Wessex Attractions: Royal Garrison Church, Portsmouth

The Royal Garrison Church in Penny Street, Portsmouth was built around 1212 by the Bishop of Winchester, as part of a hospital complex, which also provided accommodation for pilgrims. After the Reformation, it started to decay and was turned into an ammunition dump, hence the name. The church was extensively restored in 1871, but was bombed out during the Blitz.

It is now managed by English Heritage, who are currently undertaking a second restoration. The church is scheduled to reopen to visitors in June 2022. Entry, when the church is open, is free. The postcode is PO1 2NJ. The church is three-quarters of a mile from Portsmouth Harbour station, and is served by bus routes 1, 16, 19 and 700.

Wessex Attractions: Bristol Old Vic

The Bristol Old Vic is Britain's oldest working theatre. It was founded in 1766, making it older than the United States of America and the University of London.

The theatre in King Street, Bristol was designed by James Saunders, David Garrick's carpenter at the Drury Lane theatre. Garrick delivered the prologue and epilogue of the first performance, billed as "a concert with a specimen of rhetorick" to get around the restrictions on theatres caused by the lack of a Royal Licence. This situation persisted until 1778, when Letters Patent were granted by the crown, allowing the theatre to change its name to the Theatre Royal. a name that the main theatre bears to this day.

The Bristol Old Vic Theatre Company was founded in 1946, with Hugh Hunt as its forst artistic director. Early members of the company included Peter O'Toole, John Neville, Timothy West and Dorothy Tutin. The Theatre School was opened by Laurence Olivier shortly afterwards. Alumni of the school include Gene Wilder, Miranda Richardson, Naomie Harris, Jeremy Irons and Pete Postlethwaite.

The theatre was closed for refurbishment in August 2007, reopening in December 2008. The foyer was redeveloped further in 2018. Today, the Grade I listed building houses the Theatre Royal and the new Weston Studio. Its reputation is worldwide. When Hollywood star Christopher Walken was asked why he was appearing in the Bristol-set BBC comedy-drama Outlaws, he said that he wanted to come to Bristol because it was the home of the Old Vic!

Wessex in Fiction: Inspector Morse

DCI Endeavour Morse is a fictional detective first created by Colin Dexter in 1972, though the first novel. Last Bus to Woodstock, was not published until 1975. Dexter decided on the setting, Oxford, early on. Although a Cambridge graduate himself, he had been working for the University of Oxford as an assistant secretary to their Delegacy of Local Examinations since 1968, a job he continued to hold until 1988, a year after the ITV series of Morse adaptations had debuted.

In many ways, Morse acted as something of an author avatar for Dexter, who shared his passions for Wagner, cryptic crosswords and real ale. He named the character after a fellow crossword enthusiast, his friend Sir Jeremy Morse. There is a myth that Dexter took the name from his national service in the Royal Signal Corps, but he has denied this. It didn't stop composer Barrington Pheloung from incorporating Morse code into his scores for the TV series, though, often using it to reveal the name of the killer.

The TV series starring John Thaw propelled Morse into the big time, and helped make Oxford a familiar sight to '80s and '90s TV viewers, in much the same way that Shoestring had done for Bristol and Bergerac for Jersey. It led to two spin-off series, Lewis and Endeavour. It was not the only time that Dexter's novels had been adapted for other media, though. BBC Radio 4 had already dramatised Last Bus to Woodstock in 1985, and continued to broadcast adaptations of Dexter's novels throughout the '90s. In 2010, Colin Baker starred as Morse in a stage play, which again was broadcast by Radio 4 in 2017, this time starring Neil Pearson.

Essential Wessex: The Baptism of Cynegils

Lo, I shall tell you the truest of visions, a dream that I dreamt in the dead of night while people reposed in peaceful sleep. I seemed to see the sacred tree, lifted on high in a halo of light, the brightest of beams; that beacon was wholly gorgeous with gold; glorious gems stood fair at the foot; and five were assembled, at the crossing of the arms. The angels of God looked on.... - The Dream of the Rood

St Berin, often Latinised as Birinus (c600-650), was a Frankish missionary venerated in the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican churches as "the Apostle of Wessex". He baptised Cynegils, the first Christian king of the Gewissae, near his "capital" at Dorchester-on-Thames.

Conversion to Christianity at the time was about more than the state of the king's soul. It meant joining a growing commonwealth of nations instead of looking inwards. It also boosted the transition from an oral to a written culture - a boon to historians, who now have textual as well as archaeological evidence to work from.

Written records also kickstarted a trend for royal genealogies which uncovered (or invented) connections between kingdoms and royal families. Berin and Cynegils could therefore be said to have helped turn the Gewissae from an isolated war-band to a European nation.

Wessex Attractions: Cheltenham Racecourse

Cheltenham (or Chiltenham, to use the West Saxon spelling) Racecourse, known as "the home of jump racing", was founded in 1815, and has been at its present site since 1831, after the previous racecourse was burned down by Christian jihadis protesting the evils of gambling.

The Cheltenham Gold Cup is considered to be the second-biggest National Hunt racing event in the UK, after the Grand National. The event takes place during the 4-day Cheltenham Festival in March, a massive event which, sad to say, is currently sponsored by Magners. Are there no Gloucestershire cider makers who could take on this task?