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Monday, 19 May 2014

Hampshire Delights

Day 1

Well, what can I say! After a few exciting continental tours it was a bit of a come down to see that my next tour was 5 days in Basingstoke. Not a holiday destination which springs to mind! The good thing about touring so close to home, is no ridiculously early start on the first day. I am working with my good friend Lorraine as courier, which I'm looking forward to. 

Our first passenger meeting point today was, as usual, at our depot. We left at 10am to meet our next group of passengers in Stratford upon Avon before heading off down the Fosse Way for our coffee stop at Stow on the Wold.
The Fosse Way was a Roman road in England that linked  Exeter in South West England to Lincoln  in Lincolnshire, via Ilchester, Bath, Cirencester and Leicester. The word Fosse is derived from the Latin fossa, meaning ditch. For the first few decades after the Roman invasion of Britain in AD 43, the Fosse Way marked the western frontier of Roman rule in Iron Age Britain. It is possible that the road began as a defensive ditch that was later filled in and converted into a road, or possibly a defensive ditch ran alongside the road for at least some of its length.

It is remarkable for its extremely direct route: from Lincoln to Ilchester in Somerset, a distance of 182 miles (293 km), it is never more than 6 miles (10 km) from a straight line.

We arrived at Stow on the Wold at 11am where we were stopping for an hour for a coffee and a mooch around this pretty little market town in the Cotswolds.

Stow-on-the-Wold is situated in the north Cotswolds, all roads seem to lead to the hill-top town of Stow and it has been that way for a long time - the ancient Jurassic Way and the Salt Way met here and an Iron Age fort was built c.700 BC. The Roman Fosse Way from Cirencester to Leicester passes through Stow, although the town is mostly off to one side, reflecting its establishment as another of the planned market towns for which the Cotswolds is renowned. Because it is off the main road, the town square is large and impressive (it has known markets with over 20,000 sheep crowded there), with various houses, shops and inns around the edge, all built in the local stone. The medieval cross is a reminder of the market's heyday - placed to encourage traders to do business fairly under the sight of God. Stow had a special importance in the English Civil War; it was close by, at Donnington, that the last battle was fought in March 1646. St Edward's Church in the town centre was used as a prison for the defeated Royalist troops. At nearly 800ft, Stow is the highest of the Cotswold towns, approached uphill from all directions with beautiful avenues of trees on some of the approaches. These days Stow is famous as a centre for the antiques trade.

We have a select group of just 24 people this week and it wasn't until I picked them up in Stow that I realised just how many familiar faces there were on board. I'm sure that one lady who is with us, had me as her driver on the first trip she ever did with our company to Harrogate and I miscounted before leaving and left her behind! I will ask if is was her before the end of the tour!

From Stow, we travelled the short but pretty route to Burford, another Cotswold town, where we were having free time to find lunch.

Approached from London and the east, Burford's steep main street leading down to the medieval bridge over the River Windrush provides the first typically Cotswold scene for many visitors. And it's an impressive welcome to the area - the town presents some of its best 17th and 18th century frontages to the High Street, with earlier buildings often visible through atmospheric alleyways and courtyards. Burford is well placed for exploring the Cotswolds and is another renowned centre for the antiques trade.

We stayed here for a couple of hours. The weather was beautiful and this was a lovely place to spend some time. We left at 2pm and travelled the scenic route, avoiding all motorways and major A roads, to our hotel.

For the next 4 nights we are staying at the Basingstoke Country Hotel. Retaining the charm and character of a country hotel, the Basingstoke Country Hotel has 100 air-conditioned and spacious bedrooms including 12 premium rooms and 8 deluxe.  All rooms offer Wifi access and lovely views of the surrounding Woodland or interior Courtyard.  The hotel also boasts a super Health and Leisure Club with fabulous indoor pool, gym. sauna, spa, solarium and beauty rooms with professional therapists on hand. They advertise that this really is the ideal place to stay and enjoy a relaxing, peaceful and leisurely weekend break. I'll tell you my opinion of that on day 5!

Considering we had phoned the hotel one hour prior to our arrival, check in was a shambles! But after a swift kick up the derrière of the duty manager by Lorraine, the situation was soon dealt with and our passengers, after a complimentary cup of coffee, were soon off to their rooms. I was pleased with my room and I took the opportunity of a couple of hours to myself to have a quick kip! After all, I'd had such a hard day!

Dinner this evening was very tasty with a good choice of menu although the service could have been quicker. After dinner, our group started to drift through to the lounge for coffee or go for a walk, or some retired to their rooms for the night. Lorraine and I stayed chatting in the restaurant. There was a gentleman eating alone who Lorraine had been eyeing up earlier and she had noticed that he'd not been getting through his bottle of wine very quickly. She said to me, "he's still got half a bottle of wine left, we could help him with that!" He heard her and smiled. I had to tell her he'd heard and she got embarrassed, which is a rare thing for Lorraine! He still didn't offer us any of his wine though!

I went off to my room shortly after 9 and had a long soak in the bath. I'm feeling quite relaxed and I think it's going to be a good few days.

Day 2

The alarm went off at 7:30 this morning and I kept pressing the snooze button until 8am! Got showered and dressed in a rush because I was due at breakfast at 8:30. I was 15 mins late when I walked in the restaurant. There was no sign of Lorraine and only 3 of our passengers. This was very odd. It was nearly 9am, the busiest time for breakfast but no one was here. I went back out to the lounge to see if Lorraine had already eaten and had moved there. No sign of anyone. The news was on the TV and the time showing was 7:45. That was when I realised I'd not changed my clock since coming back from Holland last week and I was, in fact, an hour early! That's another hour I could have had in bed! Instead, I took my time over the wide variety of breakfast on offer and if I'm honest, pigged out a bit!

Today's excursion is to Winchester. Winchester is a historic city and former capital city of England. It is the county town of Hampshire. Winchester developed from the Roman town of Venta Belgarum, which developed from an Iron Age oppidum. Winchester's major landmark is Winchester Cathedral, one of the largest cathedrals in Europe, with the distinction of having the longest nave and overall length of all Gothic cathedrals in Europe. We had a guided tour of the cathedral upon our arrival in the city.

Dedicated to the Holy Trinity, Saint Peter, Saint Paul, and Saint Swithun, it is the seat of the Bishop of Winchester and centre of the Diocese of Winchester. The cathedral is a Grade I listed building.

Swithun was an Anglo-Saxon bishop of Winchester and subsequently patron saint of Winchester Cathedral. His historical importance as bishop is overshadowed by his reputation for posthumous miracle-working. According to tradition, the weather on his feast day (15 July) will continue for forty days. The precise meaning and origin of Swithin's name is unknown, but it is largely considered to mean 'Pig Man'. Another possible meaning is "strong".

After our tour, we had free time here for the rest of the day. After a quick shop for essentials and a caffeine fix, Lorraine and I headed for the castle. 


Winchester Castle is a medieval building which was founded in 1067. Only the Great Hall still stands; it houses a 
museum of the history of Winchester. Between 1222–1235, Henry III (who was born at Winchester Castle) added the Great Hall, built to a "double cube" design. The Great Hall is built of flint with stone dressings; originally it had lower walls and a roof with dormer windows. In their place were added the tall two-light windows with early plate tracery. Extensions to the castle were made by Edward II. In 1873 the roof of the Great Hall was completely replaced.

An imitation Arthurian Round Table hangs in the Great Hall. The table was originally constructed in the 13th century, and repainted in its present form for Henry VIII; around the edge of the table are the names of King Arthur's knights.

Behind the Great Hall is a re-creation of a medieval garden called Queen Eleanor's Garden. We walked through the small but pretty garden and out the back gate where we saw signs for the Military Museums. Neither of us knew these existed, so we went to have a look.

Winchester, once capital of ancient England, has had strong links to the military since Roman times. Peninsula Barracks houses museums of five of the British Army’s famous regiments. 

The Westgate Museum is housed in one of the remaining medieval fortified gateways, in the care of the Winchester Museums Service, with portcullis slot and early gunports. A debtors’ prison for 150 years, with walls covered in prisoners’ graffiti. Children’s quizzes, childsize replica armour, hands-on activities and brass rubbing.

Winchester’s Military Museums is a grouping of five military museums situated within yards of each other on an historic site close to the city centre of Winchester and adjacent to the Great Hall.

The five museums are:

Each museum is separately run but there is an opportunity to visit all of them and enjoy an interesting ‘day out’.

Additionally, there is a WMM Visitor’s Centre. There is also an information display in the same building as The Royal Green Jackets (Rifles) Museum about The Rifles, the largest infantry regiment in the British Army, formed in 2007 from a merger of The Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment, The Devonshire and Dorset Regiment, The Light Infantry and The Royal Green Jackets.

Three of the museums – Horsepower, The Royal Green Jackets and Gurkha museums – charge for admission. The other two are free entry. Having said that, we managed free entry into them all because of 'research' purposes and we wanted to see if it would be worth while to bring a group here and because we're good at blagging it!

We left Winchester at 3pm and had a very pretty scenic drive back to our hotel on one of my 'B' road specials through the Hampshire countryside, which looked gorgeous in the sunshine.

We had a pleasant though uneventful evening, until towards the end of dinner when a couple came into the restaurant. The 'lady' (I use the term loosely!) was so drunk that she had to be held upright by her partner and placed in her chair at the table. The hotel staff were embarrassed by the state of them and everyone was commenting how disgraceful it was to behave in such a manner in a 'classy' 4* hotel! We retired to the lounge and so luckily, didn't have to suffer their bad manners and dirty mouths for too long. There was a couple at a table across from us with their back to me who were moving together for a photo. I could see the camera lens between them and so I was obviously in the shot although in the background. I couldn't help myself. They got photo bombed! I'd stuck my tongue out for their picture! It wasn't long after that I disappeared to my room where I was planning to get back my hour I had lost this morning!

Day 3

I had got the time right this morning so I did have a leisurely start. We left the hotel at 10am for our visit to the Jane Austin House Museum in the little village of Chawton, not far from Alton.

In 1809, Mrs Austen, Cassandra, Jane and Martha Lloyd moved to Chawton. Here they lived in the former bailiff's house on the Chawton estate. The estate had been left to Jane's brother Edward, who had been adopted by a wealthy childless cousin of their father's.

It was Jane's last home, where she lived with her mother and sister Cassandra from 1809 until 1817. The rooms on show include the drawing room, and the parlour where Jane wrote on the small round table. Upstairs is her bedroom with the patchwork quilt she made with her mother and sister.There are four other rooms, one of which has memorabilia of her two brothers, Frank and Charles, who both had distinguished careers in the Royal Navy. Another room houses a period costume display.

The Jane Austin House Museum is housed in the charming red-brick 17th century house, listed in the National Archives as a building of historic interest Chawton House Library.

We spent an hour and a half here, moved on to a local garden centre to grab some lunch, then headed for Alton Railway Station where we were booked for a return journey on the Mid Hants Railway 'Watercress Line'.

The Watercress Line, operates steam and heritage diesel trains between the picturesque market towns of Alton and Alresford. As well as standard travel this preserved railway runs popular special events throughout the year along with Countryman and Watercress Belle dining trains and the Real Ale Train. There are no special events running today so we are just having a leisurely journey and an ice cream.

NeweWatercress Line, operates steam and heritage diesel trains between the picturesque market towns of Alton and Alresford. As well as standard travel this preserved railway runs popular special events throughout the year along with Countryman and Watercress Belle dining trains and the Real Ale Train. Today there were no special events on, we were just having a relaxing ride and an ice creamThe No. 925 Cheltenham, retired in 1962, was famous for being the most powerful steam train of its type to run in the UK and carried around 700 people a journey as a passenger train. 

The No. 925 Cheltenham, retired in 1962, was famous for being the most powerful steam train of its type to run in the UK and carried around 700 people a journey as a passenger train. 

After an extensive 18-month restoration project, the magnificent engine was the first Schools Class train to steam in half a century at Eastleigh Rail Works. 

The 67-ton monster that has capacity for six tonnes of coal, came home to Eastleigh, near Southampton after being built their in 1934.

With its malachite green bodywork buffed and pistons polished, Britain's rarest steam train has been chugging back on to the rails since 2012 after 50 years.

Our round trip lasted 1 3/4hrs. We got back on the coach and had another B road special, scenic drive home through the countryside.

Day 4

This morning we had a slightly earlier start, leaving the hotel at 9:30am. Our first visit today was to the Basingstoke Canal where we were booked for a 2hr canal boat trip, which in such beautiful weather will be lovely.

The Basingstoke Canal is a British canal, completed in 1794, built to connect Basingstoke with the River Thames at Weybridge via the Wey Navigation.

From Basingstoke, the canal passes through or near GreywellNorth WarnboroughOdiham, DogmersfieldFleetFarnborough Airfield,AldershotMytchettBrookwoodKnaphill and Woking. Its eastern end is at Byfleet, where it connects to the Wey Navigation. This, in turn, leads to the River Thames at Weybridge. Its intended purpose was to allow boats to travel from the docks in East London to Basingstoke.

It was never a commercial success and, from 1950, lack of maintenance allowed the canal to become increasingly derelict. After many years of neglect, restoration commenced in 1977 and on 10 May 1991 the canal was reopened as a fully navigable waterway from the River Wey to almost as far as the Greywell Tunnel. However its usage is currently still limited by low water supply and conservation issues.

As the guardian of the Basingstoke Canal, the Basingstoke Canal Society promotes and campaigns for the sustainable future of the Canal as a navigation. Through the John Pinkerton Canal Cruises operation, it also raises money which is used to fund maintenance and improvement works undertaken by Society voluntary work parties.

Today, we were joining the boat at Odiham and we were going on a round trip to Odiham Castle.

Odiham Castle (also known locally as King John's Castle) is a ruined castle situated near Odiham. It is one of only three fortresses built by King John during his reign. In 1215 it was from either Odiham or Windsor that King John rode out to Runnymede where he met the barons and signed the Magna Carta. A year later Odiham Castle was captured by the French after a two-week siege during the First Barons' War in 1216. The garrison of just 13 surrendered on July 9 1216. At some point over the next 9 years the keep was completely rebuilt possibly due to the damage done to it by the French forces. At the same time the mound on which the keep sat was raised by 5 meters and an inner moat surrounding the keep was added to the defenses.

Odiham Castle might have become one of the most important strongholds in England. In 1238 Simon de Montfort married King John's daughter Eleanor just two years after she had been granted Odiham by her brother,King Henry III. In the following year a kitchen was added on a bridge over the inner moat and a new hall was added on the outside of the keep. During the same period a second building was constructed over the moat this time on the south eastern side of the keep to provide extra living space.

In 1263 De Monfort rebelled against Henry and died at the Battle of Evesham in 1265 and Eleanor was exiled. Odiham Castle was again retained by the Crown.

The castle was also involved in the rebellion led by the powerful Despenser family against Roger Mortimer and Queen Isabella of France, the wife of Edward II.

During the fourteenth century Odiham hosted Parliament. Scottish King David II, after his capture at the Battle of Neville's Cross  in 1346, was also imprisoned here for 11 years. However he was held under light guard and was allowed to keep a household. Using the castle as a prison seems to have been common practice during the 13th and 14th centuries with the nearby Manor of Greywell required to provide guards one night in three.

By the 15th century Odiham was used only as a hunting-lodge. In 1605 the former royal castle was described as a ruin.

In 1792 the Basingstoke Canal was built through the southern corner of the bailey.

Our next visit today was to Milestones Museum. It is made up of a network of streets that have been recreated on those found in Victorian and 1930s Hampshire. 

There is also a large collection of road vehicles, notably by Thornycroft and Taskers of Andover.

Personally, I think the best of this museum was outside where, today, there was a vintage MG Y-Type Salloons rally. I didn't find the museum very interesting at all but all the locals we'd spoken to had said how good it is. I spent the time sat on the grass in the sun, topping up the tan!

We arrived back at the hotel at 3:30pm where I spent the rest of the afternoon in the pool,

until the kids turned up, when I enjoyed a glass of wine on the sun lounger in the garden.

It was another uneventful evening and everyone had gone to bed even earlier than usual because they have all their packing to do, ready for going home tomorrow.

Day 5

I had all good intentions for this morning. I was going to go for a swim before breakfast but decided on having the extra half an hour in bed instead. It was another beautiful day and was forecast to be hotter here than Ibiza. 

I loaded the luggage and we left at 10am. We had a pretty drive to Windsor where we were staying for several hours. It is widely known as the site of Windsor Castle, one of the official residences of the British Royal FamilyIt is immediately south of the River Thames, which forms its boundary with Eton. The village of Old Windsor, just over 2 miles (3 km) to the south, predates what is now called Windsor by around 300 years; in the past Windsor was formally referred to as New Windsor to distinguish the two. The early history of the site is unknown, although the site may have been settled many years before the medieval castle was built as there is ample evidence of Anglo Saxon settlement in the area.

Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world and the Official Residence of Her Majesty The Queen.  Its rich history spans almost 1000 years.

The Castle covers an area of about 5 hectares (13 acres) and contains

• Magnificent State Apartments furnished with treasures from the Royal Collection
• St George's Chapel (one of the most beautiful ecclesiastical buildings in England and the burial place of 10 monarchs)
• Queen Mary's Dolls House, a masterpiece in miniature
• The Drawings Gallery featuring an exhibition (see below for current display).

During the winter months an additional five rooms, known collectively as the Semi-State Rooms, are included in the visitor route. 

The Queen was in residence today with the Royal Standard flying. 

Many of our passengers went on a short 40min boat trip on the Thames, some went on the city sightseeing bus and others had a leisurely lunch and a walk around Eton and along the river.

We left Windsor at 2:30pm, homeward bound. Everyone has said how much they have enjoyed the whole trip. It's been a very relaxing few days. Another good job done! 😊