WINCHESTER The city’s beautifully simple Norman Cathedral and historic Roman streets, narrow alleyways, footpaths and meadows (which inspired John Keats to write some of his most famous poetry including ‘Ode to a Nightingale’) give Winchester its compelling appeal. Winchester society is a force to be reckoned with. Much of it revolves around a tightly-knit farming set, for whom the sporting weekend is essential. It has several fashionable hunts and shooting estates, and the Houghton Club on the River Test provides some of the best trout fishing in the country. Upmarket and speciality shops can be found around the square and in side streets such as Parchment Street; there is an antiques market in King’s Walk. A park-and-ride scheme has eased parking problems. There are lots of pubs and restaurants. Art exhibitions are held at the Guildhall Gallery, the Winchester Gallery, the Heritage Centre and the new City Space; concerts at the Guildhall and in the Cathedral. The Chesil Theatre and John Stripe Theatre are busy with amateur theatrical productions, while the Theatre Royal attracts national and international stars. The Winchester Discovery Centre includes a library.
Little Minster and Great Minster, next to the Cathedral, are two of the best addresses in the country outside London. Close by is Winchester College, the boys’ public school founded in 1382 by William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester. Tourists are the main drawback – flocking through to see where William the Conqueror claimed his crown, and where King Canute and Jane Austen are buried, they can’t help pausing to look at the beautiful 18th-century houses. Small terraced homes in Cannon and Colebrook Streets are also sought after, though life here can be inconvenienced not only by parking problems, but also by film units seeking period backdrops. A tiny flat-fronted terraced house could cost between £250,000 and £300,000; a larger imposing Georgian house £400,000 to £700,000. At the lower end of the market, two-bedroom Victorian terraced houses fetch between £200,000 and £350,000, rising to £500,000 for three- to four-bedroom semis. The area by the watermeadows in St Cross is popular with young professional families. Here you can buy two-bedroom Victorian terraced houses, or two-bedroom flats in converted houses, for £225,000 to £300,000. Two up-and-coming areas within walking distance of the city centre are Hyde, where you would have to pay £350,000 for a three-bedroom Victorian terrace, and Fulflood, which is slightly cheaper.
Some people prefer the comparative peace of some of the avenues away from the city centre – Chilbolton and Bereweeke Avenues, for example, where houses range from Victorian to Sixties and a four-bedroom detached could be bought for £500,000. Just outside Winchester is a large modern development, Badger Farm. One-bedroom flats here cost £130,000; two-bedroom terraces £160,000; four-bedroom houses £250,000 to £300,000.
The neighbouring villages compete to be the most beautiful and socially spirited. The particularly desirable area to the north-east contains Itchen Abbas, a village described by Charles Kingsley in The Water Babies. The Pilgrims’ Way runs through it, as does the River Itchen. There is a primary school, a foodie pub, a village hall and the usual local societies. A four-bedroom period house here would cost £450,000 to £700,000. For cricket you must follow the river down to Easton, another pretty village with a mix of thatch and half-timber, Victorian and modern, with the snarl of the M3 in the distance. Avington is also in this select group. Most of its brick-and-flint cottages are protected within a conservation area. Its flagship is Avington Park, a fine Carolean mansion set in ancient parkland with a lake, which is open to the public. You could expect to pay £275,000 for a two-bedroom thatched cottage in any of these villages.
,b>New Alresford attracts day-trippers because of the Watercress Line, an eccentric railway that offers a half-hour return journey through Hampshire farmland, chalk cuttings and hills. Awarded top place by Country Life magazine as the South-East’s ‘Favourite Market Town’, Alresford features rows of striking pastel-painted Georgian town houses and quirky upmarket shops. A weekly market is held in Broad Street on Thursdays. Small two- and three-bedroom Georgian terraced houses around the centre can be bought for £350,000. Neighbouring Old Alresford has a fine church and village pond. A four-bedroom detached family house costs between £350,000 and £450,000.
To the north-west is Crawley, where there are some picturesque thatched cottages by the village duck pond. It has the kind of star quality that earns it regular appearances on scenic calendars. As an old estate village it was planned as a whole, and some of the architecture is flamboyant. You could pay £500,000 for a detached bungalow or £450,000 for a semi-detached period cottage with three bedrooms. A larger detached house with grounds could reach £1m to £2m.
Sparsholt is rural and convivial, and provides the opportunity for walks from the back door into the hills and woodland in Farley Mount Park. The village is particularly proud of its church-controlled primary school, though the influx of new home-owners don’t always use it. There is a village shop, post office and a hall, funded partly through the efforts of the local community, where country and salsa dancing happens. Property prices are similar in most of the villages throughout this area. Due south of Winchester the M3 has snaked its way across Twyford Down to join the M27, leaving the old M3 a bizarre sight in a conservation area with the old motorway bridge surrounded by grass.