Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Today I traveled out to Winchester, a town I couldn’t help but associate with the Winchester Mystery House, San Jose’s bizarre tourist attraction. Upon arriving, it didn’t take Winchester long to expunge my wrongful associations and give me new impressions of England’s once-premier city.
I spent the first part of my day taking in the historic sites. I visited the Great Hall of Winchester Castle, where I saw the “original” Round Table of King Arthur fame (I put original in quotations because although the table is the one and only, it was constructed a few hundred years after the legendary King was supposed to have gathered his knights around it).
From the Great Hall I made my way through town to Winchester Cathedral, of “longest nave in Europe” fame. Strikingly similar in style and construction to the cathedral in St. Albans, the 900-year-old Winchester Cathedral somewhat ironically distinguished itself with a very modern sculpture in the flooded crypt (see my very fuzzy photo below) and the burial site of Jane Austen.
I left the cathedral and walked along the grounds, through Kings’ Gate, and along College Street. It was there that I saw the house where Jane Austen spent her last weeks of life. I continued down the street and found myself walking along a beautiful path by the River Itchen, where signs of spring abounded. Daffodils were clustered beneath willow trees with tiny budding leaves on their branches, and despite the gale-force winds, I was able to enjoy a few moments of peace on a park bench before I moved on to the High Street.
One of my goals for the day was to walk a bit of the South Downs Way, a 100 mile trail from Winchester Cathedral in the west to Eastbourne in…you got it, the east. Not knowing where it started, I ducked into a bookstore, memorized a map, then set out to walk a whopping 2% of the Way. During my journey I encountered several horses, some sheep, and a small village with thatched roof houses and lots of friendly spring flowers. Of course, as soon as I arrived it started raining. I walked the two miles back to Winchester shielding my face from intermittent raindrops and the occasional hailstone.
When I got back to Winchester I still had some time to spare, so I hopped on a bus to Chawton to see another of Jane Austen’s houses. Thirty minutes later I was exploring the home where Austen wrote Mansfield Park and Emma. The house was a bit sparse in terms of the number of Austen’s actual belongings it held, but her writing table was on display along with a few articles of clothing. My silent walk through the house was juxtaposed by two college-age women that walked into every room squealing “oh my god! this is where she slept (or ate, had tea, etc)!” I was excited too, but not that excited.
I took the bus back to Winchester and headed for the train station. I arrived back in England’s presently-premier city in time to eat dinner and start packing for my six-day trip to Portugal tomorrow.