Category Archives: Hampshire

Petersfield

Sunrise at Petersfield, under creative commons, by Neil Bonnar. Click pic for link.

Sunrise at Petersfield, under creative commons, by Neil Bonnar. Click pic for link.

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.

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Filed under 4/5, Hampshire

Alresford

New Alresford, used under creative commons by denvilles_duo. Click pic for link.

New Alresford, used under creative commons by denvilles_duo. Click pic for link.

Shortly after visiting a veritable charity shop haven (Harborne, in Birmingham), we found ourselves in an equally (or probably even more) well-to-do locale, but rather the opposite end of the charity shop quota spectrum. Alresford is a little place, little known to the outside world, but absolutely the sort of place my family has taken visitors pretty much forever.

It’s actually a fairly sizable town for the countryside, about 5000 or so, and is split into Old Alresford and New Alresford. The latter is something of a misnomer, like its counterpart New Towns in Edinburgh or Prague, having been founded about 700 years ago, and it’s here where the bulk of the action lies in the modern day, on the old road between Old and New Alresford, Broad Street. The recommended way to mooch is as follows (at least in my experience): park beyond the warehouses on The Dean and walk up beside the river to Mill Hill. The River Itchen winds and divides around you with its various navigations, and you’ll come out opposite the old fire station, at the bend in Broad Street. Should you wish to eat, the Globe is recommended (left) and the shops are on your right. You can then go up Broad Street, turn right along West Street, and back down The Dean.

Guided tour done. The shops. There is just one charity shop, I have to disclose this. As nice as the town is, there is just one charity shop, and that is hardly a bargain hunter’s paradise, being a jumble of expensive crockery/tat, bizarre rich people’s clothes and an array of cookbooks and history books, under the auspices of Age UK. To be fair, we could have bought the whole six-book series of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower; but we didn’t, too expensive.

It’s still a nice place to window shop though (my inner woman making a resurgence): there are fabulous looking delis and butchers, crafty places, showrooms, tea shops (with extreme chintz levels – watch out if you have a Laura Ashley allergy) and plenty more places to be parted from your money. The highlight is undoubtedly the excellent Laurence Oxley, a dangerous and winding secondhand bookshop. I recommend Alresford generally, though hardly for the solitary charity shop.

Find: Alresford @ Google Maps
Consume with: If you can’t handle the chintz of the Alresford tea-shop circuit, I’d recommend a lunch at the Globe.
Visit: Watercress is Alresford’s big export – if you can’t visit some actual beds, take a trip on the steam train by them.
Overall rating: three floral curtains

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Filed under 3/5, Hampshire

Hook

Hook Milestone, under Creative Commons from red-eye's photostream. Click pic for flickr link.

Hook Milestone, under Creative Commons from red-eye's photostream. Click pic for flickr link.

To be fair, you wouldn’t really come to Hook in a tourist guise. Situated conveniently in the feeder belt of Surrey/Berkshire/North Hampshire, the town/village lies surrounded by the stark office blocks of Basingstoke to the West, the sprawling nothingness of Reading to the North, and the identikit Farnborough and military-industrial Aldershot to the East. To the South, close, but just out of reach, is the newly-designated South Downs National Park. It has it’s moments around here, but this part of the M3 corridor is brutalised by London overspill and decentralised nouveau industry.

Hook itself is essentially a business estate, residential estates, and an undersized village centre consisting of a closed cafe, a Wine Rack, one or two local services, Londis, Premier Express, Mind, and St Michael’s Hospice (presumably nothing to do with M&S). It’s very much a town of ladies wearing trousers, if you understand – very Hampshire, very upper-middle class, husband either off in the City or retired and out somewhere wearing bright corduroy trousers. The end of the polarised spectrum is aimless youth who, due to very unmetropolitan banks of snow are all hiding somewhere, except for the exuberant eyelinered mopes in the charity shops – kids these days don’t appear to understand what it takes to be a proper teenager.

Mind was the smaller of the two well-stocked charity shops – I managed to drag the constant companion away from a be-chickened dinner service on the (I thought) quite reasonable grounds that we’ve just got rid of a pile of stuff to a charity shop. I never quite know how to answer the we’ll-never-have-this-chance again argument though. St Michael’s is a pretty sizeable affair, a double-fronted facade with an extra little cubby hole for poking through books, which was good fun – at only 75p per paperback as well, this has its fair share of bargains. I left with The lives of others on DVD and Orwells’ Homage to Catalonia, both of which I’ve been interested to get hold of for some time.

Although little and slightly pointless, Hook isn’t a horrible place, not at all. I could never live here (at least, not without murders happening), so accustomed to the cosmpolis am I, but for our purposes, on this particular day – not bad.

Find: Hook @ Google Maps
Consume with: Cafe Terrace was closed, so your best bet is one of the pubs or a petrol station…
Visit:
Odiham, nearby, is quite the historic village centre, although good luck parking.
Overall rating: three chintzy plates

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Filed under 3/5, Hampshire

Romsey

Romsey Abbey, by Paul Cummings

Romsey Abbey, by Paul Cummings

There must be hundreds of small market towns around the country filled with historic churches, market stalls on a cobbled square, community charity shops (natch) and a bustling, be-corduroyed local crowd. I could talk about Hitchin, Hertford, Saffron Walden, and the like, and I could go on – and the nice thing is, I’ll never get tired of visiting these places. They’re so unfailingly English, even in this day and age, that they feel like a tourist’s day out for me, sat on my convalescent’s chair here in sunny Haringey, perhaps one of the least English places in the country.

Romsey’s not far from where I grew up, so it was a good place to take the companion when last visiting my family. A town of butchers, market stalls selling unusual herbs or flavoured oils, coffee shops situated in low-beamed old houses, a historic abbey, and the rare option of medium-stay car parking, though quite what the point of the latter is, I’m still undecided. Parking in said medium-stay car park pops you out next to Bradbeers, the town’s own department store next to the River Test, then straight into the genteel melee of the marketplace (held on Corn Market, rather than the more expected Market Place) – you’ll reliably be able to find herbs and oils, fruit and veg and artisan bread here, although it’s not a large arrangement. This echoes the town centre itself: compact but classy.

Starting at this point, turn left and immediately you’ll find an Oxfam bookshop – as usual, an excellent range of stock but Oxfam always know how to price their sales, and you’ll rarely find a bargain. On passing a couple of excellent butchers (get your faggots here…), turn right past the town hall cum makeshift cinema to the old market place and progress up Church Street past one entrance to the Abbey. On this stretch we have three charity shops in close proximity. I have to confess that I was slightly distracted at this stage due to being followed around by a man in a lion costume (if only I were joking…) so the three blur in my memory, but we have the Tenovus cancer charity (I think this gave us a posh frock for a wedding (not for me obviously)), Cancer Research and Marie Curie Cancer Care. It’s probably a little glib to label this the cancer quarter, but you understand what I mean.

Back down to The Hundred, the main drag, we have a second Oxfam and British Red Cross, both worth a visit, and on the other side of the road, Wessex Cancer Trust, looking lost away from its kith and kin around the corner. The remaining trove is Help The Aged, along the charming Love Lane – another decent stop-off.

I didn’t end up with a massive haul from Romsey – being a well-to-do sort of a place, it’s hard to find genuine bargains, but it’s definitely worth a visit. Aside from the obvious draw of eight charity shops, there’s plenty of history, other shops, and olde town charm here.

Find: Romsey @ Google Maps
Consume with: Caffe Nero operates from a charming little old town house right on the market – busy, but cute.
Visit: This depends on who you’re with and what you like: the gentlefolk amongst you will enjoy Broadlands, seat of Palmerston and Mountbatten; outdoors types might enjoy the Hillier Arboretum; kids would be better off plonked at the Rapids, the big draw round these parts when I were but a lad.
Overall rating: four sandwich tongs

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Filed under 4/5, Hampshire

Winchester

Winchester, by wolfiewolf

Winchester, by wolfiewolf

Winchester is my furthest venture south yet in the name of Charity Shop Tourism, yet it’s arrival has been a long time coming. Winchester’s my home town – and on a weekend exploring home towns, I can safely say it’s a posh place to call ones home. For Winchester is a genuinely historic city, full of ecclesiastic monuments and medieval remnants, Roman remains, grandiose edifices and cobbled streets. It’s curious how much I find that I took for granted when I lived here (for my first nineteen years) – showing a guest around now, it’s far more impressive than I took note of at the time.

Nevertheless, though sightseeing (or at least, sightshowing) was on the agenda, as always my constant companion and I were mosly on the trail of charity shop finds. We had high hopes – my memories of the subject were hazy, but positive, and the location would fit our theory of the more money, the better the bargain.

Well, it works in Essex, but Winchester is so much a Money kind of place, that the scales have tipped over the other side, and the charity shops end up expensive, and poorly-stocked. Commencing on the upper reaches of the High Street, Marie Curie and Age Concern sit opposite a butcher shops whose slogan is “meat for the millions, and the millionaires”. It speaks volumes. The shops are of standard size but the selection is poor – books and cds are particularly underrepresented across the city (with one notable exception, of which more later), and the tat shelves are not heaving.

We hoped for more joy in the cluster around the junction of Parchment Street and St Georges Street. Most notable here is the Oxfam bookshop, inwhich I spent many long hours as a younger man. Even then, Oxfam knew how to price things, but now they’re razor sharp: your average CD (e.g. Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Fever To Tell clocks in at £4.99, a paperback (Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s noted The Leopard) at £3.99. There’s a vast selection, and on balance more interesting than Waterstones in the Brooks Centre – but a bargain you will nary find).

Better luck would be had in the two Cancer Research shops, one on each side of the busy road, or the Scope next door, or the Help The Aged (a black velvet skirt and a CS Lewis, £1.39, from here). Better still is the large and ramshackle Naomi House Hospice shop – excellent, I’m told, for toys, passable for clothes. Less luck would be had in the main Oxfam shop, on the High Street next to Cross Keys Passage – hardly a secondhand item in sight, just a small colour-coded selection of ladies clothes, and vast ranges of Fair Trade produce. Next door, the British Heart Foundation is better stocked.

Winchester scores well for sheer volume of charity shops. They’re not always well-stocked, and they’re certainly not too bargainous, but the quantity counts in Winchester’s favour – you’re almost sure to find something.

Find: Winchester at Google Maps
Transport:
Winchester station, or the Megabus
Consume with:
cappucino cake and a coffe in Cafe Centro
Visit: the Cathedral is an essential part of the day out, but also go to St Cross Hospital for your Wayfarer’s Dole of bread and beer.
Overall rating: three travel chess sets

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Filed under 3/5, Hampshire