Hampshire is a large county that spans hundreds of miles of coastline, 3 cities, the best watercress in England and a climate so good that sparkling wines are ranked better than Champagne! Sailing is the way of life here, so read tips to be a greener boater. BBC wildlife presenter Iolo Williams wants laws to make areas home to nesting birds, dolphins and whales to be ‘out of bounds’ for jetskis. Hayling Island is birthplace of windsurfing – if you’re a fan, follow the Bird Aware Coastal Code.
The South Downs National Park has over 3000km of walking routes, stretching from Winchester 100 miles to Eastbourne in East Sussex. For experienced walkers only, the northern routes are inspired by local writers inculding Jane Austen, who was born here. One of the best 16 places on earth to see the night sky, it’s home to lowland heath (rarer than rainforests – Woolmer forest is the only place in England to house all 12 native amphibians and reptiles). And although we’ve lost 80% of England’s chalkland – 4% is here to help the rare Adonis blue butterfly.
Hampshire has 3 cities. Portsmouth is ‘the city surrounded by sea’ with a harbour linked to the Royal Navy and just up the road is Southsea (walk from here to watch Portsmouth hovercrafts shooting salty pebbles at spectators, as they clumsily turn around on the tarmac, ready to ‘take off’ for their short hop across the Solent). Isle of Wight Hovercraft is the last remaining commercial service of its kind in the world. Hovercrafts ‘fly’ on a cushion above the waves, so are not affected by tides and unlike boat rudders, are safer for marine wildlife (and swimmers) as they don’t drag the ocean surface.
Southampton is another sailing city, where the ‘unsinkable Titanic’ set sail from in 1912 (many people say the 1958 film A Night to Remember is more accurate than the blockbuster film from the 90s). Winchester used to be capital of England and was voted best farmers’ market in England (it’s also the resting place of Jane Austen and birthplace of cricket, and also home to the start of the 100-mile South Downs Way.
The New Forest is home to 600 km of beautiful woodland, heath and river valleys where ponies, deer and cattle roam free in peace, with most areas being free from cars. There is over 140 miles of walking land to be enjoyed. The ‘capital’ of the New Forest is a lovely town called Lymington, where you can also take a ferry to Isle of Wight (to Yarmouth). Dogs obviously love parts of the New Forest, but try to steer clear of areas rich in bluebells and mushrooms, as both are toxic.
New Forest ponies are semi-feral and don’t like being handled, so never touch or feed them – they have plenty of natural food and could bite or kick you if disturbed. ‘Verderers’ are employed to watch over ponies and attend incidents. Animals have right of way on all roads in the New Forest. If driving nearby, carry an animal emergency hotlines card as it’s a legal requirement to report accidents. Read more on making roads safer for wildlife.
There are around 5000 wild New Forest ponies, who have been around here for around 2000 years. Grazing helps to protect rare species like chamomile and dates back to when commoners were allowed to graze land in return for adhering to strict laws adhered to by William the Conqueror. Southern damselflies even lay their eggs in the water-filled hoofprints of ponies and cattle! The ponies are rounded up each year in staggered ‘drifts’ to check their health and help wean foals.