One of the nicest things about moving to a new place is showing visitors around your new neighbourhood – I loved it when Alex came to visit for the first time. I thought I’d do the same here. So here’s my new girl’s guide to Winchester – welcome! (You might want to make a cup of tea – it’s a long one…)
Winchester is both eminently day-trippable and the perfect weekend retreat. Small enough to see on foot, yet you can strike out from the city centre on foot and be in the countryside in minutes. This was one of its major attractions for us: I am a city person, my husband is a country boy. I like cafes and buzz and convenience. He likes green and quiet and space.
This city is made for wandering. It’s compact, friendly, and ridiculously pretty, entirely saturated with character. There are winding, cobbled streets; a fascinating mish-mash of houses – quaint, cosy cottages rub shoulders with grand manors; ancient, beautiful Winchester College with its green-blazerered boys and the dreaming spires of Winchester cathedral towering over it all. And it’s surrounded by the reflective, quiet, green beauty of the Water Meadows.
This is the walk we like to take with visitors. It gives you a quick flavour of the city. But wear flats! Winchester is surprisingly hilly.
Starting at the top of town (near the train station, for the sake of locating ourselves), wander down the hill past the Military Museum and turn left down Southgate Street, passing the Hotel du Vin and the splendid Everyman Cinema (it has its own retro-style bar – and you can order food to take into screenings – bliss). Turn left down Canon Street, cutting through to St Swithun Street. Admire the pretty gardens of Christ’s Hospital (“The endowments of this House are applied to the maintenance of Six Old Men. One Matron; and Four Boys; and also the assistance of One Scholar in each of the Two English Universities” – lucky them, I say) on Symonds Street. From here, you can either head to refreshment/Cathedral viewing/shopping via Great Minster Street, or continue down St Swithun Street, admiring the dollshouse cottages en route. Walk under Kingsgate Arch (pausing for a peruse of Kingsgate Books and Prints) and then turn left down College Street. It’s all terribly pretty and genteel here – fitting, as Jane Austen spent her final weeks and died at unassuming Number 8 College Street, tucked next to the Headmaster’s House at Winchester College. Follow the walls of the College and turn right down College Walk. From here you can tread in the footsteps of Keats Walk (for more, see the map here) following the River Itchen, as it meanders into the countryside. Keep going across Garnier Road and you’ll see the pretty houses of St Cross and the beautiful The Hospital of St Cross in its peaceful setting, with views across the Water Meadows to St Catherine’s Hill. (The Hospital has its own tea rooms – check times before setting off.) You can loop around and back to climb St Catherine’s Hill with its far-reaching views. If we’re with smaller folk who are likely to complain, we skip the extra furlong and turn left at Garnier Road, following it over a bridge, along the road a little and turn left, back on ourselves, following the river back towards Winchester. From here, you can stroll to the Cathedral.
Honestly? The high street shopping experience in Winchester is a disappointment. The main shopping drag is a homogenised stretch of banks, chain coffee shops, and a glut of clothes shops which all sell the same thing (i.e. the ubiquitous holiday style worn when West London decamps to Cornwall for the summer holidays. Or when a certain class of teen goes on a gap yah.). I assume this is the council being short-sighted and raising the rates – because there’s certainly the appetite (and, let’s face it, the average income) for a wider variety of shops. ‘Where?’ I asked myself, ‘Is Whistles? Zara? An & Other Stories would go down a storm with all the on-point mums I see on the school run. And no H&M? Ye gods, what will I do without it when the kids grow seemingly overnight and require new everything urgently, or if there’s a school dress up day dash?” (I used to live within striking distance of Westfield, okay? And it was an easy hop into central London from my house.)
Once I’d got over this and pulled myself together, I mentally rephrased it as an opportunity to be a more conscious consumer i.e. shop less, shop better. I also discovered the joy of independents. Winchester and its surrounding area has a notable selection – from Hero in Stockbridge (more on this later in the year) to The Long Barn in Alresford (ditto).
The Hambledon (10 The Square, @thehambledon)
The Hambledon is beautifully edited and laid out, it’s almost more art gallery than shop. It is not a lie to say that I covet virtually everything in here. From the fashion on the top floor, filled with the Ganni, Baum Und Pferdgarten, Soeur and Stine Goya. To the delicious interiors: crockery, linen (I have my eye on a tablecloth by Bungalow), baskets from Oli Ella, cushions and retro glassware. And then there’s the beauty edit (the Maison Louis Marie candles are not to be missed) and the children’s department – filled with pastel-striped birthday cake candles, retro trinkets and sufficient Meri Meri goodness to gladden the heart of any small magpie.
Shop online here
The Consortium (39 Jewry Street, @the.consortium)
I was introduced to this vintage/interiors shop in a roundabout kind of way. My best friend’s sister works there – and her sister-in-law owns it. Everyone I take there falls for its charms (my friend Hanna visited for a day from London and toyed with the idea of toting a full-length mirror back on the train. You’ll be relieved to hear she abandoned this plan – albeit with some reluctance.) If the house we want to buy goes through (cross everything for me) this is where you’ll find me, sourcing all manner of interior goodness. It’s a real mix of vintage and retro, with gorgeous soft furnishings (I found my rattan mirror here, and I like this cushion and these neon letters lights for the children’s rooms) and quirky extras thrown in for good measure. You never what you’ll find (part of the joy) and the staff are delightful (I would say that, but it’s true).
Shop online here
Sass & Edge (1A Southgate Street, @sassandedge)
‘Now, this is nice’, was my first thought when I wandered into Sass & Edge for the first time, noting the bright, white space, the carefully-curated central display of pretty jewellery and shoes, the rails packed with a cornucopia of great labels (including some of my favourites Lily & Lionel and Wyse London, plus some which were new-to-me (Emin & Paul. Hayley Menzies, MKT Studio). Owned by a super-stylish duo, it has that genuinely personal touch and advice you only get from the best independents. (I am still thinking about the jumpsuit I was encouraged to try on….)
Shop online here
Eating and Drinking
Have I mentioned that Winchester has a lot of places at which you can eat, drink and make merry? Head to The Square, where you’ll find The Old Vine (for more traditional fare), new-ish incomer,The Winchester Orangery (an Instagrammer’s dream – draped with wisteria, foliage encased under glass tabletops etc), and The Square by Coffee Lab which has a high standard in cakes, coffee and Scandi-inspired interiors. There’s more of all of all three at The Dispensary Kitchen, just around the corner. If I’m just mooching (or taking a visitor on the walk, detailed above) I’ll pick up an (excellent) coffee from Flat Whites – a little coffee ‘wagon’ (perched next to Jigsaw).
If you’re visiting with children walk down the High Street to the park behind the Guildhall (remember: this is not London, Winchester is small. I promise it’s walkable) where you’ll find a bright, spacious River Cottage Kitchen. (Chocolate fans should head to Chococo, opposite, for pudding – my children love it here.) A little further on, just over the river, is the pretty Bridge Patisserie. Proper Italian fare and a warm welcome are on offer at Tom’s Deli (my husband likes to pretend he’s Montalbano and lunches here on occasion).
On Jewry Street near The Consortium, you’ll find the Hoxton Bakehouse – the closest Winchester gets to Shoreditch (glorious cardamom or cinnamon buns, Or, indeed, both). Further down, you’ll find Josie’s which we soon discovered is a local institution. My daughter will do a LOT for a stack of their pancakes. Keep going and you’ll find my husband’s favourite, The Cabinet Rooms. It has a rather retro gentleman’s club vibe (I mean this in a good way): friendly, cosy, charming, stylish. I am reliably informed this is the place for cocktails. (I will – because I am noble like that – try them and report back). On my list (now we’ve found a lovely babysitter!) award-winning Forte Kitchen on pretty Parchment Street and The Ivy (which needs no inroduction).
All photos my own, aside from Sass & Edge (taken from their Instagram feed as the shop is in sale). I’m wearing the Gisele dress by Les 100 Ciels and Alex is wearing a denim jumpsuit which is now in the sale at Whistles. The white dress in the first picture is from hush. At The Consortium we’re co-ordinating with the table and chairs in dresses which were very kind gifts from Lily & Lionel.