of Sweet Apple with Cider Chutney to take home.
Tucked away in a small alley just off High Street, I took note of The Royal Oak pub, apparently the “Oldest Bar in Britain” (est. 1002) and the place where I would have a pint of beer and rest my feet before heading back to my hotel late in the afternoon.
At the end of High Street is the 13th-century Great Hall, the only surviving part of Winchester Castle and home to what some believe is the legendary King Arthur’s Round Table. The hall is barren inside except for the Round Table mounted on the wall and poster boards along the walls with information about its rich history.
I stood for quite some time in the middle of this room, trying to imagine what it would have been like in these medieval times, dancing, eating and celebrating here with England’s greatest knights and royalty. I was amazed at how preserved the table appeared after hanging in this spot for over 700 years.
While the hall itself is ancient and grey, just outside its walls is blossoming life, beauty, and serenity: Queen Eleanor’s Garden, a medieval garden re-creation.
Slightly off my self-guided walking path I found Jane Austen’s house, which I would have missed completely had it not been for the older couple taking a picture of it. A private home now, this modest dwelling is where the famous author spent the last years of her life.
One spontaneously discovered highlight of the day was my lunch spot, The Forte Tearooms, where I stopped in for a traditional Earl Grey tea and tuna, mayonnaise & sweet corn “Doorstop Sandwich” – completely English with the crust cut off and a proper teapot. It was full of character and surprisingly crowded, despite being a bit hidden and off the busy streets. I felt lucky to have stumbled on this gem.