Tag Archives: Hampshire food

Winchester City Mill

A little bit of history

A little bit of history

There’s no denying that when you live in a place you often don’t make an effort to visit many of its attractions, probably because you think that there will always be another opportunity to do so.  This was definitely the case with the Winchester City Mill, which I have passed many times en route to the various  drinking and eating establishments located in that part of town, but never actually entered. Until I was given a National Trust membership card for my birthday (I’m only 31, but you’re never too young to appreciate a bit of heritage, right Mum?)

And what a lovely experience it was too.

Bread. Freshly baked bread. And butter. Is any food more primal? The smell alone is enough to make the most steadfastly ‘functional-eater’ drool with anticipation as they imagine the golden pat gently melting, dripping slowly over the soft, fluffy centre towards the brown, crusty outer. You can tell that I haven’t had dinner yet. The point being that bread has been – still is – so vital to our human history that an historic mill is a fascinating place to visit, especially when set up as well as it is in Winchester, and staffed with such enthusiastic volunteers.

On the day we went the mill was in action, the huge stones grinding the grain to make the flour that was being packed up and lugged about the place, and that really added to the atmosphere. Downstairs you can stand right by the giant wheel as it churns up the River Itchen with strong, powerful turns. You’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s the

Here it is - the fruits of their labour. And infinitesimally better for you that the white stuff from Tesco.

Here it is – the fruits of their labour. And infinitesimally better for you that the white stuff from Tesco (*don’t sure me, I am not a professional)

mill wheel itself that controls the flow of the river, not the other way around, until you notice how strong the rapids are, moving below your feet under the metal bridge. Exhilarating.

It’s one of the oldest surviving examples of a working urban cornmill, and we are actually rather lucky to have it on our doorstep. Although nowadays the Winchester City Mill is mainly for eduction, they do produce between 15-20 tonnes of flour each year, most of which ends up in National Trust shops and restaurants, with the rest going to local businesses and bakers – you can even buy some flour for yourself (without paying the entry fee, I should add).

In short, it’s well worth a visit. If you do go, I’d urge you to see when they are baking – not only will you get some very tasty treats offered to you, but the ladies there are very knowledgeable and more than happy to share recipes and baking tips with anyone who asked – we’ve got a wicked sourdough in the pipeline. And it will all set you back less than a fiver.

At a glance

  • Historic city mill with live demonstrations
  • Open from 10am, but check the website for details
  • £4.40 for adults, £2.20 for children, £11 for families (visit the website)

Church Paddock Trout Fishery, Winchester

View of the lake at the fishery. Taken from www.churchpaddock.co.uk

View of the lake at the fishery. Taken from http://www.churchpaddock.co.uk

My knowledge of ‘catch your own’ fisheries is lacking, at best – a few forays into overcrowded, murky ponds as a child (followed by the fear of actually catching something and having no idea what to do next) was as far as I ever got – but the little experience I’ve had has led me to be suspicious.

However, the Church Paddock Trout Fishery is as lovely as it sounds. It’s a simple place, set within five acres of landscaped grounds, and from the minute you get there it feels like a place you definitely want to buy fish from. When we went on a Saturday morning there were groups of friendly local anglers, keen to show off their catch, and I didn’t feel anywhere near as out of place as I thought I might. In fact, once I got them taking about their fish, there was hardly any stopping them!

We went along to buy some fish (rather than catch it ourselves) and Eddie (the helpful guy manning the counter) informed us that he’d just caught some half an hour earlier, and that he’d happily gut and fillet them for us. I should point out that we were lucky – normally you’d have to call them the day before to guarantee that they’ll have some, but they are happy to do this if you don’t actually want to fish yourself. We paid £8 for our trout, and the quality was fantastic (so much so that we turned it in to a simple raw tartare that evening) and it was as fresh as you can possibly get. They also sell smoked trout and salmon, as well as pâtés and the like, and I can vouch for these too. They are experimenting with smoking their own fish, and the result is a wonderful, thick sliced, oaky treat that is definitely up there as one of the best smoked fish I’ve tasted.

If you want to go one step further than I did, then obviously you can catch your own. Prices start a £25 for a “2-fish ticket” (I’m not sure why, but I find that quite amusing), and you can hire rods, bring your own, buy a 10-fish pass or even pay for angling lessons, which Eddie was more than happy to recommend. £12.50 for a whole trout isn’t actually that bad, and when you factor in the quality of the fish, the fun you’ll inevitably have catching it, and the fact that you might – just might – catch a whopper (the price is charged regardless of the size of the fish you catch), it suddenly seems like pretty good value. In the lake they have a variety of trout, including brown, blue and even rainbow. If you want to know more, Eddie’s definitely your man.

It’s becoming increasingly tricky to find ‘sustainable’ fish, and, personally, farmed fish often makes me uncomfortable – how many drugs are used to control disease in overpopulated pools? Will it taste as good as wild? But how can I be sure wild fish are sustainable? etc. etc. In other areas near the coast you can support local fishermen via ‘Community Supported Fishing’ schemes (like Catchbox) that allow them to catch what’s in season in a sustainable way, and give local consumers the chance to buy a variety of fresh, sustainable fish. Sadly that’s not usually a possibility when you live in land, so fish eaters need to look elsewhere – especially when you live in Winchester and there’s no fishmonger.

At Church Paddock they don’t use any chemicals in their waters – Eddie tells me that he’d rather sacrifice the whole stock of fish than start to interfere – and from a novice’s perspective, that philosophy seems to be working. The water in the lake is clear and the fish that we saw were slick, bright-eyed and red-gilled; just what you’d be looking for if you were buying from a market or a fish counter.

At a glance:

  • Local ‘catch your own’ trout
  • Fresh and frozen local smoked fish and pâtés
  • Licensed cafe and outdoor seating area
  • Parking
  • Family friendly
  • Dog friendly (on leads)
  • Open 8.30am – 5.30pm, 7 days a week (but phone Jamie ahead, just to be sure: 07765 591931)
  • http://www.churchpaddock.co.uk