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Destinations on your doorstep: Hampshire's rural escapes

Hampshire cottage

It’s easy to overlook things which are right on your doorstep, so this summer why not see what your home county of Hampshire has to offer for a fun-filled family day out. The county has a vast number of visitor attractions, including a rich variety of museums, galleries and country parks.

If it’s the great outdoors that you and your family enjoy most then Hampshire certainly has that in abundance. With 3,000 miles of footpaths, 750 miles of cycle paths and 465 miles of bridleways to explore, the county’s idyllic scenery is just waiting to be enjoyed.

The New Forest National Park boasts acres of open countryside, where ponies and cattle roam free. The South Downs National Park stretches from Winchester to beyond Petersfield, featuring dramatic rolling hills and far-reaching views. The North Wessex Downs area, home to chalk river valleys and the famous Watership Down, is also a hidden delight.

Walking or cycling in the fresh air alongside Hampshire’s rivers and canals is the perfect way to unwind and to keep fit. The clear chalk rivers of the Test, Meon and Itchen are some of the purest and prettiest in the country, and offer unrivalled fishing.

For nature lovers, there’s also Gilbert White’s House and Garden in Selborne or the Hawk Conservancy Trust near Andover, with over 150 birds of prey. Nearby Whitchurch is home to the UK’s only working silk mill, while the Blackwater Valley Path offers an attractive river-walk through Rushmoor.

Meanwhile, if all things historical are your passion then you can visit the ruins of the medieval Bishop’s Waltham Palace which was once used by the Bishops and senior clergy of Winchester as they travelled through their diocese. Buckler’s Hard in the New Forest was once a centre for shipbuilding and its Maritime Museum recounts the story of the village and surrounding area. Nearby Beaulieu is home to the museum of a different form of transport – the National Motor Museum. Medieval Winchester houses one of England’s oldest almshouses, the Hospital of St Cross, as well as King Arthur’s celebrated Round Table which can be found in the County Council’s historic Great Hall.

Hampshire also has a selection of historic houses and gardens to enjoy, such as Mottisfont Abbey, with its famous rose garden, and Basingstoke’s Basing House and The Vyne, which may have served as a literary inspiration to Tolkien. This year, Hampshire proudly celebrates the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s literary classic, Pride and Prejudice, and you can visit her family home and museum at Chawton near Alton.

Travelling into Hampshire’s countryside takes you to villages which offer traditional tea rooms and welcoming pubs. The Georgian town of Alresford is the UK’s capital for watercress and one of the stops on the Watercress Line, a preserved heritage steam railway which enthrals adults and children alike. Medieval Romsey, sitting on one of the finest trout rivers in Europe, has a choice of shops and restaurants and the historic Abbey to enjoy. Stockbridge is also a popular foodie destination, home to the annual Trout and About food festival.

Hampshire’s annual events are firm favourites. The Hampshire Food Festival in July offers tempting Hampshire fare, including locally sourced trout, watercress and cheeses. From the New Forest and Hampshire County Show to the Romsey Show and Alresford’s Watercress Festival there is something for everyone.

Kids go free offer!

If you’re looking for a great family day out this summer, why not visit one of the following attractions where one child goes free with every paying adult.*

Manor Farm and Country Park

Manor Farm is a delightful mix of woodland, riverside and open space which was the setting for the popular BBC2 Wartime Farm series. Meet the many interesting costumed characters living on the farm and have a close encounter with the friendly farm animals.

Staunton Country Park

With a farm full of friendly animals, the south coast’s largest ornamental glasshouses, beautiful gardens and 1,000 acres of country park to explore,there’s something for everyone at Staunton Country Park.

Hawk Conservancy Trust

Set in 22 acres of woodland and wildflower meadow, there are over 150 birds of prey on view at Hawk Conservancy Trust, from owls to eagles.