Despite Basingstoke*, I rate Hampshire as highly as any County, if I can’t call Greater Manchester a County.
The big cities are surprisingly good cultural centres, St Mary’s and Fratton Park are great, contrasting, places to watch football. Ignore the New Forest; walks around the commons, downs and valleys of Yateley, Whitchurch and Swanmore are varied and feel as remote as anywhere.
For a relatively prosperous County, Hampshire still has a good number of lively, basic pubs, not all of them in Aldershot and Fratton. I’ve also found pubs more welcoming and chatty than elsewhere in the South East. The Three Horseshoes at East Worldham and the Priors Dean pub stood out recently. And I’m starting to love Ringwood Best again.
It also has one of our most attractive small towns in Alresford, known mainly for it’s watercress beds and steam train line, and home of John Arlott. On my way home this week I enjoyed an aimless ramble around the River Alre and adjoining ponds. The Mill House is one of the most picturesque buildings in the country.
Broad Street is the gem though. The main shopping street gently slopes down to the pond, and is full of colourful Georgian buildings, without feeling stuffy or overly tourist-centred.
Unlike it’s bigger neighbour Alton, it hasn’t had a Beer Guide pub for some years, but now has the Horse & Groom, which was getting it’s delivery from Fullers when I visited.
This is a very smart old dining pub, busier with retired gentlefolk than it looks above, and also better seating (ignoring the pouffe). I’ve commented recently on butterscotch flavours in badly-kept Pride, but the half here was flat and superb, as were the friendly staff.
Obviously I stuck to calamari and chips for less than a fiver from the chippy over the road though.
* If you’d had to endure Basingstoke 1 v Thurrock 0 a few years back you’d feel the same about that town