Best of British; Great British Bargain Breaks Are the Order of the Day This Credit Crunch Summer. JENNY GROUTAGE Visits Historic Winchester for the Day

Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England), May 31, 2009 | Go to article overview

Best of British; Great British Bargain Breaks Are the Order of the Day This Credit Crunch Summer. JENNY GROUTAGE Visits Historic Winchester for the Day


Byline: JENNY GROUTAGE

HAVING travelled around the world on my gap year, taking in different cultures and experiencing different adventures, I was struck by a thought.

When travelling, of course, you get to meet different people from all walks of life and from all corners of the world.

And as I trekked in Cambodia, discovered ice caves in New Zealand and swam with sharks in Fiji, I came to realise I'd explored very little of my own country.

When I chatted with a well-travelled Korean woman, I had to come clean.

Not only had I not visited many of the British sights she had enjoyed on her recent visit to the UK but also, I could not give her a good reason as to why not.

"But everything is so easy in your country!" she exclaimed. "You can get on a train and be on the other side of the country in a few hours!" Embarrassed that someone from over 5,000 miles away had visited more of my own country than I had, I made a vow that when I returned home, I would make a concerted effort to see what all the fuss was about.

And so, feeling a renewed sense of excitement for exploring the best of Britain, I set out to the historic ancient capital of Winchester.

I had moved down to London to start a new job only two weeks previously and was starting to feel claustrophobic in the 'big smoke' with its busy streets and fast pace. What I longed for was a bit of space - a typical English town with history and lots of (hopefully free) activities to keep me amused.

Winchester fitted the bill. I arrived on a sunny day armed with a visitor brochure and a head full of tips from my fellow travellers.

One thing that did become apparent on my gap year was that while countries such as Australia may have the weather and the beaches, they have very little in the way of history. I knew Winchester would definitely come up trumps in this respect.

To get an insider's feel to the city, I decided to join a 'Blue Badge' tour - a 90- minute whistle-stop trip around the city accompanied by guide Helen Sutcliffe, who told interesting anecdotes along the way.

Winchester is a relatively small town where everything is within walking distance. Exploring the city on foot was a great way to get my bearings.

After taking a walk down the High Street, Helen pointing out interesting buildings along the way, we ended up at the beautiful 900-year-old Winchester Cathedral, located right in the centre of the city.

Among Helen's fascinating facts was the story of William Walker, the scuba diver who helped save the cathedral from collapsing almost 100 years ago when the structure began to sink into the ground.

He worked six hours a day in complete darkness to build supporting walls under the cathedral and is now honoured with a statue inside. It makes scuba-diving in the Great Barrier Reef seem tame by comparison!

We passed Jane Austen's College Street residence - the house where the famous author spent her last weeks before her death. Having already viewed her tomb in the cathedral, it was apparent that Winchester has a strong literary history. …

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