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