29 May 2016
Standing at the bottom of Wharf Hill, I toyed with the idea of heading towards the Itchen Navigation. Only days before I’d walked it with CJ though and, beautiful as it is, it didn’t seem the best use of my time. Besides, I wouldn’t get very far before I had to turn back even if I marched my fastest. The morning was getting warm and slightly muggy so dawdling was the order of the day. Instead I headed towards Wharf Mill, or Seagrams Mill as it’s also known, once the main grain mill in the city. Sadly this is not the original Wharf Mill, built in around 1205. The modern building was constructed on the site of the old in 1885 and these days it’s no longer a mill. Like so much else it’s been turned into luxury appartments.
There was still an element of dithering going on as I stood in front of the mill looking along the river. Here it runs in a man made channel created in 70AD to defend the town and prevent flooding. Next to the mill is a strange little house with a pointy roof and tall chimney. I’ve never been able to find any useful information about it but the name on the gate is Wolvesey Lodge and, just around the corner is Wolvesey Castle. Perhaps I’d pay it a visit?
I got as far as the Flint wall at the end of the lane before I changed my mind. It really was a dithery kind of day with no proper plan at all. Instead of turning left towards the ruined castle I turned right, along the branch of the Itchen that heads away from the Navigation, towards the Weirs again. Having seen all the houses on Chesil Street from the front I decided to look at the more familiar view of the backs and see if I could piece the two together.
Once I’d passed the sluice in the pretty little garden and rejoined The Weirs I began looking closely at the houses. One had a sign saying Cheeshill Terrace I remembered seeing before when I’d passed but I couldn’t quite put it together with the houses I’d seen on Chesil Street. Scratching my head I looked back down towards the mill trying to judge the distances but still ended none the wiser.
The next house was easier to identify. The tall white building must be Kingsland House, the one with the grand columns flanking the front door. If I hadn’t had a terminal case of house envy already the sight of the manicured lawn and pretty garden would have set it off, not to mention the wooden bridge at the bottom of the garden crossing the river. Imagine having all that and a bridge to visit The Weirs any time you liked without even setting foot on the road!
One of the next houses must be Swan Cottage. It was hard to tell exactly which one but I was pleased to see I was now by the strange island where I’d seen the swans nesting years before. When I saw the sign on the door of Swan Cottage this was exactly where I’d imagined the back must be.
The next houses had so many tall trees at the bottom of their gardens I couldn’t see any houses at all. On I walked. A runner came past and I momentarily thought of Commando and wondered how his run was going? There wasn’t much time to dwell on this though because I’d reached the tall brick walls with gates opening onto the river. One of these was the derelict house I’d stood dreaming in front of I was sure.
The height of the walls meant I couldn’t actually see the houses beyond but I had a hunch the first blue door with the wrought iron barricade was the one. Quite why it should matter was beyond me because, even in its crumbling state, I could never afford to buy the house and, even if I could, living in Winchester wouldn’t really be an option.
When I came to the funny little doorway behind which hides the only remaining piece of Winchester’s Roman wall, I turned away from the river and my house spotting. Just behind this there are some steps I’d always thought led to private houses. As I stood there a man came down them walking a dog. Something about him made me think he hadn’t just come out of a house and I wondered if I’d been wrong about the steps all along. Maybe they actually led somewhere?
Tentatively, expecting to be challenged at any moment, I climbed. At the top I found myself in a tiny park with a bench beside the wall and a view over the river. From here I could see above the tall brick walls on the riverside to the houses beyond. So I sat on the bench looking at the roof tops and my earlier photos, trying to work it out.
My eventual conclusion was that the gate to the derelict house was the first of the twin gates and not the blue door after all. Why it mattered is beyond me but I felt very pleased with myself for some reason. Then it was back to the dithering. Did I go back down the steps to The Weirs again or through the gate on the other side of the park?
The gate won and I discovered it led to Colebrook Street. This would have been all very well if I wanted to go back to the car park but it was still too early so, once again I was shillyshallying. There was too much time to go back to the car but not enough to go very far. Thinking I’d go back to the High Street and have a look at the Sunday Market or get another coffee I headed back towards The Broadway and King Alfred.
Before I got there a more pressing need made itself known and I ducked back into Abbey Gardens to visit the toilets I’d spotted earlier. While I was washing my hands I had another change of mind and decided I didn’t need another coffee after all, or anything from the market. Instead I headed off towards River Cottage Canteen to see what lay on the other side of the stream. On the way I spotted a curious sundial I’d missed before. Beneath it was a marble plaque with the words Here lie the hopes and fears of the people of Winchester 2000. How very strange!
Puzzling over what it meant I crossed the gardens towards River Cottage Canteen. The other side of the steam was not nearly as exciting as I’d expected. By now the play area was busy with children so photographs and quiet contemplation were out of the question. Wondering how to fill the time, I went through the gate and discovered I was on Colebrook Street again, right next to the car park. Was someone trying to tell me something, or did all roads in Winchester lead to Colebrook Street?
I was on the verge of giving up and going back to the car when I spotted a half hidden passageway between two tall brick walls. Of course, I couldn’t resist a look down it. At the end there was an old stone gateway topped by a rambling rose. Wondering what lay beyond I headed towards it. Before I got there some railings drew my eyes to the right where a gap between the wall looked into a secret garden. A pond, or maybe it was a stream culverted under the path, with weed and lilies made me catch my breath. At the end a row of stone columns suggested a bridge and, half concealed by an overhanging camellia, was a sculpture. It looked as if it might have been a Greek God.
Winchester is filled with winding streets and hidden passageways but this was surely one of the most surprising. Intrigued I carried on through the arch where I found a sign, Water Gate entrance to the Inner Close of Winchester Cathedral. At least I now knew where I was heading.
When I emerged I was in a courtyard and, sure enough, the back of the cathedral was ahead of me along with another passageway through a vaulted arch. It seemed my dithering walk was taking me to the cathedral after all…
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