Central Southern England

Touring from the Caravan Club sites at Rookesbury Park and Hillside

Abridged from an article previously published in the Caravan Club Magazine

The central 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 setting.

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 taste.

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 quiet.

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 their owners!)

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 the south.

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
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The Museum of Army Flying at Middle Wallop
The old waterfront at Portsmouth, part of the Millennium Promenade
The River Test at Stockbridge
HMS Warrior, the world's first iron-clad warship
The hovercraft from Southsea is just one of the ferries to the Isle of Wight
The spire of Salisbury Cathedral, said to be the tallest in the country
Stonehenge