A mile and a half outside Winchester, England, in picturesque riverside meadows, sits The Hospital of St. Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty. The medieval church and almshouse has been providing food and lodging to people in need since the 1130s. It is believed to be the oldest charitable institution in England, and a lesser-known attraction than Winchester’s more-touristed Winchester Cathedral, Wolvesey Castle, and the Great Hall of Winchester Castle.
But St. Cross has one draw the others don’t: The Wayfarer’s Dole. The centuries-old practice promises any visitor a piece of bread and small mug of beer, free of charge. The dole, once meant to help humble travelers continue along their way, has sustained as a little-known treasure of English tourism. Many visitors are from nearby Winchester or other parts of the U.K., but others from such far-flung locales as the U.S. and Australia have also made the trek.
“Come as a tourist, leave a refreshed pilgrim,” one TripAdvisor user from San Francisco, wrote in August 2011.
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Visitors are welcome at St. Cross most days of the year. Entry fees range from €2.50 to €4.50 for standard admission, or €3.00 to €5.00 if you’re feeling generous enough for the “gift/donation” option.
After your tour of the Romanesque church and lush gardens, perhaps you’ll see the clergy, or the “brothers” who are still provided lodging on the grounds.
In the summer months, a tea room offers morning and evening refreshments served by volunteers. And when you exit through the gift shop, called the Porters Lodge, you might pick up some pottery or jewelry to take on your way. If you’re a savvy traveler, this is where you’ll request your dole of beer and bread.
“[R]eceiving the ‘Wayfarer’s Dole’ has been on my bucket list since 1969,” one visitor from Oracle, Ariz., commented in October 2018. “The beer tasted good, even if the morsel of bread was no more than a morsel.”
Sometimes, a morsel is all you need.