- Mannered modern manor
- New Forest’s ancient capital
- Spa-spangled manor
- New Forest pony-country
- Super stylish sty
- Wild woodland
- Silver belle
- Airfields of Farnborough
- Historic homey inn
- Harbourside city walls
- Forests, farms and market towns
- Country life
- Rural road trips, pastoral picnics
A hop from London, Hampshire has long been the go-to county for urbanite weekenders in need of a rural retreat.
Perhaps it’s the pastoral patchwork of farms and fields, the traditional charms of biscuit-box villages, or just the promise of a pub lunch that makes Hampshire so alluring, but beyond the county’s rustic-idyll clichés, there’s plenty of enticement on offer. Portsmouth – spiritual home of Britain’s nautical glories is one for the naval gazers. Farnborough’s an international aviation hub for those with their heads in the clouds. If you’d rather keep your feet on the ground (or on the pedals or in the stirrups), there’s 150 square miles of the New Forest, William the Conqueror’s hunting spot of choice. This is a land of country drives in leafy lanes, picnic lunches on grassy hilltops and rooting around antique fairs for vintage finds. Life at its most leisurely, basically.
Hampshire’s New Forest has enjoyed privileged status since William the Conqueror realised its native deer were rather tasty and legally preserved the land for royal hunting jaunts. For a thousand-odd years since his decree, a large part of the forest (and its population of 3,000 wild ponies) has been looked after by verderers (landowners also known as ‘commoners’ – but in a nice way) and five elected agisters, who manage the land and its livestock. For more info on this uniquely mediaeval system, see www.verderers.org.uk.
- There are plenty of ranks in Hampshire’s major cities, but you’re better off booking ahead in smaller towns. Brockenhurst Taxis (+44 (0)1425 619922; www.brockenhursttaxis.co.uk) are handy for getting around the New Forest area and Southampton Taxis (+44 (0)23 8039 2798; www.southampton-taxis.com) cover the city and surroundings pretty well. In northern Hampshire, try Aldershot-based Rushmoor Taxis (+44 (0)1252 333555; www.rushmoortaxis.com).
- Tipping culture
- 10–15 per cent is standard, but most restaurants will habitually add 12.5 per cent to the bill.
- Siesta and fiesta
- Late-lunchers be warned: outside the cities, you won’t find many meals on offer between 2.30pm and 6pm, when most kitchens close. Evenings antics ease off around 11pm, except in Portsmouth and Southampton where substantial student populations keep the late-night drinking dens in business.
- Packing tips
- An open-top and driving goggles/Hepburn headscarves for classic countryside jaunts; a rambler’s cane for New Forest wanderings.
- Recommended reads
- Pack your classics: Jane Austen spent most of her life in Hampshire and her headline tomes Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility both take inspiration from the area. Dickens may have been born in Portsmouth, but his literary interests lay elsewhere. Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers is set in a fictionalised Winchester and virtually everything penned by Thomas Hardy takes place in Wessex – the ancient kingdom of which Hampshire comprised a hefty chunk.
- Regional specialities
- Hampshire is farmer’s market country, so prepare your picnic basket to accommodate fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables such as strawberries, blackberries and New Forest mushrooms. Other farm products – sausages, cheeses and ice-creams – also figure high on the gastronomic agenda, and the River Test’s trout have kept local smokeries in business for centuries. Venison from New Forest deer is particularly prized; try it and its feathery game counterparts at Blackmoor Game (www.blackmoorgame.co.uk) in Arlesford. Salad historians may like to note that Hampshire is the UK’s watercress heartland.
- Pound sterling (£).
- Time zone
- Dialling codes
- UK: +44; Southampton and Portsmouth: (0)23.
- Do go/don't go
- Hampshire’s both sunnier and rainier than most areas of the UK, but make the most of the former and go between May and September. The coastal towns heave with seaside-seekers in July and August, and pretty Winchester swarms in summer, but most parts of the county are pleasant and crowd-free throughout the year.
Don't go home without...
…ascending the Spinnaker Tower. From the crow’s-nest of the 170-metre edifice in Portsmouth Harbour you can see 23 miles out to sea.