Originally, I was intending to do Calleva on Sunday, but my train was five minutes late into Basingstoke. That is exactly the amount of time I had to change — five minutes — and by the time I got to the track, the train was gone. The next train to Mortimer, the closest stop to the Roman ruins of Silchester, wouldn’t be leaving for another hour. So I checked the train schedules and saw that there would be a train to Winchester in only fifteen minutes. I changed my plans, and soon I was heading south.
It turned out to be a good thing that I didn’t try to do both in one day. Once I’d walked all the way around the old town of Winchester, my feet were killing me, and I was developing a blister on my little toe.
But Winchester was great. The first place I visited was Winchester Castle, on the hill close to the train station. All that remains of the medieval castle is the hall where the famous “Round Table of King Arthur” hangs.
Of course, the impressive decoration has nothing to do with fifth and sixth century Britain and the battles that were being fought against the Saxons and other Germanic tribes (and their allies) at that time. That’s the setting of The Pendragon Chronicles, and not the chivalric version of Arthurian myth created by the writers of the middle ages. The Winchester round table has been dated to the thirteenth century. Although it has nothing to do with the historical figure of Arthur (if he even existed), the round table has everything to do with the Arthurian legends and how significant they had become by the high middle ages. By that time, the Normans were in power in England, and even though they fought the Celtic kingdoms on their fringes, they appropriated a Romano-British hero into their mythology of kingship.
After walking all over the city, I’m pretty sure Chris and I skipped it on our England trip a dozen years ago when we did so many of the other sites of Yseult. I walked along the perimeters of the southern and eastern parts of what was once Venta Belgarum, and it certainly gave me an impression of how big the Roman city had been. In the south-eastern corner, there is still a long stretch of the Roman wall. In The Pendragon Chronicles, I refer to the city as Venta rather than by its full Roman name of “Venta Belgarum.” That’s quite a mouthful, after all. I figure that, much in the same way Sorviodunum became Sarum or Londinium became London, Venta Belgarum was probably shortened to Venta. “Venta” was integrated into the Germanic name for the city, Winchester, whereas “Belgarum” has disappeared — except in names of businesses in Winchester.
I also visited Wolvesey Castle, the ruins of the former bishop’s seat. I originally intended to have Cerdic’s seat located there in A Wasted Land, but I might change that. The western edge of the former Roman city, where the medieval castle stood, is much higher in elevation than the eastern, which is next to the river. Cerdic strikes me as the kind of guy who would equate elevation with status. I will have to see if anything is known of what might have stood there in Roman times. Seeing as the site has been continuously occupied for millennia, there has been very little archeological work done in Winchester, and only a few Roman buildings have been excavated, prior to modern construction work.
Nonetheless, seeing Winchester was great for giving me a feel of the lay of the land for the scene I’ve been posting recently for WIPpet Wednesdays. Perhaps with my new knowledge, I’ll try a rewrite of one of the scenes and repost, just for sh*ts and giggles.
Aside from details pertinent to the WIP, I also saw lots of half-timbered houses, the cathedral, gardens, and the house where Jane Austen lived in the weeks before she died. A very nice day, even if it didn’t turn out quite as planned.
You can see all of my pictures of Winchester here.
Other posts from my research trip:
– Indulging in a research trip to England: Salisbury and Amesbury
– Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral
– Old Sarum