City 47: Winchester


And so begin the Winchester Chronicles. This one, unlike so many previous Walk and Talks did not start with Lichfield but was simply a small part of a much larger whole. Ooh I say. What a carry on. To be precise it was Day 3 of a 9-day odyssey which took me from the whirl and the rush of London to the snowy heights of the Brecon Beacons. From Cheltenham Spa, an elegant, nay Regency Town with its endless Road works and unapologetic congestion, back unto the bloody city of Lichfield.

The Winchester Chronicles

Leaving London via a 9.30 train my travelling companion and I arrived in Guildford, in Surrey, where we had left the van some nights before. Costa Coffee supplied the much needed rocket fuel to face the drizzling day and then a short taxi ride with a monosyllabic driver delivered us to the (Oh Hallelujah) ticketless van. Having retrieved the grime-smothered van and loaded our luggage aboard we fired up the car sterio and made straight for Farnham, with a stop at Frensham Small Pond, a much loved haunt from my youth, where I fished for pike. From there we schlepped across country to Winchester. By the time we arrived it was early afternoon. Small but perfectly formed Winchester reminded me of a poor man’s Bath. No offence intended to the good citizens. We descended into it past square turreted Norman churches, still noticeably attended, and large properties with impressive parcels of land attached. A bleached out sky and the endless quest for affordable parking drew sighs if not curses. This after all is England whose National Socialist sympathies find expression in its draconian parking laws and watchful attendants.

Nothing is planned, everything haphazard, and having filled the ticket machine with all our available change we head off for a whistle stop tour of the city. My eye is drawn by an orange slogan as I am wearing orange trainers and gloves and carrying an orange umbrella. Thematically arresting I surmise, albeit tenuous as a linking thread. The banner promises New Energy Fitness with a swirly logo that is part wool, part four-lane motorway. Generally I like it and am amused by the pounding citizens within, running off their lunches, tightening their bums and tums and looking sweaty and fantastic. Of course it’s unlikely that their activities will extend their lives by a single hour but who am I to depress them. A stencilled second logo has me howling. It simply reads Workout Classes. I completely misread it of course. The working class may be as dead and buried as Corbin’s career but the Workout Class are on the rise. Why not appeal to them Jezza. It can only fail as a strategy, like everything else. So New energy Fitness is Point One of todays dot-to-dot.

Modernist Madness

Point Two is the Modernist bunker that is Waterstones. Part sky tower, part great glass elevator it warms the cockles of my icy heart. An expected feature, encouraging and familiar, you can sit and read here and the hawkish attendants leave you be. They’re far too interested in reading whatever it is they are into, to waste time on you. Occasional forays to restock the shelves are greeted with eye rolling and ironic smiles. Of course nobody buys anything here. You buy books from Amazon. No, the Big W is a place to drink coffee and shelter from the rain. It’s warm and middle class, a Victorian throwback, obsessed with the art of classification and the preservation and display of phylum, species and genera. Hurrah for Waterstones!

Mapping the Present

Point Three is a map on the wall, which displays the city in highly colourised, cartoonish zones. Lime green and radioactive orange predominates with salmon hues and a dash of turquoise to add balance. Gun metal grey fills the areas which have no touristic value. As expected the Cathedral dominates the map. No alarms and no surprises there. After all England used to be a Christian country (lol). Apparently Winchesters is one of England’s largest. Not that size matters. The map is a little depressing. It’s functional but devoid of class. It reminds me of the paucity and cheapness of most modern buildings, be that neo Georgian Monstrosities on an over-filled estate or shopping centres. For all that they are multi million pound builds you wouldn’t know it. None of the elegance or class of the Georgian age, or the Tudor age or the Victorian age for that matter. Those buildings were made to last and they have. Most modern buildings last ten or twenty years if they are lucky and then they are torn down despite the millions lavished on them. Oh well it’s a throwaway culture…’not built to last built to burn, no deposit no return’ as PWEI sang.

Pop Culture

After the map I’m amused by another shop front. Point 4. Shurpody, a chiropody clinic. It looks a little like Boots but sports many of the same colours as the map. Lime green again with a little explosion of orange. Turquoise lettering on a white surround. There was a time when these places would be tucked away in a discretely signed if none descript building. Not anymore. Now they are brands. Now they are chain stores. Transparency is all. Walk in, drop yer pants, get yer warts out, show us your scars. It’s a pop culture.  

Nice Bit Of Quiche

But now its time for lunch and a brisk stroll down the Old Main Drag delivers us to Point 5, a classy bistro pub called Alfie’s. Winchester being the City from whence King Alfred ruled in the 9th Century this makes total sense. To support the name, as it were, and to have a bit of fun I suppose, there are pictures of Alfie’s of all ages, all over the exposed, brick walls. There’s Alfie Allen , Reek from game of Thrones,  Jude Law as London Tart Alfie and Michael Caine with Christian ‘Batman’ Bale as Alfred the Butler. He’s my favourite Alfred and I wish him the very best of British. 

Nice Bust

After a nice bit of quiche and a pint of soda and lime my American Friend and I cross the road to Point 6, a rather grand Tourist Information Office with an orange van parked outside. Everywhere I go I’m seeing lurid orange, on vans, maps, logos and not least on the end of me own feet. Inside there are leaflets aplenty and a nice bust of King Alfred, with whom I pose in my safari hat. The girl at the counter is as polite and helpful as they’re supposed to be in places such as this and marks out points of interest on the free map.  Outside we examine the Coat of Arms of the City of Winchester. It has five, silver turreted castles in a domino spread with the central castle being addressed by two golden lions…all on a lovely red background. Oh heraldry. Where would with be without a bit of heraldry. As Harold Shand might have said…the yanks love all that. Or at least they’re supposed to. Allison seems singularly unimpressed.


After a gape and a gawp at another rather more imposing statue of Alfred further down the street, this time, like Lady Godiva on horseback, we sneak shiftily towards Point 7, the Abbey House. House and Grounds were built around 1750 or so sayeth the plaque in the midst of the Johnsonian Age. The present castellated front was added after the widening of 1771. The widening? Its hardly Versailles but as a listed building it demands respect. Allison and I arch an ironic eyebrow. My favourite byte of info is again supplied by the plaque, which alludes to Benedictine Nuns fleeing the disturbances of the French Revolution to make their homes in the Abbey circa 1790. The word ‘disturbances’ amuses me, so quintessentially English and understated. Disturbances sound like some nocturnal spirit rapping’s, not the wholesale slaughter and destruction of an entire class by decapitation no less. Through the grounds we lollop past some vaping students who look threateningly Dickensian and ready for violence. Am I getting old?  I must be. 

Both Barrels

Past the red-bricked River Canteen (orange letters) we trot, round the close, where squats Paternoster House, to view Point 8, the stately Cathedral. There’s a six quid entrance fee but then they are not cheap buildings to run. We pay and go in, wondering whether Jesus, had he been around today, would have driven out the merchants from behind their stores and counters, or accepted the status quo. Render unto Caesar what is Caesars? I suspect he was misquoted there. Had I been in his predicament I would have wanted to render Caesar a Molotov Cocktail or at the very least a lobbed brick. Got what he deserved did Caesar. Nobody likes a big ‘ead. The Cathedral is hardly a romp but its kinda classy. Perhaps I’ve seen too many to be overly impressed by the towering edifices and the sky piercing steeples. Allison finds it amusingly patriarchal. There are illustrated manuscripts and Bibles in cabinets, under low lighting. The highlight is Jane Austin’s brass plaque in the floor. A guide attaches herself to us, limpet-like, and insists on giving us the full facts, like a gamekeeper insists on giving a crow both barrels. She’s new but doing very well we are told. Besides Jane’s plaque are white lilies paid for everyday by the Jane Austin Society. Allison is moved by this pious act of devotion then enraged that the Cathedral Authorities allowed Jane’s brothers entrance but denied her sister a place at the interment. We curtsey, genuflect and then leave.

The Voice of Equus Out Of The Cave

Snow is in the air as we head up the hill towards Point 9, the Great ‘All where resides King Arthur’s Round Table. Or so we’re told. Its getting late in the day and they are on the point of closing up but we are permitted entrance to gawp. The table hangs on a wall at the far end of the ‘All. I cant help thinking it would have looked better with some legs attached, reclining on the horizontal plane but generally I like it, being a fan of all things Arthurian, especially John Boorman’s 1981 film 'Excalibur'.  I run a few lines from the movie to stave off the inevitable boredom of too much history and head for the road. Outside darkness is falling. Winchester is a pleasant little City with everything a Medieval City should possess. Passing a statue of an ‘Orse I am reminded of the 1977 film Equus about a deranged boy who blinds some horses. He goes to Winchester to see a Skin-Flick, a porno film, in modern parlance, before setting out on his rampage of violence.

Perhaps there’s more to the City than meets the eye. Who knows?


Jessica Robert

05.06.2019 06:20

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09.04.2017 19:00

Very well Jude. Just on the verge of going back up to Scotland to work. Thank you for your lovely comments. Love and light as always. Sx

Jude Nelson

09.04.2017 13:24

Love this Stu - made me smile! Found it by chance. Hope all is well with you!

Latest comments

14.10 | 16:13

I know. I see that it's all over but concealed. Not part of a cities authorised biography or daily propaganda.

14.10 | 16:09

Ah thia latter letter reminds me of a man Iknew in Lichfield - now departed totally - he too was being hounded and oppressed and taken to court for nothing. See it isn't just Leeds!!

14.09 | 02:52

A joy to read Stu. Not only an expert tour guide (I have walked the Scottish Highlands with you twice) but a masterful storyteller who merges time and place into a kaleidoscope of imagery & metaphor.

13.09 | 17:29

Its so lovely to hear from you Mike and Jan. Your offer is very kind as are your memories of the trip we shared.

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