Friday, 17 May 2013

What Can I Tell You About Winchester?????????

Bec's email got me thinking ....... what CAN I tell new arrivals about Winchester? After all, this is one of ms-havachat's reasons for existence, to share pearls of wisdom about being an expat and part of that experience is what you discover about where you live.

So, what have I learnt about living in Winchester that would be helpful knowing before you got here?

Winchester is full of history. Did you know it was once the capital of England? Artifacts dating back to Roman times have been found here, and Winchester Cathedral was built in 1069 and Winchester College dates back t the 14th Century (and is still a very popular and well regarded school).

King Alfred stands proudly overlooking the High Street

High Street, Winchester

Further down the High Street

Winchester College

The houses in Winchester are beautiful, some aren't, but some are just like little Hobbit houses. The thatched roofs, and tiny windows are delightful. The villages are just out of story books, while the suburbs look like they could be anywhere. The really nice thing is that there are very few modern buildings and no high rise. With so many families opting out of London and moving here, prices are constantly increasing (both sale and rentals) and from what we know from friends, there's usually very little on the market at any one time. Most sales are down very quietly, especially in villages. When we arrived from Japan, there were 3 rental properties on the market. THREE!

The surrounding countryside is beautiful. Having distinct seasons showcases the changing colors. Spring and autumn are my most favorite times of the year as the colors are incredible. Even a drive to a friends place for coffee means a 'country drive' for me. You can often see pheasants scurrying across the road, or rabbits hopping out of harms way. I've even seen two deer in the field alongside the road leading up to MissM's school.

Yellow rapeseed (aka canola) fields

Itchen River, with Winchester City Mill behind

Swans and ducks on the Itchen  River - a beautiful walk

 National Trust, or English Heritage or The Royal Horticultural Society give you entree into all manner of castle, abbey, cathedral, ruin, mansion house, stately home, gardens and more. We've really enjoyed our annual membership and would recommend anyone moving here invest in one, even if it's just for 12 months. It's a great way to ensure you get out'n'about on weekends and explore your local area (and beyond).

The New Forest is beautiful all year round. The landscape changes with each season. The New Forest ponies are delightful, the villages dotted through out the area make for a great day out, and there are so many great places to eat! In the summer months, there is a hop on hop off bus service, with audio guide which is very enjoyable, especially on a sunny day. MissM and I did the bus trip with MrsA and her son and we all enjoyed sitting on the top of the bus watching the world go by.


There are guided walking tours of Winchester, run by Winchester Information Centre that, like in any city are a wonderful way to explore. It's a small city and very easy to get around.

The Cathedral also run seminars and free lunch time tours which are worthwhile doing. We have done several guided tours and each one sheds light on a bit more of the buildings history.

Winchester is a mere 20-30 minute drive to Southampton; it's about an hour and a half drive into London, it's 40 minutes from Stonehenge, and you can do places like Oxford, Salisbury for day trips (real quick day trips, focusing on one thing but I've done it)

Weekends can be very busy with kids sports, or swimming, tennis, horse riding lessons; and there's always something to explore with National Trust, English Heritage, ruins to climb, lunches to be had in pubs.

The supermarkets in the UK are super sized. The one thing I still find curious is that Tesco and Sainsbury are on HUGE pieces of land with huge parking lots (don't expect to find any high rise buildings. Multi level car parks, or under cover car parks are rare too) they don't offer much else.
What I mean is, you'd think that with the supermarket there'd be a post office, or dry cleaner, a bank - other service businesses. There is usually a Starbucks or Costco, so that's OK.

The bread section alone is incredible! Or maybe it just feels that way after living in Yokohama!

There's so much pre weighted, packaged meat, fish, poultry and vegetables. The fish monger, butcher and deli are usually OK, tho try to find a specialist if you want a larger variety. Better still, buy from the weekly markets.

The other lovely places to shop for food is in local villages. They tend to have small independently owned shops offering local produce and interesting imports. 

You need a car. Public transport is available but it doesn't allow you to really explore.  I was having coffee with a friend this morning who reads ms-havachat and she agrees with me, that you absolutely have to have a car here (she also agrees that Winchester isn't a city as most people think a city should be which she said was interesting because until she read that in my previous post she hadn't thought about it too much)

You will need to master driving very fast on the motor ways, and very slowly on narrow country roads. Oh, and watch those monster trucks and camper vans on the motor ways! Drivers are very courteous and the truck drivers in particular are cautious and safe to be around, tho they do whizz by you sometimes.

There are lots of great restaurants in and around Winchester.  You will need to make a reservation at most of them weeks in advance to ensure you dine on the date/time you want. It's incredible how quickly they ALL seem to be booked out. 

Pub dining is alive and well in Winchester and surrounding areas. We've not had one bad meal! In fact, we've several favorite places to eat. The Bugle Inn, Kyoto Kitchen, The Plough Inn, Fisher's Pond, Ginger Two, The Corner House, Loch Fyne, Caracoli (Arelsford, not the High Street). Our local pub, Cart'n Horse is fun too.

Hot topics of conversation are the weather, schools and/or education, housing (renting, buying and selling), what to do with kids over school holidays and where to go for holidays. Someone said to me they are all very safe subjects, and not too personal which I thought was an interesting observation.

You're GP will be assigned to you based purely on your address. Depending on where you live, you might have a choice of surgeries, but once you decide where you will take your health care, you register.

Winchester has a lot of terrific community events. HAT FAIR has nothing to do with hats and everything to do with street performers. Let's hope the weather is kinder this year than last as it's supposed to be amazing and the in laws are here. GRANGE PARK OPERA is an annual extravaganza we've not participated in but friends have and said it's amazing. We've been to The Grange, but not the Opera.

Marwell Zoo is a lovely day out and the annual pass is great value for families who live locally; Marwell Activity Barn is also a fun visit.  in fact, Christmas as Marwell Zoo is a must-do. We did it last year and it was great way to kick off Christmas.

The Christmas Markets in the Cathedral Close are stunning. In fact, they are ranked up there with the ones in Europe. The ice skating rink is very popular too. The annual Lantern Parade has to be seen to be believed! Thousands of people lining the High Street watching home made lanterns snake their way from the Guild Hall (and there are many places you and the kids can go to make your lanterns as part of  the community spirit)

Christmas Market Chalets

Ice Rink

Guy Fawke's Night is great fun too, and there are fireworks going off everywhere!

The Winchester Theatre Royal, The Mayflower Theatre (Southampton) an G Live (Guildford) are all great live performance theatres; and The Discovery Centre also offers a range of live entertainment. It's worthwhile subscribing to all of these online, or on FB to keep up with events.

The ferry to Ireland and Europe leaves from Southampton and other nearby ports.

Southampton Airport is 25 minutes away, and links with lots of great European destinations.

The Eurostar gets you to Europe in a matter of hours from London (Winchester to Waterloo station is about 50 minutes, + time to get to St Pancras ..... quicker than driving to Heathrow and needing to be there two hours early for international flights)

A few other very handy websites to subscribe to are:

Local Government

Visit Winchester 

Winchester Cathedral

Family Cultural Pass

Restaurant reviews 

So there's LOTS of great reasons to consider Winchester for your new home. There's probably lots more, but for now, that's about it for what I can tell you about living in Winchester.

Please add your suggestions in the comments box, as there's much more to this place than we've uncovered.

With friendship


  1. The once a fortnight Farmers' Markets are great - Winchester has the largest in England, evidently - and the street market on Thursday, Friday, Saturday is very good and well priced - cheaper than supermarkets. The Bonfire and fireworks on the Saturday nearest 5th.November - Big Winchester event - not to be missed! The old village churches - many very old indeed - with interesting churchyards are well worth visiting. InTech and the planetarium at Morn Hill....Excellent if you are that way inclined. Great walks along the Water Meadows. If children go to state primary schools, you will have instant friendships by meeting mums in the playground at the end of the day - and the schools are always looking for people to help which is a great way of making friends when you are new to somewhere.

  2. thanks for adding some great information Anonymous (are you my Whoopi? I'm trying to place you as anonymous ain't doing it for me)
    My inlaws arrived from Sydney today, and I'm sure by the time they leave in August there'll be quite a few more places discovered

  3. why one might suspect you work for Winchester Tourism Board!!! Sounds like you have made the most of your time there (not THERE, just there in W'ster). Really lovely photos...

  4. Too funny Margarita, guess I could work for any tourism board where we live. Like most expats, you do get out'n'about more than locals as you know you're only there for a certain amount of time and want to make the most of it. I can't imagine living somewhere for a few years, and NOT being able to share lessons learned, or tid bits of information. x