Winning Winchester


The publication of my very short poem “The Final Straw” in the March 2011 issue of elimae reminded me of this day-trip to Winchester. Read on and you will see why.
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In March last year, we took a day trip to Winchester, a cathedral town and an ancient capital of England. Because of its history, the place is full of things to see. It also turns out to be quite an attractive little town and it was a nice place to spend a Saturday.
After we got off the train, we walked towards the city centre, passing by the huge Winchester Cathedral in which Jane Austen is buried. Along the side of the building, there is a charity book shop which raises money for the church. Like many small town second-hand book shops, you just have to leave money in a little box. We were surprised by the relatively large selection of books and many of them were in very good condition. Needless to say, I picked a couple including a history of English Literature and a book about Victoriana.
We had skipped breakfast so by this point we were getting quite hungry. We chose the Wykeham Arms. The pub has lots of character. Some of the tables in the bar are made of old school desks and there was a fire burning, welcoming the guests. However, we ate in a small room in the dining area, which was filled with Victorian paintings and prints. The food was terrific and I managed to eat a whole steak and a giant mushroom without any help from my companion.
After lunch, we walked by Jane Austen’s last home. We later learnt in the museum that Austen came to Winchester hoping to recover her health. However, within a few months, she died. From there, we walked passed the ruins of a castle; the only thing left is more or less some of the outer walls so the city has turned it into a football field. The River Itchen runs through the city near the castle and we walked along its pretty banks and over some bridges. Here, we saw two perfectly white swans, vainly grooming their feathers (see more swans here and here). One of them, pictured below, had been banded for some reason and it kept trying to remove the tag from its leg. It was such a sad sight, especially since it was clear that the tag would probably never come off. I am sure this swan was banded for a good reason but I still felt a great sympathy for the bird.
After the stroll, we returned to the cathedral and had a little rest on the grounds. There were many other people sitting there having lunch or playing games; it was very similar to what we saw in Exeter where the cathedral grounds provided a park in the middle of the city for people to hang out.
Near the cathedral is the Winchester Museum, a small but friendly institution. It is particularly aimed for families as there are lots of interactive games for kids. One item in particular stuck out: a Medieval face jug. As the name suggests, there are two faces on the body of the jug.
Lastly, we went to the Great Hall, a part of Winchester Castle from the thirteenth century. Although much of the rest of the castle is gone, the Great Hall remains. It is a huge airy room which must have been impressive in the Middle Ages. At one end of the hall is a huge table, which claims to be the Round Table of Arthurβ€˜s Court. It turns out in fact to be not old enough to be the genuine article. Yet, it remains an imposing sight.
Underneath the table was a statue of Queen Victoria made for her Jubilee. It was interesting to see these two important British symbols together in this way. After the Great Hall, we walked back to the station and caught a train home to London as the day died. We got back home just in time to catch this beautiful sunset:

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