Awake at 8:30 again! What the hell is happening to me? Am I going crazeeeee? Perhaps. But not as crazy as some! A case in point: For breakfast, Mirinda has been trying the newest flavour in the Innocent range. It is pomegranete, blueberry and acai. I have no idea what an acai is but the stuff smells foul and looks evil. She says it grows on you. For her sake, I hope not.
We decided to take a walk down to Itchen Abbas to check out the church. On the way we crossed the River Itchen a number of times. What a perfectly idyllic Christmas tin of a river. Even the swans looked perfect. Mirinda would have stood looking over the low walls forever if I hadn’t prised her hands from the stones.
The Church of St John the Baptist, Itchen Abbas sits comfortably in the landscape, graves liberally scattered in the grounds leading up to it. The building there now was built in 1862 but it does incorporate a few features of the old Saxon church which preceded it.
A couple of interesting stories about the church:
In 1825 the rector was Robert Wright, a fair and formidable man. At that time the case of a gypsy accused of horse-stealing was brought to court. Robert tried to win the gypsy a reprieve but failed. The accused was executed. Robert took home the body and paid for it to be buried in the church yard beneath the ancient yew tree – you can still see the stone today!
Around 1837, a vault was dug under the church and two coffins were discovered. Each was cut from a single block of chalk, had a lid and a skeleton. No-one knows who they were…
From the church we wandered along a bit of the Kings Way footpath as it follows the Itchen River. We had to argue with a bunch of aggressive looking calves but managed to get by them. It was all quintessentially English…even the cows had a distinct south eastern lilt to their lowing.
We returned from whence we’d been, collected Sidney and set off once more for Winchester. Our first stop was Café Nero once more where I read an interesting story in The Times regarding a young German art student studying in China.
He had always dreamed of being a terracotta soldier so he made himself a terracotta uniform and base and visited the army of statues. After changing he leapt over the barrier and stood motionless among his heroes. It took the Chinese police about two minutes to find him, as his disguise was so good. He wasn’t charged with anything because, among other things, he gave everyone such a good laugh.
From the café, we headed over to the cathedral where we attended the lunchtime concert. These occur on various Tuesday’s throughout the year. Fortunately for Mirinda, next week sees the presentation of ‘organ fun’ with Andrew Lumsden and Sarah Baldock. This week, however, we were treated to a delightful programme from the Durrel Ensemble, a student group from the Royal College of Music, London. They are a quintet of bassoon, oboe, flute, clarinet and French horn. They played some Mozart followed by Debussy. In the north transept of the cathedral it all sounded lovely. What a splendid way to spend lunchtime.
We then strolled down to our favourite bakery for pizza slice, ham baguette and pastries which were eaten by the side of the Itchen.
It is interesting that in all the times we have journeyed to Winchester, we have never managed to see Wolvesey Castle. Well, we rectified that today.
Wolvesey Castle was the home of Henry of Blois from 1129. Although William Giffard built the West Hall by 1110 (the year, not the time), it was Henry of Blois who created most of the opulence of the new palace. The whole palace replaced an earlier bishop’s palace built by Ethelwold in the late 970s but nothing of that remains. In the early 16th century there was also a lot of additions made but it fell into decline in the 17th, soon becoming little more than rubble.
This rubble is all that is apparent today but it shows what a magnificent building once stood there. It was also a powerful place. It was from here that the bishop’s extensive estates were administered. He (the Bishop of Winchester that is) also had palaces/castles in Farnham, Southwick and Bishop’s Waltham. I’ve seen all but the one at Bishop’s Waltham so almost a complete collection then. Sad, Gaz, very sad.
It was then off to that other prominent tourist feature of Winchester, the City Mill. This is a working mill owned and run by the National Trust. A mill has stood on the spot since at least 1086 as it is recorded as such in Bill the Bastard’s Domesday Survey of that year. It suffered a lot of ups and downs through the centuries and gradually fell into terrible disrepair until in 1744 (before Captain Cook discovered Australia) a James Cooke, master tanner, rebuilt it. All was well until 1928 when it was in danger of demolition to make way for low cost housing (or something) but a group of benefactors stepped in, bought it and donated it to the National Trust.
In 1931, the Trust leased the mill out to the Youth Hostels Association and there’s some pretty bizarre photos of people hanging from ropes in the Mill Race! Mind you, after a very long tramp through the south east, a quick dunk in the mill race could be quite nice, though pretty cold. By the way, a mill race is one of the channels that split off from the main run of the river. Half of it powers the wheel but the other half just zips through, under the mill. All rush and bubble, flying foam.
Since 1992, the Trust has been working towards restoring the mill with the aim of producing flour, which it finally did in 2004. This marked the first time flour had been produced in the mill for 90 years.
It was great seeing the machinery beneath the mill as it turned, powered by the water. So much better than anything coal powered. Water produces no pollution…not even of any kind. Behind the mill is a narrow garden island, which once upon a time was home to some pigs who happily watched their owner guide his horse and cart across the town bridge.
It was then back to Sidney and the short drive to Avington House. We rested for a bit then drove off to Arlesford for an Indian. It actually amounted to two as I took an instant (and unreasonable) dislike for the guy in the first one when he told us we couldn’t sit in the 6 seater table in the window – I assume his restaurant is packed every Tuesday. And so we went to Shakta, which sounds more Klingon than Indian and settled into the empty restaurant. Dinner was fine, though Mirinda claimed the duck was spicy (I didn’t notice it).
Back at Avington, we watched Home and Stephen Fry’s Manic Depression on BBC2 then to bed. A massively busy day for us!