Some of the best things to see and do in Botley
PUBLISHED: 11:37 15 January 2019 | UPDATED: 09:20 16 January 2019
Nothing recharges the batteries like a relaxing change of scenery. We head to historic Botley on the banks of the River Hamble
Arriving in Botley, it’s impossible not to take a step back in time. A former Roman settlement that marked the river crossing point for travellers journeying between Southampton and Chichester, it later became an important inland port on the Hamble, before reinventing itself once again with the arrival of the railways as the centre for one of Europe’s biggest strawberry producing areas. This trading heritage is still all-too apparent, as slap bang in the village centre stands the porticoed Market Hall. Now used to host everything from Irish dancing to a Scrabble club, it can also be hired for wedding receptions. A memorial stone opposite the entrance commemorates Botley’s most famous former resident: the writer, agriculturalist and political reformer William Cobbett (1763-1833). One of his best known works, Rural Rides was based on a series of journeys by horseback around England and never one to mince words Botley, he said, had ‘everything in it he loved’, and ‘nothing that he hated’.
Best foot forward
Nothing wakes up the body like a good dose of fresh air. And, fortunately, there are a myriad of self-guided trails around Botley which provide glimpses both of its past history and of the beautiful countryside surrounding the village. Beginning a stone’s throw from the Market Hall, a pleasant walk leads to Durley Mill, the site of a Grade II Listed watermill and millhouse built in the late 18th century - although walking boots are a must if conditions look muddy underfoot. Alternatively, a shorter stroll takes in the former Parish Quay which is a lovely spot to stop and watch the local wildlife; it’s also the site of the Old Bark Store, where oak bark was once kept for use in the local tanning of leather.
Another comfortable ramble leaves the village in Four Acres, turning down Lovers Lane. This ancient pathway leads over a small tributary of the Hamble before entering fields. There’s then the option to either return along Brook Lane, looking out for the vineyard to the left, or to enter Manor Farm and have an extended walk around the popular Country Park.
With its 400 acres of woodland and rolling fields, the Park is a popular destination not only for walkers, but for cyclists and horse riders too. The restored Victorian farm buildings and museum are a tempting and very interesting distraction (admission charges apply for these attractions), but be sure to leave time to explore some of the footpaths around Dock Copse for the delightful river views.
For a good stride-out though, there are two walking trails not to be missed. The four-and-a-half mile Cobbett Trail naturally pays homage to the man himself and from the Market Hall takes in both Botley Mills and Sherecroft, the house he rented following his release from Newgate Prison having served time for debt. A legacy still standing is the three-quarters-of-a-mile long walled garden which Cobbett originally had planted with espaliered fruit trees and vines. Other properties featuring on the trail include Steeple Court Manor, St Bartholomew’s Church and The Old Rectory, all of which are mentioned in his Rural Rides.
Botley, appropriately, is also a starting point for the Strawberry Trail with way markers stretching for 15 miles in a figure-of-eight to Netley and back again. Welcoming hostelries in Bursledon and Hamble offer the opportunity to take a break, before tackling the next leg of the trail.
With so much countryside to explore, there’s the chance to cover a few more miles on a leisurely hack around farmland organised by Pinkmead Equestrian Centre, which caters for all riding abilities. Meanwhile, if it’s an adrenalin-fuelled activity that’s wanted, then a Go Ape treetop adventure for both adults and juniors will unleash the inner Tarzan, and is just 12 miles away at Itchen Valley Country Park.
The village reputedly once had up to 14 inns for those seeking refreshment. Nowadays, four survive – The Bugle, The Dolphin, Brewery Bar and The Railway Inn, pleasing everyone from the real ale enthusiast to the gin lover within their winter warming walls.
Another option is to savour the flavours of the Mediterranean at Reggina’s Italian restaurant where the daytime offering includes a special deal on any pizza and selected pasta dish served-up within these Grade-2 listed surroundings. Or, if it’s some local produce that appeals, the farm shop located within the Hillier Garden Centre in Woodhouse Lane has plenty of tempting foods by the basket-full.
As daylight fades and evening falls, few venues encapsulate Botley’s sense of history twinned with a contemporary twist better than the Old Mill Restaurant. A sensitive conversion of the 17th century building has created three alternative dining rooms each bursting with original features enabling diners to enjoy freshly cooked cuisine, alongside the original millstone housing and engine with guest wines from the nearby Three Choirs Vineyard. Or if spice is more your thing, then Purbani Botley can accommodate with its beautifully cooked, traditional Indian cuisine.
Reboot and detox
It’s a joy to have a leisurely mooch around Botley’s independent retailers. First stop in The Square could be the Penny Farthing Gallery. Renowned for its picture framing, local artists’ work is regularly on display and as well as greetings cards on sale, a collection of local history books is stocked.
Then again if plans are already afoot for this year’s holiday, Hidden Agenda at 1 High Street has swimwear from Prima Donna, Gottex, Freya and Fantasie among others, alongside its luxury lingerie collections.
Whilst if bodies are in need of a rejuvenating boost, further down at number 16, beauty salon Amanda of Botley offers the intriguingly named Facial Pilates treatment. The 75-minute session, which includes a back massage to completely relax the body, promises to visibly lift, remodel and re-densify. Or, there’s the Detox Aroma Envelopment which uses an organic mask to refine the body by draining away the toxins as well as fat and water build-up.
And don’t miss-out on a visit to Botley Mills. The village’s former flour mills first mentioned in the Domesday survey of 1086AD is a short walk from the village centre and currently houses a range of small businesses, ranging from a family run bridal boutique and hairdressers to Botley’s very own micro-brewery.
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