Tag Archives: Winchester

Win Guide to February

Chococo Winchester
Chococo Winchester

Winter is dragging its heels, isn’t it? But February is not without its charms.  It’s a short month, which means Spring is on her way at last.  The word February unsurprisingly comes from Latin ‘februa’, a cleansing or purification ritual in readiness for Spring – which explains the rain.  The Anglo-Saxons called it ‘Solmonath’, which can be translated as ‘Mud Month’, and according to the scholar ‘Bede’ was also known as the month of cakes, after the old English custom of offering cakes to the gods to promote fertility as they sewed the seeds and ploughed the fields.  If that’s an excuse to indulge in the cold, we’ll take it. We’d recommend the gluton-free carrot cake at Chococo, washed down with their classic hot chocolate.

Theatre Alibi presents I Believe in Unicorns
Theatre Alibi presents
I Believe in Unicorns

If you know a 6 to 12 year – old, there’s an opportunity to inspire their love of storytelling and reading this month.  Theatre Alibi will be presenting Michael Morpurgo’s popular children’s story ‘I Believe In Unicorns’, adapted by Daniel Jamieson, 5th – 7th February at the Theatre Royal Winchester.  Running at one hour, it’s described as a 4 – star ‘evening of thrilling theatre’ by The Guardian. Whilst you’re in a theatre going mood and if you fancy a trip to London, Winchester – based theatre director Deborah Edgington’s (Chesil Theatre, Forest Forge) critically acclaimed production of Muswell Hill by Torben Betts is running 17th February – 14th March at the chic North London Park Theatre, recipient of the Best Fringe Theatre in The Stage Awards 2015.

February is, of course, Love month, which might explain the exponential increase in bugaboos recently, so with Valentine’s Day looming on 14th February, there’s no shortage of restaurants ready to welcome the lovers in. Lainston House Hotel is offering a £110/head eight – course tasting dinner, including bubbles and canapés on arrival. The Black Rat is offering a sumptuous £50/head set menu, and the River Cottage set menu is £35/head. Booking is obviously advised. Alternatively, folk/punk singer-songwriter Frank Turner will be playing on home soil at the Guildhall.

Shrove Tuesday
Family Bushcraft – Shrove Tuesday

Shrove Tuesday  – or pancake-day – also features this month on 17th February, which marks 40 days before Easter and is a chance for a feast before going without for Lent (if you’re that way inclined). The Sir Harold Hillier Arboretum and Gardens is offering an event called Family Bushcraft – Shrove Tuesday Cooking On the Fire. The morning session is sold out, but there’s an afternoon session now available 1.30pm – 4pm, £10 per child with an accompanying adult and suitable for 3-12 – year – olds. It’s part of their half-term fun activities at the Gardens. They’re also offering a Children’s Falconry Day on 19th and family nature trails every day.

For some indoor half-term fun, Winchester Science Centre & Planetarium will be holding an exciting, daily programme of special events for the holidays, from Saturday 14 February to Sunday 22th February. Holiday opening hours are Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm, Saturday and Sunday , 10am to 5pm. The City Mill is offering some half-term seasonal baking,  to show how the freshly milled wholemeal flour can be combined with a variety of local produce to make tasty treats.

To run off the cakes, the 33rd annual Winchester 10km Road Race with be held on Sunday 22nd February 2015, starting outside the Winchester Guildhall and proceeding up the historic High Street and along Jewry Street before heading out towards the village of Kingsworthy.  The return leg passes through the village of Headbourne Worthy and back towards Winchester before finishing at Winchester Football Club ground.

Image Credit: Jonty Wilde
Image Credit: Jonty Wilde

Finally, we suggest venturing to Jane Austen’s house in Chawton on 26th February for the event Stargazing: Poetry with Simon Armitage (CBE) & Moora Dooley. The evening will start at 6.30pm at the museum for readings of star – related poetry before walking through the unlit streets of the village to Chawton House to gaze up at the sky, before finishing with more poetry and refreshments in the Great Hall.  Tickets are £10.

 

The Curse of the Butter Cross and other spooky tales

Rebecca JS Nice is your guide on a shivery stroll round Winchester – if you dare!

The Butter Cross, Winchester
The Butter Cross, Winchester

Have you been struck by ‘The Curse of the Butter Cross’?

It may be best to ask this of anyone who’s ever sat upon the cold, raked steps of this local landmark and watched the world go by. I certainly have. But you may want to think twice before doing so.

Situated on modern-day Winchester’s High Street, the Butter Cross was constructed during the reign of Henry VI. As a popular meeting place for centuries it has, inevitably, attracted its share of legends.  One describes a witch in the Middle Ages who, before she was burnt at the stake, somehow converted the Cross into a site that compels you to return to it again and again, never leaving the city.

Perhaps it’s her curse that makes residents of Winchester so loyal to their historic home. Sit there and not only will you possibly never leave, but you might just glimpse a shadowy figure racing to the Cathedral when the Guildhall clock strikes eight and the curfew rings…

Wandering up the High Street and nipping through Royal Oak Passage, listen out for the whispered conversations resonating between the walls. But don’t linger too long, especially if you’re by yourself. You may notice that although you’re all alone, traces of a conversation can still be heard…

Then head past Barclay’s Bank, which was built on the site of a 17th-century stable block where a Royalist was tortured during the Civil War. Rasping and choking sounds were heard back when the building used to be a hotel. Perhaps Master Say – who tried to save his horses from pillagers and was betrayed by his servant – still relives his ordeal on this spot. Hauled up and down by the bridle placed round his neck, and almost-but-not-quite strangled, his body has apparently been heard thudding onto the cobbled floor…

Matthew Feldwick’s  'Haunted Winchester'
Matthew Feldwick’s ‘Haunted Winchester’

Continuing my hunt for a ghostly visitation in Winchester, I head along Jewry Street to the Discovery Centre. The building was once the Corn Exchange, and later a theatre and cinema. Matthew Feldwick’s book Haunted Winchester tells of singing with no clear source heard in the basement. ‘One of the café girls got in a real flap once,’ the manager tells me, ‘and refused to go down there again.’ A real lad’s lad, he adds that upon occasion he’s felt an eerie twinge himself when locking up late at night.

Before I can hear more about this an assistant and I venture down to the library cellar. The brick arches and row upon row of books are silent now, but might they harbour vestiges of other and possibly disturbing stories after dark? The assistant is a real joker, switching off the lights and temporarily plunging us into darkness. Tip-toeing down to the far end of the space, which used to be a public toilet, I sense a definite drop in temperature. That’s when this fellow tells me about a woman who was found dead in the lavatory. He doesn’t say how long ago, nor what she died of, but this unsettling information is enough to bring these subterranean explorations to a halt.

When I return to the box office area, the manager remembers another night awhile back when the two men were working late. They were alone in the building, the last to leave and locking up each level, when suddenly the lift of its own accord announced that it was ‘going down.’ And down it came, opening its empty doors to the two slightly unnerved fellows who vow they never pressed any button at all…

Hyde Tavern
Hyde Tavern

Spoilt for choice with haunted pubs in Winchester, I opt for the Hyde Tavern. My choice is bolstered by a colleague at The University who almost jumps out of his skin with excitement when told what I’m researching for The Winchester Guide. ‘Come to the Hyde, Rebecca! I live next door, and if there’s anywhere to go and write about strange happenings in Winchester then that’s it. Jan the manager will tell you about the bed sheets that get thrown off the bed and other spooky goings on there.’

I know the tale of the poor woman who was long, long ago refused a room for the night at the Hyde. Her frozen body was found on the steps outside the next morning. Guests of the tavern are said to have experienced unsettling overnight stays thereafter.

So I head to the Hyde, ducking the beams of this simple but vintage bar with its sunken, sloping floors. I make myself at home there, chatting away to a friend and almost forgetting the reason I came. Eventually I speak with Jan, the Hyde’s owner-manager for several years. Although she doesn’t believe there’s anything awry with the place, she does recount a couple of incidents which are more than enough to set imaginations rolling and spines tingling. Mobile phones popping out of hands, for instance, or builders swearing blind that the cupboard they locked every night was open by morning…

Then there was the regular who was sitting at a table by the fire when his pint suddenly burst.  Did heat from the fire on a cold pint cause the glass to crack, or is it perhaps that the spirit of the aforementioned frozen lady has a problem with certain males? Another pint left on the floor by Jan’s daughter also exploded for no apparent reason. The previous owners swore there was something or somebody ‘in residence’ at the Hyde, but since Jan took over everything’s been peaceful – no unexplained nocturnal antics involving stolen bedcovers!

The Eclipse Inn
The Eclipse Inn

The Theatre Royalthe Cathedral and the Eclipse Inn are just a few of the many other places associated with bloody histories, strange activities and so on in Winchester. Maybe some of you reading this have had your own odd or shiver-inducing encounters with the unexplained. People speak highly of the city as a community and a cultural hub, but you can’t help but wonder who – or what – might lurk in its darker corners, or tread in locations perhaps not quite as well-known to either locals or visitors. With Halloween approaching it’s tempting to take a walk through these ordinary and perhaps familiar places. But, as darkness falls and the chill sets in, don’t forget that something extraordinary and inexplicable might be just around the corner…

A Wayfarer’s Winchester

Winchester Guide editor Donald Hutera spends a few happy hours on the hoof in an exceptionally attractive city centre.

Walking about a city is akin to putting together a puzzle. The pleasure is seeing how the pieces fit together and into what kind of bigger picture they assemble themselves.

Winchester
Winchester

I didn’t plan to wander in whistle-stop fashion round the centre of Winchester on a late Tuesday afternoon in early October. In truth, I had no fixed plans at all other than to finish my three-hour teaching gig  at Winchester University (topic: critical writing, especially as it pertains to dance) and then meet this website’s co-founder, George Sallis, to discuss the future of our burgeoning dance and performance festival, GOlive. My session with a dozen or so bright second-years on the Uni’s dance course went well. How do I know? No one fell asleep, including me. Joking aside, the students were alert and attentive during what seemed to be a fun and, I trust, informative dialogue or exchange of thoughts, feelings and opinions about art-making and art-watching.

Afterwards I was unexpectedly free to go where I would at least for a few hours. Why? Because something had come up that meant George would be unavailable for a few hours. Did I mind? Not at all. Having visited Hat Fair in July I already knew how attractive Winchester is as a place to amble about in.

This, then, was the route I took on that particular day…

Peninsula Barracks
Peninsula Barracks

First, directly across from the entrance to the University, are spread the seven or so sloping acres of West Hill Cemetery. It’s a place worth exploring further, especially for an aficionado of final resting places like me. Then uphill to Peninsula Square, the location of former military barracks that have been converted into private flats surrounding an ample courtyard complete with fountains and greenery. Very picturesque it is, too.

Little did I know that just behind the Barracks is the Great Hall (accessed via a pretty little sliver of a back door garden) wherein the Round Table resides, and next to it the Law Courts. Fronting the latter is a large plaza cobbled in a circular pattern, which – can’t help this, given my career as a professional arts journalist turned curator – put me in mind of possibilities for outdoor performance. (The cobbled area and a neighbouring plaza were, in fact, utilised during Hat Fair.)

Winchester City Mill
Winchester City Mill

I took a moment to admire the local landmark that is the Butter Cross before popping into both the Discovery Centre (a library, exhibition and performance space all in one) and, just across the road, the chocolate box-like Theatre Royal. I veered back to the High Street. Down at the bottom of it, on the stretch of road known as Broadway, sits the Victorian-era Guildhall. I stuck my head into two of its adaptable halls, the King Charles and the Bapsy, both of which are available for hire. Not far away above the River Itchen is the City Mill, a working urban mill powered by the fast-flowing water and operated by the National Trust. They were just about to lock up, rendering this another place to which I’d willingly surrender an adequate amount of time.

The Chesil Theatre, just round the corner on Chesil Street, was shut. I rang the stage door bell but, alas, no answer. No matter. This meant I could backtrack a bit and mosey along The Weirs, a relaxing and even romantic riverside walkway through gardened grounds complete with benches for sitting or, in my observation, something more intimate judging by the passionate, lip-locked embrace of one unabashed young couple.

Wolvesey Castle
Wolvesey Castle

Turning onto College Street I spotted the entrance to Wolvesey Castle, the extensive ruins of which are overseen by English Heritage. Although it was already past the supposed closing time of 5pm I’m glad to say I was able to meander there for a good ten minutes or so. Situated next to Winchester Cathedral, the Old Bishop’s Palace (to use Wolvesey’s other, informal moniker) has been an important residence of the Bishops of Winchester since Anglo-Saxon times. The ruins date largely from the 12th-century and are mainly thanks to Bishop Henry of Blois. The English Heritage website states that ‘the last great occasion here was on 25 July 1554, when Queen Mary and Philip of Spain held their wedding breakfast in the East Hall.’ What history this piece of land and these stones must contain! I wasn’t there long but Wolvesey immediately shot into a prime position as a favorite and resonant place in Winchester, and one more to which I want to return.

Jane Austen's house
Jane Austen’s house

Further along College Street is Winchester College itself. According to Wikipedia, this boys’ school (ages 13-18) has existed in its present location for over 600 years and claims the longest unbroken history of any school in England. It can be toured, too, although not at 5.30pm. And so I strolled past Jane Austen’s house (where she spent her last days and died, but it’s a private residence and thus not open to the public) and on to the Cathedral for a mere five transportingly melodious minutes of the service known as Evensong. The sound of the choir singing far up at this resplendent building’s imposing centre was like a balm, but I had a dinner date at the Hotel du Vin on Southgate Street.

Hotel du Vin
Hotel du Vin

This handsome building dates back to 1715. Next time I ought to take a look at a few of the rooms, but I was there principally to wine and dine with George from a three-course set menu costing £19.95 per person. It was a case of decent food at a good price accompanied by smart service and in elegant surroundings. It’s worth drifting out into the back garden, an area lit by strands of white lights and anchored by a small fountain with fish swimming in its gently splashing waters.  They can’t have been much more content than me with my full belly and a head full of Winchester’s eminently accessible wonders.

By Donald Hutera

Ode To Autumn

Keats Walk leaflet, Winchester City Council
Keats Walk leaflet, Winchester City Council

It’s feeling a bit fresh outside, not to mention the cascading downpours of rain that edged their way into the ‘summer’ bank holiday. This can mean only one thing: summer is on its way out and autumn is making a comeback.  The good news is that Winchester knows how to do autumn. Keats made us famous for it with his Ode ‘To Autumn,’ composed whilst walking in Winchester as documented in a letter to J H Reynolds dated the 22nd of September, 1819: “How beautiful the season is now. How fine the air — a temperate sharpness about it… This struck me so much in my Sunday’s walk that I composed upon it.” ~ Poetical Works of John Keats, ed. H. Buxton Forman, Crowell publ. 1895. You can follow in Keats’ footsteps on this 2-mile walk in what the Telegraph describes as a “win-win stroll”.

There’s plenty going on in September to tempt city-folk out of the post-sunshine blues. Here’s a selection from the Win Guide

Winchester College War Cloister
Winchester College War Cloister

Presumably as a nod to Keats’ ‘seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness,’ Winchester is offering its inaugural Poetry Festival 12th-14th September.  Predominantly based at the Discovery Centre, but with events happening at the United Church (Jewry St) and Winchester College, the poetry festival will feature the likes of Patience Agbabi, David Constantine and Brian Patten, among many others. The Wilfred Owen Association is sponsoring a commemorative reading event in Winchester College War Cloister, in which Michael Longley is taking part. Fans of Owen will be delighted to hear they can follow this up by visiting the Theatre Royal for the Blackeyed Theatre tour of Stephen MacDonald’s celebrated ‘Not About Heroes’ 11-14th September.

 

NTlive Medea, National Theatre
NTlive Medea, National Theatre

The Theatre Royal is holding its Centenary Gala on 28th September at 7.30pm with an evening of variety and film.  The event is free, courtesy of the generous support of Lady Jennie Bland and the returning performers and creative team who will be offering their time voluntarily. Donations are welcome at the box office. And the National Theatre is coming to the Everyman cinema in Southgate Street on 4th September with the NTlive streaming of Euripides’ Medea, featuring Helen McCrory and directed by Carrie Cracknell.  If Greek infanticide tragedy isn’t your thing, NTlive will also be streaming the Young Vic’s fastest-selling production to date ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ later in the month on 16th September featuring Gillian Anderson and directed by Benedict Andrews. Win Guide editor Donald Hutera saw the latter show live in London last month and tells us it’s “a steamy and emotionally stinging sensation”!

SC4M Festival 2014
SC4M Festival 2014

To get you in an Americana mood don’t miss the SC4M 2014 Music Festival at the Railway Tavern on Sunday 7th September, 2-11pm.  The line-up includes Danny And The Champions Of The World,
 The Rails, 
The Travelling Band and 
Peter Bruntnell, with many more treats in store.

Be sure to catch the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition running at the Discovery Centre until 21st September.  And, if you’re inspired to get snapping yourself, the Winchester Photographic Society’s new season commences on the 2nd of September 2014.  One of the largest societies in the South, members meet on Tuesday evenings 7:30-10:00pm from September to May at the Performance Hall ( again in the Discovery Centre).

If you’re feeling in a back-to-school mind-set, why not take some French or Spanish classes with Language for Fun? Visit their free taster session in Hyde Parish Hall on 2nd September 8-9pm for a chance to try out a class and meet fellow students over a glass of vino or cup of coffee.

Winchester 100
Action Winchester 100

Finally, for those of you who’ve already doused yourselves in iced water and are still craving more action for charity, why not join the Winchester Memory Walk at the North Walls Recreation Ground on September 13th at 10am? The event is in aid of the Alzheimer’s Society, and participants can choose between a one-mile walk around the park or a more challenging six-mile stretch; both are pushchair and wheelchair-friendly. There’s a Zumba warm-up and also post-walk live music, entertainment, homemade cakes, tea, coffee and games. Later in the month get pedaling with Winchester 100, in aid of Action Medical Research for Children. Taking place on 21st September, this event offers an organized opportunity to experience a ride in the New Forest that passes through three counties and a number of stunning hamlets.

Given all of the above, it’s obvious that there’s no dearth of splendid and sometimes blood-stirring activities to keep us busy as we make the gradual transition to cooler weather. Enjoy!

A right Royal fuss: The Hunt for King Alfred

 King Alfred
King Alfred

His Royal Highness, The Duke of Gloucester, visited the University of Winchester in June 2014 to hear about the discovery of remains in the current Alfred campaign. And, as you are about to read, with good reason…

Winchester has long associated itself with the legendary King Alfred (846-899), described as “The Greatest Englishman” by Winston Churchill. Alfred’s statue, situated at the bottom of the high street in line with the Westgate, marks the layout of the city’s streets under his design. Winchester’s historic patriotism is reflected in this iconic figure, referred to as “King of the English” by his contemporaries. The image of royalty triumphant in war, and yet also functioning as a peacekeeper, is manifest in the statue’s composition. Alfred’s victory over the Vikings, his large-scale street planning, the building of churches and a Royal Palace formed the structure of Winchester and the notion of a capital city of Wessex. The design of “Old Minster,” meaning old church in Anglo-Saxon, can still be detected as marked by cobbles in the Cathedral close. Anglo-Saxon history, however, which spans the 5th-11th centuries, isn’t as visible in our lives today as the Norman-Romanesque castles, cathedrals and medieval street designs. Being harder to uncover makes the mystery of King Alfred’s remains even more enticing.

The hunt for our Royal ancestors has taken a more feverish turn. It all began with the mass hysteria created by the Richard III Society over the latter’s possible remains beneath a Leicester car park. Similar events in Winchester, however, have in recent months taken a more serious tone. Previously an unsuccessful search involved the radio-carbon dating of a set of six skeletons, including five skulls excavated from St Bartholomew’s Church exhumed from the site of Hyde abbey in 19th century. This sparked interest in uncovering the remains of King Alfred, but was subsequently dated as too late to be identified with him. And yet all was not lost to history forever as this investigation paved the way for a wider hunt. It seems that these were not the only remains with links to the King’s burial, said to have been at the High Altar of Hyde Abbey.

Winchester Museum
Winchester Museum

Some remains already excavated from Hyde Abbey for safekeeping sat quietly in two boxes in The Museum of Winchester’s storage, patiently awaiting a well-funded and high-profile research project to come their way. It did, under the direction of Dr Katie Tucker, a researcher in human osteology at the University of Winchester. Last year these boxes of bones from Hyde Abbey were carefully transferred from storage to their next hiding place, deeply ensconced in the warren of corridors in the University’s archaeology department. Dr Tucker has paid particular attention to a section of hip bone separated from the collection and found at the location of the Abbey’s high altar – a position reserved for the most important and high-ranking individuals.

Edward the Elder
Edward the Elder

Although deeply hush-hush, it became common knowledge in the history department that King Alfred was secretly hidden away in our university buildings. This created an exciting rush as we went to lectures knowing that something – or someone – magical was in our midst. The results, however. are slightly more vague. Dating and analysis placed the bone between AD 895-1017, and belonging to a man between 26 and 45 or over. King Alfred died in his early fifties in 899. There are, however, more possible identities such as King Edward the Elder or his brother, Ethelweard, who were also buried at the abbey.

Alfred, King of the Anglo-Saxons. (Cambridge University Library, Ee.3.59: fol. 3v)
Alfred, King of the Anglo-Saxons. (Cambridge University Library, Ee.3.59: fol. 3v)

Now that the novelty has worn off, especially after the broadcast of a BBC2 documentary in January 2014, I ask Professor Barbara Yorke (Emeritus Professor in Early Medieval History, University of Winchester) what all the hype was really about. Is this King Alfred or not? And what does the project mean for the future? Professor Yorke stresses that radio-carbon dating is not precise. “The bone, if it is a royal one, could just as easily be that of one of Alfred’s sons who were also buried there,” she explains. “There were also quite likely other significant Anglo-Saxons moved from New Minster to Hyde, such as abbots.” Although one bone can reveal information about diet, perhaps, if it were to actually lead to the discovery of more bones then the state of play would get much more interesting. “Personally I would love to know what Alfred looked like,” Professor Yorke remarks, “and whether he did suffer from a serious illness, as his biographer suggests”. Bringing these ancient characters to life would certainly generate interest in the Anglo-Saxon past. “I would like people to be as interested in Alfred’s son Edward the Elder, as he was also a remarkable king who ruled more of England and was more of a patron in Winchester. A verified tangible relic would act as a focus of interest in him, but we are not there yet, and more finds would be necessary to distinguish him from Edward (and, potentially, another son) – though I’m not sure if one could ever certainly do so.”

Rumour has it that a hunt is on for Alfred’s ancestors in order to help identify the bone. As Professor Yorke clarifies, “The potential of DNA and other scientific analyses is very exciting, but it’s still being developed. A few years ago the remains of a granddaughter of Alfred, named Eadgith, were excavated in Magdeburg cathedral. (She married a German emperor). Water residue in her teeth confirmed that she was likely to have been brought up in southern England – quite different from those of other people in Magdeburg cathedral – and really was Eadgith. However, although they had most of her bones, it was not possible because of their condition to extract DNA from them. The radio-carbon dates were way out for her lifetime, possibly to do with her diet. Eating fish can skew the results.”

Mortuary Chests, Winchester Cathedral
Mortuary Chests, Winchester Cathedral

So although the Alfred campaign has not bought the great King back to life through a tangible and identifiable body, it has sparked interest in his sons and granddaughter. All of this is incredibly important to Anglo-Saxon history. Meanwhile the excitement of DNA testing, and the thought of identifying real Royal figures with remains, is far from fading. The mortuary chests that belong in Winchester Cathedral are said to hold the bones of Anglo-Saxon kings and their Danish successors, including King Cnut. They’re being conserved, and it’s no secret that future aspirations lie in re-articulating the skeletons and DNA-testing. The bones, it seems, were unfortunately mixed up when the Civil War soldiers threw them through the Cathedral’s stained-glass windows to break the images of saints. “The kings and bishops in the mortuary chests would pose major problems,” cautions Professor Yorke, “as the bones have moved around a lot. This could affect radio-carbon dating and other scientific tests, and it would be very expensive to do other than take samples. There is much of potential interest in them, but it may need to be further away in the future. Detailed study may have to wait for further scientific advances.”

Imagining a line-up of Anglo-Saxon Kings buried here at Winchester, fortifies its historic legacy even more. Let’s hope that successful DNA testing is not that far off, as the opportunity to find out what each king looked like and who they were makes a mysterious other world suddenly become human, tangible and almost living.

By Rebecca J S Nice

Writer, dance critic, history geek and Winchy lover. Rebecca is a mature student at The University of Winchester studying Choreography and Dance combined with History. After teaching for eight years, she now writes for various publications and blogs about dance and all things arty-farty, whilst drinking copious amounts of tea and day dreaming in Winchester’s many café windows. @rebeccajsnice

It’s lunchtime. Why don’t we pop down to Winchester?

Chesil Rectory
Chesil Rectory

The newspapers tell us that Rebekah Brooks and hubby Charlie are fond of flying to Venice for lunch at Harry’s Bar on the Grand Canal before flitting back to Chipping Norton for supper. Or used to, when she had a job. Many lesser mortals take the day trip Eurostar tour to Paris for lunch in the Eiffel Tower. So why not train down from London to Winchester to lunch at what the newspapers (The Times) tell us is the third most romantic restaurant in Britain? (How do they measure that – does the Most Romantic Restaurant wheel out a four-poster bed with the pudding wine?)

The journey takes just an hour and, if you’ve got enough grey hair to qualify for a rail travel card, a return ticket costs £15. A stunning two course lunch at the Chesil Rectory is only 95p more than that. And though it may not be the Grand Canal, a leafy stroll along the adjacent Itchen river will nourish the post-prandial spirit, so who needs Harry’s Bar?

Winchester is stuffed with charming restaurants and cosy pubs whose soot-blackened timbers groan with antiquity, but the Chesil Rectory, built between 1425 and 1450, is the oldest commercial building in the city and one of the best preserved. The passing centuries have sunk it well below street level and the low oak doorway was originally used by livestock. So if you’re taller than a cow, duck! Keep your head down when climbing the stairs to the bar, too.

Chesil Rectory
Chesil Rectory

Inside, you are swaddled in comfort. Contemporary button-back banquettes and armchairs don’t break the historic spell cast by the ancient beams and the two 16th century fireplaces. The cuisine though is thoroughly up-to-date. Head chef Damian Brown does wonderful creative things with local Hampshire ingredients.

We were offered a selection of four wholesome artisan breads, with butter, rapeseed oil and crunchy dukkah seeds to dip it in. I said that if we had thought to bring some Marmite we wouldn’t have to order anything else and the waitress, I think, smiled. Maybe she’d heard that before.

The carnivore in our party (me) chose a starter of venison carpaccio so thin it was melting, garnished with a tarragon pesto, capers and horseradish. You could eat it with a spoon. And I only needed a fork to pry open the spicy confit of pork shoulder tottering on a crusty fondant potato harbouring a rich and creamy inside and contrasted with cabbage and bacon bits.

My wife delighted in the fresh oven-roasted trout with celeriac and apple slaw, warm potato salad and sweet dill dressing. Afterwards we decided to lash out another £4 and asked for two spoons and a portion of homemade carrot cake partnered with cream cheese ice-cream. Decadent!

For some reason the expert and gracious staff gave us coffee and petit fours on the house. Possibly they liked that wheeze about the marmite after all?

By Chuck Anderson

Chuck Anderson’s TV plays have been produced by CBS Television , New York and MGM-TV, Hollywood. In the UK he has authored fiction and non-fiction books. Plays include the premiere of Warehouse of Dreams at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre in November 2014 and a production fostered by the British Council in Hamburg of the one-act black farce Who’s Afraid of Edward Albee?

Anyone for tennis?

Jonathan Edgington talks us through tennis in Winchester.

Winchester Racquets and Fitness
Winchester Racquets and Fitness

You can’t, in my view, beat a social game of tennis with friends on a summer’s evening followed by a beer (or two) on the club terrace – provided, of course, you don’t have to drive anywhere afterwards. I certainly enjoy playing team tennis for my clubs in the Salisbury-based Sarum League and the Southampton’s Apsley League.

If you’re looking to play tennis in the Winchester area you’re really spoilt for choice. Among the local clubs are Winchester, Kingsgate, Osman (River Park Centre), Twyford, Compton & Shawford, Littleton. I’ve hedged my bets and am a member of two: Winchester and Littleton. Both are friendly with lots to offer. I’ve also heard good reports of the other clubs.

As a seasoned player I’m often asked, “What sort of tennis would I play if I were to join a club?” The short answer is that social, ‘mix-in,’ box league, tournament and team tennis are usually available at most locations.Another question that frequently comes my way is, “How do I start playing tennis if I’m an absolute beginner?” Either that or, “How can I get back into playing tennis if haven’t for years?”

A tip for novices: the thing not to do is to join a club and turn up at their weekly club night – or ‘mix-in,’ as they’re sometimes called –  completely unprepared. Although ‘mix-ins’ are meant to be organised evenings of social tennis for club members of any ability, they rarely are that. The reality is that you should possess some basic skills before heading onto such a potential minefield. Being able to hit the ball back when someone hits it to you, for instance. Or being able to serve with only the occasional dreaded double fault thrown in.

So if you are thinking about joining a club, please first contact the coach and book a lesson. He or she will then be able to assess your form and advise you of your best playing strategy.

As someone once wisely remarked, “The secret of enjoyable tennis is the careful selection of opponents.” Or words to that effect. There are, however, satisfying ways of taking off the competitive edge. A long-standing ‘Middle England‘ tradition in the Sarum and Apsley leagues is for both teams to sit down together to enjoy a formal post-match tea. It doesn’t matter what day of the week or time of day we’ve played. It might, for instance, be a Saturday afternoon match that finishes in the evening at a club in the depths of the New Forest (and you’re going out to dinner later that night). Regardless, etiquette demands that you sit down for tea provided by the home team.

CakeJust for the record, tea normally involves copious plates of sandwiches (egg & cress and/or salmon & cucumber), sausage rolls, scotch eggs and the most fabulous of fabulous homemade cakes. It’s considered the height of rudeness to refuse a slice, and ruder still to turn down the inevitable offer of a second. This is why, despite having taken part in a long afternoon of strenuous physical exercise, I usually return home from matches with a calorie count considerably higher than at the start of the day.

Tennis is a wonderful and amply rewarding game to play, and great way to make new friendships or sustain those you already have. I’ve known players who continue well into their eighties…by which time they’re probably long past caring how many slices of cake they consume! So whether you’re a tennis newbie or a returnee, now might be just the time to get out on the courts and start a racket.

Jonathan Edgington is a Winchester based writer and member of the Chesil Theatre where several of his plays have been performed by their Youth Theatre. 

Walking to Winchester

Chuck Anderson walks us through the South Downs.

South Downs Way
South Downs Way

After wandering 100 miles westward along the south coast of England, the South Downs Way terminates at Winchester. It’s an easy walk along the top of the downs, though you have to cross four steep river valleys. A determined young walker could do it in four or five days. My wife and I both carry bus passes and there was the British weather to contend with. It took us four months.

The Monk's House Garden
The Monk’s House Garden

From Eastbourne we bent into a stiff, wet westerly over a series of chalk slopes called the Seven Sisters. Our legs counted eight, or perhaps seven plus a half-sister. It was cold enough in April to wear gloves. Rape was in bloom in the fields, lambs skipped about, larks sung and orchids, cowslips and harebells bobbed in the short grass. We crossed the river Ouse at Southease, where Virginia Woolf walked into the water and visited her weekend hideaway, the Monk’s House, with its enchanting garden of magnolias and masses of waving tulips.

WalkDitchling Beacon is famous for its views, but leaden cloud obscured all except landmarks as close as the Jack and Jill windmills. Heavy rain pursued us up to the rim of Devil’s Dyke, an impressive dry valley. Chanctonbury Ring is where, in 1760, a naturalist planted a ring of trees on top of an Iron Age fort. Many of them blew down in the 1987 gales, but it is still an impressive and allegedly haunted site.

A proposal
A proposal

In the charming village of Amberley our room at a pub offered a view of the Wild Brooks, a protected grazing marshland. The next day we trudged into a force eight gale which knocked us sideways. The path through the woods was littered with stout branches, so we kept a wary eye on the twisting limbs overhead. While we sheltered in the lee of a string of three tumuli called ‘The Devil’s Jump’  a crash in the forest started the cattle. A tree had blown down.

A 16th Century B&B South Harting
A 16th Century B&B South Harting

We deferred the final stretch to Winchester – two 13-mile days – till the weather forecast was more encouraging, but summer was running out: we were too late for swifts, and the swallows were ominously collecting on the power lines. The fields were golden with stubble and some blackberries were already sweet. Partridges startled us, whirring up at our feet.

South Downs Walk
South Downs Walk

Old Winchester Hill is a spur of the downs which was used for burials in the Bronze Age and fortified in the Iron Age. Now it was a mass of wild flowers. The views were fantastic, even on a cloud-chased day. We lay back in the sun for the first time, not as we had hoped dozing on sheep-bitten grass sprinkled with cowslips, but on flints among groundsel and ragwort.

Reward - Wykeham Arms
Reward – Wykeham Arms

Long before we reached Winchester we could hear the traffic on the M3. One hundred miles in four months. Possibly a record for dilly-dallying; traversing the gentle South Downs way had turned into an epic of endurance. We rewarded ourselves with an overnight stay at the delightful Wykeham Arms. As we poured our tea it started to rain outside.

 

For more information, visit www.randomthoughtslimited.co.uk/departure-lounge

Chuck Anderson is a writer of books, plays and television.

 

School’s out for summer!

Winchester Cathedral workshops
Cathedral workshops

What’s on in Winchester for kids this summer? It’s officially here and the excitement is palpable.  Hampshire schools break up on the 24th July meaning only one thing: summer holiday time! No more school until September.  Bright mornings, long days and balmy evenings. Here’s a non-exhaustive flavour of what Winchester has on offer to keep the kids educated and entertained this July and August.

Firefly Theatre School
Firefly Theatre School

For budding thespians, the Firefly Theatre School is offering two weeks of summer schools suitable for 6-16 year olds at the Tower Arts Centre (Kings School) and in the Winchester College QEII Theatre. Week one (11 – 15 August) will culminate in an all-singing, all-dancing and all-acting version of Treasure Island and week two (18 – 22 August) will take inspiration from the Brothers Grimm to devise fairy-tales. It’s £150 for a week, £250 for two and there’s a 10% sibling discount available. Alternatively, Winchester Stagecoach will be running morning musical theatre workshops at Westgate School for children and teenagers 4 – 8 August, 10am – 12pm for £130.

Matt Denton's - Mantis Robot
Winchester Science Festival

Junior Einsteins will be pleased to hear that from 24 July to 1 September, Winchester Science Centre is open 10am-5pm at weekends and 9am-5pm on weekdays (including the bank holiday) offering bonus science shows and special, live planetarium shows. The science shows are at no extra cost to Science centre visitors and, running at 10:30am, 11:30am, 1:30pm and 3:30pm, will explore  oceans, space, the weather, flight and nature. 5-12 year – olds can pack their lab coats for Mad Science camp at Prince’s Mead School, 18 – 22 August at £35/child per day or £150 for the week. Activities include safe-cracking, yucky yeast and the slime Olympics. And don’t forget, science fans can also indulge in the Winchester Science Festival this weekend, 25-27 July.

RAW Adventure Camps
RAW Adventure Camps

Meanwhile, outdoor and sporty treats abound this summer in the city. Super Camps will be running at Winchester College for 4-14 year olds, combining sport, art and play at £42 per day or £170 per week. 7-14 year old kids can go tribal with Raw Adventure, leaving iPhones and tablets behind to reconnect with nature and learn how to survive in the great outdoors. Tennis camp is on in Littleton (21 July – 29 August) for Andy Murray’s in the making, with half-days available for the mini-Wimbledon champs (4-7yrs) and full days for junior versions (8-14yrs). The ‘Players Camp’ for 11-15 year – old serious competitors is running 11 – 15 August.  Prices range between £12/day and £80/week and prizes and certificates will be on offer for children attending full – week camps. Limited places are available for the Winchester Rugby Football Club summer academy for under 9s and under 12s with medals to be won each day (12 – 15 August).

Lantern’s Children’s Centre in Bereweeke Road is offering a Kids Summer Play scheme for 4-11 year – old children with disabilities or additional needs from 28 July.  Activities/trips could include LEGOLAND, Longleat safari park, Marwell zoo, dance, arts and craft and swimming at a budget – friendly £12.50/day or £15 on trip days.

© Hannes Lochner (SOUTH AFRICA) Curiosity and the cat
Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition © Hannes Lochner

Winchester Cathedral will be running activities and workshops for children 7 and upwards on 19th, 21st,  26th and 28th August, 10am – 12pm for £2 including a drink and a biscuit.  Adults are welcome to stay at no extra cost but booking is advised. Professional LEGO experts will be coaching children 5yrs and upwards at the Winchester Discover Centre in the art of building a castle on 12th August. The entry fee is £9 and includes £5 worth of LEGO to take home. Visitors might also like to take advantage of the free Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition on loan from the Natural History Museum and running until 21st September.

Art Start
Art Start

Finally, Art Start will be leading 6-11 year olds under the sea, into the carnival and off to the great outdoors with three weekly sessions at Henry Beaufort School.  Led by local artist Donna Vokes, children will be encouraged to explore their imaginations and create a masterpiece or two at their own pace. Prices vary according to the number of days booked and range between £30 and £230.

Hat Fair Highlights

Hat Fair
Hat Fair

Winchester welcomes the UK’s longest running street arts festival this weekend from Fri 4 to Sun 6 July with its 45 companies, 12 commissions, 6 commissioning partnerships and 4 UK premieres. Hat Fair has been providing some of the best in street theatre for 40 years, attracting 30,000 visitors each year.

“One of the great pleasures of Street Arts festivals is that they make you slow down and put the wonder back into everyday life. Wherever you were in Winchester at this year’s Hat Fair, you could hear the distant sound of laughter – as if the whole town was smiling together.” (Lyn Gardner, The Guardian)

Hat Fair app
Hat Fair app

It’s a completely free event, so you can just turn up and follow the Hat Fair ‘app’ on your smart phone or wander from venue to venue with a festival programme. Events are happening at The Theatre Royal, Discovery Centre, Chapter House Lawn, Cathedral Outer Close, Cathedral Inner Close, Abbey Gardens, The Broadway, Oram’s Arbour, Friary Gardens, The Great Hall, in the High Street (at locations 1&2), Parchment Street and The Square. Map.

Here are some of the Festival highlights from the team:

Friday 4 July

Gobbledegook Theatre
Gobbledegook Theatre

Start early with Gobbledegook’s pre-school friendly performances at 10 & 10.30am at the Theatre Royal and Discovery Centre Small Wonders area. Garden Party features the ‘Grass Ladies’ clad in dresses made from artificial turf and offering a mix of music, nature and fun with a beautiful a cappella concert. Meanwhile, Gobbledegook’s Musikshed will have the under 5’s boogie-ing down. Small Wonders is a national initiative supported by the Arts Council and run by Bristol based Alchemy Productions creating outdoor work for the under-fives and their families.

The Museum of Everyday Life transforms Cathedral Outer Close (the cat grounds) at 12pm. Presented by French street theatre artists Les Cubiténistes, this event attempts to make the ordinary extraordinary. How? By using a live photographic studio to create an instant rolling exhibition of portraits and paintings of the public. Not to be missed for those curious about art being reimagined.

Wet Picnic - The Lift
Wet Picnic – The Lift

Meanwhile at 2, 4 & 6pm in Abbey Gardens the home-grown Winchester company Wet Picnic return with The Lift, a roving theatrical experience that envelops its audience, welcoming them into a world of captured moments. Participants can choose their own participatory adventure with the push of a button.

The festivities continue on Friday evening at 7pm with Tit for Tat at Abbey Gardens. Ryman & Lou invite us into their portable living room to share their passion for tea. Ever-prepared for a strong brew, they believe it only tastes good if you almost die making it. A silent comedy full of acrobatics, juggling and farce, this is not one to be missed. G. Bistaki will lure us in with poetic dance at the Broadway at 9.30pm. A cast of darkly-clad men transform into acrobats, culminating in a shattering finale; a perfect finish to the first day of the Festival.

Saturday 5 July

Day of Dance
Day of Dance

Saturday is when the festival truly comes into its own with events starting at 10am. The Great Hall is hosting a ‘Day of Dance’, with a mix of lively workshops and showcases taking place all day. Rebecca JS Nice featured some of the performances on offer in her recent blog, The Great Hall and The Hat Fair.  Audiences are invited to come along and learn some new steps, from salsa to hip hop. At 12pm on Parchment Street the visual artist Jane Watson invites you to leave your body print on the pavement, literally sharing your physicality. If you head on over to Friary Gardens in Culver Road at 12:30pm you’ll catch Dante or Die / Peut-Etre performing Clunk. Three talented musicians interpret magical stories using Balkan music, song, and visual imagery to create both a concert and theatre piece perfect for early-years audiences and their families.

Tiata Fahodzi - The Legend of Hamba
Tiata Fahodzi – The Legend of Hamba

After a spot of lunch, stroll over to High Street 1 to catch Amazing Mr Fish at 1pm or 4pm as he rides a 10ft unicycle whilst balancing a goldfish on his left foot; a veritable treat of circus, comedy and mime. At 1:30 pm on The Chapter House lawn Tiata Fahodzi, one of Britain’s leading African theatre companies, present The Legend of Hamba. An African Everyman play in a contemporary setting, Tiata Fahodzi uses Zimbabwe’s language of Ndebele to create a spirit of progress, vitality and forward thinking.

4:30pm at the Theatre Royal, Orkater presents Via Berlin, a Dutch musical theatre troupe with A Mouth Full of Sand, the journey of a Dutch woman seeking her lost husband in Afghanistan. The production uses a blend of classical and new music for violin, cello, percussion, sand, plastic and song.

Nuno Silva, The Soul of Fado
Nuno Silva – The Soul of Fado

At 10.30pm, Nuno Silva will be filling the atmospheric Great Hall with The Soul of Fado. With a career encompassing contemporary dance, West End musicals and opera, Silva has gone back to his Portuguese roots to re-create the steamy atmosphere of Lisbon’s Old Quarter. Nuno Silva featured in the inaugural GOlive Dance and Performance Festival, produced by Giant Olive Theatre Company and curated by our very own Donald Hutera, so he’s a hot tip from the WinGuide team.

 

Sunday 6 July

Amelia Cadwallader
Amelia Cadwallader

On Sunday the festival returns to its traditional home at Oram’s Arbour near the train station. At 1pm & 4pm Jeremy Farquar presents The Fool, the Cow and the Art of Corruption, described by the Sydney Morning Herald as “Challenging, inspirational theatre”. The People’s Pitch will showcase up-and-coming street performance acts, or ‘Hatters’, from 1pm. Amelia Cadwallader is appearing at 2pm and 5pm with her celebrated Maple Staplegun who’ll be armed with hula-hoops, office stationery and traditional circus ring techniques.

Then it’s a short walk down the hill to the Great Hall to catch the festival finale with Marc Brew & Co’s (i)land set on a six-ton pile of sand at 6pm and Nuno Silva’s The Soul of Fado at 8pm, hint-hint-hint.

Please note: the artists featured above will be performing at other times during the festival. For full festival listings visit the Hat Fair website.

Hat Fair weekend is on 4th to 6th of July this year. We’ll be tweeting across Winchester, offering you the best of the festival. Follow us and keep updated at @Win_guide