Wednesday, 15 May 2013

So, what can you tell me about Winchester?

Winchester Cathedral
In my expatforum mailbox today was an email from Bec:

'Hi, we're moving from Brisbane to Winchester with our two boys, 7 and 3, and I'm wondering what you can tell me about Winchester? We're trying to work out where's best to live, and schools for our boys. Where should we live? What ever you can tell me about Winchester would be appreciated. It's nice to know there are expats there.  Thanks Bec'

This is what I wanted to reply but thought better of it. I did however, send her a very abridged version, afterall, we don't know each other and I didn't want to scare her.

If a total stranger asked you for this kind of information, how would you have responded?

Hi Bec,

Gosh, where to begin?

Firstly WELCOME to Winchester.

Ok you won't be able to get your boys into a state (Aussie public school) without an address; and there's no point renting/buying a house unless you know there's space in your sons year ...... it's a complicated situation when arriving here, tho no different to Australia as state/public schools work on catchment areas.

Our daughter is in an independent (Aussie private school or fee paying) simply because we didn't have an address for quite a while. It wasn't our first choice, but we had to bite the bullet and place her somewhere. We also needed her to stay in year 2 and not be put into year 3 as prescribed by the UK system as we came out of the international system in Japan. Not sure what year your boys will go into as it depends on their birthdays, and of course how much pull you have. Suffice to say, in a state school they will be placed in the year according to their birthday, but in an independant school you might have some room to negotiate. From what we've learned, we were very lucky.

Most people refer to OFSTED reports for schools. It's debatable how much clout to to give them, depending on whom you talk to but at least it's a guide.

WHERE TO LIVE? The better question to ask is 'what properties are on the market' . When we arrived there were 3 rental properties that fitted our criteria.

Winchester is semi-rural (i think that's a good term to use). There's lots of open farm land, and forests. Small picture book villages, with centuries old homes with thatched roofs can be found hidden amongst the fields. We're not in a village, tho friends are and from what they tell me,  it depends on the village as to how welcomed an 'outsider' can be. It took one school friend nearly 5 years to be invited to a village dinner party (they moved down from London). Another friend rented in one part of town until she could get into the village she wanted, and as there were several families from her children's school there, she made a huge effort to befriend them before moving in. Once accepted tho, village life is (apparently) fabulous.

Thatched roof tops - they look like Hobbit Houses. 
Lots of terraces, between 3-5 levels

Free standing homes

Country homes can be found on the outskirs of Winchester
on acreage, some with horses and chickens!

There's also lots of suburbia in Winchester. Like most cities (Oh, I might add here, Winchester is a city cos it has a cathedral and for no other reason), there are the posh areas and the not so posh. If you do live in a village you will need a car! In fact, I'm not sure you could live here without one, tho I'm sure people do.

The difficulty in Winchester and indeed Hampshire is that real estate whether buying or renting is scarce and expensive. The migration from London to the area is on the up, as people are swapping small expensive properties for large family homes on acreage and great schools.

When we arrived there were 3 houses available to lease, and none were really amazing.

So in terms of 'where to live' it's more about what type of environment do you want to live in - semi rural, village, suburbia and then troll the real estate agents pages.

  • Will you be getting relocation assistance?
  • Where will your husband be based for work?
  • Does he need to get to Winchester train station to commute? If so, this might limit where you live in terms of car/public transport.
  • Will you have a car? Or will the boys need to be walked or bused to school - another consideration in terms of schools and home location. My daughters school runs a fleet of buses for example and while they go far and wide, they don't go that far or that wide to suit everyone.
  • Will you be working or are you, like me an at home expat mum?
Expats in Winchester - mmmmmmmmmm
While it's hard to find a born'n'bred Wintonian, there are some but most people come from some where else. You'd think that would create a warm, welcoming, supportive, helpful community but I have to say, sadly, in our experience that's not really how it is.

There's also not that many, if any 'expats' in the true sense of the word here. For an expat experience i would think Oxford, or Windsor, Cobham would offer much more - at least there's the Uni crowd to hang out with and visiting professors, and the International School is at Cobham.

London is just that bit too far away and it's expensive (cheapest mid week ticket round trip is £36) to pop in and out of weekly to do things with the International Women's Club or Australian Women's Clubs. I thought I'd be up'n'down often, but I'm not.

Most households are double income, so there aren't that many people to hang out with during school hours; might be an idea to start thinking of what sort of things you enjoy doing to fill in your days - tennis, golf, walking, gym, courses etc.

Lessons Learned:
Your GP will be dictated to you based on where you live; you may have a choice of a few surgeries to choose from or there may only be one. You'll have to prove you live in the area with a utility bill, and apply to register there, then be assigned a GP.

The High Street is one shopping mall; Southampton offers the closest thing to a shopping centre; the closest Westfield is in Shepherds Bush in London.

You'll shop between Tesco, Sainsbury, Marks and Spencers and Waitross for groceries. Somehow choosing one over the other is easier and shopping on line the best. You'll sign up to all of them for their loyalty cards and earn points (it's a pretty good scheme)

The biggest and best Marks and Spencers is at Hedge End. It's kinda like a small DJ's or Myers.

Winchester has amazing restaurants, tho they are all hidden. Subscribe to Ladies Who Lunch Hampshire for the low down on where to eat. You will need to book as they pretty much get booked out on Friday/Saturday nights.

The closest cinemas are in Southampton or Eastleigh; Ikea, Costco are both in Southampton.

Join the National Trust and English Heritage.

Legoland is at Windsor.

The best car wash is at Sainsbury Olivers Battery.

You'll need to learn to drive very fast on motorways and very carefully on narrow country roads.

Supercamps will be your best friend over school holidays.

Buy a family rail card for discounts - but you have to travel with at least one child to benefit.

Book tickets to the Pantomine as soon as they become available as they sell out really quickly.

Christmas at Mawell is a must!

I hope this has been helpful,
If you've any more questions, please ask and I'll do my best

With friendship


  1. The nearest cinema is WINCHESTER! The SCREEN is great! Why go elsewhere? Buy a NETWORK RAILCARD and get to London for £20 return. Buy an OYSTER CARD to use in London. Live within walking distance of the shops. Get into one of the great state schools - that's my advice as someone who moved from London 18 years ago!

  2. Thank you Anonymous for your suggestions - The Screen is great but I was thinking more along the lines of a multi complex. I've been to The Screen once in the 18 months we've been here cos the movies I've wanted to see and their showing times weren't convenient. The one time I did go, it was delightful.
    Gosh, I hope you don't think we're anti state schools, cos we're not! We would have loved MissM to have attended one, as I truly believe it would have offered her a broader learning sphere, but it's hard to get into the state schools unless you already have an address and as an expat arriving from outside the UK, that's not as easy as it sounds.
    Where were you when I was asking about rail cards to get in/out of London cost effectively? I will definitely check out the Network Railcard tomorrow as there's oodles of things I'd love to see/do before we move THERE.
    With friendship