Best things about living in Winchester
PUBLISHED: 15:40 29 September 2016 | UPDATED: 15:40 29 September 2016
Living in the city - Emma Caulton mulls over a few of her very favourite things
Earlier this year Winchester took the title ‘The Sunday Times Best Place to Live’ - based on its ‘irresistible mix of food, festivals and feelgood factor’.
It was the schooling that did it for me (as a parent). That and the buzz of the twice-monthly farmers’ market. That was some time back, but the educational offering still gets top marks. All the local primaries and secondaries are rated at least ‘Good’ by Ofsted, with St Bede’s, St Faith’s and St Peter’s primary schools and Kings’ secondary school rated ‘Outstanding’ - ditto Peter Symonds’ sixth form college. The independents are ultra impressive, too. There’s Pilgrims’ prep school in the picturesque Cathedral Close, rated ‘Excellent’ by the Independent Schools Inspectorate, while St Swithun’s and Winchester College are both among the top independent senior schools in the UK.
Meanwhile the farmers’ market is still the biggest and best in the country (and that’s not just my view). But it has now been joined by very good weekly food markets, and Winchester has rebranded itself as a foodie destination. The boutique hotel in the form of Hotel du Vin was born here (co-founder Robin Hutson went on to create the hip Pig collection – and still lives locally). Winchester was picked for Rick Stein’s first foray outside Cornwall, and is the location for one of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s few River Cottage Canteens, as well as a Brasserie Blanc. There is also an abundance of tasty local eateries from cafes (like Chococo, Josie’s and Rawberry), through pubs (such as Green Man, Old Vine and Wykeham Arms), to restaurants (Michelin-starred Black Rat, Chesil Rectory and Fish Tail).
As The Sunday Times suggested, Winchester does have a ‘feelgood factor’. There’s an upbeat vibe. Possibly due to Winchester becoming a de facto suburb of the capital thanks to the relatively easy commute to London Waterloo. Hence there are certain expectations, including a quality retail experience with names such as Gieves & Hawkes, LK Bennett, White Company and, just opened, Space NK (simply the swankiest skincare and beauty retailer). Independents include the chic and the quirky, such as Cadogan and The Hambledon (both The Square), Consortium (Jewry Street) and Jane Macintyre Design (Southgate Street). Arty types will enjoy the likes of Bell Fine Art (Parchment Street) and Creative Crafts (The Square) - the latter is a comfortingly old-fashioned arts and crafts store popular with students from Winchester School of Art and local creatives. I was once told Winchester has the highest concentration of creatives in the South outside Brighton. (Note The Colour Factory’s imaginatively painted bollards and Alice Kettle’s lustrous tapestry in the Discovery Centre.)
It feels like a city where it is all happening. And regularly. There are monthly, or near monthly, art and design, antiques and retro markets. The Screen cinema in a converted chapel has recently been refurbished (comfy chairs and lots of leg room). The aforementioned Discovery Centre is a great space with a selection of events, exhibitions and workshops. Next door Theatre Royal has a programme encompassing comedy, dance, drama and music. Then there’s Winchester’s growing reputation as Festival central, from the anarchic hat fair to traditional Christmas market, cocktail week to fashion week, wine festival to writers festival, Mayfest to ginchester fete... And more, many more (chilli and cheese festival, cider and ale festival, comedy festival, jazz festival and so on)
Personally what I really love about Winchester are its more nebulous qualities: its streets of wonky medieval buildings with their patchwork of honeyed brick, flint and stone, where the past feels ever present. I love, too, the tranquillity that can be found in the heart of the city - in Abbey Gardens, the Cathedral grounds or St Giles Hill. Similarly there are waterside walks directly from the city centre: the boardwalks of Winnall Moors, the grassy swards of River Park and the water meadows alongside the Itchen, past St Cross Hospital to St Catherine’s Hill - a stroll that inspired Keats to write Ode to Autumn.
Winchester is extraordinarily special. However that can create problems. Houses prices are high. Substantial character properties tend to be well over the million mark. A good Victorian terraced house can be around £700,000 in city centre areas like Hyde, Oram’s Arbour, Fulflood and St Cross.
Others complain about inadequate city centre parking, high retail rents, and argue about how the city is to be developed. Last year saw work on Barton Farm tentatively commence (a new suburb with more than 2,000 homes). This year has seen the collapse of the Silver Hill development (around the bus station) and the derailment of Station Approach.
It is a difficult one. Winchester attracts residents and businesses, drawn by awards such as that from The Sunday Times. But the reality is this is a small city - I’ve heard it likened in the past to a big village. If Winchester has to grow, it should be undertaken in such a way to ensure we don’t lose or vandalise that which everyone loves and cherishes about life here. Schemes need to be of a scale and style that is appropriate for a medieval city that was once the capital of England. We have a responsibility to this city - a legacy to pass on.
Agent talk - Kevin Prince, Carter Jonas
“Winchester is a great place to be selling homes. History has brought it many interesting properties, some that have always been homes while others have been successfully converted. Take for example the nine apartments created from the former Victorian St Thomas Church in central Winchester, which we are currently marketing. Two are already reserved following a launch that brought a real buzz to the city market.
Behind the church in Archery Lane we are also selling a more traditional townhouse home in Peninsula Barracks, another standout conversion in the heart of the city. The former home of the Royal Green Jackets has been turned into an enclave of very special properties.
People are attracted by all that Winchester has to offer. Not for nothing did The Sunday Times name Winchester as the best place to live in England.
Just an hour from Waterloo, the commute is easy and worth it when there’s so much to enjoy in and around the city, with a lifestyle supported by the best school choices in the UK.
There’s a wonderful mix of restaurants and pubs. I can step out of the office in Jewry Street and choose from a wide variety of cuisines within a few metres. Just a little further and I’m walking in the South Downs National Park.”
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