For a while now friends have been recommending that we visit the historic City of Winchester. Having a couple of free days, we decided to do just that.
We admittedly had high expectations due to the many endorsements and were keen to explore what we imagined would be a delightfully rural setting with an air of quaint country charm. Unfortunately our first impressions of Winchester were formed by our drive through the surrounding industrial estates – hardly the scenic route. Putting the initial disappointment aside, we took a leisurely stroll around the locality.
Winchester’s High Street is much like any other carbon-copy English town. There is the usual proliferation of chain stores, dominated by mobile phone outlets and clothes shops. We did not feel the urge to explore The Brooks shopping centre and sample the delights of Argos and Specsavers within. Not exactly boutique shopping! Despite looking like a pedestrianised zone, cars appear unexpectedly from side roads and buses thunder down the middle with scant regard for human life. This is not an area for a relaxed wander.
Perhaps we formed an unrepresentative view of the local population as we visited during half-term, but the streets were thick with feral chavs and marauding teenagers. Winchester also seems to have the greatest population of drunks, vagrants and oddballs outside of London’s West End and more motability scooters than you’ll encounter on a day-trip to Bognor Regis.
After two hours of trudging our way around the city centre we were still at a total loss as to where all the interesting historical sites or cultural havens were supposed to be. We sought out the ‘famous’ Hyde Abbey Garden (the last known resting place of King Alfred the Great) but were disappointed to discover that it comprises nothing more than a few strategically placed holly bushes in the middle of a leisure centre car park.
We stopped at a newsagents to check out some Winchester postcards, which we hoped would give us a clue. Winchester has a Cathedral, that’s it. If you have visited any cathedrals before, then this one is not particularly remarkable – certainly not worthy of the £5 entrance fee for a quick look around.
We left Winchester disappointed and confused and certainly won’t be in any hurry to return. If anyone can enlighten me to the delights that we missed then please post a comment back.
(Another glowing review of Winchester can be read at ChavTowns).
It took me a while to remember Winchester, home of Alfred the Great and the scene of the 879AD cake-burning incident where the ‘protector of the poor’ was taken to task by the cooks over keeping his buns a little too long in the oven. However, I think your description triggers memories particularly of the wonderful cathedral. So, to research further I turned to my library and found in ‘1,000 Places to See Before You Die’ (Workman Publishing, NY, 2003) a description of the scene of your malaise :