A couple of weeks ago my boyfriend and I visited Winchester as a belated Valentine’s Day celebration. I’d wanted to visit the cathedral for ages, as it’s the burial place of Jane Austen, my most beloved author of all time – but I hadn’t anticipated just how fascinating I would find the rest of the cathedral too, and indeed Winchester itself as a whole.
Upon arriving in the city and wandering down the high street, I was immediately struck by what a beautiful place Winchester is. With its quaint, relaxed atmosphere and abundance of period buildings, I can see why it’s so popular with tourists. Even in the middle of February, the cathedral was pretty busy – I can only imagine what it’s like in the height of summer!
We decided to go on a guided tour of the cathedral, and I’m so glad we did – it was fascinating to be taken through the various important events in the building’s history by one of the fabulous guides. The English Civil War was once such period of interest, with the Parliamentarians attacking the Royalist stronghold, ransacking the chests containing the bones of the old Saxon kings kept at the cathedral and hurling them as missiles to smash the great glass window.
The broken pieces of the window were kept and stowed away – and after the war, these pieces were used to reconstruct it. Interestingly it was not rebuilt in the original order, but rather by sticking the pieces randomly together, creating this beautiful – and at that time very unusual – mosaic effect.
We were also taken to Jane Austen’s grave, which her father and brother were able to arrange through their connections in the clergy. Although the message on the original stone is very beautiful, I actually prefer the brass plaque added by her nephew Edward in 1870, as it mentions her writing, which she became so famous for only after her death.
Following the tour we made a brief stop at the cathedral refectory for cake and tea, then a visit to the shop where I picked up Jane Austen’s England by Helen Amy. This beautiful non-fiction book discusses various aspects of life in the Regency period, linking them to Austen’s novels, and I can’t wait to start reading it!
From there we visited College Street, stopping outside number 8 – the house in which Jane Austen died in her sister Cassandra’s arms on the 18th July 1817. Those of you who are regular readers of my blog will know how much I adore and admire Jane Austen’s writing, so it was very special for me to be able to stand outside the house where she last lived.
Our final stop was the P&G Wells bookstore, only a few doors down from Jane Austen’s house on College Street. It’s a gorgeous old building brimming with beautiful books, and I could have spent most of the afternoon in there! I finally picked up a copy of La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman, as well as Goodbye, Perfect by Sara Barnard.
All in all, we both had a lovely day. If you’re at all interested in Jane Austen, learning about history, or just looking at beautiful old buildings, I would definitely recommend Winchester as a place to visit.