Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Monday, September 18, 2006

A Slight Detour

My route to Sussex takes me down the M1 as far as Northampton then along the A43 towards Oxford and down the A34 towards Newbury and Winchester. Winchester is just about my favourite of all English cities and as I was down in that area by lunchtime I decided to spend the afternoon there instead of carrying on towards Petersfield. Everyone thinks of London as being the capital city of England but originally this honour lay with Winchester, it was the capital city of Wessex when Alfred the Great was king and was also the chief city of the kingdom from the time of the Norman conquest until the early 1300s. All that remains of the castle built by the Norman kings is the Great Hall which was part of the virtual rebuild done during the reign of Henry III during the early 13th century.

The Great Hall has three claims to fame - Sir Walter Raleigh stood trial there in 1603, it housed the first of Judge Jeffreys' Bloody Assizes after the Monmouth Rebellion and guess what hangs on the wall there? The first time I went to Winchester I went in the Great Hall simply because it was right across the road from where I parked, it's free and it has 'facilities' so I wandered in and picked up a leaflet and to my amazement I discovered that I was about to see King Arthur's Round Table!! I practically ran into the Great Hall and there it was

It has been dated by tree rings and carbon dating to the 13th or early 14th century and it has always been in the Great Hall, originally as a standing table but for the last 600 years it has hung on the wall. It was plain to begin with but Henry VIII had it painted with King Arthur and the names of 24 Knights of the Round Table. Oddly enough King Arthur looks remarkably like the young Henry VIII!

As a slight aside 1) I really need to learn to hold my camera level! and 2) you can get a larger version of each photo by clicking twice on the image. Hope I'm not teaching my grandmother to suck eggs here!

Another delightful surprise on my original visit to Winchester was that if you go out of one of the doors of the Great Hall you find this which is Queen Eleanor's Garden. It's a re-creation of a 13th century ornamental herber and is named after Eleanor of Provence wife of Henry III and her daughter-in-law Eleanor of Castile wife of Edward I. I knew it existed but didn't know exactly where it was so to find it so unexpectedly was a delightful surprise. It is quite small but full of lovely little corners and features such as a vine arbour, a lovely fountain topped by a bronze falcon and of course all the lovely old-fashioned plants which are all from the period. It was much earlier in the year on my first visit so there was much more colour but even so the garden was beautiful and tranquil - at least it was until a large tour group arrived at which point I left!

I walked down through the city to the cathedral which has some interesting things to see - one of the fascinating things to me with my particular spiritual beliefs is the fact that it is absolutely stuffed full of Green Man images, there must be hundreds of them carved into the woodwork and stonework! There are several other things that are worth seeing too - Jane Austen's grave is one of the first things you come across, she is buried actually inside the cathedral. The photograph at the top of this post is of the High Altar and Great Screen which I think is rather splendid. The screen was desecrated during the Reformation and what is there today is late 19th century but still very impressive.

There is a rather lovely 12th century marble font

and some 12th and 13th century wall paintings, quite a rare thing as they were all either painted over or destroyed during the Reformation when Henry VIII started the Church of England.

St Swithun was buried here and his shrine was visited by thousands of pilgrims until it was destroyed also during the Reformation. This modern memorial marks the place of the shrine.

The objects that really interest me are the six mortuary chests which contain the bones of a great many Anglo-Saxon kings including King Ecgbert. The place where I live has a strong connection with this king:

The written history of Dore can be traced back to the year 829 and an entry (wrongly recorded as 827) in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle - “And Ecgbert led an army to Dore against the Northumbrians and they offered him obedience and concord and thereupon they separated” and thus King Ecgbert became “Our Lord of the whole English speaking race, from the Channel to the Firth of Forth”.

The importance of Dore was its position on the boundary of the Anglo Saxon kingdoms of Mercia, recently conquered by King Ecgbert of Wessex, and Northumbria, the second most powerful kingdom. At the time, Northumbria was under pressure from Viking raids and unable to fight on two fronts, leading to the acceptance of Ecgbert as overlord and effectively the first king of all England.

When I first visited Winchester Cathedral I had absolutely no idea that King Ecgbert was buried there or in fact that he had any connection with the city. I was really thrilled when I read his name on the list of kings whose bones are contained in the mortuary chests

At this point I am going to stop and get this posted while Blogger is in a good mood, I've been trying to finish it on and off for the last two days and either I couldn't upload photos or it wouldn't even let me edit. I'll carry on in another instalment.


Remiman said...

Oh my, what a fabulous visit. Old churches and Arthurian legend are a direct route to my heart. Your presentation excited and enthralled me. How I would like to visit those sites myself. I look forward to more, like a starving man at a banquet. ;-)

plainandsimple said...

Hey, you did it!
I'm glad you enjoyed your visit. I've blogged about this post - I hope it's OK with you!

Jeanne said...

Oh my, what a beautiful place! And so rich in history and lore. I had no idea that the Round Table was still in existence. Thank you for sharing these wonderful photos, and guiding us along. I'd love to stroll that vine arbor.

Marie N. said...


Your photos show the same things that I would enjoy had I been there, things I loved 'discovering' when I traveled overseas with my parents. Thanks for the mental vacation!

Wendy WaterBirde said...

Well i guess that makes two photos of yours adored now so far (see my Table Tales blog). I truly am enjoying your lovely blog Rowan : )

Janet said...

I feel as if I've visited right along with you. The photos are wonderful! I love all the history, and the Round Table is gorgeous.

vurshaa said...


i thought you would like to know that i came across your blog while randomly surfing the blogs.

the pictures are fantastic and i like the way you write. i also envy you for being able to do gardening.

all the best,


Tea & Margaritas in My Garden said...

What an interesting visit! Thanks for putting all those pictures up. And King Arthurs Round Table! Wow that garden tunnel arbor is so beautiful.
It looks like your having the most fantastic time.
That pic you were asking about...not by me. I borrowed that one.I have no idea how to do that and the one of Teddy and the drink was done by hubby who only just learned.


Elizabeth said...

Thank you for sharing the lovely photos of your trip. It seems there are so many exciting things to discover about Winchester, not the least of which its connection to Jane Austin. I'm glad you provided a chance for me to take a vicarious trip there.


Britt-Arnhild said...

I found your blog via Roz ands Autumn Cottage. And I love it here. In a few weeks I am on my way over the Britain to visit Durham Cathedral and The Holy Island Lindisfarne.

Daisy Lupin said...

That was a really intereseting post, that I thoroughly enjoyed. I always remember St Swithun, as it was an uncle's name and my daughter was born on St Swithun's day.

Daisy Lupin said...

You asked about the pictures on my posting. I usually just browse victorian art sites etc for these old paintings and then keep them in 'my pictures' for an opportune time to use them. The seated lady is a Waterhouse She is actually Circe and the Madonna lilies etc picture is by Walter Crane.

Anonymous said...

Rowan, I have just dicovered your blog, and I love it. Your trip to Winchester has me green with envy. I have a fascination with old churches, and catherdrals, and my idea of heaven is exactly how you described your visit there. Thank you so much for sharing...!