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The Strawberry Coast

PUBLISHED: 13:01 26 March 2013 | UPDATED: 21:18 05 April 2013

The Strawberry Coast

The Strawberry Coast

Once famed for its delicious summer berries, the Hamble Valley has many towns, villages and countryside to explore, as we discovered when we recently took a round trip

Remember Howards Way? The much-loved 80s sailing soap was filmed in the village of Hamble-le-Rice and the area remains popular with boating enthusiasts who flock to the River Hamble during the warmer months. But its not just sailing the village is famous for; during World War II it was the home of an aircraft training centre for planes, including the famous Spitfire, the Lancaster and the Wellington. Hamble has a fascinating history thanks to its coastal location; including some stories surrounding smugglers and pirates. In 1576 a boatman from Southampton was hired to take men to their ship in Hamble. On the way they seized a ship and drove the crew overboard with swords and daggers. These days theres plenty to keep visitors entertained, including a variety of pubs and restaurants as well as some quaint, boutiques selling pretty home accessories and jewellery.

Nestled on the upper banks of the River Hamble, this pretty market village is always worth a stop-off. Once described as the most beautiful village in the world by its famous resident William Cobbett, Botley has retained its picturesque charms. There are plenty of quaint independent shops and a decent pub or two to choose from, including The Bugle and The Railway Inn. Back in the 18th century, there were apparently 14 watering holes in the village. While youre there, visit Botley Mills, as well as the lovely Courtyard Kitchen for a bite to eat made from local Hampshire produce.

An event not to be missed this August is the Wickham Festival, which takes place on the fields near the community centre. Theres a great family atmosphere and already the line-up is sounding good with acts such as The Waterboys and Rolf Harris. If you fancy something a bit quieter than a music festival then go for a wander along the water meadows or perhaps do some shopping at Chesapeake Mill, which has small shops selling everything from furniture to childrens toys. But dont miss a stroll round the Market Square which is overlooked by some lovely historic buildings; its a designated conservation area.

Did you know that Bursledon is home to the last steam driven brickworks in the country? Open from this month through to November you can go along to see how it all works and what a wonderful job has been done to restore it. Bursledon itself is another village with strong ties to the sea. The Elephant Boatyard, found in Old Bursledon, dates back centuries and is where Henry VIIIs fleet was built. Many boats were built here, but by the 1870s the trade had disappeared and the main industry became arable agriculture, in particular the growing of strawberries.

Everyone knows Netley because of its Abbey, the most complete Cistercian monastery in the south of England. Almost all of its church walls are still standing, as well as many of the monastic buildings. Even though it is in ruins, the Abbey has still inspired romantic poets and writers, including George Keate and William Sotheby.
With its own pretty railway station linking the village to Southampton and Portsmouth, Netleys old part still has a quaint and old-fashioned feel. Theres a smattering of small shops and rows of colourful cottages which overlook Southampton Water. Its shingle beach boasts views of Calshot and Hythe. The Abbey is free to enter and is open every weekday from April. Find out more about it at www.english-heritage.org.uk

Bishops Waltham

At the head of the River Hamble is the pretty town of Bishops Waltham, home to the ruins of Bishops Waltham Palace, another monument owned by English Heritage. Bishop of Winchester Henry de Blois built the palace in 1136 and it was later destroyed by Oliver Cromwells troops during the English Civil War. Theres still plenty to see and the material from the palace was used as building material for many of the towns buildings you can see today. Bishops Waltham has always been a thriving town, back in the 19th century it was a successful market town and today it still retains its charming character, with plenty of independent shops keeping the chains at bay.

Eastleighs most famous resident isnt a person at all, its the Spitfire aeroplane, which was built in Southampton and first flown from Eastleigh Aerodrome, or Southampton Airport as it is now known. Comedian Benny Hill also lived in the town and his first ever job was at Woolworths in Leigh Road, before becoming a milkman for Hanns Dairies. Perhaps not as picturesque as the other towns and villages to be found in the Hamble Valley, Eastleigh is more of a shopping and leisure destination, with a plethora of stores to be found at The Swan Centre, as well as a bowling alley and cinema.

Londons Royal Albert Hall is constructed from Fareham red bricks an industry that the town relied on for many years, also creating tiles and chimney pots from its abundant clay soil. Such traditional industry is long gone, but like with so many of the Hamble Valleys towns, Fareham also has seafaring links thanks to its situation on the north-west tip of Portsmouth Harbour.
HM Royal Navy still operate in the town and HMS Collingwood trains well over 2,000 British and foreign sailors at any one time.

Top 5 things to do...

1. See a show or visit the gallery at Eastleighs The Point, housed in a beautifully-renovated late Victorian town hall and library.

2. Enjoy another bit of culture, this time at Eastleighs The Concorde Club, an internationally renowned jazz club. Appearances have included Stacey Kent, Clare Teal, Kyle Eastwood (Clints eldest son) and the late Humphrey Lyttleton. Although a members club, the club has nights open to non-members.

3. The Hamble Valley is awash with fabulous county parks. Try pond dipping at Itchen Valley Country Park or take a stroll through the meadows at Lakeside Country Park, where children can enjoy a ride on the Eastleigh Lakeside Steam Railway. Netleys Royal Victoria Country Park has lovely waterside views and lots of picnic spaces along with the Royal Victoria Steam Railway. Theres also Manor Farm Country Park with woodland trails and river walks.

4. The Hamble Valley offers a range of walking trails for all abilities, both guided and self guided. Try the 15-mile circular Strawberry Trail, or discover a section of the 60-mile Solent Way. For a gentler option, theres the four-and-a-half-mile Cobbett Trail a guided exploration of William Cobbetts village of Botley.

Theres plenty of wildlife to discover along the River Hamble. Its mudflats and salt marshes are habitats for wildfowl and wading birds. During the summer, take a walk around the Swanwick Lakes Nature Reserve to see the wonderful array of butterflies.

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