After a good night’s sleep we started the day with a delicious cooked breakfast at the lovely Barton’s Mill on the outskirts of Basingstoke. It was a bright, sunny morning as we set out on foot to explore the picturesque village of Old Basing.
From Barton’s Mill we followed a short section of the Basing Trail, a seven mile circular walking route. Just beyond the viaduct we reached a footbridge leading into the main entrance of Basing House (standard adult admission £9.00).
After collecting our tickets from the booking kiosk we strolled across the courtyard to view the Great Barn that dates back to 1535. Battle scarred artillery damage is still visible on the walls of its vast interior as the barn was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting during the Civil War of 1643. Whilst we were visiting, the interior was being prepared for an upcoming wedding celebration.
Leaving there, our tour continued a little further along the road to the gates of the ruined Manor House (also included in the ticket). There’s a small exhibition centre by the entrance to the ruins of this once largest private house in Tudor England and the home of William Paulette, Marquess of Winchester.
Boasting approximately 360 rooms, it once rivalled Hampton Court Palace in London for size. The Tudor palace and castle was frequently visited by royalty with Queen Mary I spending her honeymoon there following her marriage ceremony in nearby Winchester.
Basing House today is a collection of earthworks, stone ruins and ditches with the Great Barn being its only surviving building. As we toured the site, we paused to read information boards documenting the story of the house and the events that led to its destruction.
We climbed to the top of the viewing platform for views overlooking the ruins and of the village beyond and then wandered down to the Jacobean walled garden. The reconstructed walled garden reflects on how Basing House was a grand Jacobean residence during the early 1600’s.
As no illustrations or description of the original garden survived, garden historians were invited to design the formal gardens as a place for relaxation with an area for herbs and medicinal plants to one side.
After leaving Basing House we continued on foot through the village of Old Basing. It’s an absolute delight with its rows of thatched and characterful cottages.
The village dates from Saxon times however the appearance of the houses was influenced by the destruction of Basing House as much of the stone and bricks used in their construction was taken from its ruins in the 17th century.
We walked as far as St. Mary’s, the pretty Tudor village church then retraced our steps back to Barton’s Mill to collect our car.
On our way again, it was just a few minutes drive to the Milestones Museum, a living history museum. Also operated by Hampshire Cultural Trust, standard adult admission is £16.50 which includes unlimited return visits within one year (closed Monday’s). The museum is located on one corner of a leisure park just off Churchill Way in Basingstoke. It seemed quite strange to find a heritage attraction in this sort of location but I’m so pleased we decided to visit as it’s a splendid museum.
The vast building has been transformed into a century old town centre complete with cobblestone streets, shops, a petrol station, heritage vehicles, a school room and Milestones very own working pub. The pub, known as The Baverstock Arms is only open at lunchtimes otherwise we would have called in for a drink. It’s named after James Baverstock who was one of the first people to use scientific experiments to improve the quality of ale.
Although the pub was closed we were able to go inside each of the shops which are laid out as they would have been. The 1940’s sweet shop was operating with an assistant dressed in an authentic costume weighing out sherbet lemons and pear drops from tall glass jars for a taste of yesteryear.
Part of the museum is dedicated to historic vehicles including vintage trams, buses and even a steam train. There’s a particular focus on vehicles made by the Thornycroft Steam Wagon Company which opened a factory in Basingstoke at the end of the 19th century, employing thousands of people at its peak.
There’s lots of fun for the entire family with iSpy trail sheets available to keep children entertained as well as a reproduction of a Victorian pier with vintage working arcade games to play on (change for old pennies available).
Along one of the street scenes we discovered Mr. Simpson’s Teddy Bear Museum. Going inside, we learnt about the fascinating story of Mr. Simpson and his wonderful collection of more than 260 teddy bears. William Simpson’s first teddy was called ‘Rupert’ which was bought for his second Christmas in 1917. After his death in 2013 he bequeathed the majority of his collection to Hampshire County Museums along with a legacy for their care and display in the Teddy Bear Museum.
With a large free car park and easy accessibility, Milestones Museum is a lovely place to visit. It brings the past to life with its many objects that were either made or used in Hampshire and is a wonderful lasting record of the county’s social, industrial and transport history and well worth a visit.
Leaving there, there was just one more place we wished to visit in the area and that was to The Vyne, a 16th century house that was built for Lord Sandys, Lord Chancellor to King Henry VIII. The house and gardens are managed by the National Trust and located in beautiful countryside four miles north of Basingstoke in the village of Sherborne St. John. (Standard adult admission £13 and free for National Trust members).
From the car park, the entrance was through a garden lined with sunflowers and colourful herbaceous borders. The house is surrounded by extensive grounds with a lake to the front of the building making it a delightful spot to enjoy a picnic.
There’s a 1.3 mile circular woodland path but we were only able to follow part of it due to restorative building works of a dam across the reservoir. We did get as far as the bird hide though where we paused for a few minutes to take in the scenic beauty of the estate.
We took a self guided tour of the house and with volunteers on hand in most of the rooms to answer questions, this worked well. The Vyne’s history spans over five hundred years and is where Lords, Ladies and a Speaker from the House of Commons once lived and where Tudor Kings visited.
The house is filled with treasures and antiques including exquisite Venetian plates which are amongst the most important European Grand Tour objects housed in Britain. To one end of the house lies the Tudor chapel with its 16th century recently restored stained glass windows gleaming in the sunlight.
After completing our tour of the house we called into the Brewhouse Tea Room for some light refreshments before setting off home after a delightful couple of days exploring Basingstoke. Who knew that there was so many lovely things to see and do in this part of North Hampshire!
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