Recently in travel Category

A few weeks ago, the bloke and I took a day trip at one day over the weekend to see friends in the Cotswolds. On the way, we decided to visit Chipping Campden, which is one of my favourite Cotswold villages. The village was a market town, and in the middle ages, the area was famous for the wool trade. The village is picturesque and the buildings are all made of light brown stone, similar to the buildings in Bath. When the sun is shining and in the evening, the buildings are particularly attractive and turn "gold" in colour. There are also a few thatched cottages in the village.

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Chipping Campden

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Buildings in Chipping Campden

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Chipping Campden

While in Chipping Campden, we decided to get a bite to eat and ended up in the Badger's Hall Tea Rooms across from the old covered market hall. I ordered the tea that came with cheesey crumpets, teacakes, scones, and a slice of cake. The food was nice, but the tea was a bit of a let-down.  

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Afternoon tea with cheesy crumpets and teacakes

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Afternoon tea in the Cotswolds

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Scones and clotted cream

There was too much food, so the cake went home with us, but it was delicious. The cake was banana, coconut and cherry. 

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Coconut, cherry and banana cake

After the afternoon tea, we had a wander around the village and stopped in a couple of different shops.

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Chipping Campden

We admired the old covered market hall, which had been around since the middle ages. The cobbled stones inside were worn down. I wish I could go back in time to see what this was like.

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Old Market Hall

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Old Market Hall

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While we were driving out of Chipping Campden, we saw a few beautiful "dream houses" - thatched cottages. Some of these had beautiful landscaped gardens. I took a few photographs of some of the cottages. We saw a group of tourists getting photographs as well; they must have been on a bus tour.

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Thatched cottages

To start of 2014, we visited The Cider Pantry Tearooms. (This post is a little late in coming!) There were a lot of floods at the start of the year, and we managed to make it through the floodwaters to Burley in the New Forest (England). The Cider Pantry Tearooms serve roast lunch, dinner, breakfast, and afternoon tea. We had the full English breakfast, and I'd love to go back again to try the pancake breakfast and afternoon tea.

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I like Burley. I went to university just down the road in Bournemouth, and I did some freelance website work for someone in Burley. It's a nice New Forest village with some touristy shops, and it's right in the middle of the forest with plenty of pleasant walks and cycle ways. There's usually a group of New Forest ponies nearby, but in the floodwaters and rain, I think they had all gone into the forest to keep dry.

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We both had English breakfasts: bacon, egg, sausage, toast, mushrooms, and tomatoes. It was good. The bacon had a smoked flavour. The eggs could be cooked any way that you wanted. This was accompanied by a pot of tea.

I liked the green grass-like placemats and the table numbers made out the half of a slice of tree. Because it was just after Christmas, they were selling iced Christmas sugar cookies. I bought a couple of these.

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I just visited Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium for the second time, and this time, I brought along another guest. I visited right after the cafe opened and also booked a weekend with a guest to see the cats and have afternoon tea. (My original post with a lot of cat photographs is Tea, Cake and Cats at London's First Cat Cafe.) 

I took a lot of photographs of the cats, which I will share with you below. I was not disappointed, and I felt that this visit was better than my first. This time, a lot of the cats stayed upstairs, and although some of them were sleepy for part or all of the duration, some cats vyed for attention and we watched them play-fight each other, play with string, and climb upon the shelves. I enjoyed seeing the cats again.

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Carbonelle and Adamska (or is it Loki?)

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Romeo

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Afternoon tea and a special Lady Dinah's cat biscuit

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Mue, the mother

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Indiana

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Indiana

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Adamska (or is it Loki?)

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Biscuit, Indiana, and Petra

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Indiana and Petra

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Indiana and Petra

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Biscuit, Indiana, and Petra

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Biscuit, Indiana, and Petra

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Indiana

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Indiana

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Petra

Enjoy the cats!

I headed over to Leicester Square on Saturday with a friend to indulge in a chocolate-themed afternoon tea experience. The experience and a number of workshops feature David Leslie, a well-known chocolate expert. The venue was located in Leicester Square, and the view here was perfect. We had pefect weather and could see many of London's famous buildings from where we sat. I pointed out the tip of the Shard, Monument, the City's buildings, St. Paul's, Nelson's Column, Big Ben, and the Eye. The Penthouse is a bar, and David Leslie's chocolate and macaroon-making classes are held here during the day.

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A view of the City of London 

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Leicester Square


Our experience started off with a glass of champagne or berry cocktail. We both had a glass of champagne.

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Champagne

The desserts were brought over to us. We had one macaroon each, two chocolate-dipped strawberries, and two slices of cake. One slice of cake was praline chocolate, and the other one was raspberry with orange and white chocolate. The praline chocolate cake was not too rich; it was a subtle chocolate taste with perfect texture. I would have preferred it to taste a little richer. The other slice of cake (raspberry and white chocolate) was my preference. The chocolate-dipped strawberries were delicious, and I liked the mango (I believe this was the flavour) macaroon as well. My friend had a salted caramel macaroon.

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Slices of cake, strawberries, and macaroon

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Cake and chocolate strawberries in Leicester Square

While one group went to make their chocolate truffles, we were eventually given cups of hot chocolate. I was disappointed as I believed this would be pure melted chocolate, but it actually was not. It was a very watery hot chocolate. I have had much better hot chocolate, and I can cite Zaza in Notting Hill (Notting Hill Portobello Road Saturday Market) or even chain Cafe Nero as producing much nicer cups of hot chocolate. 

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Disappointing cup of hot chocolate

When it was eventually our time to make the truffles (we were the last table), I felt that it was a bit rushed as we were the last to do this. We were told to put the flavoured cream inside the hollow chocolate. There were two flavours of chocolate to choose from: white or dark. The flavours of cream to insert into them were raspberry, vanilla, and salted caramel. 

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Filling the chocolates

We were told to knock the chocolates in their plastic holder lightly onto the table to remove any air-holes inside and to top up with more filling if it was needed.

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Filling chocolate truffles

After the chocolates were filled with cream, we were told to seal them with more chocolate, which we drizzled on top.

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Sealed truffles

The final aspect of the chocolate decorating was to decorate our chocolates. This was all a little bit rushed for us as we were the last to go, and the tables who went earliest had more time. (This experience really did not seem to be organised too well, and the other tables had more time to make their chocolates and probably had the process explained to them because by the time we went up, we were rushed through in a fraction of the time as the others without really being what to do.) 

We were told to put edible shimmer onto the truffles with a brush and we were told that we could use the chocolate to drizzle some chocolate on top. We were not given a demonstration of this, though, and it would have been good to see examples of how to drizzle the chocolate to create nice designs.

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Decorating truffles

When we finished, we had to let the chocolate dry as much as we possible before packing it away to take away with us. I had mine that evening, and they were delicious. The vanilla and raspberry ones were so good. 

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Decorated truffles

Overall, the experience was alright, but it was a little chaotic. The staff were friendly, but there seemed to be some problems initially and we were told to go away and come back in thirty minutes. Also, the paperwork did mention filling and decorating macaroons as well, but we never did that and had only one macaroon each. (We did receive chocolate-dipped strawberries, though.) Our table was also rushed through the chocolate-decorating experience while the other tables had more time, so it was a little disappointing as was the hot chocolate. For the price of this experience, I would have expected a little more when comparing this with other afternoon tea and experiences. Judging by comments made by others online, it looks like others had the same complaints. 

On Board the Golden Hinde II

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A few weeks ago, we took a guided tour on the Golden Hinde II, a replica of the tallship that Francis Drake used to sail around the world and steal from the Spanish. Although the guided tour with a man dressed as a sailor was geared a little more for children, we learned some history about the ship and were taken to the various decks inside to learn about the conditions for those on board. The children helped to demonstrate the mechanism for pulling the anchors up and firing the guns on the deck below.

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Exterior of the Golden Hinde II

The replica ship was built in the 1970s, and it has sailed around various parts of the world for various events and was used in filming. We saw the Captain's room and quarters (though we had to be quick and saw these on our own and not on part of the tour because our tour over-ran a little bit.)

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The Golden Hinde II and a view of the City

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The decks

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Captain's room and carved heads

The Golden Hinde II is located in Pickford's Wharf, next to Borough Market and Southwark Cathedral and an interesting ruin, Winchester Palace.

A Tour of Big Ben

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Last summer, I had a tour to see the famous Big Ben, the bell inside the tower. Originally, the clock tower was named St. Stephen's Tower, but its name was changed to Elizabeth Tower last year in honour of the queen for her Diamond Jubilee. (A tower in the Houses of Parliament is named Victoria Tower, named after the Queen Victoria in her Diamond Jubilee as well.)

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Big Ben (Elizabeth Tower) before our tour

We arrived in the building across the street to begin our tour; access to Elizabeth Tower can be reached from a tunnel underground that connects the buildings with Parliament. We could not take photographs on the tour, but we climbed over 300 steps to the top. We stopped off at a couple of times. On the way up, we stopped off to have a look at the clock and bell mechanism and watched this when the clock struck a quarter to. We saw how the mechanism worked and saw old pennies on the weights to counter-act the machinery so that it keeps accurate time as changes in weather can affect it. We also saw the weights counter-act to ring the bells above.

Our last stop was to see Big Ben (the bell). The bell was cast at the same place as the American Liberty Bell (Whitechapel Bell Foundry). We listened to the bells and watched them as the struck on the hour. We saw the crack in the bell and the portcullis symbol engraved on it. There were excellent views over London from here.

On the way down, we walked around (behind) the clockface and were told about how the clockface was cleaned and about the gas lamps (now electric lamps) that used to light up the clockface.

To view a virtual tour of Big Ben, see: http://www.parliament.uk/visiting/online-tours/virtualtours/bigben-tour/  To view photographs of the inside of the tower, see: http://www.flickr.com/photos/uk_parliament/sets/72157615971627846/ 

For my birthday last June, I was treated to a trip to the observation deck on the top of the Shard, currently the tallest building in Europe. The Shard towers over the other buildings in London and is one of the few tall buildings on the south bank of the Thames; it stands 310 metres tall and has 72 floors. The observation deck is located just under the topmost floor and is open to the public. The Shard was completed in the summer of 2012 and before the Olympics.

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Tower Bridge with Canary Wharf in the distance

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The Shard

We arrived in the evening when it was still daylight, and we stayed and watched the sunset and watched the darkness settle over the city and watched as the lights started to twinkle. There are some great views of the City, Canary Wharf, and Tower Bridge. The Olympic Park could be seen to the east. Big Ben, BT Tower, and Bickingham Palace could also be seen, but these were further away.

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Tower Bridge and City Hall

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The Gherkin and east London. You can see the spire of Spitalfields (church) and the Truman Brewery smoke stack (next to where I work)

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The Olympic stadium and sculpture

The Shard observation decks contain several interactive screens which show you real-time views of London. Visitors can zoom in and out of objects in the distance. In addition, visitors can view the same picture at night, sunrise, sunset, or during the day to see the difference in the view over time. I loved playing with this and looking at the different views at different times of the day.

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Visitors in the observation deck

For those wishing to admire views from a lower level, there are now restaurants open on the lower floors. These are still high enough to appreciate the view but not as high as this. In some ways, I felt that the Shard was too high to appreciate some of London's beauty, and I am not the best with heights.

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Borough Market below the rail lines and part of Southwark Cathedral

The lift (elevator) up to the top went very quickly and was very smooth, and you can appreciate how quickly it ascends.

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The City: Tower 42, Walkie Talkie tower (being built), Gherkin. (A large part of 'the square mile')

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The City and London Bridge. You can make out the gold point on Monument

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Looking west. BT Tower in the haze, the Millennium Bridge and Blackfriar's Bridge

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St. Paul's Cathedral

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St. Paul's, Southwark and Millennium Bridges

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London Eye and Big Ben (in distance)

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The City

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Zoom-in of Big Ben and London Eye and Waterloo Station

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The City

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Canary Wharf

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Tower Bridge and Canary Wharf

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St. Paul's

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Blackfriar's, Millennium, Southwark and Cannon Street Bridges

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Tower Bridge and London glowing at dark

Have you been up the Shard? 

Bethnal Green Tube Disaster

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I enjoy reading history, and Bethnal Green is not too far from where I work. Bethnal Green has a lot of history, but it is most famous for a sad story that happened during World War II.

Seventy years ago last March (3 March, 1943) in the evening, the worst civilian disaster happened during World War II at Bethnal Green tube station. A plaque and memorial commemorates the 173 people who lost their lives when a woman and her child tripped and fell on the third step from the bottom on their way down into the air raid shelter (now tube station) stairs next to the monument when the sirens sounded.

As others from above rushed into the shelter in a panic amongst the sounds of sirens and anti-aircraft guns (which they mistook for bombs), unaware of the disaster happening below, people ended up tumbling over each other. The bodies piled up, several deep, and they ended up suffocated. Most of those who lost their lives were women, closely followed by children. Those who were wounded or involved suffered trauma; I'm sure this trauma lasted their lives.

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Bethnal Green memorial and tube station

At the time, the disaster was kept secret from the public in order to protect the nation's morale. Those involved were asked to keep quiet.

This disaster is sad, and so many lost their lives due to panic. A first-hand account of the disaster from one of the survivors can be read here: http://spitalfieldslife.com/2010/02/11/alf-morris-survivor-of-the-bethnal-green-tube-disaster/ 

Sweetness at Sugar High Bakery

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Sugar High Bakery is located in Frankenmuth, Michigan. The bakery won "Cupcake Wars", a reality television programme about baking cupcakes, in 2012. The bakery has several different flavours of cupcake as well as additional sweets (cookies, ice cream, and other items) available in its shop. There's also merchandise for sale. However, I felt that it could use a few additional tables in the cafe as there were only a couple of tables. 

When I visited, the shop was busy. I had a snickerdoodle cookie, and it was delicious. Snickerdoodles are my favourite. On my second visit, which was on a Monday morning, the shop was quiet. I managed to enjoy a cupcake and a sugar in the cafe. Both were nice.

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Sugar High bakery

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A sugar cookie

In the cafe, I had a milk cupcake. The cupcake was a very moist vanilla flavour. The icing and cake was not too sweet, and it was light. 

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Milk cupcake

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Cupcakes

We bought some cupcakes. Mine was a lime cupcake. The cupcake was light and the lime icing was sweet and a little tart. This was a nice combination. However, it was slightly too much icing for my taste as part of the cupcake is hollowed out on top in order to stuff more icing in. The cake-to-icing ratio was not exactly to my taste. The cupcakes were delicious and looked delicious. 

A Day Out in Winchester with Afternoon Tea

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Winchester is down the road from where I live, but I don't often need to visit it. However, I decided to have a day out to walk around the town and have afternoon tea. Winchester was once the capital of England, and some pieces of its history remains. Some castle remains and tunnels can be seen near The Great Hall, and there's a part of the city wall, impressive cathedral, market cross, old mill, and Tudor-style buildings and passages. 

Part of the city wall, Westgate near the site of the castle, can be climbed. There's a museum on the top, and there are some nice views down the High Street. This is at the top of the hill.

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Winchester city wall

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Gargoyles on Westgate 

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View of the High Street from the top of the hill

In the middle of the high street is the buttercross, a market cross. The buttercross was built in the early 14th century. Goods were sold here.

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Buttercross

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Detail of buttercross

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Clock

Some of the signage on the high street in Winchester feature pictures or sculptures of goods that would be sold in the shops. There are many of these around old towns in England as people in old times were illiterate. Winchester has a few of these, including the boot and kettle below. 

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Kettle and boot

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View looking up the high street

Winchester Cathedral and the close have some pretty buildings, and the water meadows are near here, and there are some nice walks to smaller villages outside of Winchester. At the entrance to the close along the high street is a tall steel sculpture structure that is covered in lights. The structure changes colour depending on commands send via text message to it. It is fun to visit in the evening and watch it change colour in response to text messages. 

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Winchester cathedral

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Cathedral close

I had afternoon tea as Maison Blanc at the bottom of the High Street. The afternoon tea included English Breakfast tea, a mini chocolate eclair, mini apricot almondine, mini lemon meringue, mini chocolate brownie and mini Millefeille Framboises. My favoruites were the lemon meringue and the Millefeille Framboises.

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Afternoon tea pastries at Maison Blanc

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Afternoon tea

Before I had the afternoon tea, I had a BLT sandwich on baguette and a glass of white wine. This was promptly followed by tea and pastries.

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BLT sandwich and wine

At the bottom of the hill is the statue of King Alfred, which is one of the symbols of Winchester; its college is named after him.

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King Alfred

Enjoy!

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