I Might Live in Winchester..One Day!?

Posted on July 23, 2012

The sunny weather arrived this weekend, just in time for the first Sunday of the season when Oakley didn’t have cricket a cricket fixture, meaning my quest to beat my season high score of eleven not out goes on for another week and my chances of a maiden fifty have now become about as remote as an Elvis Presley comeback. It also appears that the much anticipated Azores high that has eventually brought warmer sunnier weather to our shores is only going to make a brief visit, vanishing again on cue for the start of the Olympics and the annual Broughton trip to Swanage; this, I am afraid will not be a summer to remember.

So, rather than playing cricket I went out for the day with Harry my youngest son, first to Winchester, followed by a stroll along the Basingstoke canal near Odiham and a drink in the disappointing Fox & Goose pub in Greywell. Winchester is a city that I am now visiting with a great deal of frequency at weekends, because unlike many towns, most notably, Basingstoke, I actually quite like it. In fact I like so much, I have had started having grand ideas about one day upping sticks and buying myself a ludicrously expensive house in the city centre which will allow me to walk out of my front door, buy a newspaper, and sit outside a coffee shop and watch the world go by, an inexpensive but highly enjoyable hobby for a nosey bastard like me.

One of the many Winchester back streets

It dawned on me when I was in Winchester yesterday that I have never really settled and lived anywhere that really feels like home. I have lived in Baughurst, Tadley, Reading and Hatch Warren, all places that are largely inoffensive but are in reality, tedium personified. Of course there is a plus side, all these places have the benefit of being near to the Valleys owned by the rivers Thames, Kennet, Test and Itchen as well as the rolling Hampshire hills and Berkshire downs, but in none of them do you really experience the pleasure of opening your front door to an awaiting trout stream or little alleys of independent retailers, ancient pubs and trendy coffee shops. Winchester has it all, that is why I guess, it is £250k for a one bedroom town house.

Of course, in Hatch Warren, you can walk to Sainsbury’s and have a coffee or even take a longer stroll (3 miles) to the town centre to be glared at by the owners of Devil dogs as you admire the bland selection of High Street stores in the over rated and ambitiously named Festival Place. Barring that, you can walk over the M3 bridge in to surrounding villages like Cliddesden and Farleigh, which, pretty as they may be, are not blessed with much to do when you get there, except perhaps, an afternoon avoiding the pellets of a Pheasant hunt in the great swathes of our green and pleasant land you are not allowed to walk on. A great deal of the Hampshire countryside around Basingstoke is dominated by a handful of landowners who hate the general public and shoot virtually every living species on sight, making it a rather dangerous place to meander off the beaten track. Getting shot up the arse before being shredded by a pack of hounds is not my idea of a fun day.

Baughurst, where I grew up, is okay really, I have fond childhood memories of Wasing woods and fishing in the Kennet valley but I wouldn’t go back there, purely because there is nothing that I would find particularly interesting to do. Baughurst merges in to Tadley (where I have also lived) at around about the end of Wigmore common. then, beyond that, it goes up through Franklin Avenue on to what I suppose what must now be known as the town centre (yes, Tadley is now a town) a place featuring an eclectic array of public facilities such as  the Fox & Hounds pub, Wheelgame tyre centre, Sainsbury’s, Kings DIY, HSBC bank, a kebab shop an Indian restaurant and Anderson’s motor store. As town centres go, even the most ardent Tadley musher would struggle to deny its lack of beauty. However, I still like visiting there occasionally to see old friends, even if all the local pubs (apart from the Fox) seem to be deteriorating at an alarming rate, which, sadly, is a national problem rather than a local one. Like most places where I have lived, from Tadley you can drive to beautiful countryside in fifteen minutes, but I want to be somewhere I can walk around and enjoy the hustle and bustle of city life.

So why have I fallen in love with Winchester? It’s just a really nice town, there isn’t the right wing snobbery of some prosperous towns such as Guildford and Marlborough, it just feels chilled and confident in itself without showing off; I suppose it has what I can only describe as a Bohemian and individual feel to it, a place where if you are a bit quirky or different, you don’t really stand out. It has lots of tiny little old pubs, the type of which you would only ever really see in London or perhaps Oxford and it still retains independent stores and coffee houses that somehow manage to stave of the large chains such as Costa Packet. There are always talented (and some untalented) buskers entertaining the shoppers on the High Street and it also features  lovely walks through the back streets around the cathedral as well as a riverside walk through the university grounds out towards St Catherine’s Hill (the place they carved through the middle of to accommodate the M3).

People relaxing in the sunshine near the Cathedral

Of course, Winchester is not faultless, the architect of Brooks shopping centre and the hideous multi storey car park must have been part of the 1960’s architectural team that blitzed the pretty old market town of Basingstoke and filled it up with concrete. The sooner that part  of the town goes the better but in general, Winchester is a really nice place to visit, and when the sun is shining, it almost feels like you are on holiday; you just can’t say that about Basingstoke, Reading, Andover or Southampton, architectural disasters, all nice in parts but with no real sense of identity. Winchester seems to know its identity, it has a warm and friendly feel around the streets and gardens and walking through the park by the cathedral made me want to be part of it one day.

Has anyone got a few hundred grand they don’t need?

1 Reply to "I Might Live in Winchester..One Day!?"

  • Patricia Sander
    October 11, 2012 (10:00 pm)

    Wow, just came across this piece tonight while trying to make a final decision about moving from a Surrey market town to Winchester, for I, too, want to walk out of my house and sit and have a coffee, or walk to a good music pub on a Saturday night. Have lived in my Surrey market town for years as a working Irish single Mum, does not fit the typical local profile!! Think Winchester will fit the bill nicely, thank you for this piece, I’m there!!!

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