Location: Winchester, Hampshire
Perfect for: Riverside ambles, culture and fantastic food,
I’ve been meaning to go to Winchester for years, even if it’s just to put a cathedral to the song that my Dad’s been singing at me since I was knee-high to a popsock. I also have some dear friends who live there, but seeing as they love coming up to London so much I’ve never felt the need. Until now, when Monsieur and I decided to indulge.
Winchester is a very pretty and rather fancy city (it doesn’t seem big enough to be a city, but there’s that cathedral and my teachers told me that equals ‘city’) with really old bits that go right back to Roman, and take in some brilliantly reserved Tudor stuff as well as the place where Jane Austen died (not as fancy as you’d think, but worth walking past even just to point and ponder). Then there’s the famous boys’ college of which you can take tour, lots of cute shops and makets, plus an ancient *checks notes* cathedral, which not only has the longest nave in Europe but houses the remains of so many famous people the Hollywood Walk of Fame has got the hump.
Hannah’s B&B Review
Monsieur and I take the train from Waterloo – which is ten minutes from my office and therefore handier than a handy thing – and embark on our hour-long journey to Winchester from London. It’s just enough time to get in two bottles of M&S’ finest fizz plus a Percy Pig or 27, which puts us in fine fettle for the 10 minute walk from the station to our stay away tonight, Hannah’s.
After a spot of faffing as we get off the train, we’re knocking on her rather gorgeous arched door before the clock hits half three, and Hannah herself does the duties and welcomes us in.
We’re not sure why this is surprising, but it’s nice to be welcomed by the namesake, so to speak. And Hannah is charming, chatty, and at least 20 years younger than your average B&B owner. Which might explain the stunning interiors – a contemporary take on traditional English fair, not a doily in sight but perfectly restored wooden detailing throughout – floors, beams, panelling – and the sort of sofas you put a star next to in magazines.
The communal area – once the property’s (very big) garage – is open plan and is where you’ll breakfast, lounge with a glass of something come evening, or walk through onto the outdoor patio.
Right now, however, we’re enjoying our complimentary afternoon tea of freshly baked cakes, scones and biscuits – complimentary to everyone when you first arrive.
We clock the honesty bar, and think we’ll probably be using it later
Upstairs is the accommodation, a handful of near perfect double rooms. I say near perfect, but neither myself nor Monsieur can actually find fault with probably the most beautiful B&B room we’ve ever stayed in.
The bed is huge and bouncy and fun, fun, fun; there’s a mezzanine level with a roll-top bath and sky light, and the bathroom is better thought out that most four star-plus hotels’, with a rain shower you never want to get out of and the sort of cosy touches people like Hannah do so well (a vanity box, for example, full of stuff you always forget).
We lounge on said bed for at least two hours watching, ironically, Four In A Bed. “This lot could learn some things from Hannah.” chirrups Monsieur, who has now polished off all the Percy Pigs and is getting ready for dinner.
Hannah doesn’t do dinner, but Winchester does, and we’re recommended Rick Stein (difficult to get into, for reasons that may or may not be obvious), The Green Man, Forte Kitchen (Hannah’s favourite), Sakura, The Corner House and The Wykeham Arms.
We do none of the above because the dear friends we’ve come to visit have booked us a table at Hotel du Vin, which is a 10 minute walk away.
It’s a gorgeous night so we eat outside, drink even more outside, and end up at a funny old pub called The Black Boy. Fun and quirky, if a little funky.
We’re up for breakfast not quite knowing what happened to the latter part of the night before, but whatever it was Hannah eases the pain.
Breakfast is a buffet-menu combo, the latter being more Continental style, the former your heartier, warmer British stuff. Eggs, bacon, you know the routine. And it’s near perfect – sod it, perfect! – again coming with personal touches like homemade granola and preserves, and when we mentioned at the last minute that one of us is a vegetarian Hannah didn’t bat an eyelid.
It’s playtime with Hannah’s cat – cuter than your average button, but arthritis in its back legs means nothing too rough ‘n’ tumble.
Several vats of coffee (from Caracoli on the High Street) later, and we’re packed, saying our goodbyes and ready to tick the cathedral off our to-do list. Until we get there, that is, see the entrance fee, have a fit of the tightwads, and decide to have a picnic in front of it instead – followed by a walk to the ruins of medieval Winchester Castle via bookshops and Jane Austen’s deathplace. Which doesn’t quite have the ring of birthplace.
The route takes you down to the river, another gorgeous walk that meanders under little bridges and past some real pricey real estate.
We feel as though we could have lingered in Winchester for much longer, but there’s a party with our names all over it up in town and so we’re swishing back to London on the train. But that’s the beauty of Winchester (for us London urbanites, anyway) – a real beauty of a town in crazy-commutable distance that brushes those proverbial cobwebs away without having to commit so much as a weekend. Though a whole weekend does sound delicious.
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