Why Winchester is the place to be this spring


- Credit: Archant

As the days lengthen and the mercury rises, Winchester is THE place to be. With a spring in her step, Viv Micklefield looks at some of its highlights for coming months

When it comes to the best place to live in the UK, Winchester gets the vote and that’s official, according to a nationwide survey carried out by the Halifax. Credited with a combination of above average weekly earnings, a low crime rate and good health, Government figures reveal that Wintonians are among the happiest, satisfied, and most content in the country.

However, even if we don’t live in Hampshire’s capital there’s still the opportunity to grab a slice of this good life. Whether you fancy wandering its historic streets, dipping into its fantastic shops and eateries, absorbing its vibrant arts and culture or simply chilling-out in the shadow of its magnificent cathedral. So what are you waiting for? It’s time to visit Winchester.

Drink up

Beer lovers know a good pint when they taste one and that’s true of the South Hampshire members of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) who organise Winchester’s annual Real Ale and Cider Festival. It returns to the Guildhall on Friday and Saturday March 17-18 and is guaranteed to feature a host of popular Hampshire brews, proof if needed that one of the county’s oldest industries is alive and well.

Those rolling out the barrel this year, will be hoping to get one over on Winchester’s very own Alfred’s Brewery, winner of the 2016 Festival’s best beer award for its pale ale. And with day and evening sessions you won’t miss a chance to sample; advance tickets and more details can be found at winchesterbeerfestival.org.uk.

Or why not…

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Kick-back and enjoy a glass of wine al fresco at one of Winchester’s many pavement cafés and terraces. The River Cottage Canteen in Abbey Gardens and The Old Vine in Great Minster Street are both perfect spots from which to watch the world go by. And, of course, it’s also Mothering Sunday on March 26, so why not treat mum to a champagne afternoon tea in the traditional surroundings of the Winchester Royal Hotel in St Peter Street, or make the short trip to Hambledon Vineyard where the grapes at Hampshire’s oldest wine producer mature into some of the country’s best sparkling wine.

Return to nature

Who can resist a walk amongst a carpet of bluebells? With natural woodland aplenty on Winchester’s doorstep, there are many spots in which to catch a glimpse of these glorious spring flowers. However, for a dazzling display it is well worth heading just a few miles outside of the city to Hinton Ampner country estate (nationaltrust.org.uk/hinton-ampner) which provides a wonderfully relaxing atmosphere in which to indulge the senses.

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Learn a new countryside skill and try your hand at fly casting right in the heart of the city. Winchester fisherman Keith Dipper (www.tryflyfish.com) has been landing trout from the River Itchen for over 30 years and with the season opening in April, offers lessons in the evenings and at weekends. Alternatively, leave the waterproofs at home and instead drop by The Gallery at Winchester Discovery Centre in Jewry Street between Saturday March 11 and Sunday April 30, where Angie Lewin: A printmaker’s journey, will delight fans of the artist who specialises in depicting the countryside’s natural flora within her linocuts and limited edition prints.

Get digging

Following the success of last year’s event, there’s another chance for budding archaeologists of all ages to get their hands dirty during the weekend of Thursday to Sunday, April 27-30 when the latest Hyde 900 community dig (hyde900.org.uk) takes place at two adjoining gardens in King Alfred Terrace. The aim is to discover more about the south side of the abbey cloister and event organiser David Spurling says: “We already have extensive material which has surfaced on the site thanks to the work of local resident Chris Prior who contacted us when he discovered a number of interesting stones while preparing the ground for his vegetable plot.”

“An examination by Ross Lovett, former head mason and conservator at Winchester Cathedral confirmed the stone dated from the Norman period and also included high quality Purbeck stone which is thought to come from the interior of the abbey establishment.”

Or why not…

Step back in time and rediscover two hidden architectural gems that reopen their doors to visitors in April. The medieval Hospital of St Cross (hospitalofstcross.co.uk), still home to 25 Brothers, sits at a tranquil spot amongst the water meadows. Or, tucked behind the King Alfred statue and the hustle and bustle of city living, the 19th century St John’s alms houses are included as part of a walking tour conducted by the city’s tourist guides; winchestertouristguides.com provides more details of all available tours.

Embrace those melodies

With the dawn chorus revving-up, there are more high notes to be heard from Friday April 28 until Monday May 1 at Winchester Chamber Music Festival, which this year celebrates its tenth birthday. Featuring a classical programme, the London Bridge Trio of David Adams (violin), Kate Gould (cello) and Daniel Tong (piano) will be joined by special guests the Gould Piano Trio and the Castilian String Quartet at concerts, talks and masterclasses hosted by St Lawrence Church, Winchester Theatre Royal and the Discovery Centre. winchesterchambermusic.com has full listings, with tickets on sale from the Theatre Royal on 01962 840 444, or theatreroyalwinchester.co.uk.

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Get into the spirit of the season by taking a seat at Winchester Cathedral which holds its Easter services between Friday and Sunday April 14-16. This is closely followed by the annual St George’s Day parade on Sunday April 23 when the city’s streets resound to the marching feet and military bands of servicemen and women from local regiments.

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