January 8, 2020 - Written by: Nancy Pollard
Read Time: 6 Minutes

Why Winchester?

Airport welcoming committee for grandparentsOne of the few benefits of having your children move overseas is the wondrous welcoming committee you get at the airport. And even though London, like Paris and Rome, is the bright shiny object of any visit, if you have time you should consider a few weekend trips outside of the Big Scone. Hampshire and its Cathedral City of Winchester would be a worthy choice. Not only does it have a gorgeous cathedral, it also boasts some really good museums, a rich surrounding countryside – and wonderful places to eat! I wrote about shopping on the tiny (two blocks long) Parchment Street  but there is so much more. It is a short train ride (a bit over an hour) from London to spend a long weekend exploring something else that the British have to offer. And if you have time, take a trip to Portsmouth or some of the villages along the famed trout fishing rivers. There are lovely inns, and some pretty cool butchers if you have rented an apartment with a kitchen.

 

Where To Stay

Burford Brown eggs at Winchester UK marketOur home away from  home is the Winchester Royal Hotel as it is in the center of just about everything we want to walk to.  While we don’t stay in one of Winchester Farm market shoppertheir smashing Four Poster rooms, their more modest ones suit us (and apparently our grandson) to a T. You can reserve a room with or without breakfast.  We choose without, as our son-in-law takes great delight in making breakfast (English and non-English) at Cafe 32 – which is his whimsical name for where they live. We also eat breakfast at the Forte Kitchen.  If you want your own apartment so you can take advantage of the food markets on High Street, HomeAway AirBnB  and VRBO all offer a nice selection. On a menu or at the market, if you see Burford Brown eggs for sale – grab’em!  They are delicious. If you want more of a country stay near Winchester, check out the offerings of The Epicurean Club. The parental units of our welcoming committee have taken us to The Peat Spade and The Kings Head and both were delightful Hampshire countryside destinations. 

Where To Visit 

Winchester Cathedral flower showObviously, Winchester Cathedral.  It only has a thousand years of history to share with you. During the Christmas Season, the Cathedral hosts a unique craft fair, where makers sell gloves, boxes, hats, sweaters. jewelry, soaps. It is considered to be one the best Craft Markets in Europe.If your stay permits, the choral and orchestral events are beautiful, and in September, they have a very unusual Flower show in the Cathedral’s various interior spaces.

If you read my post of The Forlorn Hope Menu, you know that I have a soft spot for Bernard Cornwell’s 95th Rifleman model in Winchester museum dedicated to this regimentfictional hero, Richard Sharpe.  Even if you are not addicted to his novels or the TV series, you will find the Royal Green Jackets Museum with its collections, dioramas, letters, and diaries to be a wealth of historical information about a unique military regiment.The fascinating 95th Rifles was borne from the disasters endured by the  red- and blue-coated British military in the French and Indian Wars in North America. Unlike their more easily spotted opponents, Indians and  their French allies of the moment wore clothing that blended into the landscape.They also were unencumbered by traditional European military field regalia and took advantage of fortuitous moments of assault rather than hewing doggedly to planned battles. The regiments that evolved into the 95th were taught to think independently, and were considered somewhat expendable lower class English, immigrants or mercenaries  The four principal founders used radically different training manuals that had evolved from earlier skirmisher troops.  The dark green of the Rifleman uniforms  and Baker rifles, along with the depictions and diaries of what these unique soldiers lived through, make for a fascinating visit for both children and adults.  I had to read The Recollections of Rifleman Harris as soon as I could purchase a copy.

dress made from Allied parachute in Southsea D Day MuseumIf you have time to spend in Portsmouth, it will take at least a day to visit their incredible National Museum Of The Royal Navy decoy and radar distrupter for fake invasion, but a new  adventure for us was the smaller  D-DayMuseum. It gives a more detailed look at all sides of what happened within 24 hours of one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century. Little known facts and displays about “Operation Bodyguard”  are so intriguing, such as the tinfoil bouquets that were parachuted over Calais to create a disturbance to enemy radar operators, along with  dummy soldiers to fool the Nazi Command. You’ll also see the equipment and insignias used by the French Resistance.   And the dress a French woman made from the silk of an Allied Parachute. The copper pot (maybe it was a Mauviel one)that an allied soldier used throughout the war after tripping over it on D Day.The thousands of postcards collected from vacationers to piece together the coastline of France.The details that created this brutal victory, well, it is just mind boggling.  Plus their book shop had a Giles Milton title about D Day that gave a more detailed view than  The Longest Day. A brisk walk or short drive will bring you to a number of good seaside restaurants, where you can dine in cozy warmth and watch British fisherman enjoying casting lines into the freezing sea or even going for an abortive swim. We watched just such a moment from Southsea Beach Cafe , which has good food and excellent views.

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Where To Eat

Two small and family-friendly restaurant chains with really good food and service have outposts in Winchester — BBlack Rat Winchester Reserved for usrasserie Blanc and Rick Stein. I realize that it is an Chesil Rectory Exterior in Winteroxymoron in the US for a chain to have really good food, but both of these British restaurant groups defy the odds. For the sheer pleasure of having unique meals that are distinctly Winchesterian and merit attention from picky food guides, book a table at the Chesil Rectory and The Black Rat.  I loved the rustic atmosphere and quiet conviviality that to me can epitomize the best of British hospitality. Both kitchens (the Black Rat has a Michelin Star) took classic French-born techniques and some of the modern jazz coming out of other European restaurants and combined them with superb local products.  Wine lists (and Port, of course) are excellent and affordable. Service is spot-on but informal.  And when you catch your train back to London or taxi to the airport after your short stay, you will be well fed, relaxed, and invigorated from lovely walks,  historical discoveries, and the sounds of the Cathedral bells.




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Peter Wallis

Very good indeed