Who are you?
I’m Bryony Symes, staff writer for Practical Caravan magazine and avid traveller.
Why are you a local authority on Winchester?
I went to university in this lovely city, and only reluctantly left when my commute into London for work became a bit too time-consuming. I still visit often and have friends living in the area.
What do you love about it?
Winchester is one of the smallest and most compact cities in the UK, but has a surprising variety of things to see and do, thanks to its rich history.
Did you know it was once the capital of England? Or, more specifically, Wessex. The history reaches even further back, though – the Romans made it a regional capital. You can still see this heritage in the grid pattern of the city centre streets and ruins such as Wolvesey Castle, the largely 12th-century remnants of the Old Bishop’s Palace, which is free to visit.
You can walk from the bustling city centre and be in open countryside in just 15 minutes, with the South Downs providing plenty of walking and cycling opportunities. Plus, there’s a great choice of independent shops and a lively high street with regular markets.
What’s your favourite place to visit in the area?
I love to walk through the Cathedral grounds, past the College and the Bishop’s Palace, and along the footpath through the water meadows (a route known as Keats’ Walk) to St Catherine’s Hill.
At the top you have fabulous views of the surroundings, and there’s also an ancient Mizmaze, the remains of an Iron Age settlement and buried ruins of the Norman chapel that gave the hill its name.
Which local campsite would you recommend and why?
There aren’t a huge number of campsites nearby, but Morn Hill Caravan and Motorhome Club Site is ideal for taking a bus or cycling into the city centre. It’s nicely laid out, making the pitches feel private. Plus, there are two great local pubs in the nearby village of Easton, one of which, The Chestnut Horse, has a shop where you can pick up local produce.
What food and drink is the area well known for?
This part of Hampshire has a very proud tradition of watercress-growing, supplying huge quantities to the London markets during the surge in its popularity in Victorian times. This heritage is celebrated by The Watercress Line steam railway and the Alresford Watercress Festival.
Tell us somewhere great to eat!
Among the numerous independent cafes and eateries in Winchester, and top-notch pubs, my favourite places include Cafe Winchester, a tiny tea room just off the high street that serves excellent cake; The Royal Oak, one of the oldest pubs in Britain, serving a traditional pub food menu, and The Bishop on the Bridge, which overlooks the River Itchen.
Where can you get spare kit?
Where can you find the cheapest petrol/diesel in the area?
Supermarket fuel stations usually have the most competitive prices; try Sainsbury’s at Badger Farm or Tesco, in Winnall.
Where should you avoid when you’re in the area?
The city one-way system and car parks are busy, so parking can be frustrating.
If possible, leave your car on site and cycle, take the bus or use the park and ride facilities at St Catherine’s and South Winchester Park and Ride.
Share a secret highlight that only a local would know…
It is a steep climb, but if you’re up to the trek, I’d strongly recommend heading to the park on St Giles Hill, for some really fantastic views of the city (once you’ve caught your breath!).
It’s also a couple of streets away from the South Downs Way, which heads onto Chilcomb Down and Cheesefoot Head.
I'd strongly recommend heading to the park on St Giles Hill for some really fantastic views of the city
Things To Do
Visit The Great Hall, which contains one of the most well-known pieces of medieval myth and legend – King Arthur’s Round Table.The Hall, which is all that now remains of Winchester Castle, is a stunning piece of architecture and a peaceful place to relax, particularly in Queen Eleanor’s Garden.
Take a trip on The Mid-Hants Railway ‘Watercress Line’, a traditional steam railway which travels through 10 miles of beautiful Hampshire countryside between the towns of Alresford and Alton, just a few miles from Winchester and both accessible by bus.
Spark your curiosity with a visit to the Winchester Science Centre and Planetarium. There are plenty of interactive, hands-on activities to fire the family’s imagination. It includes the UK’s largest standalone planetarium and a space zone to explore the solar system.
Follow in the footsteps of one of Britain’s best-loved poets, John Keats. The self-guided walk takes the same route that Keats did on a daily basis through Winchester during his time in the city and is said to have inspired his famous poem, Ode to Autumn.
Hop on board the South Downs Rambler Bus, which travels through some of Hampshire’s most beautiful countryside in the South Downs National Park. Beginning and ending at the railway stations of Winchester and Petersfield, you can either stay on board for a gentle journey to admire the scenery, or stop off anywhere en route for a leisurely ramble and a pub lunch in one of the many pretty villages along the way.
When To Visit
Winchester is easily accessed via the M3 motorway from the south coast and east, or via the A34 from the north.