As the crow flies, the north-eastern corner of Hampshire is little more than 30 miles from central London. So it’s not surprising that this corner of the county is quite heavily populated, dotted with prosperous, sprawling towns such as Farnborough, Farnham and Basingstoke, plus the army enclave of Aldershot. What is surprising is that once you turn off the busy main roads, you can find yourself driving along narrow country lanes with very little traffic.
To the south of this area are the North Downs. Honouring the perverse tradition of English place-names, the Downs are actually uplands, softly rolling, wooded hills in whose folds lie scores of picturesque villages and Hampshire small towns. Further south is the historic city of Winchester with its glorious cathedral, and further south still, the heavily populated coastal area extending from Havant through Portsmouth with its magnificent maritime heritage, to Southampton, which boasts one of the finest natural harbours in the world.
Oddly, there are comparatively few grand houses in Hampshire although The Vyne near Basingstoke, and the Duke of Wellington’s home, Stratfield Saye House, are both very imposing. Two smaller dwellings, however, attract many thousands of visitors to this corner of the county: Jane Austen’s House at Chawton, near Alton, and a few miles to the south, in the village of Selborne, The Wakes, home of the celebrated naturalist Gilbert White. Lovers of steam railways can combine a visit to these two houses with a ride on the Watercress Line, which runs between Altonand Alresford.
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