On our last day in lovely England, Thor and I took the Poet’s Walk, the favorite ramble of John Keats when he stayed in Winchester. The mellow path follows the River Itchen through town and fields, allowing Keats to compose one of his last poems, “To Autumn,” which starts:
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run….
Enjoying the sunny early-autumn weather, we admired the swans on the placid river, crossing fields to our destination of The Hospital of St. Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty. This medieval almshouse was founded between 1133 and 1136 by the grandson of William the Conqueror. It’s the oldest charitable institution in the United Kingdom, and has remained continuously in service since then. A “hospital” in the sense of providing hospitality, it originally housed noblemen who had fallen into poverty, and still is home to about 25 “Brothers” who are provided apartments on the condition that they attend daily services in the beautiful Norman church.
We spent a tranquil afternoon in the lovely gardens and church, which featured some gorgeous stained glass and a wonderful vaulted ceiling. We then visited the classic medieval dining hall and kitchen, beautifully preserved.
And we didn’t forget the tradition of the Wayfarer’s Dole. If you ask the porter, you receive a cup of wonderful local ale and a piece of bread, as travelers have enjoyed for centuries. After we accepted our portions, the porter informed us that we could no longer claim we’d never been “on the dole.”
Raise a cup to Merry Old England! We’re already plotting a return trip.