Late Short Break UK Holiday offers in May
The recent Bank Holiday weather wasn’t brilliant, fancy giving next week another chance with a short break in either Shropshire or York.
Henlle Hall Cottages, Shropshire
Set within the grounds of a Georgian country house this cosy cottage is filled with original character and quirks - perfect for a romantic short break. Relax in your hot tub or take advantage of a variety of beauty and spa treatments. There’s pony-trekking, kayaking and horse-drawn narrow boat rides on your door step, while nearby Ludlow boasts two Michelin-starred restaurants. Henlle Hall Cottages is part of the Hoseasons Daisy Door Collection. A 4-night short break for two people at Henlle Hall Cottages, starting May 11, costs from £325.
Paradise Lakeside Pods, Storwood, York
Get back to nature in style with a stay in one of these super-chic lakeside pods in the heart of rural Yorkshire. Set within 15-acres of beautiful woodland these quirky rural retreats are perfectly placed for exploring the cultural highlights of nearby York, including the superb Jorvic Viking Centre and the National Railway Museum. Each open-plan pod includes a double bed, a wet room, a kitchen area and a sofa bed that sleeps two children. A 4-night short break for two people at Paradise Lakeside Pods, starting May 11, costs from £139 (down from £165).
Friendly Locals and Whiskey, what more could you want?
Even if the SNP win big in Scotland they will still need the “English Pound” and anyway the local people have been named as the friendliest in the UK, according to a recent Cambridge University survey. Scotland has plenty of interesting history to discover, sunny sandy beaches, stunning mountains and beautiful lochs to explore, so if you fancy a romantic retreat Unique Cottages has a wide range of romantic holiday cottages that have been set up perfectly for couples.
Tigh Ban Cottage
On the west coast of Scotland in Argyll is Tigh Ban Cottage, once a humble ‘but n ben’ that is now a stylish hideaway just for two. It has an impressive open plan living area with a wood-burning stove set in a traditional feature fireplace at its heart and French doors that lead out to a lovely outdoor seating area that is the perfect BBQ spot. The cottage is well placed for walking, riding and sailing and is just half an hour’s drive from the historic and picturesque fishing village of Tarbert. It is also well serviced by ferries for ‘island hopping’ across to Arran, Islay or even Gigha.
Ardranach Cottage on the scenic Isle of Skye is the perfect island escape that combines glorious scenery and tranquil surroundings. This 100 year old croft house has been beautifully refurbished as a spacious, romantic getaway with a lovely beamed sitting room, open fire and splashes of Scottish charm throughout. There is a sunny conservatory that leads out to a walled garden that is ideal for relaxing in of an evening and dogs are welcome too. The cottage is just a short walk from the shores of Loch Snizort and is only 8 miles from the island’s ‘capital’ of Portree with its picturesque harbour and interesting little gift shops.
The Wee Hoose
On the Banffshire coast in the pretty village of Gardenstown is The Wee Hoose. This charming cottage has a welcoming sitting room with a multi-fuel stove that keeps it cosy and from the double bedroom upstairs you can see out to sea. Right in the centre of the village, it is in easy walking distance of a lovely sandy beach. There is plenty to explore along this stunning stretch of coastline with its dramatic cliffs, secluded bays and impressive sea stacks that are best seen from a boat trip. The area is also popular with wildlife enthusiasts as you can spot puffins, guillemots and other seabirds, as well as dolphins and seals out at sea
Brae Cottage is set in a quiet situation close to the little village of Ballinluig in Perthshire. This detached bungalow has a romantic wood-burning stove for relaxing evenings in and there is a lovely little cottage garden with a seating area from which to admire the beautiful surrounding countryside. Despite its restful setting, it is well placed for exploring the local area and is only 7 miles from the popular tourist town of Pitlochry. The town is known for its dam and fish ladder which the salmon use to get upstream to spawn. On the way to Pitlochry, the Blair Atholl distillery where they produce Bell’s whisky is definitely worth a visit for a tour and a ‘wee dram’.
Anyone for a heaving Bosom?
I am a sucker for historical romances, and have seen myself as a wistful heroine, complete with heaving bosoms, well Alison Howells Foot Trails company based in Bath have compiled several walks designed to complement the writings of Thomas Hardy, given the heightened interest with the release of new adaption of Far From the Madding Crowd released in cinemas on 1st May
On Tess’s Journey (Hardy’s Tales), walkers can trace the steps of the heroine of Tess of the d’Urbervilles on a peaceful, timeless, self-guided wander through a rarely walked landscape. The inn-to-inn tour follows the river Stour, with its kingfishers and herons, and calls at Marnhull, a village Hardy renamed as Marlott for his tragic tale. It also passes through the Saxon hilltop town of Shaftesbury – or Shaston in the author’s stories – which will also feature in the new movie. The tour is available as a four-, five- or six-night trip, from £565 per person,
Truly Madly Deeply Dorset also takes in Hardy country, helping guests explore north Dorset – the quiet pastoral scenery that Hardy drew much inspiration from. His descriptions of the local landscapes are soft in contrast to the gritty and sometimes tragic issues of the day that his books tackled. The holiday can be tailored to suit walkers’ requirements and the season, with a choice of two daily trail lengths, of five to seven miles or up to 10 miles per day. Three-, four- and five-night versions of this trip are available from £355 per person.
A day’s walking trail created by the Foot Trails team and titled “Thomas Hardy Tales”, can be incorporated on request into two of its inn-to-inn walking experiences, Wiltshire & Dorset Borders and Wessex Ancient Kingdom. Highlights of this day's walking include time on the aptly named Thomas Hardy Downs, from where the author would stand and survey the rolling Wessex countryside. Much of the scenery is little changed in appearance from Hardy's time. Wiltshire & Dorset Borders can be booked for between four and seven nights, from £535 per person. Wessex Ancient Kingdom is available as eight-, 10-, and 12-night itineraries, from £1,195 per person.
To book, visit www.foottrails.co.uk or call 01747 820626.
No chance of being caught up in Air Traffic Control Strikes on these holidays
Fancy a week away this May and don’t want to be worrying about more French air traffic controllers strikes, well here are a few offers available at reduced rates in the beautiful West Country. Save £165 on a luxury break this May with a stay at Lower Manor Lodge near Bude. The property features a beautiful secluded garden, with access to an additional 3.5 acres of woodland and a pond, great for a relaxing afternoon outdoors. Visitors can also explore the wider area, with the nearby Tamar Lake, perfect for water sports and fishing, as well as Dartmoor National Park and Tapeley Park. The cottage sleeps six across three bedrooms. A seven night stay from 9 May 2015 costs £695 (originally £860). To book please visithttp://www.holidaycottages.co.uk/last-minute
Head to Boscastle, North Cornwall and save £280 on a seven night stay at the Fentrigan The Old Stables cottage. Guests can explore the magnificent North Cornish coast and moors while enjoying activities including surfing and cycling. For the ultimate indulgence home cooked meals, local produce and beauty treatments including reflexology and massage can be arranged ahead of time for an extra charge. The cottage sleeps seven across three bedrooms and is set within 220 acres which includes tennis courts, a children’s play barn, coarse fishing and pony rides. A seven night stay from 9 May 2015 at Fentrigan The Old
Stables cottage, Boscastle costs £510 (originally £790). To book please visit http://www.holidaycottages.co.uk/last-minute
Enjoy a seven-night stay at The Calving Barn in Barnstaple, North Devon and save £110. The property is within walking distance to the River Taw and just a short train ride away from the Tarka Trail, ideal for a spring time stroll. Guests can continue to enjoy the great outdoors with fly fishing and a games barn, both available onsite, as well as a Country Club with a golf course and spa facilities located just five miles away. This traditional courtyard property is situated on a tranquil farm setting surrounded by the exquisite Devon countryside, close to the popular Barnstaple pannier market. The cottage sleeps up to four people across two bedrooms. A seven night stay from 9 May 2015 is £295 (originally £405). To book, contact http://www.holidaycottages.co.uk/last-minute
Get your tackle out
The Wye Valley and surrounding areas are spoilt for fishing opportunities, with a huge choice of local rivers plus the certainty of stocked trout water.
The Pilgrim Country House Hotel in the village of Much Birch (between Hereford and Ross-on-Wye), owned and run by ex-England and British Lions rugby-player-turned-fishing-fanatic Steve Boyle, is the perfect place to stay.
Comments Steve: “We are unique in that within a short drive of the hotel you can be fishing for salmon, rainbow trout, barbel, carp & pike at a variety of venues.
“My personal favourite for rainbow trout is the Big Well Fishery in Redbrook, just outside Monmouth, which is a great venue for novices to intermediate anglers.
“Surrounded by lovely scenery, tackle can be hired, free advice is on hand and there is a choice of four fishing lakes.
“The possibilities for salmon, brown trout and other coarse fishing are almost endless on the River Wye and the surrounding areas. The best source of information is without doubt The Wye and Usk Foundation.
“Day tickets and roaming vouchers are available online, plus information on water conditions which covers all major tributaries of two of the best game fishing rivers in the UK.”
Another good source of local fishing information and permits is GB Sports in nearby Ross on Wye 01989 563 723.
After a good day’s fishing, anglers can return to the Pilgrim Hotel to swap stories about ‘the one that got away’ in the well-stocked cosy bar serving a variety of local beers and ciders.
Dinner is served in The Valley Restaurant at the rear of the hotel, which has uninterrupted views across the border with Wales towards the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons.
A two-night break costs from £140 pp (two sharing) on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis.
To book call 01981 540 742 www.pilgrimhotel.co.uk
April Holiday offers in Devon
Conybeare Pine Cottage in Westward Ho!, North Devon has a saving of £360 on a seven night stay, nearby attractions include, The Big Sheep and The Milky Way amusement parks For keen walkers, the stunning beach of Westward Ho! Is a short stroll away, as well as number of pubs, shops and restaurants and a golf course. The spacious three bedroom cottage sleeps six and features a 42” TV and an enclosed garden with a BBQ. A seven night stay from 11 April 2015 at Conybeare Pine Cottage, Westward Ho! costs £450 (originally £810). To book please visit http://www.holidaycottages.co.uk/north-devon
Stay at Fiddlesticks in Combe Martin, North Devon and save £130. Set in 18 acres of beautiful British countryside, explore the local village of Combe Martin. A short drive away are the sandy beaches of Croyde, Saunton, Putsborough and Woolacombe where you may want to try out surfing. The stylish cottage sleeps two. A seven night stay from 10 April 2015 at Fiddlesticks, Combe Martin costs £250 (originally £380). To book please visithttp://www.holidaycottages.co.uk/north-devon
Save £400 on a family or group holiday with at Seascape in Appledore, North Devon. The property sleeps eight across four bedrooms and features breath taking views over Bideford Bay towards Lundy Island., Take a trip and visit to Tapeley Park and The Big Sheep. The cottage is a short walk from the beach and features a large enclosed garden and whirlpool bath. A seven night stay from 11 April 2015 at Seascape, Appledore costs £850 (originally £1,250). To book please visithttp://www.holidaycottages.co.uk/north-devon
For those Bill Oddies and Kate Humbles amongst, why not try a bit of “Birding”, there are three delightful rooms available at Rock Cottage in Herefordshire, they offer dawn-chorus guided walks in the spring months, but for those of you who like a lie in in the morning, that’s most of us whilst on holiday, the owners will take you out bird-watching at any time of the day. Located in a quiet area of the Black Mountains, with buzzards and Ravens nesting nearby. B&B doubles start from £60,(01981 510360,rockcottageandb.co.uk)
Many of us will have seen the two series of Wainwrights walks presented by Julie Bradbury for the BBC, in fact they are both available on DVD, and probably Netflix and Amazon prime etc.; but with one fell swoop it’s possible to walk Alfred Wainwrights favourite mountains in one go.
Known as the father of the peaks, this journey is based on the “Fathers” favourite top Lakeland peaks, it includes, Bowfell, Pillar, Great Gable, Blencathra, Crinkle Crags and Scarfell Pike, the highest mountain in England.
Fortunately this mountain challenge takes place over the course of seven days, you will be staying in a house on the shores of Derwentwater near Keswick. In-between walks you can always sit by the fire thumbing through a copy of Wainwrights classic Pictorial Guides ( you might even get a selfie)From £679;hfhoidays.co.uk
Bath is a glorious regency city, it’s not difficult to see why it’s only one of a small number of British cities with World Heritage status well known for its spas and regency architecture, also boasts some fantastic culinary delights, some don’t sound to appetising, Bath chaps ( pigs cheeks) but I have it on good authority they are delicious in addition it has many boutique hotels where you can spoil yourself. Getting there is straight forward enough, with direct trains from Cardiff, London Paddington and Waterloo, from a little as £18.00 return, those travelling by train from the North will be a little inconvenienced as it is necessary to change at Bristol Temple Meads, but it is definitely worth the small inconvenience.
If you wish to really spoil yourself, I suggest a stay at The Bath Priory, unapologetically traditional, close to the Royal Crescent, constructed in the 19th century of it oozes with the charm of Bath stone, as expected copious amounts of foliage , very luxurious furnishings, but the highlight of the particular hotel is its kitchen, or more to the point what comes out from there. Sam Moody, who trained under Michael Caines is the man responsible, he has lovingly created the menu.
The hotel also has a beautifully lit pool, perhaps to swim off some calories after dinner, the bed rooms are tastefully decorated: Doubles from £210, B&B (01225331922) www.thebathpriory.co.uk
If you wish to ensure you have a central location on your visit to Bath, I would suggest a stay a Harington’s Hotel, comprised of three former houses, it’s in the city centre, but secluded enough down a cobbled lane that gives an air of privacy, there are only thirteen bedrooms, its apparent it has been formed from three former houses as all the bedrooms are different shapes and sizes. If you like people watching then the breakfast rooms the place for you, eggs and bacon on the menu, with a view overlooking the street. Doubles from £88,B&B (01225461728)www.haringtonshotel.co.uk
If you are going to make a weekend of it, or longer in Bath, and are perhaps with a group of friends, then the Courtyard Apartments would be ideal, there is a minimum stay of 2 nights criteria, occupying a row of Georgian townhouses in the centre, comprising of three 2 bedroom basement apartments, but once inside this is easy to forget, the apartments have everything to hand, including washing machine ,dishwasher, microwave, flat-screen TVs, Wi-Fi, they include fresh milk bread and butter on arrival, which is a nice welcoming touch. One bedroom apartment from £125, minimum two-night stay(01225329494) www.thecourtyardapartments.co.uk
Goose Fat anyone?
Anyone remember that brilliant sketch by Victoria Wood where she was attempting to swim the channel? Well you might not be as old as me, not quite the English channel, but here’s another challenge. The Lake District known for its spectacular walks, and views of the Lakes is now introducing another option, there are seventeen swimmable lakes and as part of the Great Lake District Swim Challenge this summer you can attempt to swim them all.
The expedition is split into two geographical sections, east and west, each area covered over 2 days, the length you are required to swim is variable, in some lakes it will be a width in others further. You won’t be alone you will be accompanied by a swim bus, which will serve hot drinks and snacks in addition to providing transportation between lakes. From only £349pp for a weekend, including transfers and accommodation; various dates in June and August are available;headtothehils.co.uk
Got any holidays left?
It’s that time of year, festive season well behind us, what do you do with those remaining annual leave days, here’s a suggestion.
Center Parks are offering a three night weekend at their new 365-acre site at Woburn Forest Village near Flitwick, plenty of outdoor activities on offer to bow the cobwebs away. It boasts a 30c Subtropical Swimming Paradise that kids of all ages will enjoy, with a 77,500 sq. ft. spa there’s something for everyone. From £599 for a three night weekend staying in a three bedroom Woodland Lodge (03448 267723, centerparls.co.uk
STATELY HOMES & CASTLES - LIVING LIKE A LORD
Due to the 'real Downton Abbey' opening its doors to the public, interest has grown in staying at some of the best England can offer of country heritage homes and castles. You can escape the visiting crowds and live the life of luxury with even an overnight stay or two, where you can take in the impressive hallways and staircases leading off, enjoy the gardens hassle free and wonder at the gothic architecture that surrounds you.
Here is a taster of what's on offer:
Alnwick Castle, Northumberland is well known for playing its part as Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films and every October guests can join in with the Hogwartian Party held in the Great Hall. The Percies having established themselves in the castle for a thousand years still live there; they are the Duke of Northumberland and his wife. A few years ago they restored the walled garden which includes a 'Poison Garden' containing various cannabis plants. From around £392 a week for two people you can delve into the castle's history and appreciate its filming connection.
Tel: 01668 219941 or visit www.alnwickcastlecottages.co.uk
Syon Park, Middlesex is another home lived in by the Duke of Northumberland and his wife, located near London and close by to Kew Gardens. This impressive house has seen many royal guests since the 1400s offering state rooms and oak-panelled passageways. It has been used as a backdrop to TV productions and films however the hotel section is a more of updated Waldorf of Astoria. The rooms are large and airy with a contemporary feel to them, with unbroken views across the parkland in which you can wander. Syon Park is only open to the public three days a week so as a paying guest, you will be left alone to enjoy your luxury stay.
Tel: 020 7870 7777 or visit www.londonsyonpark.com
Bowood House, Wiltshire has an impressive tree-lined drive up to the Georgian Grade I listed country house, lived in by Lord and Lady Lansdowne. Guests however stay in newly built Bowood Hotel set in the grounds, whose interior was designed by the marchioness herself. It offers 43 bedrooms and suites, named after her ancestors, along with a bar, restaurant, spa and gym. In addition there is golf, a country club and rhododendron gardens spreading out across 60 acres. A stay at the Queenswood Lodge offers four bedrooms and includes a chef, waiter and housekeeper for a more regal stay.
Tel: 01249 822228 or visit www.bowood-hotel.co.uk
The Grove, Hertfordshire is an 18th century mansion offering a mix of styles; Regency, baroque and French. No longer a home, it is purely a hotel providing a sense of grandeur thrown in with a few modern twists of English eccentricity in its chandeliers and contemporary art. The fine dining at Colette's s one of its major attractions, along with the Pan-Asian buffet style menu and more family orientated The Stables. Doubles staying in the house start from £440.
Tel: 01923 807807 or visit www.thegrove.co.uk
It never ceases to amaze me that the people of Hampshire haven’t taken their cue from the Scottish Nationalists and formed their own Hampshire Nationalist Party. For Hampshire holds so many of the symbols and cultural points that help define Englishness that it makes other counties seem, well, almost foreign: take your pick from cricket, beer, country villages, Morris dancing, country houses, gardens, the armed forces, sailing, famous writers, and gentle countryside. What Hampshire does, it does world class. Of course part of Hampshire has already broken away geologically speaking: the Isle of Wight.
A large rich county in central southern England, Hampshire occupies the final few bulimic notches on London’s bloated commuter belt. I should think that Hampshire tolerates rather than encourages this reputation. Hampshire once held some of the greatest offices in England, and to a degree still does. Winchester, its main city, was the ancient seat of the kings of England, the brainchild of King Alfred. Southampton, a huge commercial port, is berth to a monarch of the waves, the QE2. Hampshire contains the birthplaces of the Royal Navy, the British Army and the Royal Air Force. The island city of Portsmouth, where the Royal Navy is based, is final resting place of The Mary Rose and Nelson’s HMS Victory. Two of the greatest writers in the English language came from Hampshire: Jane Austen was born in Chawton, lived in Hampshire and now lies in Winchester Cathedral; Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth. On the subject of writers, let’s not forget Gilbert White, whose beautiful family house at Selbourne is worth visiting, and whose book The Natural History and Antiquities of Selbourne has not only been in print ever since 1789 but is also reputedly the fourth best-selling book in the English language.
A bucket-list of things to see in Hampshire would include Beaulieu, ancestral home of the Montagu family ever since the 16th century, where the National Motor Museum is garaged; Broadlands, Earl Mountbatten’s home, a Palladian mansion by the River Test belonging to Lord and Lady Brabourne which 'Capability' Brown rebuilt in 1765, and where the Queen and Prince Philip spend part of their honeymoon; the Earl of Carnarvon’s home Highclere Castle, perhaps now equally familiar as ‘Downton Abbey’; Stratfield Saye, the Duke of Wellington’s estate; Osbourne House on the Isle of Wight, preserved from the time Queen Victoria lived and died here; Hambledon village, where the first cricket club was founded; the Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclere, which some hold as the greatest masterpiece of 20th-century British art; the New Forest, untouched ever since William the Conqueror founded it in 1079; the River Test which offers excellent fly fishing; Cowes Regatta, the oldest yachting regatta in the world, held in August; the city of Winchester with its magnificent Gothic cathedral…There isn’t a bucket large enough to encompass everything that Hampshire has to offer.
Among famous people associated with Hampshire are Sir Alec Guinness who lived in the village of Steep near Petersfield until his death in August 2000. Jill Balcon, the actress and mother of Daniel Day Lewis also lived in Steep. David Bowie is believed to have a house near Petersfield, as is Pete Townsend, rock star of The Who, who has been spotted in MacDonalds in Petersfield. Bertrand Russell, the philosopher, lived just outside Harting. Ken Wood, of Kenwood electrical appliances, lived in Liphook. Peter Sellers, the actor, was born above a Chinese restaurant in Southsea. Sir Euan Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe overseas his family estate Elvetham near Hook in the north-east of the county. The Govett family (as in Hoare Govett) own land around Bransbury Common. Among famous English families who have seats or estates in Hampshire are the Baring insurance family, the Chetwodes, the Wakefields, the Cadburys (chocolate), the Cecils and the Sainsburys (supermarkets).
The Isle of Wight has several famous people connected with it: Jeremy Irons, the actor, was born and grew up here; David Niven lived in Rose Cottage in Bembridge; the late Anthony Minghella, Oscar-winning director of The English Patient and The Talented Mr Ripley, was born on the Isle of Wight where his father Edward owns Minghella's Ice Cream factory in Wootton. Sir Christopher Cockerell inventor of the hovercraft also lived on the Isle of Wight, as did Barnes Wallace, inventor of the 'bouncing bomb', and Alfred Lord Tennyson.
Winchester College, the most famous school in Hampshire, is famously elitist and intellectual. Its alumni include Tim Brooke-Taylor (comedian), Antony Beevor (historian) and Richard Noble (team leader of the Bloodhound land speed record project). The other famous Hampshire school is Bedales in the village of Steep, which produced Daniel Day-Lewis, Minnie Driver and Jade Jagger.
Some of the finest scenery in Hampshire lies in a broad belt of gentle countryside stretching from Andover, Stockbridge and Romsey along the Test Valley in the west, to Winchester, Alresford, Alton and Petersfield in the east. You’ll find a rolling blowy chalk downland covered with a patchwork of hedged fields, clumps of steep beechwood, valleys delved by clear chalk streams, and charming villages of brick and flint.
An irresistible attraction in this part of Hampshire are the country pubs, remotely and leafily embedded like hidden gems, and serving local ales from Ringwood, Bowmans, Langhams and Upham. Among the most cherished pubs is the Harrow Inn at Steep, owned by the McCutcheon family ever since 1929, although the pub dates back from Tudor times. Shrouded in gardens pullulating with dahlias, alliums, sweet peas, apple trees and the occasional rose, this idyllic spot is folded in a 10-acre estate. Period charm grips you as you step inside – ducking to avoid hitting your head – to a veritable museum of odds and ends, and bits of pieces of often bizarre provenance, including a bomb, a World War Two parachute and a vessel containing the first drop of North Sea oil. ‘We have taken on where mummy and daddy left off,’ says Clare McCutcheon, who has worked at the Harrow all her life. ‘The menu hasn’t changed much: ham and rare beef are our specialties.’ Others specialties are cottage pie, fish pie, ham hock and vegetable soup, and in winter Aga-baked potatoes for Saturday lunch which you’re wise to book in advance.
Contemplating buying a bag of manure on my way out, my attention is snagged by a sign saying ‘Free WiFi’. What’s the password? ‘Bugger off!’
When I alight at the Hampshire Bowman near Bishops Waltham, Mark Newman, 29, and his fiancé Chloe, who are the landlords, are applying the final touches to their annual beer festival, which takes place in the last weekend of July, a must-do fixture hereabouts ever since it began in the 1990s. The Bowman is rare among English for having its own archery field in 12 acres, the legacy of a previous landlady from the 1970s, Carol Montague, who was an archer in the British Olympic team.
Newman, born locally in Bishops Waltham, is something of a beer connoisseur who scours the country for unusual barrels, including a beer from the Orkneys. ‘We have failed to make the Good Beer Guide on only two occasions,’ he says. ‘And the Good Beer Guide has been going for 35 years. We were CAMRA runner up in 2013.’
Like many country pubs, the Bowman attracts its share of oddballs and eccentrics. One regular Martin Orford, is, ‘one of the greatest prog rock keyboardists of all time,’ says Newman. ‘He played in IQ in the late 1980s. Now retired, he helps out in the kitchen when not driving steam engines on the Watercress Line.’
Chloe, Newman’s ‘other half’, looks after the cooking, which runs to all the pub classics. ‘I’d get lynched if we took the liver and bacon off the menu,’ says Newman. ‘Our biggest sellers are the cheesy chips.’ You can be certain the food will be fresh: Chloe’s father runs A A Edwards & Son, the fruit and vegetable wholesalers in Southampton.
Hampshire is the cradle of cricket. The first ever cricket club was founded in Hambledon in 1786. It was briefly the pre-eminent cricket club in the world until the Marylebone Cricket Club supplanted it at Lord’s cricket ground in London in 1787. However, Thomas Lord, the founder of Lord’s, is commemorated in the Thomas Lord pub in West Meon, where Lord retired in 1830. Located near the stunning Meon Valley, the Thomas Lord aspires to be more than a mere pub. With its gardens, tastefully decorated dining room, wood-fired pizza oven and clientele of gentleman in Panama hats and their Sloaney wives, it is a comfortable and friendly spot, and the food is excellent, particularly the venison and black pudding Scotch egg.
There are many other pubs of commensurate charm and beauty: the Hawkley Inn has a west-facing veranda like something out of the wild west, with customers arriving by horse; the Tichborne Arms in the village of Tichborne has perhaps the best beer festival of the lot; the Pub With No Name, aka the White Horse in Prior Dean, has recently modernised itself and now serves Sunday lunch. With their roaring open fires, these pubs work just as well in winter as in summer.
Winchester has a charming old quarter around its cathedral, and, with its plethora of tearooms and shops, the strolling here is outstanding. Unlike its rival cathedral cities, Salisbury and Chichester, Winchester is not a market town, so you don’t find local butchers and bakers. What you do find are supermarkets galore, which some say makes the city feel like a London suburb. The eastern flank of the city is dominated by Winchester College and by the first Norman cathedral in England, with the famous Wykeham Arms pub sandwiched between the two. Meanwhile, to the west, the ‘new town’ of Winchester sprang up in the 1850s when the railway line to London was built. Today Winchester is within easy commuting distance of the capital, with five trains an hour.
‘Although it is a rich city, it gets no funding for the arts,’ says Chris Caldicott, local resident, over a pint of beer at the Black Boy pub. ‘So there are no theatres or galleries, whereas Eastleigh to the south is a thriving arts centre that has The Point, a contemporary theatre and dance studio. But Winchester is starved so we go to London for our entertainment.’
Winchester is an excellent place to embark on ambitious long-distance walks. Indeed it marks the beginning of the Pilgrim's Way. A towpath on the Itchen Navigation, which conveyed coal from Southampton to Winchester, leads out to St Catherine’s Hill close to Twyford Down. Another walk leads you to the water meadows beyond the ancient town walls and Winchester College to the village of St Cross.
Where to stay? There are plenty of hotels and bed and breakfasts, but if you want stupendous luxury, complete with spa and gym and restaurants, try the Four Seasons Hampshire. The site of this magnificent hotel in Dogmersfield Park dates from the 13th century (originally the site of a bishop's palace) and marks the place where Prince Arthur met Catherine of Aragon.
I can’t see independence for Hampshire ever happening. To break away somehow wouldn’t be English, and Englishness is the quintessence of Hampshire…