Winchester and the long walk home – first published 26 April 2013

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At any given point in a long walk there is an internal battle against the voice inside my head telling me I must be mad and to turn for home immediately and check myself into a clinic to get help for my obvious mental health issues. Mostly I ignore it and keep walking but, when the walk in question is twenty-six or more miles, the voices get very loud. From the outset Winchester had been the aim of all these walks, the holy grail that I’d been walking towards for months. It was within touching distance but the voice in my head told me it might be a step too far. Did I listen?

26 April 2013

There I was, on Five Bridges Road, dithering about whether to turn back or walk the last miles to the centre of Winchester and feeling slightly worried about the weather. The sun was shining, the heavy showers hadn’t materialised, maybe the weatherman was wrong? Then again maybe not but I couldn’t walk all that way and not finish the job. With one eye on the sky I went on to the next bridge crossing another little stream and looking at the sheep in the distance. Then there was another bridge and another tiny stream. The trees beside the stream had hidden the next field and I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw more sheep, much closer. There were lambs too, lying around in the sun and a few gambolling about the field. This really was an idyllic scene and one I wouldn’t have seen if I’d decided to turn back.

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Walking on, I found a gate with a style giving me an unobstructed view of the sheep. One little lamb stood looking right at me and I walked away with a smile. Then I remembered the lamb chops and diced lamb I bought at the butchers on Thursday. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to eat them now without thinking about him. Eating meat is all very well if you can disassociate yourself from the fluffy little lamb or calf or curly tailed pink piglet.

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Talking of calves, the field on the opposite side of the path was filled with them, white ones, obviously white cows are de rigueur around these parts. The footpath ends with a big gate and then carries on for a bit as a narrow road. There were cars parked everywhere, sensible people who drive here to walk Five Bridges Road and the trail at the other end that leads to Winchester taking the scenic route through the fields. One of these days I’m going to take that path because I’m pretty sure it leads to St Catherine’s Hill. Today though I was taking the route I knew.

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The top of Five Bridges Road comes out onto Saint Cross Road, a long, straight, leafy road leading right into the centre of Winchester. To my right I could see the spireless tower of the Saint Cross Hospital church but there was no time to stop and explore and, from the road, the almshouses and other buildings got in the way of decent photographs. This is a place I really must come back and visit though. The hospital and church are famed for the beauty of their architecture and, despite it being one of England’s oldest almshouses and still in use, it is open to visitors. Oh well, that, and the story behind it will have to wait until another day.

There were plenty of other interesting looking buildings to look at and snap with the camera on my iPhone though. One that caught my eye had a curiously complicated steeply angled roof and the most wonderful long black and white windows. As I passed I noticed a man working away to repair the roof. Old buildings like these may look fantastic but maintenance must be an ongoing nightmare.

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Then there was The Bell Inn, in business since the 1860’s it is reputed to be one of the best in Winchester and, looking at the board outside, the idea of Friday night’s fish and fizz appealed to me. It looks like a quintessential English pub, not one of the fancy gastro pubs you seem to get everywhere these days. I like my pubs to have a bit of the spit and sawdust about them and this one looks like it would be all low oak beams and polished wood inside. This is another thing to add to the list then.

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The whole road is like a step back in time, if you ignore all the modern cars, the telephone lines and what have you. There are flint clad cottages, painted cottages, terraces with front doors opening right onto the narrow pavements I could have spent all day looking, snapping away and wondering about the history of each one. When I came to the imposing sight of St Thomas Church it took me right back to my first twenty-six mile walk. St Thomas is a listed building dating back to the 1840’s, although to my untrained eye, it looked far older. It has been deconsecrated and is now used for storage and as a youth club but it was made famous in Thomas Hardy’s novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles. It seems a pity that such a beautiful and undoubtedly historic building is no longer being used for its original purpose.

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It’s no secret that I don’t know Winchester at all well, even though it’s so close to my home and has more history than you can shake a stick at, I’ve only ever been there a handful of times. On that first ever twenty-six mile walk, the last of my previous Moonwalk training escapades, I caught sight of the spire in the distance and though perhaps I’d reached the famous cathedral. As I got closer it was obvious I hadn’t but, as I’d just passed the thirteen point one mile mark and had no idea how far it was to the real cathedral, I turned back. Little did I know how close I was.

This time, mainly because Sirona, who worked in Winchester at the time, had told me I’d missed the cathedral by a whisker, I decided to walk on a little further. If I didn’t get to the cathedral or at least the centre of Winchester by the time I reached thirteen and a half miles I’d give up and turn back. Well, I’d hardly passed the church when I looked down a little alleyway and saw some spires and a flag in the distance. Could this be the cathedral? Feeling slightly stupid, I stopped a young couple walking past and asked. They probably thought I was an idiot but they tried not to show it as they informed me that, yes, it was.

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So I set off down the alley, trusting to my superior sense of direction (that is meant to be ironic by the way) and the fact that the spires were fairly easy to spot on the skyline. If I just kept going in that direction I was sure to come out in the right place eventually and I could use WalkJogRun to get me back to Saint Cross Road again afterwards. The alley led to a street of old red brick buildings and another alley, this one came out right in front of the cathedral. I’d arrived!

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There was a terrific sense of euphoria at the sight of the historic building, surrounded by grassy areas and people milling about everywhere. There may have been many miles ahead of me at this point but, for some reason, I felt very emotional. Somehow I managed to control the urge to jump up and down and squeal but I am sure I had the most stupid grin on my face. Pausing WalkJogRun, I strolled about for a bit, looking at the bundling from different angles. It is one of the largest cathedrals in England, having the longest nave plus it is the longest cathedral in Europe, so there’s quite a lot of building to stroll round. The original cathedral was founded way back in 642, imagine that, a time when the year was still in triple digits! The original building, just to the north of today’s cathedral, was known as the Old Minster and was demolished in 1093 when the one I stood gawping at was consecrated.

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Much of Winchester Cathedral is built of limestone from quarries on the Isle of Wight and there are mortuary chests containing ancient remains moved from the Old Minster belonging to historic characters such as Saint Swithin (of forty days of rain fame), King Canute (of wave turning back fame and whose palace I visited recently in Southamptin’s old walls) and King William II, otherwise known as Rufus (whose stone I also visited recently in the New Forest). In fact the collapse of the original crossing tower was blamed on the fact that the rather unpopular William Rufus had been buried beneath. I’m not sure if they moved him but the replacement still stands today so maybe he was put somewhere less vital.

There is so much history here I could go on and on but I’ll try to keep things brief because there’s a lot more walking to fit in. The cathedral bells number 14, the only diatonic ring of fourteen bells in the world. Bell ringers may understand what that means, I’m afraid I have no idea but I read it on Google so it must be true. Jane Austen, who died in Winchester, is buried in the cathedral along with a long list of bishops and cardinals. Kings were crowned here, remember Winchester used to be the capital city of England at one time.

Great writers have written about this cathedral, notably Trollope, it was even used as a film set in The film Da Vinci Code, as the Vatican believe it or not. Not only that it had a pop song written about it, The New Vaudeville Band had a top ten hit with ‘Winchester Cathedral’ in 1966, I remember it well. Despite all the history and the fact I could have easily spent the day wandering around, I had no time to go inside, or any money to pay an entrance fee for that matter so I thought I’d go and have a quick look at the streets nearby before I set off on the long walk home.

So I walked through the cathedral grounds to The Square, a quaint little narrow street, made into a precinct. While I was looking at the castle like facade of the museum I spotted a pretty and ancient looking pub, The Eclipse and thought I’d take a photo. As I stood in front of it with my phone raised a man in a leather jacket who had been sitting outside with a young woman said, ‘I like your t-shirt,’ so I lowered the phone and went to have a chat with him. Maybe it was the left over feeling of euphoria but I found myself explaining all about the Moonwalk and my long walk to reach Winchester. He and his friend seemed impressed, well they didn’t fall asleep anyway. The man asked if I’d like him to take a photo of me outside the pub? Bearing in mind what I said earlier about me never being in any of my photos I thought that was a wonderful idea, even if I was a tad nervous about handing over my phone.

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Luckily he didn’t run off with it and he took a great picture with the whole pub sign in and everything, he even managed to make me look almost reasonable, given that I had not a trace of make up and I’d been walking for several hours in all weathers. The couple kindly agreed to let me take their photo and post it on my blog and then, even though I’d have loved to sit for a while in the sun at the old wood table with a cool beer, I set off again.

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If you know me you'll know why I took this picture :)
If you know me you’ll know why I took this picture 🙂

Back I went, through the cathedral grounds, searching for a loo (when am I not?) with a quick stop to snap a picture of the rather beautiful bronze statue of a soldier on the war memorial. Three young girls stopped me. At first I thought they were going to ask me to take a photo of them as one had a camera in her hand. As it turned out they were Swedish students with a rather strange request. It was their friend Hildegard’s birthday and they were going around asking people to be videoed saying ‘Happy Birthday Hildegard.’ Quite why she would want this I’m not sure but I obliged. Of course it is possible I’ll end up on a Swedish version of You’ve Been Framed but still, who’s going to know?

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The loos were easy to find and, right outside, there was a man selling ice cream. I quite fancied an ice cream right then but I had no cash on me. When I left home I’d put my cash card in my small walking purse but no real money so I asked the ice cream seller if there was an ATM anywhere nearby. “If you go up there and round the corner and down there…” he said.
“Is it very far?”
“About five or ten minutes.”
So I proceeded to explain why I wouldn’t be going all that way to get some cash and so, unfortunately wouldn’t be able to buy one of his ice creams after all.
As I walked away another man approached me.
“Sorry, but I couldn’t help overhearing. Did you say you were walking to Southampton?”
So, yet again I told the story of my walk.
“Wow!” he said. “I drive from Southampton to Winchester every day and that is a long way!”

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Eventually I set off back up the alley to Saint Cross Road, texting Commando as I went, just to let him know where I was and that I was on the return journey. Back I went past all the interesting buildings, a row of pastel painted terraces, a red brick building with diamond leaded windows and strange wooden doors. By this time I was feeling a little peckish. Breakfast seemed a long time ago and chocolate milkshake and latte is not real food even if there are lots of good calories there. As I walked towards Five Bridges Road the smell of chips assailed my nostrils and made my mouth water. I still didn’t have any money because I’d not found a cash point but I thought I’d see if they’d take my card for a portion of chips. The very kind man inside took pity on me and agreed, even though it was under five pounds (I should hope so for a portion of chips), and I walked away with my little plastic tray.

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Of course the rain started then, right on cue. Luckily I found a funny little wooden bus shelter with a tiled roof and sat inside until the shower passed. After about ten chips I’d had enough so I threw the rest in the bin and carried on. This is what Intuitive eating is about I guess, I wanted chips, my body said I needed greasy carbs and salt, I ate what I needed and then I stopped. Maybe, just maybe, I’m learning.

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Obviously I did get home but Winchester wasn’t the end of my adventures and it wasn’t the easiest of journeys but the rest will have to wait for now…

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Marie

Writer, walker, coffee drinker, chocolate eater, lover of nature, history and the little things that make me smile

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