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Winchester, Salisbury and Around

It's not exactly our intended holiday, but with England opening up again we're  starting a few mini breaks to visit or revisit some sights. Beginning with a few days around Hampshire & Wiltshire.

Winchester is a pleasant small city. The main sights are the Cathedral (open) and Great Hall (closed). The former is impressive, although I suspect it will become one of the many we've visited over the years that sort of merge in the memory, but the Close is very attractive and worth a wander. At least from the outside, the Great Hall looks interesting. There is a clutch of military museums, not all yet open, and we went to the Gurkha one. A proud brigade with a magnificent history and this was a compelling museum, very well done. Perhaps the other highlight of Winchester was the extensive ruins of Wolvesey Castle (actually a former palace). There are also various other sights dotted around the centre such as the old city walls, gatehouses, Jane Austen's house and the large Buttercross. Winchester is definitely worth a day. We stopped overnight at the Wessex Hotel, which is next door to the cathedral and has it's own parking. 

From Winchester we drove to Salisbury, taking most of the day to do so (although it's only about 25 miles). We stopped briefly in Stockbridge, an attractive town famous for its wide main street suitable for drovers (and drivers). No big sights as such but worth a walk around. Then onto Danebury Iron Age Fort for a walk. What an interesting place and, I admit, I'd never heard of it before. The walking is easy, the views are fantastic, there is some (limited) information panels on what you're looking at and there are wild horses. 

Our final stop before Salisbury was Old Sarum. It seemed to be fully open, although with timed advance booking only and a one-way route to help social distancing. The history and remains are fantastic - ancient Britons earthworks, through medieaval castle & cathedral ruins and an early modern link as one of the rotten boroughs. Not to be missed.

Finally arriving in Salisbury we had an evening and morning to visit. Unlike Winchester, we have been here before but not for many years. The highlight is the Cathedral and its Close. This is one of those cathedrals that does stand out in the memory with its huge spire and great cloister. Sadly the Magna Carta room isn't open yet, but the mechanical clock (the world's oldest) can be seen. After the cathedral & close there didn't  seem to be so much to Salisbury and the centre isn't as attractive as Winchester, but we had a pleasant evening pub-crawling around the Guildhall area. It was mildly interesting  that each pub we visited had adopted slightly different covid measures to suit their layout, but all had clearly thought carefully about the arrangements and executed them efficiently (and firmly). We stopped overnight in the Whie Hart, very central and a nice old building with car park, but no lift.

And so to home via Stonehenge. The Stonehenge visitor centre is new since I last went (about 30 years ago), and is excellent. The circle itself is breathtaking - and I think knowing a bit more about it from the new exhibition did make it much more interesting, as does seeing other sights on the walk to the stones such as the older barrows and pits which put it in a sort of context. If you've previously been to SH and left thinking "so?", I'd recommend a return including the exhibition and pre-historic walk. The virus restrictions (advance purchase only, limited tickets each slot), kept crowds down which also helped our enjoyment, as did the pleasant weather! 

So, not what we were expecting to be doing when planning our Summer, but an enjoyable few days. Hopefully, when more on this forum are able to visit, they might consider some of these places too. For our next "mini-break staycation" we're heading North for a few days.

Posted by
1260 posts

PS it wouldn't be fair to comment on either hotel generally, beyond their good, central locations. Both are operating covid-secure systems, so all public rooms such as bar & restaurants closed, breakfast just a grab bag continental breakfast  to eat in your room, minimum contact with staff including receptionists. But, I was impressed by the planning they've done and the signage and guidance put in place.

Posted by
2686 posts

Nick, I've been re-reading Bernard Cornwall's Last Kingdom series for the past 3 months. Some of it takes place in and around Winchester during the late 800's and early 900's and I've become fascinated by this time period. Is there anything in your travels still around from that time period?

Posted by
10589 posts

Thanks for the Trip report! Sounds like you all had fun and I'm sure it was good to get out and around.

I love to walk thru the fields to the Cursus and the barrows between the Stones and the Visitor Center at Stonehenge. Very interesting and yes, I agree the Visitor Center adds a lot over the previous VC. Good they are limiting visitors as the lines for the shuttles in prior years were pretty bad.

I've stayed in the White Hart as well. Nice location, OK hotel.

Did your pub crawl include Rai d'Or? It's a pub, it's a Thai restaurant, lol. Slightly odd but the food was enjoyable a few years back.

Posted by
2264 posts

Thanks for the report, Nick. I haven’t been to Winchester Cathedral, although I do have plans (hopes?) to get there sometime. And missed Old Sarum in January 2018 because the day I was there, the Beast from the East hit and it snowed. That trip I didn’t have a car (thank goodness) and the bus back to town from Stonehenge couldn’t stop. Might or might not have been the coldest I have ever been. :)

Posted by
353 posts

Allan: Winchester during the late 800's and early 900's ... Is there anything ... that time period?

As this is my local area, I can partly answer this. Winchester was a big Roman settlement, but as with most of britain after the Roman withdrawal, it had mostly fallen into disrepair. Some of the Roman walls still remain, and would have formed parts of the fortifications of Alfred's capital. There is a small, but interesting city museum which has some details of that time period.

The Old Minster (cathedral) was built in 642AD, and it's site was adjacent to the New Minster (the current cathedral built in 1079) - there are markers around the site to show where the Old minster stood. Alfreds remains were later removed to Hyde Abbey, just outside the old city walls - although the abbey itself was destroyed in the time of Henry VIII, the old gatehouse remains and the foundations of the church.

I really enjoyed the Cornwall books - and much of the history covered, particularly in the early books, takes place within an hour or so drive from where I live. Not much remains of any of the sites. Most of the fortifications would have been earth or wooden walls surrounded by ditches.

Posted by
1260 posts

Thanks for your comments and Tim's information. 

Allan, as TimW advised, near the main entrance of the current cathedral there are markers and helpful information boards showing the plan of its predecessor (presumably some of which was incorporated into the new building so perhaps bits and bobs do survive?). Thus, I suppose, a 10th century character from your book wouldn't recognise the current building, but would know the area as the religious centre. Similarly, according to English Heritage's free leaflet (I've become an expert all of a sudden!), Wolvesey Castle was built next to the previous Bishop's Palace of the 900s. Nothing remains of the earlier building, but the use of the area was unchanged. Wolvesey was slighted in the 12thC, rebuilt, then a few hundred years later attacked again in the Civil War and partially destroyed, then reused after the Restoration but quickly fell into disuse when they built yet another palace next door in the 17thC - some of which remains today as the current Bishop's Palace. So in the same small area is about 1200 years of (interrupted) bishops' residences, all going back to your book's time.

Pam, We didn't eat Thai and I don't think we went there. We had a decent pub supper in the Wig & Quill if you ever return. And thanks for mentioning the Cursus - I was scratching my head to remember what it was called. I found it hard to make it out at ground level, it is quite obvious in the aerial photos they display, but (once I knew what to look for!), the many burial  mounds really stand out on the landscape.

Travelmum, I hope you get a chance to visit. I do recommend both Winchester and Old Sarum. We had pleasant weather, fairly warm (for England, not Texas levels I guess!), but I can imagine it would be perishing in a snowstorm with it being so exposed. I guess they weren't kind enough to let you shelter within the stones!

Regards, all.

Posted by
4843 posts

".....Allan: Winchester during the late 800's and early 900's ... Is there anything ... that time period?...."

As Tim has mentioned, little remains of buildings from that period primarily because most were wooden structures and or were demolished/raised/re-purposed for a variety of reasons over the years. What does remain in the area (and throughout Britain) are a large number of Bronze Age and Viking burial grounds. At many of the high points in the area you will often find Bronze Age and Iron Age burial mounds and there are a number of sites where yew trees mark the site of a burial site of an important Viking. The Viking sites may be of interest for the period you referred to.

Old Winchester Hill has several Bronze Age mounds and the remnants of an Iron Age fort, it's a good hill to walk with some outstanding views and a superb pub for lunch and a pint after (The Shoe Inn) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Winchester_Hill

Also nearby is Kingley Vale with one of the most impressive Yew forests in Europe, some aged over 2000 years old (it is an impressive forest to walk through albeit relatively small). Plenty of ancient monuments and some impressive views. I love taking the dog there and it's quite awe inspiring being surrounded by such a wealth of history. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingley_Vale_National_Nature_Reserve

These are just two examples but there are many similar sites up and down the country and whilst you won't find much in the way of buildings dating to the period you're interested in you're spoilt for choice for historical sites that centre around that period and earlier.

*Edit: I've just found a walk that takes in part of Kingley Vale and the Village of Stoughton in which there's St Mary's church, a Saxon church dating back to 1050. Not quite the dates you were looking for but close enough. I've earmarked it for a walk next week.
https://www.alltrails.com/trail/england/west-sussex/stoughton-down-and-kingley-vale