What it’s like to live in Romsey
PUBLISHED: 16:00 30 January 2017
Putting Romsey to the Test, Emma Caulton found good value family homes in a town with character, individuality and a Winchester-like vibe
Romsey is cosy and comfortable with the feel of an old-fashioned market town yet to be discovered. Perhaps this is because it doesn’t have a direct-to-London train service (Romsey station is on the Southampton to Salisbury line). Neither is it right on top of a motorway (although conveniently close to junctions two and three of the M27). So, there is something of the gentle backwater about it; Romsey has succeeded in creeping quietly into the 21st century largely unspoiled with charm intact.
It has for some time been the go-to for those who work in Winchester, but are priced out of that city’s housing market. In comparison Romsey, just 20 minutes down the road, offers good value and a similar vibe: an abbey dominates the skyline rather than a cathedral, the River Test flows through the town rather than the Itchen, and the events programme includes the lively Beggars Festival compared to Winchester’s Hat Fair.
There’s masses of character; its picturesque streets a profusion of wonky timber-framed buildings. Treasures include so-called King John’s House (dating from the 13th century and in a courtyard alongside a Tudor cottage and Victorian museum) and the excellent White Horse Hotel & Brasserie - its medieval cellars indicating it has in all likelihood been hosting visitors since the 12th century.
It’s a prosperous town stuffed with quality independents, giving it interest and individuality. Home owners can find pretty much everything needed to create a chic wardrobe, stylish home and gorgeous garden, from boutiques with designer labels to vintage furniture stores, traditional haberdashery to galleries championing local arts and crafts. At its heart is a family-owned department store, Bradbeers, which also manages Romsey market, held in the Cornmarket three days a week. It’s the personal shopping experience most of us imagine to be long gone.
These shops are complemented by a range of delicious eateries that include not only the aforementioned White Horse, but quaint beamed inns such as The Old House at Home, The Olive Tree and Three Tuns. There are well-established restaurants like La Parisienne, an authentic taste of France, and Suan Thai, serving classic Thai cuisine. There are also plenty of places to relax over a coffee or cup of tea – The Daisy Cake Company (highly commended in Hampshire Life’s Food & Drinks Awards 2016) and Dish. Deli and Kitchen among them.
Tucked behind the main thoroughfares are quiet, leafy closes and hidden gardens worth discovery. The beautifully kept War Memorial Park is one such treat. Bordered on three sides by the River Test, the Park’s facilities appeal to all age groups and include playground, tennis courts, lawn bowls and a bandstand where concerts are held on summer weekends.
There’s a proximity to the past; in large part due to the work of the Romsey & District Society (“conserving our heritage, protecting our future”). However, the town has not been immune to development – particularly estates from the mid-20th century onwards on the outskirts around Cupernham Lane, Halterworth Lane and Whitenap. These areas are popular with families, thanks to facilities such as Romsey Sports Centre and The Rapids pools complex, plus solidly performing local schools. Ofsted says Cupernham Junior, Romsey Primary and Romsey Abbey Church School are all ‘good’ while Halterworth Community Primary is rated ‘outstanding’. At secondary level both The Romsey School and Mountbatten School are also ‘good’.
For those in search of a rural good life without being too isolated, the smart villages around Romsey continue its lifestyle mix - strong on community, eateries and good schools. Ampfield and Braishfield, east of Romsey and convenient for Winchester, offer good restaurants, pubs and cafes, including Keats (Ampfield), The Wheatsheaf (Braishfield) and Braishfield Pantry – a community café and shop awarded Best Independent Food Shop in Hampshire Life’s Food & Drink Awards. Both villages have primary schools rated ‘good’, recreation grounds, and opportunities to enjoy golf, cricket, riding and more. Positioned between them is Sir Harold Hillier Gardens with over 180 abundant and colourful acres.
West of Romsey, villages such as West Wellow and Sherfield English have the New Forest on their doorstep. Again, there’s a good mix of lifestyle elements. Wellow Primary is rated ‘good’ and there’s a well-regarded independent, Hampshire Collegiate School, at Embley Park, once Florence Nightingale’s home. These are strong communities. The village halls hold activities from badminton to yoga, there’s a village store in Sherfield English and popular locals such as The Rockingham Arms in West Wellow and The Hatchet Inn in Sherfield English.
Circling clockwise, Awbridge is a charming collection of hamlets with another ‘good’ primary and groups including bridge and croquet. Facilities enjoyed with neighbouring villages include Mottisfont & Dunbridge station and Annie’s café and shop at Kimbridge.
Mottisfont (north of Romsey) is a picture postcard village adrift the Test and renowned for Mottisfont Abbey’s walled rose gardens. Michelmersh is a less obvious delight – a scattered village of old cottages, farmhouses and barns, once home to Sir David Frost. Coupled with Timsbury, it encompasses a couple of popular pubs (including the Bear & Ragged Staff), recreation ground, community garden and village hall.
Romsey and villages are an enchanting mix of countryside and character, community and convenience. The area may feel undiscovered, but for those in the know, with past residents including Lord Palmerston, Lord Mountbatten, David Gower and Charlie Dimmock, the area has long been a favourite.
Agent talk - Sebastian Clarke, Winkworth, Romsey
“Romsey, alongside Winchester, continues to be one of the strongest markets and most popular places to live in the South of England. It is an area that attracts a real mix of buyers from downsizers to young professionals and families moving to the area from Chandlers Ford and Winchester.
They are attracted to the beautiful old market town of Romsey as well as the surrounding villages, such as Awbridge, Michelmersh and Braishfield, which are popular for their enormous community cohesion and selection of wonderful family homes - from chocolate box thatched cottages to large contemporary houses in excellent plots. These villages feel rural, yet are only a few minutes’ drive from Romsey and its excellent motorway links. The Romsey area has also recently seen some prestigious new developments – among them Morley’s Green in Ampfield.
I love working here; I know the area very well as I was born in Winchester and went to school locally and now with my family we enjoy the lovely walks around Ampfield and visiting Sir Harold Hillier Gardens. We are also lucky to have plenty of good restaurants in Romsey - particular favourites are the Three Tuns and La Parisienne.”
• A look inside Eyeworth Lodge in the New Forest - It’s hard to believe that this peaceful and historic home has an explosive past. Emma Caulton explores Eyeworth Lodge in the New Forest to discover more