. Few counties in Britain offer quite such scenic variation as Hampshire. There is the Hampshire of the chalk downs, the rolling hills punctuated by sheep and skylark. The North Downs slope towards Aldershot while the South Downs rise to their highest point near Petersfield at Butser Hill. Much of the country in between is rich fertile agricultural farmland.
. Different again is the Hampshire of the water meadows, the chalk streams of rivers like the Test providing some of the finest fly fishing in Britain .
. In the west of the county, the meadows give way to the New Forest , deeply wooded with oak, birch and beech and inhabited by wild ponies roam.
. The Hampshire coast offers variety, loo: pine trees and steep ravines, known as chines, can be found in Bournemouth , the county's largest holiday town, but in the east the coastline is characterized by the deep- water estuaries of the Hamble and Beaulieu rivers.
. At the head of Southampton Water, the isle of Wight's most important feature is the chalk ridge which runs in a dog's leg from the jagged points of the Needles in the west to the dazzling white Culver Cliff in the east.
. The Isle of Wight is about 22 miles long by some 13 miles wide and is an English landscape in miniature.. There are prominent chalk cliffs at The Needles, a multi- coloured beach at Alum Bay , dramatic chines such at Blackgang, rolling downs in the hinterland, and a very mild climate to suit sailors, swimmers and sunbathers alike.
Origin of name: A homm or hamm was, in Old English, a water meadow and the county has its fair share of these. The original name for Southampton was Hamtun or Homtun meaning the farm on the river land.
Name first recorded: 7SS i as Hamtunscir.
WINCHESTER : History, heritage and high street shopping come together in near-perfect harmony.
ALTON : Fine Georgian houses, antique shops and local hisLui f iiiu&eurn.
BASINGSTOKE : A market and trading town long before the arrival of glass and steel office blocks, dual carriageways and the 1,000 roundabouts.
BOURNEMOUTH : Parks, public gardens, retirement homes, language schools and miles of beach.
CHRIST-CHURCH: Reputedly has the longest parish church in England with fine views from its Saxon tower; also the ignoble site of John Major's walloping by- election rebuff in 1993.
COWES : England 's top yachting centre.
EMSWORTH: Picturesque harbour and an ancient port famed for its oyster fisheries and yacht building.
LYMINCTON: Seaside resort and ferry town pleasantly situated upon a hill with fine views across the Solent .
NEWPORT : isle of Wight capital with old quays of once- thriving inland port on Medina river.
PETERSFIELD: Wool-trade town full of attractive old houses with lively market.
PORTSMOUTH : Naval tradition and museums abound.
RINGWOOD: A large and well built town lying low in the Avon valley. Its name derives from Regnewood which signifies the wood of the regni (the ancient inhabitants called regni by the Romans).
RYDE: Souvenir-shops and bunting advertise this seaside resort worth visiting by ferry across the Solent if just to take the 'tube' along the pier.
SOUTHAMPTON : A unique tidal system once made this Britain 's premier passenger port for the grand, great Cunard liners 'The Queens'.
VENTNOR: Perched precariously on the Isle of Wight 's west coast, with Gothic Victorian holiday homes, lush botanical gardens and a History of Smuggling Museum.
. Andover . Eastleigh . Fareham . Farnborough . Fleet . Gosport . Havant . Shanklin . Waterlooville
Meon, Test, itchen, Hamble, Beaulieu, Avon .
Pilot Hill at 938 feet.
. Spring Bank Holiday Monday: The Aldershot Horse Show, one of the largest in the south.
. Late June/early July: Bournemouth Musicmakers Festival with bands, choirs and orchestras from around the world.
. Romsey holds a carnival in July and an agricultural show in September.
. July: Royal Isle of Wight County Show, Cowes .
. August: Cowes Week yachting festival, isle of Wight. The island is surrounded by sailboats - a sight not to be missed, especially if there is no wind!
. Early September: Farnborough international Air Show for those who can't get enough of low-flying engine roaring displays.
. Beginning of September: The Beaulieu international Autojumble, the largest jumble sale in Europe of items connected with motoring and road transport, is also held at the National Motor Museum . With its monorail and nearby country pile, this is well worth a visit at anytime.
. August: The Hampshire County Show takes place at the Royal Victoria Country Park
. Devotees of Jane Austen will know that Britain 's great 19th-century writer was born in the village of Steventon , near Alton , lived much of her life in Sawton and is buried in Winchester Cathedral.
. The house and garden where Richard Wilson and Annette Crosby's elderly antics in One Foot in the Grove take place are in Bournemouth .
. Many celebrities gravitate to the isle of Wight, including Mark King, a member of the 80s stadium- filling funky pop group Level 42, who lives in Wootton.
. Location filming for (TV's popular Ruth Rendell Mysteries series, featuring George Baker as the country detective inspector Wexford, took place mainly in Romsey. Other location spots included Winchester College , the King's Theatre in Southsea and Southampton University .
. Charles Dickens was born in 1812 in Portsmouth , where there is a museum dedicated to him.
. Actor Jeremy irons was born in Cowes .
. Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber lives in a grand manor house at Sydmonton.
The County of Hampshire is a combination of two-tier and unitary authorities, with Hampshire County Council on one level and the 12 Districts of Basingstoke & Deane, Christchurch , East Hampshire, Eastleigh, Fareham , Gosport, Hart, Havant, New Forest , Rushmoor, Test Valley, Winchester on the other. By the way, Dorset NOT Hampshire County Council is the top level in Chrislchurch! Bournemouth, the isle of Wight, Portsmouth and Southampton are single unitary councils with no Hampshire County Council control. Hampshire detached in Sussex is a very long narrow strip stretching from Camelsdale down to near Midhurst and is two-tier, administered by West Sussex County and Chichester Councils.
Special note: in 1996 the isle of Wight tried to break away from the United Kingdom and declare itself a tax haven on
BABBLING BROOKS, LAZY streams, watercress beds... the Hampshire hinterland is quintessential rural England . Follow the chalk rivers of the Test or Itchen, or the enchanting estuaries of the Beaulieu or Hamble, and you enter the great natural harbours of Hampshire at, say, Southampton, or Portsmouth with its naval splendour of the Mary Rose and HMS Victory jostling for premier historical position. Hampshire is very naval: but the army are also strongly based here, at Aldershot . This county beats the military drum that Britain marches to.
Hampshire's political hub may have changed since the days of King Alfred, but Winchester is still the county's most interesting town. The old capital of Wessex retains a rare dignity and beauty, found particularly in the Norman cathedral. Winchester has had a cathedral since the 7th century. The present building is one of the largest in Europe - 556 feet long - and buried here are the remains of King Canute, as well as more modern luminaries like Izaak Walton. Winchester doesn't just have a magnificent cathedral, it's full of beautiful Georgian and Queen Anne buildings - and good eating places. Gone are the days of 'Hampshire Hog' - pork and pudding - when pundits could pronounce.. .'as the hogs are never put into styes, but supplied with plenty of acorns, the bacon is by far the best in England ,' Should it rain during your visit, blame it on St Swithun, a Bishop of Winchester in Saxon times, who requested his body be buried outside the cathedral 'where the rain of heaven might fall on him'. But, according to legend, the authorities decreed otherwise. The body was to be brought back into the cathedral, but before work could begin it rained for 40 days and nights. Beyond Winchester , Hampshire unfolds in the glorious English countryside of rolling hills and green fields, rivers curving gently through water meadows on whichplump cattle graze through villages with thatched cottages and honeysuckle around the door. Stockbridge, once a stopping point for drovers heading east to the great cattle fairs of Sussex and Kent , offers some of the best fly fishing in the land. Hambledon will forever be the cradle of cricket - the game having started on Broadhalfpenny Down. The Hambledon team were once so strong that they could take on an England XI for a purse of 1,000 guineas - and still win. Today the talents of Hambledon XI may be more modest, but they can still quench their thirst after the game - as no doubt their predecessors did - at the nearby Bat and Ball Inn. Hampshire's cricket team now plays most of its home games at Southampton , which has long since been the county's most important commercial centre. The Romans had a military port here and the Pilgrim Fathers set sail for the New World from Southampton in 1620 before putting in at Plymouth , but it was the days of the great ocean voyages across the Atlantic which secured the city's success. Southampton has several good museums - including the Spitfire Museum in Albert Road South - but, as a place to visit, it cannot match Portsmouth , a few miles along away
along the coast. Portsmouth - Pompey to the Royal Navy and followers of the football team - is still a city where you're scarcely ever out of sight of the sea. Situated on an island, Portsmouth seems to be invaded in every nook and cranny by the sea. There's the great sight of Nelson's Victory in dry dock near the entrance to the Royal Dockyard. Also on view here is the Mary Rose, Henry VIII's warship which was raised from the sea bed in 1982. Next door, Southsea is a pleasing resort with a sandy beach, amusement complex, gardens and promenade from which you can view the countless comings and goings of ships through Southampton Water. It is this narrow stretch of water which separates Hampshire major from Hampshire minor, the Isle of Wight , which was first adopted as a holiday island by the Victorians, who were attracted by its safe bathing and enviable sunshine record. A mere 23 miles from east to west and 13 miles from north to south, it still retains something of a Victorian air in its leisurely resorts like the lines of the isle of Man, Jersey or Guernsey . Sandown and Ryde; picturesque villages like Brighstone and Godshill, on a steep hill and with a cluster of thatched cottages surrounding the 15th-century church; and the sailing centre of Cowes , where the plimsoll and sweater set gather each August for Cowes Week. Back on the mainland, the Hamble river, on the eastern side of Southampton water, is another popular sailing centre-
as is Beaulieu, where Lord Montagu's Motor Museum is more visited than the adjoining abbey, which was built by Henry VIII. But even more synonymous with Hampshire is the New Forest which, almost 1,000 years ago, became a royal hunting preserve for William the Conqueror. The forest covers more than 90,000 acres, two thirds of which are open to the public, beeches, oaks and birches providing a richness of colour which is rare in Britain . In the vast woodlands deer, ponies and donkeys run wild and, for adventurous walkers, there's a chance of coming across one of the 22 lost Saxon villages which, according to legend, lie buried beneath the thick undergrowth.
Few of our counties are so representative of the broad span of English history as Hampshire. The country's rich and varied history can be traced here from Neolithic man, through the Celts and Romans, to the Tudors, Stuarts and indeed all the eras of the last millennium. The county's chalk uplands mask Celtic barrows. After Vespasian's capture of the Isle of Wight in AD43, the Romans turned their attention to what is now Hampshire proper, establishing a military port at Clausentum (Bitteme Manor, on the outskirts of Southampton ).
Inland, they marched all over the chalk hills and created a Roman encampment at Silchester, in the north east of the county on the Berkshire border. The shape of the defences and the oval amphitheatre can be traced to this day. Under the Romans, Winchester (Venta Belgarum) was the fifth largest town in Britain , but it was really Alfred the Great who put Winchester on the map.
Alfred made Winchester capital of Wessex and for the next two centuries it ranked alongside London as the most important town in Britain - its status confirmed by William the Conqueror's coronation in both cities. Of Winchester 's historic castle of Alfred 's time, only the Great Hall remains - and the brightly-painted King Arthur's Round Table, which experts now say was made in the 14th century but still well worth gazing at. Winchester is a marvellous city to visit containing, as it does, buildings of every era from the 12th century to the present day.
Romsey, another town with Roman connections, is similarly rich in fine buildings, notably the the 10th century Abbey Church , which still contains traces of its Saxon origins. Nearby is the old Mountbatten home of Broadlands, a magnificent 18th century mansion set in a fine park which once belonged to the statesman Lord Palmeston.
The 18th and 19th centuries - the years of great colonial expansion - saw Hampshire prospering from its maritime connections. Because it was close to plentiful supplies of oak from the New Forest (in fact Hampshire then had more wood than any other county in England ), Bucklers Hard became a great shipbuilding centre. At the height of its prosperity, in the 18th century, it employed 4,000 men and built 40 of the ships which fought under Nelson in the Napoleonic wars. Echoes of this shipbuilding have long since faded but the area is beautiful if you seek solitude and scenic walks.
In the 19th century, the Isle of Wight became an island fit for royalty, literally, when in 1845 Queen Victoria decided to built herself a Palladian-style retreat there. Osborne House was, in fact, the place where England 's longest serving monarch died in 1901.
Across the Solent, another queen, Bournemouth 'the queen of resorts' was also developed by the Victorians, in 1810 a Lewis Tregonwell built a holiday house here (part of which is in the Royal Exeter Hotel) and a Dr Granville recommended its mild climate as a curative. By 1840 a marina and the laying of pines began to transform this open heathland into a premier resort with six miles of super sandy beaches backed by steeply rising cliffs. Today it has an elderly, genteel image that is not wholly deserved.