Winchester & Watercress

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – It’s great working for a school. The job itself has it’s ups and downs like any other but I am of course talking about the holidays. There’s lots of them, so in between I’m happy to put the hours in – there’s been plenty of overtime around this last term. I’ve had additional driving work nearly every day, as well as the school bus runs and Trev – on top of his full time job as caretaker – has been helping out ‘on the buses’ too to help fill a gap left by a driver departing at Easter. It’s fair to say we were both looking forward to a bit of  R & R on this trip. So how did we get on?

We were heading west – to just north of Winchester in Hampshire, which meant of course traversing the miserable A27 along past Worthing, Arundel and Chichester. On a bank holiday Saturday. Yeah, quite. Fortunately, the campsite owner said we could arrive early, so we were at the storage site soon after seven and Patsy was hitched up and on her way well before eight o’clock.

It was around 0930 when we arrived at Folly Farm, situated on the road between Winchester and Stockbridge. The sat-nav app on the phone had guided us almost seamlessly through Winchester itself, only coming unstuck slightly when it wanted to send us down handy shortcut rather narrower than Patsy. Fortunately we ignored it and the re-route soon got us back on track. WP_20160528_11_12_49_Pro

I spoke to the site owner through an intercom and he told us where to pitch and we trundled off into the paddock. The six metre between ‘vans rule was easy to observe as our new neighbours seemed to have set up a used car dealership judging by the number of motors surrounding their pitch. With a large tent opposite there was little room to manoeuvre so Patsy was motor moved into position – that’s our excuse anyway…

WP_20160528_11_12_40_ProWith set up completed and wallet emptied thanks to a foray to a nearby Waitrose – not our usual supermarket of choice I can assure you – we settled down in the recliners to make the most of the sun. Every attempt to slip into the land of nod though was thwarted by a loud snoring sound emanating from my direction. A sign that the pollen from the surrounding trees was already making incursions.

We clearly did nod off at some point though because the next thing we knew Alison had arrived, having set out with her ‘van from Kent earlier. The kettle was pressed into service. A pub in nearby Stockbridge provided the necessary solid and liquid sustenance later on.

Sunday brought with it’s arrival more sun – probably the last of the week according to the forecast. Alison went off exploring and we made the most of the sun. To be honest it wasn’t the most relaxing of mornings. A large number of noisy single prop planes passed overhead at vaguely regular intervals disturbing what would have been, a nice peaceful morning.

The little Cadac was fired up for the for the evenings cremation and we managed to eat outside even though with the sun vanishing from our side of the site it made it pretty chilly early on.

Dull and overcast on Monday, but dry at least so we had a drive into Stockbridge and an amble around the shops, procuring some rugs for Patsy. A pretty little town with most businesses clustered around the wide high street.

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An afternoon drive around and about confirmed what we’d already suspected – this was a wealthy area. There were some beautiful properties in idyllic little villages that were way, way out of our modest reach. No doubt the area’s proximity to London helps keep prices high.

The promised rain arrived Tuesday morning but by the time it did we were safely inside Winchester Cathedral and enjoying a guided tour by a very knowledgeable and interesting lady. Many will know that Jane Austen is buried here.

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One of the more unusual exhibits – for a cathedral anyway – is an old fashioned divers helmet. The silly sods built it on waterlogged ground and diver William Walker worked for six YEARS from 1906 diving down in total darkness to shore up the foundations and prevent the building from collapse.

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The south transept was closed off for renovation so we were unable to see the ‘Fishermens Chapel’, burial place of Izaak Walton, the unofficial patron saint of fishermen.

The Crypt, still prone to flooding houses a solitary statue by Anthony Gormley.

With the rain still persisting we abandoned any thoughts of looking around Winchester and headed back to the site, stopping off for a quick bit of ‘er research on the way. Just the one. Honest.

Wednesday, and it was time for Alison to depart, her stay being over far too quickly. We said goodbye in the knowledge that we’ll be meeting again soon in the upcoming Twittercamp in July.

With the weather still unsettled we decided against a return to Winchester and headed east instead to Alresford, the starting point of the Mid Hants Railway or Watercress Line. So called because trains used to haul watercress from the nearby beds to the good folk up in London town. 10 miles of the track remain, going through to Alton where you can hook up with main line trains, passing through Ropley where the restoration work of both steam and diesel engines, as well as the carriages is carried out.

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Spanning the line at Ropley is a green bridge that some might recognise from the Harry Potters films. It became redundant at Kings Cross station in London when the redevelopments took place and was saved from the scrapheap to end up here.

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Whilst it’s really all about steam – and the wonderful sights, sounds and smells that accompany – I would like to have seen one of the old big powerful diesels have a trundle too. A great experience though and thoroughly recommended. Take my advice though – start at Alresford as we did. Parking is considerably cheaper, than the other end, at Alton where they have commuters pockets to empty.

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It was Thursday when we returned to Winchester for a mooch around – and I’m glad we did too. If you park in the Brooks Shopping Centre car park, don’t be put off by the view as you exit into the city. The rest is much, much prettier. We certainly didn’t get to see all of it, but the statue of King Alfred was mighty impressive. We paused at the City Mill – considered the Western gateway to the South Downs Way, which will take you – eventually – all the way to Eastbourne.

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We headed alongside the river, past Wolvesey Castle and along past Winchester College, returning to the centre through the grounds of the Cathedral.

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Friday was to be our last full day at Folly Farm but we decided to have a leisurely clear up and we headed off around 2:30pm. This, my friends was a mistake. Large sections of the miserable excuse for a road that is the A27 were doing an impression of a car park. The sections where traffic was moving provided a reminder – were it needed – or the number of thoughtless selfish idiots there are on the road. Some of them so called professionals too.

So, that was Winchester finally ticked off the list and I feel I should have been more impressed with it. To be honest I would have been happy just to lounge around with a book for week – particularly if the decent weather had continued, so I think I was less enthusiastic about sightseeing than usual. Still, there’s always another time.

The site  – Folly Farm – was nice and extremely busy over the weekend – hardly surprisingly – and to be honest I thought the facilities would struggle but they didn’t. For those that like to keep in touch with the outside world pitch nearer to the entrance and your TV signal wont suffer from overhead power cable. Free Wifi was available around the office but David, the owner was looking to extend it. Mobile wise, Vodafone and 3 were ok. O2 was the best out of our selection and that was the SIM card that went in the dongle.

Right, that’s it. Just a short run now to the end of term, then the summer jaunt begins. We’re staying this side of the English Channel this year, heading first to North Devon and the lovely Warcombe Farm before returning east to Bedfordshire for Twittercamp, then on to East Anglia for the rest of the holidays.

So, until then….

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