Aromas and songs welcoming us…
As we step through into the cathedral courtyard, we are hit by the warm aromas of mulled wine and roasting chestnuts. The sounds of traditional Christmas songs are interspersed by the shrieks of laughter of the children spinning circles on the ice rink. My eyes are drawn to the many stalls lining the cathedral walls, each with its own bright and colourful displays. We stand there breathing in the rich scents and taking in the warm and welcoming sights and sounds, happy in the knowledge that we have made the right choice to come here.
With Christmas fast approaching, my mind has inevitably turned to Christmas shopping. I’d already made a quick post-work run to Southampton’s shopping centre, which spans over 3 floors and has over 100 shops. Despite this, I still had a few gifts left to buy and a spare Saturday to fill. For the experience of a unique day out, therefore, I decided to visit the beautiful, historic city of Winchester.
With its luscious green parks, small independent shops and grand medieval cathedral, Winchester is always an impressive city to visit. During the winter period, Winchester adds an extra element of enchantment as it becomes home to one of the top Christmas markets in Europe. The city is only 20 minutes’ drive from Southampton and an even quicker train journey, making it a perfect destination for a day out.
A friend and I, therefore, jumped in the car and drove to Winchester. We parked and headed into the centre. Before starting our shopping, we decided to stop off for a hot chocolate at the lovely, independent chocolate shop and café, Chococo. I went for a dark vegan blend with oak milk and my friend a lighter, sweeter one with cream. Both were delicious.
The Christmas atmosphere…
After our brief break, we headed up the high street, exploring the shops along the way. Winchester has a great collection of boutique and designer independent shops, alongside some bigger name brands, so there was plenty of choice for our gift buying. Along the centre of the street was a market, just a normal one, selling fruit and vegetables, fresh bread, clothes and the occasional Christmas item.
The atmosphere of the town became increasingly festive as we headed further towards the centre. A band played cheerful, jazzy Christmas songs in front of the Buttercross, which is an ornately carved monument that stands proudly at the heart of Winchester. A little further along the street, a group sang carols to raise money for charity. Crowning these cheery singers was the town’s Christmas tree bedecked with twinkling lights.
Infected by the Christmas atmosphere, we decided that it was time to check out the Christmas market, which is held in the grounds of the Cathedral, just a few minutes walk from the main street. In front of the cathedral were just a few wooden chalets, selling handmade jewellery, wooden gifts and children’s toys. Two old-fashioned carts sold hot mulled wine and fresh churros, which you could watch being made in front of you.
Having heard amazing things about the market, we were a little disappointed by what was on offer. That is until we noticed the long queue of people winding its way around the back of the cathedral. Realising our mistake, we joined the line of people waiting to enter. The queue moved forward quickly and we soon reached the true Winchester Christmas market and the last tinges of our disappointment vanished in an instant.
The first thing we noticed were the lights. At this point, darkness had fallen but the market itself was bathed in a warm, inviting light. The medieval stone walls of the cathedral were lit up, creating the illusion that we had stepped into the past. This created the perfect backdrop for the stalls lining the walls, which were built in the style of alpine chalets. The stalls’ colourful displays provided a striking contrast with the yellow glow. In the middle of the market was the ice rink, which was filled with young couples gliding over the ice, hand in hand. Racing between them were gaggles of excited children.
We made our way around the stalls, stopping here and there to admire the items on offer. Many of the stalls sell handmade woollen clothes, handcrafted wooden items and jewellery. In amongst these were a few unique gems, including a stall with exquisite ornate baubles hand-painted from the inside and another selling luxurious rugs made entirely from recycled plastic bottles. My favourite stall of all, though, sold beautiful old-fashioned kaleidoscopes, each one made uniquely by hand.
As we circled towards the end we reached the food and drink stalls. The rich aromas of hot spiced mulled wine, sizzling bratwurst and roasting chestnuts filled our noses. I stopped to buy a mulled wine and continued my wandering with the warm drink cupped in my hands. There was a magnificent selection of edible gifts on offer. The variety of alcohol was also impressive, with stalls selling toffee vodka, local ales and innovative gin combinations.
With our bags filled with gifts and our stomachs filled with warm, delicious food, we wandered contentedly back to the car. On our way, we stop just briefly to admire the towns’ elegant Christmas lights before continuing on our way. The walk back also took us past many quaint cottages with miniature doors, all decorated charmingly in preparation for Christmas. Once we reached the car, we climbed in and drove the short distance home.
chestnut – a brown nut that can be roasted and eaten. Popular during the winter.
cathedral – the main church of a district, under the care of a bishop (= a priest of high rank)
boutique – a small shop/store that sells fashionable clothes or expensive gifts
festive – connected with the period when people celebrate Christmas
Monument – building, column, statue, etc. built to remind people of a famous person or event
carol – a Christian religious song sung at Christmas
bedecked – bedeck something/somebody (with/in something) (literary) to decorate something/somebody with flowers, flags, precious stones, etc.
chalet – a wooden house with a roof that slopes steeply down over the sides, usually built in mountain areas, especially in Switzerland
mulled wine – red wine that has been heated with sugar and spices.
Churros – a sweet Spanish snack made with fried dough
ice rink a specially prepared flat surface of ice, where you can ice-skate; a building where there is an ice rink
bauble a decoration for a Christmas tree in the shape of a ball
kaleidoscope – a toy consisting of a tube that you look through with loose pieces of coloured glass and mirrors at the end. When the tube is turned, the pieces of glass move and form different patterns
bratwurst – a type of German pork sausage
cottage – a small house, especially in the country