If you like sightseeing and love beer, the roman city of Winchester is perfect.
Not only is there lots of history, heritage and fine architecture dotted throughout the city’s medieval streets, but there are also many excellent traditional pubs serving excellent real ale.
This pub crawl and walking tour of Winchester allows you to see many of the sights of the city while sampling real ale from some of Hampshire’s 30+ breweries.
It includes attractions such as Winchester Cathedral, the Great Hall, Winchester College, the River Itchen and the two surviving medieval gates to the city – Westgate and Kingsgate. Some of the pubs along route also have a story to tell.
Five pub stops
The walk is a shade under three miles in total (around one hour 30 minutes’ walking time). But there are five pub stops along the way, giving you more than enough opportunity to catch your breath.
All the pubs listed here are dog-friendly if you want to bring your canine companion, although some of the attractions in the city such as the Great Hall don’t allow dogs.
It’s best to leave yourself several daylight hours to complete the walk, especially if you want to sample a few ales along the way and take in the majesty of the city.
The walk starts and ends at the railway station where there are regular trains from Portsmouth, Southampton, London, Basingstoke, Reading and Bournemouth.
Many buses also stop at the station, including two services that orbit the city centre – the Stagecoach Number 5 service and Park and Ride service (which you can still use to get around the city if you haven’t used the Park and Ride).
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Winchester pub crawl and walking tour
Pub 1 – The Albion
The Albion is the first pub on the route, about a minute’s walk from the eastern side of the station (platform 2). Head down the hill and you can’t miss it – it’s the grey building on the corner to the left of the junction.
The pub is one of three pubs owned by the Flower Pots Brewery in nearby Cheriton. Being on the corner of a junction where several roads meet, the pub is an unusual V-shape. It’s light and airy and a great place to watch the world go by out the window.
There are four hand pumps for real ale, usually featuring the Flower Pots’s own award-winning beers including Gooden’s Gold and Flower Pots Bitter (or “Pots” if you want to sound like a local). The pub occasionally features guest ales from other local breweries too.
There’s no cooked food, although bar snacks like pork pies and scotch eggs are available.
From the Albion, head along Andover Road (left from the pub’s main door). Then take the second road on the right down Worthy Lane and then the second right again (Hyde Church Lane).
Straight ahead at the crossroads at the bottom of the lane is the site of what many believe is King Alfred the Great’s final resting place, Hyde Abbey.
King Alfred ruled the Kingdom of Wessex, of which Winchester was the latterly the capital city, from 871 to his death in 899. The story goes that King Alfred was reburied in the grounds of Hyde Abbey in the 12th century, 200 or so years after he died.
All that remains of the abbey now is the odd bit of stonework by the millstream and the gatehouse. This is on the right-hand side of the road, a moment’s walk down King Alfred Place.
Nobody knows where the King’s grave is, or if his remains are still on the site of the abbey.
Pub 2 – Hyde Tavern
You can see the Hyde Tavern from the top of King Alfred Place. It’s a little way along the street from the crossroads.
Outside, it’s a cute, two-gabled building sandwiched between two taller buildings. Inside, it’s everything you’d expect from a traditional inn – low-beamed ceilings, open fires, sloping flagstone floors. It’s cosy in winter and a cool respite from the hot sun in the summer.
Downstairs there’s a cellar room that hosts folk music gigs, poetry nights and the like. The stairs also lead to a rustic beer garden, which is bit of a sun trap come summer.
Beer-wise, there are up to seven real ales available – three on tap and four on gravity dispense from casks behind the bar. Expect to see beers from Hampshire breweries such as Red Cat and Bowman Ales as well as the odd beer from Sussex and Wiltshire.
Like the Albion, there’s no food here. But you’re welcome to bring your own or order a takeaway – the pub will supply cutlery and plates for a small charge.
Note that this pub doesn’t open until 5pm on weekdays. But it’s open from 12pm on Saturday and Sunday.
God Begot House and the Butter Cross
When you leave the Hyde Tavern, head left back towards the city centre along Hyde Street. When you reach the traffic lights, continue straight along Jewry Street.
At the next traffic lights, head down St George’s Street. Then duck down the passageway beside the Royal Oak pub.
The Royal Oak is one of the oldest pubs in England. The building dates from the 11th century, and it’s been a pub since around 1400.
The timber-framed building with the overhanging floor on the opposite side of the passageway dates from around the same time. This is God Begot House, which was formerly a safe-house for criminals and the like, due to its status as a separate manor within the city limits.
You’ll exit the passageway on the High Street, which claims to be the oldest street in any UK city. Look up and you’ll see the beautiful High Street clock. This next to the curfew bell tower. The bell inside still rings at 8pm every evening.
Further down the High Street is the ornate Butter Cross. This is where traders would have sold produce such as milk, eggs, cheese and – you guessed it – butter to the townspeople.
Nowadays the High Street is usually chock full of market stalls instead.
King Alfred statue and the Nunnaminster
Continue down the High Street onto the Broadway and you’ll soon glimpse the imposing bronze statue of King Alfred looking back at you from the very bottom of the hill.
Don’t go as far as the statue itself though – instead go down Abbey Passage, the alleyway next to the Gothic-style Victorian Guildhall.
They love their abbeys in Winchester, and this is the site of another, known initially as Nunnaminster and later, St Mary’s Abbey. King Alfred’s wife Queen Ealhswith founded the abbey around 900 and died there in 902.
The abbey was rebuilt and extended several times. Then in the 1500s it was demolished. All that remains now is a sunken, fenced-off area that houses some of the abbey’s ruins and the stone graves of four people – an adult, a child and four babies.
At the end of Abbey Passage, turn left down Colebrook Street. Follow the road left around the bend at the bottom of the road and then nip into Scott Garden, which overlooks the River Itchen.
Take the steps down onto the pathway and go right. This picturesque area beside the river s known as The Weirs or Wolvesey Slips.
Follow the river until it disappears under a converted warehouse. Go left here over the river and you’ll see the next pub, the Black Boy, about halfway up the hill in front of you.
Pub 3 – The Black Boy
Not only is the Black Boy everything you’d want in a traditional pub – well-kept beers, tasty and simple food, cosy nooks, open fires, amusing graffiti in the toilets – but the pub also boasts an amazing collection of quirky and eccentric bric-a-brac, artwork and taxidermy.
This makes it arguably the most well-known pub in Winchester and the one most people head for on a visit to the city.
The real ale in the Black Boy is almost always from Hampshire breweries such as Alfred’s, Itchen Valley Brewery, Andwell’s, Flower Pots and Bowman Ales. Beer from Salisbury’s Hopback Brewery is also often available.
Food-wise, it’s proper, simple homecooked fare such as doorstop sandwiches, beer-battered fish and chips, shepherds pie and the like with good-value roast dinners on a Sunday.
The pub has five rooms full of treasures to explore as you sip on your ale.
There’s also a sheltered garden nestled beside the building.
On leaving the Black Boy, go back the way you came back to The Weirs pathway and turn left. Follow the path as it hugs the medieval walls of the city, which are at their original height at this point.
After a few hundred yards you’ll reach a gap in the walls where you can access the ruins of Wolvesey Castle (open 10am to 5pm, April to October; closed November to March). This complex – which was more like a palace than a castle – included a great hall, barns, stables, a prison and towers.
The castle was the main residence of the bishops of Winchester from around 1100 until 1680. It fell into ruin with the coming of the new Bishop’s Palace, which still stands grandly next to the old castle.
Across the street from the gates to the new Bishop’s Palace is Winchester College, one of the oldest schools in England.
William of Wykeham, who was born in nearby Wickham, set up the school in the 1390s. One of its goals was to be a feeder school to New College in Oxford, which William also founded.
The first private home you come to on the left-hand side of the road after the school is 8 College Street. This is where novelist Jane Austen died in 1817. She’s buried in the cathedral.
Pub 4 – The Wykeham Arms
Our next pub – the Wykearm Arms – is named after the aforementioned founded of Winchester College. It’s on the corner of Canon Street and Kingsgate Street.
The building dates from 1755 and was apparently a brothel for a short time back in the day. Now it’s a classy and cosy pub.
There’s plenty to see once you enter through the pub’s distinctive curved doors. And although the collection of memorabilia and bric-a-brac isn’t quite as wacky as the Black Boy’s, there are hundreds of treasures adorning its walls and ceiling.
Among these are many connections to the nearby school, including a collection of old canes and several reclaimed desks lined up along one wall. There’s also loads of cricket memorabilia and hundred of tankards.
The Wykeham Arms is a Fuller’s pub, so the ale is mostly limited to the brewery’s own such as “London Pride”, “Seafarers” and “HSB”. However, the pub regularly has one guest ale on, typically from a local brewery such as Flower Pots.
The pub serves food in the bar and there’s a couple of restaurant areas at each end of the L-shaped bar.
The Kingsgate and Cathedral Close
Head up to the arches of the Kingsgate when you leave the pub. This is one of the two surviving medieval gates to the city (along with the Westgate).
Within the arches is a charming book and picture shop. Above the arches is the tiny St Swithun-upon-Kingsgate church, which was added around the 13th or 14th century.
Next, go right and pass under the Prior’s Gate. This takes you into Inner Close, a sheltered and tranquil area around the city’s cathedral.
Immediately on entering the close you’ll see the timber-framed Cheyney Court. This is a residential property that dates from the 15th century. Part of it is covered in dazzling wisteria flowers in springtime.
You can then wander over the Inner Close to the archways of Curle’s Passage, which takes you to the Outer Close in front of the cathedral.
Watch out for the limping monk, which is said to haunt this area.
When you reach the Outer Close, hug the flintstone wall on the left-hand side until you reach the crossroads where Great Minster Street, Symonds Street, Little Minster Street and Minster Lane meet.
Continue up Minster Lane. Go left at St Thomas Street and then go up St Thomas Passage, which is a few yards along on the right.
There’s a lovely view back down the passage and on to the cathedral when you reach Southgate Street. Opposite is Serle’s House, which is home to the Royal Hampshire Regiment Museum.
Peninsula Barracks and the Great Hall
Next, go up Archery Lane, which is a few yards left of Serle’s House. Follow signs for the Romsey Road – this will take you through some communal gardens and up a steep hill into the Peninsula Barracks complex.
This impressive set of buildings, complete with manicured lawns, a large pond and fountains, was built in the early 20th century. The site was a military barracks from 1796 to 1965. Most of the complex is now in residential use, with some buildings set aside for several other military museums.
Henry III added the Great Hall to the castle in the early 13th century. In it hangs the famous Winchester Round Table. The table was probably originally created for a Round Table tournament around the same time as Henry III built the hall. These tournaments, popular in the Middle Ages, celebrated the time of King Arthur with jousting, feasting and dancing.
The paintwork on the table dates from 1522. It shows Henry VIII sitting atop a tudor rose and bears the names of various knights of King Arthur’s court.
You’ll need to walk out onto Romsey Road and turn right if you want to go inside the Great Hall (open all year, 10am to 5pm; suggested donation, £3) – the entrance is on the cobbled Castle Avenue, opposite our final pub stop – The Westgate.
Pub 5 – The Westgate
This pub is named after Westgate to the ancient city, which is across the road from the pub. This gateway, which was built around the 12th century, was in use until 1959 when the council built a road around it. It’s now a small free museum (opening times vary, closed November to February), having also been put to use as a prison in the past.
The Westgate pub opened to serve railway passengers in the late 19th century. Inside, the L-shaped pub is modern but retaining some original features such as etched windows, bare brick walls and wooden floors. As well as standard pub seating, there are stools that look out to the Westgate and old buildings around the Great Hall.
There’s a changing selection of ale here from the likes of Flack Manor, Flower Pots, Red Cat Brewing and Itchen Valley Brewery. There’s a modestly priced food menu too with everything from burgers and steaks to salmon and vegetarian risotto.
Getting back to the train station
The train station is a 5-10 minute walk from the Westgate. Go left out of the pub door and follow Upper High Street.
At the railway bridge, don’t cross but continue right – the entrance to the station is at the bottom of the hill.
Over to you
Have you been to any of the pubs or sights on this pub crawl? What pubs and attractions do you recommend in Winchester?
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Map of the pubs and historic sites in Winchester
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