It was Tuesday morning, when with the caravan on tow, I set off from home, and within ten minutes I’d joined the Portsmouth Road. It was the first time out with the van since September of last year. It would have been great to pretend that I was heading for the Bilbao crossing at Portsmouth Dock, but it was not to be – for I turned off at Guildford on to The Hog’s Back and headed down the A31 to the Caravan Club site – Morn Hill which is close to both the M3 and to the City of Winchester. I arrived just after mid-day, so there was a good choice of pitches. The site is split into two levels – a higher field where reception is situated, and another field lower down the hill. Since both areas have their own entry barrier, it’s almost as though they were two separate sites. All the pitches are on grass and are more or less level. I needed only slight adjustment under one wheel. The site is laid out in typical Caravan Club fashion with several mature trees. Although the mobile phone networks work really well, for some reason my EE 3 mifi wouldn’t connect. The nearest spot to get it to connect meant sitting with it in Tesco’s car park, three miles away. After getting set up and water connected, I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting out enjoying the sunshine.
As part of my planning, I’d previously explored the possibility of cycling directly from the site, but Google maps showed the site exit leading directly on to a very large, busy five road roundabout. Even the road leading into the City was a main road – much too busy, I thought for me to be biking on. So I planned to drive to a trading estate on the other side of the M3 before parking the car. It worked well – I parked in the Tesco parking area, unloaded the bike, and cycled the mile into the city from there. The road led me into the Broadway, where situated at the eastern end, is the statue of Alfred the Great, King of Wessex.
At the time, the country was divided into several realms, each headed by its own King. It was Alfred’s vision that eventually, the country would become united into one Kingdom. The statue was erected in 1899 to mark one thousand years since Alfred’s death. Close by is the site of Winchester’s medieval East Gate, and also its water mill. A mill has existed on this spot since Saxon times, but the present mill was re-erected in the 1700’s. In pre-Covid times, the mill, now in the care of the National Trust still works producing wholemeal flour and baking bread.
From the mill I cycled alongside the River Itchen before veering away from the river and arriving in the Cathedral precincts.
When Cromwell and Henry VIII between them dissolved the monasteries, the Benedictine Priory of Saint Swithun was amongst the other 800 religious houses throughout the country to be destroyed. Here in Winchester, all the Priory buildings were pulled down leaving only the church which later became the Cathedral.
Because of Covid restrictions the Cathedral is closed however, it is open for prayer and meditation, so I was able to enter and walk in the nave and aisles. In the north aisle I came across the tomb of Jane Austen who lived her short life in a nearby village. She died at just 41. Strangely, her memorial tablet makes no mention of her achievements as a writer.
Because of the restrictions, it wasn’t possible to enter the choir and transepts, but just above the choir screen, I could see some of the organ pipes. The organ is a Willis organ specially built for the Great Exhibition of 1851. When the exhibition closed and was being dismantled, Samuel Wesley who at the time, was organist and director of music at Winchester, suggested to the Dean and Chapter that they purchase the organ. And so by 1854, the purchase was agreed and the Exhibition organ was installed in it’s new loft at Winchester.
The visits I’d planned for Tuesday meant a long drive, so I got away from the site by 9am and headed up on to the A303 before turning westward. After 20 or so miles, coming over the hill, Stonehenge was on my right. But a stop there was not in today’s plan. Instead, I continued on for a few miles, then turned south towards Tisbury where I wanted to visit Old Wardour Castle.
The Castle was built during the 14th Century for John Lovell, the 5th Lord who was a mercenary soldier. Much of his fighting was done in France during the Hundred Years War. His military experience, political skills and his marriage to a relative of Richard II brought him prestige and wealth. So he was able to have the six-sided Wardour Castle built, not so much as a stronghold; more as a secure, luxurious home. Here, he hoped to impress his guests with his wealth. Later in its lifetime, the Castle was badly damaged during the Civil War in the 1600s and was never restored. A hundred years later, a new castle was built on the estate and the old was incorporated into a landscaped garden as a “romantic ruin”. The Old Castle is now in the care of English Heritage.
So on to the next venue. I headed east out of Wiltshire, back towards Salisbury and to my next stop at Old Sarum. My route took me through the village of Fovant. I pulled into a layby to see the Regimental Badges carved into the hillside. In 1915, these green fields around the village were chosen as an army camp for troops awaiting embarkation for France. Up to 20000 men were held here at any one time, and each regiment dug trenches on the hillside, filled them with chalk and left an everlasting memory of their Regimental Badges.
Half an hour later I arrived at Old Sarum. The known history of the site goes back to the Iron Age when it was used as a hill fort. The deep ditch which can still be seen today was probably begun in those times. Since then, it has been occupied by Saxons and Romans. After William, Duke of Normandy invaded England in 1066, he quickly granted to his most favoured barons, large swathes of the Country where they built their own castles from which to terrorize and exploit the local populace.. By 1086, William had made Old Sarum his headquarter and in that year, he paid off all his mercenary soldiers and also called together all his barons where he had them swear a new oath of allegiance. Not only was a castle built on the hilltop but a Cathedral as well.
But by the start of the 1200s, animosity between the military and ecclesiastical authorities had arisen and it was decided that a new cathedral would be built in the valley below the hill. And so by 1220 the present building was started. It was built entirely in what is now known as Early English Gothic and took nearly forty years to complete. Much of the stonework was brought from the hilltop. The Cathedral has in its care what is thought to be the finest copy of the four surviving original copies of Magna Carta. Salisbury Cathedral has this copy because one of the Cathedral’s Churchmen was present at Runnymede in 1215 for the signing. He was also given the task of distributing some of the copies.
The precincts of the Cathedral are large. At one time it would have contained all the priory buildings. The priory gate house still stands but around the perimeter today stand some very beautiful houses. For the last twenty years of his life, Edward Heath who was Prime Minister for four years during the 1970s lived in one of them. He is buried within the Cathedral.
All the visits I’ve made so far, because of Covid demands, have had to be booked online, and in advance. Today’s visit was no different so my destination was only eight miles away – to Marwell Zoological Park. The zoo is laid out over a large private estate in Hampshire with nicely surfaced roadways around the estate with the mansion at its centre. There is the usual collection of penguins, flamingoes, giraffes, rhinos, lions & tigers – although the latter two had themselves well hidden away.
Marwell is by no means the best zoo park I’ve visited but it was a pleasant enough spot to spend several hours touring through the estate and having a picnic lunch in the sunshine.
Saturday was an on site day – plus a visit to the local Tesco’s to stock up on provisions.
On Sunday, in the morning, I loaded the bike and drove into Winchester, found a car park and set off to explore the city on two wheels. The place was much busier than I expected – far busier than it had been on the previous Wednesday. Hence the farmers’ market being held in the Broadway.
After lunch and back at the site, I got on the bike again. This time I cycled along the only country road directly accessible from the site. After a mile or so, I arrived at the village of Easton and followed the sign to the church.
Going through the lovely Lytch gate into the churchyard, the doorway gave the clue as to its age. To see inside, (according to the notice board) I would need to wait until Wednesday!
I was up with the birds today! Jobs were done; lunch was packed, and I was ready to leave the site by 7.30am. I was heading down the M3/M27 for 26 miles to Portsmouth Ferry Terminal. I WAS GOING ABROAD!!! I didn’t need my passport for my booking was on the 9am crossing to the Isle of Wight. The ferry carried vehicles on two decks with four lanes on each deck. The crossing to Fishbourne took 45 minutes.
First, I drove the five miles or so to Osborne House – the estate Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had built when she first came to the throne. Of course, with Covid restrictions in place, the house was closed to visitors. But there were some lovely terraces and gardens to explore. There’s even a long path leading down to a private beach on the coast – but much too far for me to attempt. After some lunch in a sunny, sheltered spot, I set off for the centre of the Island, through its busy Newport and on to Carisbrooke Castle.
Castle building began here shortly after the Battle of Hastings. The land was given to a knight of the Redvers Family and ownership continued in that family, together with their ever-increasing estates in other parts of the country, for the next three hundred years. Constant changes were made to the Castle – mainly with a view to comfort.
This elaborate window with its seating on both sides was built and glazed – a hugely expensive improvement in those times by Countess Isabella, the extremely wealthy last member of the Redver family. She died in 1293.
After the Civil War, King Charles was held here for a year.. At first, he had the freedom of the Island, but after an escape plan was uncovered, he was restricted to the Castle grounds – although he was able to have a bowling green built for him.
In a penned-off area were the two Carisbrooke donkeys. Within the Castle grounds is a well said to be 70metres deep. Inside the well-house is a large wooden wheel. The two donkeys walk within the wheel, bringing the buckets of water to the surface.
At the centre of the inner bailey is the keep – the final retreat should the Castle be captured. It’s only entrance is through a narrow gate house approached by two flights of steps. When I was last here in 1962, I ran up them. This time – it took me much longer!
I was not due back at the ferry until 6pm so I did a tour around. I made my first stop in the lovely village of Godshill where many of the houses have distinctive thatched roofs.
Then finally on to Sandown, where I took a stroll along the seafront.
Then it was back across country to Fishbourne, where I discovered I was just in time to catch an earlier sailing.
It had been a long and tiring day, and it was with some relief to be back in the caravan. I’d covered just on 100 miles.
After yesterday’s energetic day, nothing was planned for Tuesday, so it was a day spent sitting about and reading on site.
Rain was forecast for Wednesday afternoon; fortunately, my first booking was at 10am. It was a 16-mile drive from the site to Fort Nelson. This is one of the fortifications built on Portsdown Hill during the 1860s to protect Portsmouth Harbour from a French invasion that never came. Now, after being restored it is home to the Royal Armouries Artillery Collection. Because of Covid restrictions, most of the galleries were closed. In the entrance hall is a huge cannon cast in bronze.
What a masterpiece of medieval Turkish craftsmanship. The cannon was cast in two parts: the barrel and the powder chamber which then screw together. In all – its 17 feet long. And all produced nearly 600 years ago. In the 1860s the Sultan presented the cannon to Queen Victoria. (Because of using the panoramic facility on the camera, the cannon appears to be curved.
From Fort Nelson, I drove six miles to the village of Titchfield where I wanted to visit the Abbey ruins. The Abbey was first built in the 13th century. It was the home of a community of canons who were similar to monks, but they also preached and served as priests in the local community. After the Monasteries were dissolved, Henry VIII gave the abbey to one of his courtiers who transformed the buildings into a grand Tudor mansion.
As I was leaving, so the rain began. I headed back to the site for lunch and listened to the rain for the rest of the day.
It’s the final day and fortunately, the rain has stopped and the forecast is good. Two weeks ago I made an online booking to travel on the Watercress Line – the familiar name for the Mid-Hants Heritage Steam Railway. Because of Covid, the timetable is suspended. Instead, bookings are made for the morning train (or the afternoon service) travelling from Arlesford to Alton. On arrival, the train stops for an hour, before returning with passengers sitting in the same booked compartment. One family group to each compartment – so I had one to myself.
Since it was not too far away from the railway, I went to visit the house in which Jane Austin lived for the latter part of her life. The house of course is closed, but it’s a lovely village to wander through.
And this was the final day. Tomorrow is the day to go home.