UK SE ENGLAND hampshire tab Fire at WillAffectionately and puzzlingly called Hants by its locals, Hampshire is filled with history and greenery every which way you turn.  (The term is derived from the Domesday book compression of the place name.)  Located at the southern coast of the United Kingdom, it witnessed the birth of several armed forces, such as the Royal Navy, the British Army and the Royal Air Force. 

It also has two of the country’s largest ports in Southampton and Portsmouth.  Because it is on the coast, it is a popular seaside spot for weekenders.  Hampshire is also famous for its national parks—in fact, its two parks, New Forest and the South Downs make up forty-five percent of the country’s land.  It is also home to literary greats—do the names Jane Austen and Charles Dickens ring a bell? 

Winchester CathedralNestled on the course of the River Itchen, Winchester (pop. 41,400), Hampshire’s county town, is one of the England’s most expensive and most desirable towns to live, what with its superb location, its historical beauty, and the convenient railways system.  Those taking a hike through the South Downs trail will mostly likely start their trek here. Its city centre is history personified—every which way you turn, there are ruins of its glorious past as a Wessex capital and an influential city in Medieval England.  Nowadays, it doesn’t hold much fort in the political front, but it has certainly left its mark in the Domesday Book, which was written by Wintonian monks.

In 686, Winchester became the capital of Wessex, and was made the main city of King Egbert’s kingdom in 827.  Several kings who succeeded King Egbert followed suit, hence Winchester’s longstanding importance in ancient English history.

The important Domesday Book, which holds many of the facts we know about medieval England, was written here by local monks who were commissioned by William the Conqueror to do accurate surveys across the country. 

A big fire in 1141 ravaged most of the great city.  The Bishop of Winchester, William of Wykeham, painstakingly tried to restore the city, and many of the present structures of the Cathedral was constructed during his time.  He also founded the oldest public school in England, the Winchester College.  Despite the bishop’s efforts, though, the city still went on a steady decline, until it finally made its way back as a market town in the 18th century.  Nowadays, more and more people are making their way to settle down in this historic cathedral city, because of its fast links to London and the important English ports and towns.

Winchester is pretty easy to explore on foot as it is quite small.  If you’re in the mood for some biking and will be staying for quite a while, you can join Bikeabout which allows you to borrow bikes for £15.  There are bus lines as well, such as Stagecoach in Hampshire (+44 84512110180) which provide service within the city and its surrounding areas.  Do take note though, that bus services tend to be infrequent in the evenings or on Sundays.

Winchester Cathedral at night Flickr David SpenderWinchester Cathedral
(7 College St., +44 1962857200, £6).  Built in 1079, Winchester Cathedral is one of the biggest English cathedrals and is the longest Gothic cathedral in all of Europe.  It reflects many architectural styles, ranging from the 11th century till the 16th century.  It is the seat of the Bishop of Winchester, and holds the remains of many historical figures.  It was also the starting point of the ancient Pilgrims’ Way, a trail that leads to Canterbury.

From the outside, it’s not as imposing as some English cathedrals.  You have to see its interiors to appreciate the structure.  One of its most popular features nowadays is the gravestone of Jane Austen, who is buried in the north aisle of the cathedral’s nave.  To know more about the history of the cathedral, you can partake in an hour-long guided tour run by volunteers.  The views of the cathedral city from the tower and roof are stunning.

Winchester Cathedral interior  Flickr suvodebBefore visiting, it is best to check beforehand as it is sometimes closed for special
 occasions.  It is also good to note that the cathedral still has active services, and anyone who comes to church is welcome free of charge.

While there, you should definitely visit the Library and the Triforium Gallery.  The library house the Winchester Bible, considered to be “the finest of all the great 12th century Bibles”.  The room dedicated to the Winchester Bible, though, is closed occasionally, for regular conservation cleaning.  Standing on the Triforium Gallery gives one a great bird’s eye view of the cathedral interiors.

Jane Austen’s House
(College St.).  Located near the Winchester College, the house where Jane Austen spent her last days still stands, with a blue plaque marking it.  It is a private residence, though, so a visit inside is not possible.

Winchester Great Hall Flickr WolfiewolfGreat Hall  (The Great Hall, The Castle, +44 1962846476, free [donations are welcome]).  In the mid 1600s, Oliver Cromwell ordered that the Winchester Castle be destroyed.  The Great Hall, which was built by Henry III in the 1200s, was the only structure retained, to be used as an assembly venue.  Nowadays, it still stands and has witnessed many a court room drama.  It also holds an imitation Arthurian Round Table which was constructed in the 13th century. 

Outside the South Door of the Great Hall, you will find a pretty good recreation of a medieval garden called Queen Eleanor’s Garden.

City Mill  (Bridge St., +44 1962870057, £4).  During its heyday, the city mill earned a lot more than the average corn mill.  It did decline during the 14th century.  The structure now, which is still, remarkably enough, working, is the one constructed in the mid-18th century.  It was restored and in March 2004, it began milling again.  Visitors are treated to a hands-on demonstration of the mill, and a great view of the River Itchen.

Wolvesey Castle (College St., +44 2392378291).   The ruins of the Wolvesey Castle are a great remnant of the town’s Anglo-Saxon heritage.  It stands next to Winchester Castle and the palace attached to the south range of the castle is still in use as the residence of the Bishop of Winchester.  Before visiting, you can download a free audio tour of the ruins here.

Hospital St. Cross (St. Cross Road, +44 1962851375).  Constructed in 1136 as a hostel for pilgrims and brethrens in need, The Hospital St. Cross is quaint, quite hidden, and well-preserved, its dining halls and kitchen looking very much like the ones that used to serve “the wayfarer’s dole” to needy brothers and sisters in faith who happened to pass through while on a pilgrimage.  The Porter’s Lodge still serves this traditional dole, a mug of beer and bread, so take part in tradition by asking for this.  The hospital’s beautiful church also displays a triptych made by Flemish painter Mabuse.

City Museum (The Square, Town Centre, +44 1962863064)
.  Get a quick rundown of local history and learn about Winchester’s Anglo-Saxon roots, its golden age, and some facts about Jane Austen.

River Itchen
The river flows through various channels in Winchester, but its main channel flows through the Winchester City Mill.  It is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest because of the many species that consider the crystal clear river its habitat.

Giffard House Hotel
(50 Christchurch Rd., +44 1962852628, £61).  A ten-minute walk from the city centre, this gorgeous Victorian guest house feels vintage without the unnecessary trappings that come with older structures (i.e., musty smell).  The breakfast is famous among patrons.

Clifton Terrace (5 Cliffton Terrace, +44 1962890053, £69).  An elegant two-room accommodation, this Georgian terrace has been chosen by The Times as One of the Finest Places to Stay in England.  It is only a few minutes away from the Cathedral and the railway station.  The rooms are basic but serviceable, with a private bath and wireless internet.  It also offers good traditional English breakfast.

Hotel du Vin (14 Southgate St., +44 1962841414, £120).  A sophisticated chain boutique hotel, Hotel Du Vin mixes modern interiors with its Georgian exterior.  Hotel Du Vin also boasts of a great restaurant.  Its staff are very professional and well-trained, though not as warm as your B&B hosts.  What they lack in warmth, they compensate with giving you good suggestions in which wine goes well with your dish.

Wykeham Arms
(75 Kingsgate St., +44 1962853834, £145).  An 18th century inn in a central location, Wykeham Arms is always described as that quirky little inn nestled between the cathedral and the Winchester College.  Admittedly, the food in its signature bar has declined over the years, according to patrons, but its character cannot be denied.

Lainston House Hotel (Woodman Lane, Sparsholt, +44 1962776088, £245).   This four star hotel stands on a whopping 63-acre parkland.  Its 50 rooms, all elegantly designed, are all unique from each other in subtle ways.  The thing they all have in common—they’re all clean and spacious, with large and comfortable baths. 


UK SE ENGLAND new forest ponyDuring the Bronze Age, the area of New Forest, which was originally woodland, was cleared.  William the Conqueror turned it into a “royal forest” – designated mainly for hunting deer and game, at the expense of the people who lived in the area.  Legend has it that William was so obsessed with hunting that he made severe rules regarding the land and the deer.  The people who were banished breathed a sigh of relief when William’s reign was done, and monarchy less enthusiastic about hunting eased up the rules and gave them privileges in the land.

Nowadays, New Forest, which first appeared in the Domesday Book as “Nova Foresta”, is an area of South East England that covers southwest of Hampshire and southeast of Wiltshire.  Some 144 square miles of the forest became a National Park in 2005, and it has since then attracted millions of visitors every year.  

The forest contains many varied conifers among other ancient tree species.  The most famous tree here is the Knightwood Oak, which has a girth 24.2 ft.  It is known to be over 500 years old; however, some studies report that it was mentioned in the Domesday Book, so it must be over a thousand years old.  You can find the “Queen of the Forest” nort of the A35 road, southwest of Lyndhurst. 

Another famous attraction here is the New Forest Pony.  The New Forest Pony is an indigenous British Isles horse breed.  Deer sightings are not as prevalent as before, though surprisingly, some deer have been seen roaming around at night.

The best way to explore the forest is by walking and cycling.  A hundred miles of its roads are car-free, so that with a map, easily available at tourist offices and bike rental shops, you can explore the area without a guide.

Staying the night in a campsite is also a great way to experience the forest.  The Forestry Commission runs ten campsites in the area (+44 8451308226).

Rufus Stone flickr shirokazanLyndhurst (pop. 2,281)  is the biggest village within New Forest and is considered its “capital”.  It is simply a good base for people visiting New Forest, as it is where one can access information on the national park, and where one can stay the night before heading out to the park in the morning.  It is also where you can find the Rufus Stone, which marks the spot where the son and heir of William the Conqueror was shot with an arrow.

Burwood Lodge
(27 Romsey Road, +44 2380284722 , £35 per person).  This large Victorian house is only a few minutes away from the High Street.  Its rooms have recently been refurbished, and they also offer great breakfast, with a variety of choices, included in the room fee.

Whitemoor House (Southampton Road, +44 (0)2380283043 , £44) overlooks the New Forest Moor (hence the name), which makes for stunning window views.   It has recently been awarded a AA yellow-star rating.  Also, its owners have great knowledge of the New Forest, and offer up their knowledge to anyone who asks.

Ormonde House Hotel (Southampton Road, +44 2380282806, £60)   has 19 en-suite rooms, but does not have a lift to its 2nd floor.  It has a central location in Lyndhurst, which means it’s more accessible, but at the same time, its proximity to pubs may be bothersome for light sleepers.  It is especially recommended for visitors who plan to bring their dogs.

Beaulieu flickr chalkie_colour_circles Beaulieu (pop. 829, +44 1590612345, £17), taking its name from the French meaning “beautiful place”, is a hamlet-turned-commercial estate owned by the Montagues.  It is located in the southeast region of New Forest.  One of its main attractions is the ancient Beaulieu abbey.  Founded by King John in 1204, it is one of the Cisterian monasteries with the most clout during its time.  It was built with stone especially imported from Northern France, and has stood the test of time.

The Palace House, home to the Montagues, is also a great site, though its pretty façade is all there is, it seems.  A ten-minute walk from the house takes you to the National Motor Museum.  A former gatehouse for the abbey, the museum houses a notable collection of vintage cars and motors, as well as those that are considered instant classics and record-breakers in terms of motor technology.  The National Motor Museum also aids researches on motor technology for both professionals and amateurs.

Venture a few miles downstream on the banks of the Beaulieu River.  Here you will find Buckler’s Hard, which was then called Montague Town.  Buckler’s Hard, despite its tough-sounding name, is a pretty picturesque hamlet, with many Georgian cottages lining the streets.  It may not look it, but it was formerly a shipyard, and not just any shipyard, but the place where most British navy vessels were made.  To get a more concrete look at the hamlet’s shipyard history, you can visit the Maritime Museum, located atop the village, in an 18th century building.

Lymington flickr PhillipCA popular leisure harbor and yachting base, Lymington (pop. 14,230) is also a great base when visiting New Forest, or if you’re headed to the Isle of Wight.  The town itself is pretty as a picture, with cobblestoned streets, great English pubs, and cute bookshops to while away your time.  It also features the mandatory historical ruin (this is, after all, still Hampshire)—the weird structure that’s half church and half tower—the 13th century church of St. Thomas de Apostle.


Lymington’s bus station is located off High Street.  It also has two train stations, Lymington Town and Lymington Pier.

The best place to stay in Lymington is the Stanwell House Hotel (14-15 High St., +44 8447046820, £138).  This centrally-located boutique hotel has clean rooms with modern amenities, though they can get stuffy during summer.  Expect great customer service from the warm staff, but also expect a little noise as its location is where all the good pubs are.

HMS Victory, PortsmouthPortsmouth (pop. 187,100), a small island city situated on Portsea Island, is an extremely successful industrial city.  It is Britain’s prime naval station, and has long held a dear place in British maritime history.  The Romans saw its potential first, as they built a fortress on the island early on.  The Normans also built a small port here, but it was the Tudors who finally used it to its potential, with Henry VII making it a royal dockyard.  

It is, by no means, a picturesque harbour city.  Because of how strategically important it is, it was bombed heavily during the World War II.  To get an idea of how pretty it must have been in its heyday, you can stroll down Old Portsmouth, with its Georgian cottages and cobblestoned streets.

Portsmouth is small enough to explore on foot, but you can always ride a bus around the city.  From the harbour bus station, you can ride Bus 6 if you’re heading towards South Parade Pier in South Sea.  Also you can purchase a day travel ticket for £3.60.  You should also familiarize yourself with the local names for certain places.  Locals call the area around the historic dockyard “The Hard”.  And some call Old Portsmouth Spice Island or Sallyport.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
(Victory Gate, HM Naval Base, +44 2392728060, £19.50).  This is Portsmouth’s biggest attraction.  Once a royal dockyard, now it doubles as a playground and visual history lesson detailing the city’s naval history.  For the price of one, you can get access to the historic ships in the Royal Navy Base, and the museums dedicated to maritime history and artifacts. 

HMS WarriorHMS Warrior 1860.   This is the youngest ship in the lot.  It is the first ship that will greet you upon entering the complex.  It dates back from 1860, and during its time, it was a wonder to behold, being the first iron-clad ship of Great Britain.  It was also the fastest and most equipped battle ship of its kind.

HMS Victory.   The ship that helped secure triumph for Britain in the Battle of Trafalgar which resulted in the death of Admiral Nelson, HMS Victory gives one an awestruck feeling while standing on its deck, viewing the battle paraphernalia displayed on the ship.

Action Stations.   After being enthralled by the larger-than-life maritime history lesson that one gets from walking on the historic ships, enter Action Stations and be ready to take part in the action, with interactive games that will give one a playful taste of life on a warship.

Mary Rose Ship Hall and Museum.  Until 2012, the Mary Rose Ship Hall, which houses the remains of the 16th century battleship that sank mysteriously in 1545 and which was scavenged in 1982, will be closed to make way for the construction of a £35 million museum.  In the meantime, get a load of the ship’s history at the Mary Rose Museum.

Royal Navy Museum.   The Royal Navy Museum, opposite the HMS Victory, boasts of five galleries of naval history, from the era of Alfred the Great to the present.  There is one entire gallery dedicated to Admiral Nelson.

Submarine Museum. ( Haslar Rd, Gosport, +44 23 9251 0354, £10).   Hop on a ferry from the Harbour Train station jetty which will take you to Gosport, where you can find the Submarine Museum. The museum details the international history of submarines, and you can also climb aboard the HMS Alliance, a service submarine commissioned in 1947. 

Explosion! Museum of Naval Firepower (Heritage Way, Priddy's Hard, Gosport, +44 23 9250 5600, £10).   Also in Gosport, Explosion! is a museum that houses—you guessed it right—exposives.  This is not just a random collection of explosions, though—it is an organized timeline of the history of maritime warfare paraphernalia, from the days of gunpowder, to today’s advanced technologies.

Spinnaker Tower. (Gunwharf Quays, +44 23 9285 7520, £7.25)  After strolling down the streets of sleep Gunwharf Quays, head on over to the 170m Spinnaker Tower and relish a bird’s eye view of the city, by taking either the high speed lift or the slow glass lift that gives one a panoramic view.  Choose from three view decks—view deck 1 has a glass floor, view deck 2 a multimedia station, and view deck 3, also called the Crow’s Nest, which is open-air.

Cathedral of St. Thomas of Canterbury (St. Thomas St., Old Portsmouth, +44 23 9282 3300).   On the way to Old Portsmouth, just south of the Spinnaker Tower, you will find the Cathedral of St. Thomas of Canterbury.  It is hard to spot the remains of its 12th and 17th century architecture because of the rebuilding it experienced over the years.

Charles Dickens’ Birthplace (393 Old Commercial Road, +44 23 9282 7261, £3.50).   In Old Commercial Road, you will find the house where the great English author took his first and last breath.  If you’re lucky, you might catch some of the members of the Dickens Fellowship reading excerpts from your favorite Dickens novel.

D-Day Museum (Clarence Esplanade, +44 23 9282 7261, £6). 
All about Portsmouth’s role in the Allied D-Day invasion, the highlight of this museum is the vast Overlord Embroidery.

Southsea Castle (Clarence Esplanade, +44 23 9282 7261, £3.50).  This castle is purportedly where Henry VIII witnessed the sinking of his beloved Mary Rose in 1545.  It was built from the remains of the Beaulieu Abbey.

Portchester Castle (+44 2392 378291, £4.50).   Built in the 3rd century, this Roman fortress was so well-built that it has survived several eras and served them well.  It is the best example of a Roman fortress in Europe.

Portsmouth Point.  
Also known as Spice Island, this is where the harbour where the trade of Caribbean spices took place.  Nowadays, it is the only remaining part of the old-world Portsmouth.  Sit and drink a pint in one of the pubs to get a feel of the glory days of the harbour city.

Clarence Hotel
(Clarence Road, Southsea, +44 2392876348, £85).   Some might find the Southsea location off-putting, but otherwise, this relatively new hotel has tasteful decorations and great customer service.  Rooms vary greatly in size, but are all comfortable.

Florence House Hotel (2 Malvern Road, +44 23 9275 1666, £75).   A charming Edwardian house restored well, the Florence House Hotel is chic, vintage and modern at the same time, with comfortable rooms and amazing showers.

Fortitude Cottage (51 Broad St., +44 23 9282 3748, £75).  This three-storey guesthouse located right on the harbour, this cottage is fresh on the eyes with its tasteful décor.  Customer service courtesy of its owners is intimate.

Stattons Hotel (6 Florence Road, Southsea, +44 2392 823409, £61).  With delightfully furbished rooms that are unique from one another yet retain a period sensibility, Stattons Hotel also has a great location, and an efficient staff.


Southampton medieval city walls WikipediaThe biggest city in Hampshire, Southampton (pop.234,300) provides one with a rundown of many historical events, though not much to show for it in terms of actual historical sites, with the notable exception of the remaining 15th century city walls.  What one can see now in Southampton are museums and galleries.  In the Civic Centre, for example, there is a very good art gallery housing contemporary British artists. 

For some of the city’s remaining historical artifacts, stroll along the Western Esplanade where you can see the remains of the city walls.  The Museum of Archeology (£2.50), inside God’s House Tower, which is located in the southernmost part of the old town, has artifacts dating from prehistoric times to medieval times.  The Tudor House Museum has undergone major renovation and will open in 2011.  It houses Georgian, Victorian and early twentieth century artifacts, and even has a recreation of a Tudor garden.  Bargate, which is located at the opposite end of the town, is the best-preserved among the city’s seven ancient gates, with intricate structures.