In the depths of the South lies Winchester, a small city surrounded in History and Spirituality.
When you get to a certain age, the prospect of a long weekend seems less of a treat and more of an ordeal. Spending days on your feet and enduring long, tiring journeys do not appeal to this old Christian any more. One day is all you need to grab a train, eat lunch and visit a Cathedral.
That’s just what I did in Winchester last week.
The train journey from Plymouth was a pleasant one. Catching the first off-peak connection after the morning rush, I was able to capitalise on a cheap ticket and have a little lie in at the same time. My wife was kind enough to pack a little elevenses, a few cakes and a thermos flask of tea – so I was happily occupied for the 4 hour train ride up to Winchester.
The sky was a little overcast, leaving my grim and grimy home of Plymouth, but after an hour or so – spent nibbling cakes and perusing a Bible – peaks of sunshine began to penetrate the clouds and illuminate the letters on the page. Putting the scarlet tome down for the last half hour of the journey, I allowed my mind to drift whilst watching the rolling green landscape slowly transform into the urban jungle of Winchester.
Stepping out, from the cool shade of the Station, into the bright sunlight of Winchester’s idyllic streets – I was struck by the evident historical nature of the place. Although the usual trappings of a modern city were present and correct (High Street retailers and coffee shops aplenty), the cobbled streets, traditional pubs and Tudor facades belied it’s rich cultural heritage. My belly aroused by the sights and smells of many lunch services, I hurried myself along to The Forte, on Parchment Street.
An elegant yet playful modern bistro, The Forte is run by food obsessed couple, Naomi and Olly. Naomi handles front of house, whilst Olly (a chef with 12 years of experience in the hospitality industry) keeps a steady stream of classy lunch staples coming from the kitchen. I’ve never minded eating alone before, but the waiting staff were so attentive that I felt that I had a companion throughout the meal.
With the warm weather of the Lord’s Summer casting a tangerine glow over the dining space through the huge windows, I felt like something Mediterranean, settling for a simple lunch of bruschetta with tomato, basil, mozzarella and red onion salsa (£7.95). Thoroughly satisfied with my meal, I left a mighty tip and made my way over to the Cathedral – just a few minutes walk away through those lovely cobbled streets.
One of the largest of it’s kind in Europe, countless alterations over the building’s near-1000 year history has given the Cathedral a mismatched, yet grand appearance. The site was consecrated in 1093, with surviving sections of the building dating back to the 12th Century. An unusually long nave draws the eye when approaching the building, with the central tower acting as the focus point. Gorgeous stained glass bridges the gaps in the stonework and alludes to the ceremonial exuberance on display inside.
A small humble entrance leads directly into the main hall of this Grade I listed building, immediately my breath is taken away. For a man used to praying in small side rooms and private corners of the world, this massive prayer space is simply jaw-dropping. I have always felt that it would be impossible to feel close to God whilst in such a grand space, that these Cathedrals were simply relics of a time when people needed to be awed or scared into attending Sunday Services.
Finding a seat on an empty pew, I bowed my head and allowed my mind to empty as much as possible. On a Thursday afternoon there were not many other tourists, a handful of visitors could be heard shuffling around, for the most part a reverential silence held throughout the Cathedral.
With the damp silence of the space enveloping me, I felt at one with the thousands of others who had visited this same spot, and sat on the same pew. The spiritual weight of all these prayers, hopes and dreams lingered still in the cavernous halls.
Satisfied with my moment’s reflection, I stood up and left, dropping a few coins in the donation box as I left.
Winchester had left a good impression on me. Although I have no need to return any time soon, I feel like it is a place entrenched in it’s past.
Not so much trapped in the past, as it is revelling in it.