Originally the Roman city of Venta Belgarum, Winchester was long a regional administrative centre of Saxon England. King Kenwal built the first cathedral in 645. In 860, Alfred built a defensive wall around the burgh of Winchester, which proved to be the salvation of the town from the raiding Danes. After Alfred defeated the Danes, Winchester, under the aegis of Bishop Swithun, prospered.

Winchester has one of the finest collections of medieval buildings in the country; churches, shops, inns, houses, a mill, the ruins of Wolvesey Castle, fortifications and, of course, the splendid cathedral. These buildings date from about the 12th century, and make Winchester a city for exploring.

The castle was demolished by order of Parliament during the civil war when the good citizens of Winchester unfortunately supported the wrong side. The Great Hall, once used as an assize court, survived and is open to the public. ‘King Arthur’s’ Round Table hangs here, probably made in the time of Edward III.

The magnificent cathedral, built piecemeal from 1079 until 1404, includes all architectural styles, from Norman to Perpendicular; treasures include the Winchester Bible and the black marble font from Tournai, both 12th century in origin.

The cathedral is truly glorious; the nave clearly demonstrates the architectural abilities and vision of Bishop Wykeham, who rebuilt the original Norman nave to the proportions and beauty we see today. It was in this nave, according to legend, that Queen Emma walked barefoot over nine red-hot ploughshares to prove her innocence of plotting against her son, Edward the Confessor.

Still to be seen in the cathedral are the graves of Izaac Walton and Jane Austen. The crypt can be visited, but only in summer, as in winter it becomes too wet. This brings to mind the efforts of the diver William Walker, who single-handedly filled the flooded foundations with concrete, to save the building from sinking into the Itchen marshes.

One of the most interesting secular buildings in Winchester is God Begot House on the High Street. The site was certainly occupied in 1012; Queen Emma willed it to the Priory in 1052, giving it some useful immunity from the machinations of the city fathers.

The present God Begot (Good Bargain) House is mainly Tudor. It is now a restaurant and visitors are welcome to look around the building. Immediately behind it can be seen the outline of the foundations of a tiny Saxon church, the remaining walls of which contain some reused Roman tiles.

Winchester City Mill is a working watermill dating back to at least Saxon times; now fully restored by the National Trust, the City Mill is probably the oldest working watermill in the UK.

Inside visitors can discover more about the mill’s long and fascinating history as well as see the mill in action and learn how traditional stone- ground wholemeal flour is produced using the power of the River Itchen. A team of volunteer millers provide flour milling demonstrations every Saturday and Sunday as well as Wednesdays during the summer months.

The City Mill is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including kingfishers; grey wagtails; wild trout; water voles; and even otters, which can be viewed from on-site observation cameras.

Winchester City Mill is also the official gateway to the South Downs National Park, providing a wide selection of information for those wishing to explore local walks and the attractions found within the South Downs, including the many historic National Trust properties.

There is a well-stocked shop offering a range of gifts and delicious local food & drink. Family activities include seasonal bake and taste demonstrations, quizzes and trails, historic and artistic exhibitions, talks and workshops. Fabulous architecture and history are not the only reasons to visit Winchester though as this bustling city has plenty else to offer visitors.

The streets around the Cathedral and its close are especially rewarding when explored on foot, there are old pubs, tea rooms and restaurants offering food for all tastes. The pedestrian precinct and its side streets have many tempting small shops, including books and clothes shops, delicatessens, galleries and craft shops.

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