A seaborne county and a landward county, a rural and an urban county, Hampshire looks in two directions. This was once the heart of the new-born Kingdom of England.
The south coast of Hampshire, on the English Channel, looks to the sea. Southampton is Britain’s greatest commercial seaport and eastward of it Portsmouth is the home of the Royal Navy. Other ports line the Hampshire coast, and indeed from the head of Southampton Water to the edge of Sussex runs a swathe of townscape, broken only by a breathing space of smaller towns by Southampton and by the river estuaries, islands and creeks with which the natural coastline is ragged. In this though each town has it characteristics and history.
Across the Solent is the Isle of Wight, a self-reliant island (and once a separate Jutish kingdom) but a part of Hampshire nevertheless. Queen Victoria fell in love with the island and stayed frequently at Osborne House. The Island is famous for its Victorian resort towns (e.g. Sandown, Ryde, Ventnor), its dramatic coastline (e.g. the Needles, Tennyson Down) and peace of its unspoiled interior. Cowes is a world famous Yachting centre.
Inland Hampshire is a county of farms. The county town at its heart is Winchester. Winchester’s Norman cathedral, the seat of one of the land’s most senior bishoprics, dominates the centre of the mediæval city, while a Victorian statue of King Alfred reminds us that Winchester was the capital of Wessex and Anglo-Saxon England. Beyond Winchester, Hampshire’s picture-postcard countryside rolls all around the traveller.
Almost like an annex in the southwest of the county is the New Forest. The New Forest was laid out as a hunting reserve by William the Conqueror, but as broad woodland and heath it is far older. It is a timeworn place which appeals to one’s ancestral longings. Along the coast west of Southampton is a string of sandy resort towns, culminating in the Victorian splendour of Bournemouth.
County Town: Winchester
Main Towns: Aldershot, Basingstoke, Bournemouth, Christchurch, Cowes, Newport, Petersfield, Portmouth, Ringwood, Ryde, Southampton, Winchester, Ventnor.
Main Rivers: Meon, Test, Itchen, Hamble, Beaulieu, Avon.
Highlights: Beaulieu; Osborne House; HMS Victory & Portsmouth Harbour; The New Forest; The Needles.
Highest Point: Walbury Hill, 974 feet (SU 373 616).
Area: 1,622 sq miles
County Flower: Dog-rose