The Insider Guide to Winchester
From Austen and Keats to gong-baths and gin: where to scoff, snooze & quaff in King Alfred's Capital.
Coffee Lab just off the High Street on St Thomas St for its open, airy community vibe; Josie’s at the top of town on Jewry St do the best brunch: eggs benedict five ways plus much more, although it does get crowded at weekends. For a proper-coffee, pick-me-up try Flat White’s retro caravan just off the High St on Market St, it also has an outlet in Stonemason’s Court off Parchment St.
So yes, Parchment St. You need to know about this little slice of indy heaven: grab a fresh juice at Rawberry on the High St end, walk along the street browsing the boutiques then feet-up at The Corner House pub at the far end, with its weekend-perfect, let’s-read-the-papers-over-brunch vibe. Finally, new to Winchester, Hoxton Bakehouse on Jewry St is heaven for any self-respecting sourdough-obsessive, expect decent coffee too.
If you fancy a gulp country air, or you’re after somewhere accessible with oodles of parking, the Muddy-award-winning Little Kitchen Company’s bistro is on the outskirts of the city, don’t leave without trying the carrot cake. Finally, Good Life Farm Shop in King’s Worthy is the place to source local produce before grabbing a coffee in the café, erm or maybe a herbal if all that caffeine’s sending you fruit-loop.
In the city centre, Hannah’s B&B just off Parchment St, is a special find with carefully considered interiors, homemade breakfasts and regular yoga retreats. Elsewhere, The Black Hole B&B (affiliated with The Black Rat) has a more tongue-in-cheek, prison-chic vibe or if you’re after a cosy pub with rooms try The King Alfred. For country stays with a day-trip into Winch, New Forest Escapes is your go-to: a curated collection of cottages and converted barns in the Forest and on the coast, all around twenty-minutes from the city. Muddy stayed at New Forest Escape’s Slate Cottage recently, it was faultless.
Calling all history geeks and literature lovers, this one’s for you. Cross the close, pass the city’s 11th-century Cathedral — gawp, marvel, take the oblig selfie/Stories update — then head west into Kingsgate village with its tangle of Georgian and Tudor architecture surrounding Hogwarts, sorry Winchester College.
Spot the Wykehamists channeling Harry Potter in their coats and tails; stop for a browse at the wonderful, 250-year-old P&G Wells Booksellers, onwards to the house where Jane Austen died, now a private residence with a decidedly unfriendly sign outside… *breathe* then follow the River Itchen into the countryside and the water meadows where Keats riffed on “mists and mellow fruitfulness” in Ode to Autumn. Pass the medieval Almshouse, then expect a serious climb up St Catherine’s Hill which opens onto the sweeping South Downs stretching all the way to Brighton — well howdy there Muddy Sussex Debbie *waves* [Read her Inside Guide to Brighton].
Alternatively, cross the High St and amble down Parchment St with its cafes, indy shops and yoga studios. Beyond this is the leisure centre which, true, has seen better days, but parents of toddlers take-note: there’s a learner pool, a small soft-toy area and have a nose around the carpark which, many argue, hide the remains of King Alfred.
It may have been a religious centre for fifteen centuries, but the city doesn’t half like a drink. It’s crammed with proper, old-school boozers: see the ‘eat’ section. The William Walker by the Cathedral Close also deserves a mention for pure history (William Walker was a deep sea diver who took a quick dip in the Cathedral’s flooded foundations thus saving this incredible building) and The Mucky Duck in Hyde for its community vibe.
The city’s bar-scene is on the up as well, buoyed by the student population. For cocktail lovers, there’s Jewry Street’s The Cabinet Rooms, a café-bar with an eye-watering range of gins, many local including Twisted Nose and Gorilla Spirits. For craft ale head to Overdraft also on Jewry St, with its Mexican street-food, DJ’s and Millenial crowd, or try The Black Bottle for a decidedly grown-up version of your standard bubble-gum machine: 32 wines dispensed by the glass. Finally, there’s new-gin-parlour on the block, Incognito.
If you want to buy a bottle, try boutique merchant Wine Utopia on St Thomas St for friendly, personal service or for Italophiles there’s Toscanaccio another Parchment St stalwart whose deli also stocks edible Italian goodies; check the website for a lively calendar of tastings and supper clubs.
Winchester has some special indy boutiques, mostly hidden off the High St. You need to explore Kingsgate Village AND Parchment St, notably The Mantique for an updated version of your Gentleman’s outfitters. Elsewhere, Sass & Edge on Southgate St do chic and easy womanswear plus try perennial favourite, The Hambledon in The Square for gifts, accessories and fashion. For modern-rustic interiors try BluBambu Living, it’s new showroom opened recently on Southgate St.
First and foremost, the Cathedral. It’s worth paying the entrance price and going inside to really get a sense if this incredible, expansive space. Winchester City Museum is tucked just off the High St and worth a browse for the 3D model of the city alone, it took nine years to make. If you fancy nosing around the UK’s oldest public school, Winchester College, you can book yourself on a tour.
There’s also a slew of military museums if that’s your thing and finally, jump on a bus with Grape and Grain tours to discover Hampshire’s burgeoning wine and gin scene. Irrepressible spirits expert, Joel, will pick you up in the city and zoom you round the county’s best vineyards and spirit producers including Hattingley Valley Wines, Winchester Distillery and Itchen Valley Brewery.
Lots of simple pleasures for toddlers: the grassy area by the Cathedral is wonderful for picnics and run-arounds, there’s also a play-park at the bottom of town near the King Alfred Statue or if the weather’s rubbish, there’s always the leisure centre mentioned above. Just a simple push/toddle around the city’s medieval walls is also fun.
For older kids, try the National Trust’s City Mill, also at the bottom of town — have a go at grinding corn and challenge them to spot an otter. Winchester City Museum is also worth a gander, there are floors on the city’s Roman and Anglo Saxon past plus the building is on the spot of William the Conqueror’s palace so lots of opportunities to link-up with school history lessons. A run up St Catherine’s Hill is always fun and there are normally make-shift rope swings at the top, plus glorious views of the Cathedral for us olds. Have a look at the Winchester Discovery Centre’s site for brilliant daytime children’s theatre and storytelling. Finally, the Winchester Science Centre with its planetarium is a ten minute drive outside the city and brilliant for older children and teenagers.
It’s got to be the the Hat Fair (named after the busker’s money-collecting hat). Held over the first weekend in July, the city’s annual circus festival pops-up all over town. The kids will love it: lots of colour, joy and giggles but beware an already crowded city can feel unbearable, so if you’re after a quiet weekend of wandering and culture consider a different date.
The city has an incredibly rich calendar of festivals from the Ginchester Fête to its own wine and writers festivals, plus everything from guitars to cycling. Music-wise, there’s Winchestival and The Alresford Music Festival a few minutes down the road. The Winchester Discovery Centre (er, basically the library) is the city’s cultural hub. Natural light pours into the atrium, there’s a café, an upstairs exhibition space, a workshop space and a bigger auditorium which hosts everything from comedians, to blues, to engaging children’s theatre.
Next door is the more traditional Theatre Royal, again with lots of children’s theatre, plus dance and touring plays. If film’s your thing, the city’s Everyman cinema shows a decent selection of indy offerings plus live-streaming ballet, opera and NT plays. If this all feels too polished and perfect, head to The Railway Inn for gutsy blues, house-nights run by the brilliant Epoch, feminist talks by Wire Wool Events and more.
First-up you’ll need a beard trim at Barnett’s Barbers on Jewry St, then off to The Mantique on Parchment St for all your man-grooming needs. Time to re-fuel? The wonderful Piecaramba, again on Parchment St, serves the city’s best pie & mash, riffing on a comic-themed. Tattoos? Go on, “I love Winch” would suite you. That’ll be Asgard, again on Parchment St.
After a spot of yoga, or a gong-bath perchance, at New Energy Yoga… again on Parchment St (spotting a theme here peeps?), head for local ale, grown-in-Hampshire grub and Edwardian-quirk at The Green Man on Southgate St [Read Muddy’s review here]. Oh and finally, if gin’s your thing: The Cabinet Rooms on Jewry St deserves one more mention for its stonking range of local gins — the owners, Gary and Marcus, also run the city’s annual Ginchester Fête.
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Words: Mary Malyon