by Jenny Curtis, local student & HODs volunteer
Moving to Winchester was the scariest experience of my life. Scarier than results day. Scarier than starting a new school. Scarier than the first (and only) horror film I saw. The whole concept of moving away from home for the first time to an unfamiliar city was more than daunting. Not to mention the new responsibilities that come with living away from home: having to organise my own budget, lug washing to the launderette, and spend my evenings with strangers instead of family.
But nine months later the strangers are like family and Winchester feels more like home than my old town ever did. I take pride in showing my parents or friends from home around my city. There are still things I don’t know about the city and places I haven’t been, which is one of the many things I love about Winchester…
There's always . . .
something new to discover, even in the familiar. Every season brings a new way at looking at the city, from snow-capped to embellished with blossom to scattered with crisp leaves to sweltering under the summer sun.
A few months back, I discovered one of my favourite places in Winchester. My flatmates had gone home for spring break, but I stayed at university, slaving over assignments. Looking for somewhere to take a rest from work and catch up on reading, I stumbled upon Dean Garnier Gardens. It was abandoned except for a skinny robin jumping across the grass. The brick walls were clothed in thick ivy, the sun was out, and it finally felt like spring. Even though the garden is open to the public, it felt like a space of my very own; it felt personal.
Some days, when I’ve finished my work and the weather is nice, I’ll spend the day wandering around the streets of Winchester, trying to find somewhere I’ve never been. Occasionally I walk one of my favourite routes and try to spot things I’ve never noticed before: the mismatching brickwork of a building, mayweed growing at the edge of a footpath, a grave that’s older than the USA. There’s always something new to discover, even in the familiar. Every season brings a new way at looking at the city, from snow-capped to embellished with blossom to scattered with crisp leaves to sweltering under the summer sun. For a city that dates back to before Roman times, Winchester never gets old.
Jenny's second favourite thing is the connection with history. History is everywhere in Winchester. From the clock in the High Street that dates back to the late 19th century, to the Buttercross just behind it dating back even further to the 15th century, and who could forget the astounding Winchester Cathedral built in the 11th century. At least twenty of the buildings along the High Street now occupied by coffee shops, phone companies, and banks are grade II listed. This overlap between history and modernity creates a beautiful mix, giving Winchester significant heritage without stagnation. It creates a city that’s everchanging and evolving, but never losing sight of its roots. Plus, there’s something strange and fantastic about popping into a grade II listed building for something as mundane as toothpaste.
Jenny's third favourite thing are the countryside views. As well as brimming with beautiful architecture, Winchester is home to fantastic countryside views. From the city, it’s only a short walk to the Water Meadows (a favourite route of Keats’), or a bit further to St Catherine’s Hill in what feels like the heart of the countryside. Even within the city, there are plenty of peaceful green spaces to relax in, giving you a sense of nature without breaking out your walking boots. A personal favourite of mine, and ultimate winner for convenience, is West Hill Cemetery which is less than five minutes from the University of Winchester. From the bench at the top of the graveyard, you get one of the absolute best views in all of Winchester over the fields, trees, and hills that surround the city. It’s almost impossible to remember what you were so stressed about when staring out over that countryside landscape.
A city with a town vibe
Although Winchester is technically a city, and was even the capital of England for a time, it still feels intimate,
Jenny's fourth love is the town vibe. Despite containing so many open spaces, Winchester is pleasantly compact. It is Schrodinger’s city – both airy and cosy simultaneously. As someone who finds the idea of driving about as appealing as a sandpaper massage, it’s a huge relief that you can walk pretty much everywhere in Winchester. Even the places that you can’t walk are easy to get to via public transport, so you can have a day out at the Science Centre and still feel good about your carbon footprint. Although Winchester is technically a city, and was even the capital of England for a time, it still feels intimate, unthreatening, and much more like a town but with all the perks that a city has to offer.
No description of Winchester would be complete without mentioning the High Street
Jenny's wonderful tour of Winchester finishes with the High Street. No description of Winchester would be complete without mentioning the High Street. If the Cathedral is the heart of the city, the High Street is undoubtedly a fundamental artery. Before coming to Winchester, all the buskers I’d ever encounter could just about eek out an off-key rendition of ‘Wonderwall.’ Even now, I still can’t get over the skill of the buskers by the Buttercross or next to Debenhams who make the chore of lugging shopping back to my flat that much more enjoyable.
Market day back home was nothing special. It consisted of a rotund man shouting about his courgettes and a shifty looking guy selling DVDs that had ‘fallen off the back of a lorry.’ Winchester is another story entirely. Walking through the High Street on market day is always an exercise in self-restraint. I’ll struggle past the stalls and try not to blow my student loan on the delicious smelling food from all over the world – Greece, Germany, Thailand and more. Sometimes I’ll kid myself that I’m ‘just looking’ and I won’t buy anything. But, as I have the breaking strain of a soggy Kit-Kat, on those occasions I rarely walk away without chowing down on an arancini or some other delicious street food. The Christmas market nearly bankrupted me I can tell you.
Of course, this list could easily be three times as long, as every day I learn something new about the city that just makes it more appealing. Know of any hidden gems or personal favourites about Winch that I haven’t mentioned? Feel free to share them down in the comments and help other people get to know this fantastic city!
Photo Credits - Jenny took the fabulous shot of the view from West Hill, and the remaining ones were taken by Becky Brown.