This was once the capital of England - you really should visit!
Located South-west of London but once far more important than London. This small cathedral city is dripping in thousands of years worth of history. Some would even argue because the British Isles has had humans occupying it for hundreds of thousands of years this remarkable little place in ye old England has probably seen more action over time than even the greatest archaeologists could ever fathom. To ponder and wonder about it all would take a thousand lifetimes. And yet on a brisk overcast day in peak winter, I decided to explore this remarkable city in 1 hour! That city is - WINCHESTER.
From what we know for certain; Man had settlements where Winchester is today for at least 2,000+ years. Although the Winchester that exists today really started when the Romans landed in Kent in AD 43 and with little resistance from the nearby tribes to Winchester began building the first real roads that make up today's Winchester. In the early days, Winchester was known as Venta Belgarum or market place of the Belgae. This Roman new town developed over the centuries of occupation to become the region’s capital, with streets laid out in a grid pattern to accommodate the splendid houses, shops, temples and public baths.
Sadly as the Roman Empire became more indulgent and short-sighted to the new arrivals who made up its empire it eventually collapsed at the end of the 5th Century AD. With this,
the Romans abandoned the ancient city of Venta Belgarum. For the rest of the fifth century and early sixth century, England entered what is now referred to as the Dark Ages. It was during these Dark Ages that the Anglo-Saxons became established in southern and eastern England. It was the Saxons that referred to a Roman settlement as a ‘caester’, and so in west Saxon Wessex, Venta Belgarum became Venta Caester, before being changed to Wintancaester and eventually corrupted to Winchester.
The fact is a small post on a blog can't really do Winchester any justice when it comes to digesting the history of this historic place. For those of you of a curious nature - I attempted to absorb as much of this fine city as possible in my latest YouTube video.
However, when you visit Winchester for yourself, I would urge you to make a weekend out of it. Support the local Airbnb's, Bed & Breakfasts & hotels for we all know that thanks to global lockdowns these people are going to need your assistance in the months to come.
When absorbing the city of Winchester, immerse yourself in its history, read up on England's Great King Alfred. For he truly was a remarkable chap and without him, England may be a very different place to what it is today. Although. Alfred was born at Wantage in Berkshire, he remains Winchester’s most famous son. Alfred ‘The Great’. Alfred (Aelfred) became ruler of the West Saxons after he and his brother defeated the Danish Vikings at the Battle of Ashdown. In 871 at the tender age of 21, Alfred was crowned King of Wessex and established Winchester as his capital.
To protect his kingdom against the Danes, Alfred organised the defences of Wessex. He built a navy of new fast ships to defend against attack from the sea. He organised the local militia into ‘rapid reaction forces’ to deal with raiders from the land, and started a building programme of fortified settlements across England from which these forces could gather to defend.
Saxon Winchester was therefore rebuilt with its streets laid out in a grid pattern, people were encouraged to settle there, and soon the town was flourishing again. As befits a capital, a great building programme soon followed, both New Minster and Nunnaminster were founded. Together, they quickly became the most important centres of art and learning in England.
In 1066 following the Battle of Hastings, King Harold’s widow, who was staying at Winchester, surrendered the town to the invading Normans. Shortly after this William the Conqueror ordered the rebuilding of the Saxon royal palace and the construction of a new castle to the west of the town. The Normans were also responsible for demolishing the Old Minster Cathedral and starting the construction of the new present cathedral on the same site in 1079.
And if you only needed one reason to visit Winchester make it a visit for Winchester's epic Cathedral. I talk more about the history of the Cathedral in my video - so do take the time to have a look. Throughout the early Middle Ages, Winchester’s importance as a significant cultural centre was reaffirmed time and again, as witnessed by the number of royal births, deaths and marriages that took place in the town.
Winchester’s fortunes, however, began to decline during the 12th and 13th centuries as power and prestige gradually shifted to the new capital in London, including the relocation of the royal mint. And while decline did take place in the following years - without these years of decline it wouldn't be the incredibly pretty city it is today. Winchester has so far avoided the destruction the importation of the world has brought to many towns up and down the UK.
If you are considering making a weekend out of it or simply think it wise to stay at least one night in the city of Winchester, or one of the many villages that dot the nearby countryside. There are a number of options to choose from to suit all budgets. Over the years, I've had the fortune to stay in an array of hotels, apartments and various forms of accommodation while travelling. For the majority of travellers, I recommend Booking.com - yes there are hotel comparison websites such as Trivago and Kayak. However, from my years of travel experience, I've discovered both of these comparison websites do not have all the hotels, hostels and apartments listed. The reasons behind this could be some premises simply do not pay the comparison sights a fee or the reason could be something else. If you know of the reason do leave a comment below. However, I have discovered no matter what the location Booking.com will 9/10ths of the time have the most competitive deal and generally the most choice. However, if you are super keen to get the best deal- use Booking.com, Kayak, Trivago, Lastminute.com and Hotels.com in separate browser windows.
An alternative which I do recommend for your accommodation is Airbnb. The authorities still allow Airbnb in the UK (it hasn't been banned just yet). I've booked a number of apartments via Airbnb. If you have not used them before (you have probably been living under a rock). But if you use this referral link you will get many Dollars, Pounds or Euros off your first booking and I'll get a very small referral kickback. I'm an Airbnb host as well as a frequent Airbnb traveller. I love Airbnb because not only does it make travelling more affordable but it also allows you to stay off the beaten track. Staying with a local or in your own cottage is far more unique than staying in a generic hotel you could find anywhere in the world. Use the map below to search for the perfect Airbnb stay within walking distance of Winchester Cathedral.
I am not sponsored by the British Government or any Travel Group, I simply have written this post as I enjoy travelling. Please do check out this blog for more independent travel ideas and my YouTube Channel. As always videos can always be found on YouTube & LBRY. I use both as sadly YouTube is now censoring content whereas LBRY is for Free-Speech.
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Thank you - Alex van Terheyden AKA The Wondering Englishman