qatsi (qatsi) wrote,

Most capital

The Roman town of Venta Belgarum ("The wind of the Belgians", or with a little poetic licence, "Belgian Farts") must at some point have been known as Venta Castra, from which we derive Winchester, to which kharin and I paid a visit yesterday.

Arriving in the morning, and making use of the excellent Park and Ride service, we were most disappointed to find the "donations" desk at the Cathedral was closed, so we had a good look around for free. Of course Ye Gifte Shoppe never closes, and we did venture into there. Amongst the tat was a fairly decent music section; two mad organ music CDs featuring the Cathedral's own organ, one including arragements of Orb and Sceptre and Finlandia, the other including Danse Macarbre. Which to choose? In the end I decided to splash out on both. Apparently it takes two to operate the till in these places; it does make you think of the Charity Shop in The League of Gentlemen. Their chip-and-pin system decided to decline my first card for unknown reasons, but was happy to accept another, for which they then needed a signature rather than a PIN. Rearrange the words "breakfast dog's" into a common phrase or saying. The branded paper bag boasted that "You will be pleased to know that all profits are used for the maintenance and mission of the Cathedral". I'm happy about the maintenance, but if the mission involves something about spreading the word of God, I'd like that part of my money back.

By the afternoon, the "donations" desk had opened, and be warned, the automatic doors at the House of Mammon do not allow you to exit without passing it. However, we were looking for the tour of the Tower. The price of £3 instinctively seemed a bit steep, but turned out to be very good value. The two volunteer guides (seconded from the WI or the National Trust, I'm not sure which) knew their stuff and took us on an interesting route, pointing out the subsidence suffered by the Cathedral over the centuries, and the Roman origin of some of the stone pillars (apparently Norman technology was not up to that job). The tower dates from the eleventh century, though it had major reparations about twenty years later, and the main part of the Cathedral dates from the 1380s with further major work in the 1690s. The staircase up the tower itself was exceedingly compact and bijou; not intrinsically difficult to climb, but very awkward when people in front blocked the light from the windows, and with one or two rather worn steps you had to be very careful. As well as an excellent view from the top, we saw the bell chamber and, below it, the ringing chamber. At this point there was a slight smell of burning or smouldering. Our guides became very animated and demonstrated their grasp of modern technology by singularly failing to communicate with mission control via their two-way radios. They gave up and put the radio away, at which point their bag began speaking back. Later investigation by "experts" revealed that the smell was due to "bats", which no-one believed, but as there has been no news that the cathedral has burnt down, maybe they were right. After about an hour and a half the tour completed with a walk through the roof vault back to the Cathedral entrance.

This left us enough time to see the Great Hall and the reconstructed Queen Eleanor's Garden before returning to the Park and Ride. Within walking distance, but poorly signposted, lies St Catherine's Hill, with its ancient hill fort, and interesting horticultural folly, the Miz Maze. We ascended for a final view just before the sun began to set.
Tags: places
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