Some of our charity shop tourism ends up stirring up a whole glut of memories. This time around it meant visiting a South Downs market town where I spent many happy hours as a child – Petersfield was home to my grandparents as long as I could remember. So, we had a quick tour of what little I could remember and the town has barely changed. Approaching from Winchester along the A272 brings you a very scenic route through Britain’s newest National Park, underneath the A3 and into the town. My preferred route is then to turn off onto Frenchman’s Lane then along The Spain to Dragon Street and approach the town that way – you can then turn off down The Avenue to the Heath and its boating lake – get an ice cream, I should.
For a small town, there’s quite a bustling little town centre, with regular markets in the town square overlooked by the big statue of a man on a horse. This is a proper little southern English community, as befits its location history as a chartered market town: plenty of neat gardens, retired ladies from the church volunteer group staffing cake stalls outside Waitrose, and scattered, homey little restaurants. There’s a physic garden, town museum and a gallery devoted to the local artiste (Flora Twort), like an English version of Nick Cave’s archetypal American town. These days there’s also Costa and a touch of the creeping homogeneity that suggests, but mostly this is a charming, quaint, southern English town.
Cheerfully, there’s a selection of neat and quaint charity shops as well. The biggest one is undoubtedly Sue Ryder, on the corner of the neat and quaint Lavant Street, also home to Age UK and several cookshops – it’s that kind of town. This is a huge, double-fronted cornershop – although with no particular bargains on this visit. If you’re coming by train you’ll do so down Lavant Street then turn into Chapel Street, where you’ll find Scope, then onto Swan Street, which is really the main thoroughfare. Here you’ll locate Oxfam Books and Cancer Research clustered around the Square, with it’s man-on-a-horse cobbles. Along the High Street you’ll also find Rowan’s Hospice with various posh frocks and hats. I have a vague recollection of one on the opposite side as well, selling olde cameras – this may have been a more commercial second-hand store.
It was thoroughly lovely coming back to Petersfield, and although there’s little reason for me to visit regularly, it was a cheerful parade of memories, from the boats on the lake to the cobbles on the square. Armed with a good selection of charity shops, I’d happily commend you if you’re on a visit of the South Downs, now it’s gone National. Isn’t it, though, as granny used to say.
Find: Petersfield @ Google Maps
Get there: Petersfield station is located at the far end of Lavant Street.
Consume with: I don’t know how feasible this is for any other visitors, but we had excellent brownies from the stand outside Waitrose.
Visit: The South Downs National Park is full of delights – nearby are QE Country Park and Butser Hill, scenes of many a school trip or family picnic.
Overall rating: four posh ‘ats.