southern counties of Hampshire and Wiltshire may not have the
glamour of some other parts of England like the Lake District or
West Country. Yet this is an area of beautiful, rolling
countryside with many interesting things to see and do, a fitting
location for either a long or short break.
The Caravan Club has two 'Members Only' sites in the
area, both set in woodland and each a good base from which to
explore the countryside and enjoy the local attractions - but
otherwise quite different. Rookesbury Park lies in beautiful
surroundings to the north of Portsmouth, whilst Hillside is a few
miles east of Salisbury. Each has its own appeal and, whether you
prefer an active break or a more relaxing one, one of them should
suit you well.
Rookesbury Park, at the edge of the Forest of Bere near Fareham,
is close to both the seaside resort of Southsea and the New
Forest, well placed for things to do for visitors of all ages.
Start along the tree-lined drive towards the site entrance and
you feel that you are entering a forest, with the site coming
suddenly into view in a hollow before you. This is a very
picturesque location nestling amongst the trees in a parkland
Rookesbury Park is ideal for families, with plenty of open spaces
and an area reserved for children to play and picnic. Easy access
to the numerous paths and tracks of the Forest of Bere alongside
makes it ideal for walking or cycling. It is popular also as a
stopover for those en route to France or the Isle of Wight via
the Portsmouth ferries.
For many visitors one of the high points of a stay here will be a
trip into Portsmouth, with its famous naval tradition and
history. There are many attractions, perhaps the best known being
the Historic Dockyard housing Nelson's Flagship HMS Victory
(the world's oldest commissioned ship). Here also are Henry
VIII's famous fighting ship the Mary Rose and the world's
first iron clad warship, HMS Warrior. Boat tours around the
harbour take you close to naval ships past and present.
We found that a good way to explore Portsmouth is to stroll along
the Millennium Promenades that border both sides of the Harbour.
Follow the Renaissance Trail to see how the city has evolved -
Gun Wharf Quay, for instance, is now a modern shopping centre but
was built in 1662 as the place where cannons were fitted to
warships from the dockyard alongside. A short trip on the
passenger ferry took us across the harbour to Gosport to look
back at the Spinnaker Tower, due to be completed late in 2004
when - at a height of over 550 feet - it will offer views along
the surrounding coastline for distances up to 23 miles.
Neighbouring Southsea has an imposing seafront and promenade from
which to watch the ships passing. A D-Day Museum tells the story
of the importance of this area during WWII whilst, for the more
energetic, a seaside funfair and the Pyramids Centre water park
are close by. Hovercraft glide up onto the beach, offering day
trips to the Isle of Wight.
Many other attractions lie within easy reach. Paultons Park is a
family leisure park at the edge of the New Forest with
hair-raising rides and other attractions. The National Motor
Museum at Beaulieu houses several of the earliest cars together
with special displays, such as the cars used in the James Bond
films. Visitors in need of subsequent refreshment can tour
Wickham Vineyard, a few miles from the site, before ending with a
sample tasting (or two!) of locally made wine.
Rookesbury Park is an ideal base for those planning to visit this
part of the south, especially if looking for plenty to see and
do. If, on the other hand, you prefer to enjoy the countryside in
a more relaxing way another Club site a little further north has
an alternative approach: Hillside might be more to your
Like its larger neighbour, Hillside is surrounded by trees and
woods - but there the resemblance ends. This is a relatively
small site on the side of a gently sloping hill with far-reaching
views over open countryside, and a peaceful air of calm and
There are woodland walks directly from the site, and an abundance
of wildlife nearby. A sign in the site office advises visitors to
take care to avoid rabbit holes (it seems that the local rabbit
population pays scant regard to the interests of caravans or
Whilst Hillside is a marvellous place just to rest and unwind
there is no lack of interesting outings close by. Salisbury is an
imposing city dominated by the spire of its cathedral which, at
404 feet, is the tallest in England (supposedly on foundations
only 4 feet deep!)
Outside the city is Old Sarum, the original site of Salisbury
until the present cathedral was built in the 13th Century. Once
inhabited by man for around 5000 years, now there are only the
remains of an old hillfort that once stood guard over the city.
Just a few miles further on the stone circle of Stonehenge sits
majestically on Salisbury Plain - there is a good view from the
road or you can approach the site on foot, via a tunnel. The
largest of the stones - which all came from Wales, some 200 miles
away - is 21 feet high.
One of our favourites is Stockbridge, a small town in the valley
of the River Test to the east of Hillside. The Test is said to be
one of the most beautiful and finest fishing rivers in England,
but if angling does not appeal try a stroll down the wide main
street and alongside the river where trout abound and swans,
coot, and heron can often be seen. For those feeling more active
the Test Way passes through the town on its 44-mile journey from
Inkpen Beacon in the Vale of Pewsey in the north to Totton, in
Like Rookesbury Park, Hillside is close to the New Forest with
its walks and famous New Forest ponies as well as attractions
such as Bucklers Hard, a picturesque 18th Century village on the
banks of the river at Beaulieu. Built originally for use as a
port for importing sugar from the West Indies it soon became a
shipbuilding centre and ships of Nelson's fleet were built
here. There are historical displays as well as river cruises and
woodland walks near the river.
So - two different bases, each in a beautiful setting, from
which to enjoy this part of England. Rookesbury Park offers easy
access to many local activities, whilst Hillside is ideal for
relaxing in peaceful surroundings.
© GDS 2004