Friday, July 9, 2010

Day 9: Day Trip to Winchester

Getting to Winchester when one is staying near Waterloo is really just as simple as popping into the train station, getting a return ticket, and choosing any of the number of trains headed that direction. That's exactly what I did Friday morning.

After the hour-long journey to Winchester, I followed my map to the Great Hall of what was once Winchester Castle. The fact that I followed my map is rather funny because a) there are signs on nearly every streetcorner pointing to locations of interest, and b) how does a person miss something as big, stone, and grand as a Great Hall?

Winchester Castle was built by William the Conqueror after his conquest of England in the Battle of Hastings, 1066. The Great Hall, which stands to this day as it did from the start, was build under the kingship of Henry III in 1220s-1230s. King Henry wanted a great hall, see, because Winchester Castle was the royal residence; London, what?, when you've got lovely Winchester! Thus the large and majestic structure that stands today.

On one end wall of the Great Hall hangs King Arthur's Round Table.

Carbon dating places the construction of the table at the 13th or early 14th century. The table is painted with the figure of Arthur at the top, and the names of his knights at seats around the table. Inside is the Tudor Rose, depicted because is was during the reign of Henry VIII that the table was actually painted.

Through a back doorway of the Great Hall is Queen Eleanor's Garden, a rather recent endeavor by the people of Hampshire to create in the space a garden like what would have been there in the castle's heyday. All of the plants would have been found in gardens from the time period, and the ivy-covered walk likewise would have been enjoyed by the queens living in the castle.

From the Great Hall to Winchester Cathedral is an easy walk along the High Street, where it happens to be rather easy to get distracted by the shopping (whoops!). Luckily, the High Street is also a great place to get a quick takeaway lunch. I grabbed a chicken and veg pasty and headed to the shaded grounds surrounding the Cathedral, taking it all its glory as I lunched.

The main draw for me to Winchester Cathedral, if we're being completely honest, was that Jane Austen is buried there. As a matter of fact, so many people pilgrimage to the Cathedral that they recently opened a permanent exhibition on the authoress.

I was taken aback by all of the other amazing things to see in the Cathedral as well, though. I was incredibly drawn to the large stained-glass window at the entrance front of the building. The original designs were destroyed by fighting during Cromwell's reign, and the window that visitors now see is made entirely from pieces of glass found around the Cathedral following that destruction. As such, there is no specific pattern or form:

Also of definite interest were the Morley Library and the Winchester Bible. This multi-volume bible was commissioned by the Bishop of Winchester, and it was created sometime between the years 1160-1175. A single monk at Winchester wrote the Vulgate text; it took him between 5-6 years to complete the 1000+ pages. Many the of vellum pages also have colorful major initials and illustrations, which were done in bright red, green, purple, lapis lazuli, and gold leaf by at least 5 traveling artists. That such a beautiful book could survive so many centuries in such amazingly good condition is rightly something the Cathedral should boast and share.

As I was perusing the rest of the Cathedral and making my way through the Austen exhibit, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra was rehearsing for their evening concert in the space. I cannot adequately express how glad I am that I happened to be visiting the Cathedral during this rehearsal; the triumphant sounds of Wagner soaring through the whole Cathedral space really added something profound to the whole experience.

From there I walked over to the Winchester Discovery Centre, the town public library. I spent a solid bit of time checking that out, including their exhibit by artist Jon Burgerman, before heading back toward the train station to make my way back to Waterloo. After a relaxing train ride, I spent the rest of my evening doing laundry, having Indian food, and reading. Oh, what a wonderfully pleasant day! I highly recommend Winchester to visitors to England looking for something to do outside any of the most major cities.

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