For those of us who already live the area and also those who are moving into this glorious part of the country, we’re blessed with a huge choice of fabulous things to do … right on our doorstep. Amidst our beautiful towns and villages, surrounded by the stunning countryside of the South Downs National Park, there are important houses, museums, galleries and an array of very different attractions. We even have an iconic steam railway, a heritage steam fair and, for those who just want to enjoy the fresh air, there are miles and miles of open, peaceful space providing the perfect walking environment with inspirational views and plenty of surprises along the way.
Awaiting your pleasure, just off the A272 and 10 miles west of Petersfield, is a stately 18th Century English home housing an outstanding collection of furniture, paintings and objets d'art. Set in 1600 acres, the panoramic views across the Hampshire countryside are just stunning. Now owned and managed by the National Trust, it’s a real must-visit place for everyone! The 12 acre formal garden at Hinton Ampner is widely acknowledged as a masterpiece of 20th century design, including the dell, a sunken garden with fine topiary and the recently restored walled garden. After an exhilarating tour around the house and gardens, the tea rooms offer the perfect place to relax with a drink and a selection of light lunches, including home-made cakes and cream teas.
The Hollycombe Steam Collection in Liphook has a long history and was started in 1951 by the late John Baldock, who had a fascination for steam engines. In 1997 it became a charitable trust - the Hollycombe Working Steam Museum Ltd, with a much-needed grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund announced the following year. Today, Hollycombe is home to one of the most varied collection of steam engines and fairground rides in Britain. Try ‘Razzle Dazzle’, the world’s oldest white-knuckle ride or ‘Mr Field’s Steam Circus’, the world’s first mechanically operated fairground attraction. Take in the views of the South Downs from Hollycombe’s famous Big Wheel or from the Quarry Railway and have fun in the world’s oldest Haunted House and The Hall of Mirrors!
The home of Jane Austen, one of our most celebrated British authors, is right on our doorstep. This beautiful historic cottage in Chawton, just 2 miles from Alton is where Jane Austen lived at the peak of her creative output. As the most treasured Austen site in the world, it’s where Jane’s genius flourished and where she wrote and revised all her major works including Sense and Sensibility & Pride and Prejudice. Visitors to the Jane Austen House & Museum can freely explore Jane’s home and beautiful cottage garden whilst learning about her life through a series of imaginative exhibitions and displays. Whilst you’re there, discover the ‘Great House’ referred to in Jane Austen’s letters which is just down the lane. Chawton House is now dedicated to the lives and works of our women writers.
Where better to spend a relaxing half day than amidst the tranquility of Ludshott Common and Waggoners Wells – all now a National Trust reserve. Lying south of the B3002 between Headley Down and Grayshott and covering 700 acres, it’s a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest and Special Protection Area due to the number of endangered species of birds, insects and other animals which live there. Close by, set amongst woodland to the east of Ludshott Common, is series of stepped ponds linked by streams and waterfalls known as Waggoners Wells. They were created in the 17th century and believed to be hammer ponds to serve the local iron industry. The woodland surrounding the ponds is notable for its mature and majestic beech trees.
Uppark is the most tranquil and intimate 18th-century house perched on its vantage point high on the South Downs ridge in South Harting, just southeast of Petersfield. Together with its interior treasures, it commands views as far south as the English Channel and boasts the gardens which are gradually being restored to their original 18th-century design. The nearby woodland is great for exploring and the adjacent meadow is ideal for summer picnics. In National Trust ownership, Uppark's Georgian interiors illustrate the comfort of life ‘upstairs’, in contrast with the grim ‘downstairs’ world of the servants. Open all year round, a particular highlight on display is one of the best examples of a 17th century doll's house in the country.
The Devil's Punchbowl is a large hollow of dry sandy heath to the west of Hindhead overlooked by the 894ft Gibbet Hill, the second highest hill in Surrey. It’s arguably one of the most spectacularly scenic and beautiful places in our region and well worth a visit. Folklore has it that is was created by the God Thor who scooped up mounds of earth to throw at the Devil, who was annoying him by jumping across the nearby Devils Jumps! Today it’s owned by the National Trust and offers plenty of space for family adventures and many lovely spots for picnics. Delicious home cooked food is also available from the café, next to the large car park. The Punch Bowl is home to an abundance of wildlife and is a renowned site of ‘Special Scientific Interest’.
There is no more perfect way to unwind and experience the nostalgic sights, sounds and smells of steam travel from a bygone age, than on the Watercress Line. The railway which runs the full 10 miles from Alton to the pretty Georgian town of New Alresford, has 5 old stations along its line, boasts a unique rolling stock of fully operational locomotives and many more under restoration. Over 120,000 passengers a year enjoy a serene trip through the quintessential Hampshire countryside and a range of special events and activities. Amongst the well-known attractions are ‘Thomas the Tank’ engine, a 1945 Hunslet Austerity-type and a perfect example of one of the most powerful steam engines ever to operate in the UK, a 1934 School-Class known as ‘Cheltenham’.
The Allen Gallery in Alton is an intimate setting for one of the most outstanding collections of ceramics in the south of England. With over 3000 pieces in the museum, the exceptional display of ceramics and porcelain holds something to interest all visitors. Items on show date from 1250 AD to the present day and are primarily from the UK, along with some eastern Asian and continental pieces which have historically influenced our ceramics industry. Subjects of the themed displays include country pottery, English stoneware, Wedgwood, English delft, English porcelain, studio pottery, tiles and more. The gallery holds regular exhibitions of art, crafts, photography, local and natural history and local artists, as well as the delightful watercolours and oil paintings of W.H. Allen.
The historic house in the centre of Selborne village, just 3 miles east of Alton, was the home of the eighteenth century pioneering naturalist Gilbert White. The house is surrounded by 25 acres of majestic restored garden and parkland, which specialises in eighteenth century plants and gardening methods inspired by Gilbert White himself. The Museum is also home to the Oates Collections - dedicated to the 19th Century explorer Frank Oates, who travelled extensively around Africa and Central America and his nephew, the heroic Captain Lawrence Oates. The Collection specifically commemorates the life and adventures of Lawrence Oates, who travelled with Captain Scott to the South Pole on the epic, yet ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition of 1912.
For those seeking fresh air and inspiration, this is a ‘must do’. A beautiful 3½ mile walk around the Ashford Hangers with stunning views of the South Downs, starting and ending at 12th Century Steep Church, just north of Petersfield. The area was the inspiration of first world war poet Edward Thomas who lived in Steep. Along the route is a memorial, known as the Poet’s Stone, situated on the Shoulder of Mutton hill. This was dedicated to Thomas in 1937, 20 years after he was killed in the battle of Arras, in northern France. Enjoy the panoramic views from the top of the hill, amidst spectacular beech hangers and dramatic downland. Walking difficulty is generally mainly ‘easy to moderate’ but beware, as there is a fairly steep section up the side of the Shoulder of Mutton Hill.
For a truly remarkable family day out, visit Butser Ancient Farm which is located in Chalton, just off the A3, only 5 miles south of Petersfield. Open throughout the year, the archaeological site displays constructions of ancient buildings based on real sites, dating from the Stone Age through the Iron Age and Roman Britain, and finishing with the Anglo-Saxons. It also practices ancient crop farming techniques, as well as keeping rare breeds of animals, including pigs, goats and sheep. The farm runs great hands-on experience activities for adults and children with a full programme of special events and workshops including metallurgy, Iron Age cooking and bushcraft skills. Whilst you’re there you can also pop down the road and explore the delights of the Queen Elizabeth Country Park.
Frensham Little Pond and Great Pond were originally created in the 13th century, to supply fish to the Bishop of Winchester and his court. Today the ponds and surrounding area is under National Trust ownership and is a sanctuary for wildlife. Around the sandy shores, you can spot many common and rare birds, such as reed bunting, sedge warbler and great crested grebe, as well as nightjars and woodlarks. The heathland is a colourful mosaic of purple heathers and bright yellow gorse and there are ancient gnarled oaks and pines scattered across the site. It’s also a site of ‘Special Scientific Interest, a ‘Special Protection Area’ and a ‘Special Area of Conservation’. Each pond has its own car park, with an information centre and café at the Great Pond.