Presentation of the destination
Somehow Basingstoke manages to be everything at the same time: it is big and small, old and new, southern and central! A part of Hampshire, the city is located - strictly speaking - in the south of England, less than 50 kilometres north-east of Southampton and the county town of Winchester. Reading is but 26 kilometres away to the northwest. That said, Basingstoke is within an hour’s drive (77 kilometres) from London, and as far as England is concerned, it can hardly get more central that that! The city’s population is about 85,000 inhabitants but those are just formal, official numbers. The count does not include the residents of Chineham, Old Basing and Lychpit – pretty big suburban villages that have, as a matter of fact, been fully incorporated into the urban structure. Finally, Basingstoke is an old settlement known even to William the Conqueror and mentioned in the Doomsday Book – and a modern town that has been rapidly developing since 1960s.
Points of interests / things to see
England is renowned for its devotion to traditions – and yet English ships were among the first to sail the high seas, and it was nowhere else but in England that the industrial revolution was born. It seems that the famous motto “To boldly go beyond the realm of the known where no man has ever ventured before” is as ingrained into the English way of life as any conservative tradition. This seemingly impossible combination of conservatism and innovation permeates the English society and asserts itself even in most unlikely places – such as, for instance, a House of God. Members of Basingstoke Baptist Church are “united by their common faith in God”. They come together to pray and sometimes to discuss important theological matters. So far it seems to be as traditional as it gets. On the other hand, there is a Friday youth club attended by between 40 and 50 teenagers. The program of the evening may vary but quite often it includes games like table tennis or badminton, or ice skating. An evening like that ends with “Jesus time” – a brief speech about God given by one of the youth leaders. And one does not have to be a church member to attend!
Tradition is, by definition, something that hails from the past. Observing tradition essentially means to look back and to copy what is there – sometimes without understanding and appreciating, why it was what the way it was. The Milestones museum in Basingstoke deals with the past as well but it does exactly the opposite: it presents the past in a way that helps it to come alive. It is not by chance its official name is Hampshire Living History Museum. It might be amusing, informative or sometimes even enlightening to look at a picture of an old cobbled street with all sorts of characters in strange attires milling about it – but it creates an excitement of an altogether different kind to be able to actually become one of these characters: to run into and meet and greet them or, say, to ride a Victorian tram or just a 1930s vehicle. It is way more educational too because we just learn better when our senses are on: by dressing like a Victorian and drinking a pint of Gales ale in an Edwardian pub one would learn more about the Victorian society in 10 minutes than he or she possibly would learn in months of studying historical books with authentic pictures.
The Milestones museum is a striking example of an open-air museum – a very successful concept that (you saw it coming!) itself is a tradition established by Scandinavian countries near the end of the 19th century. As opposed, Basingstoke Skiplex is an amazing product of modern technology – an indoor ski complex whose two fully adjustable slopes allow experienced cross-country and alpine skiers, as well as snowboarders, to practice their moves while total beginners can safely make their first steps on skis. While there is no age restriction, children would be the most natural target audience for a sports centre like that – and the viewing area ensures that the parents can watch their kids practicing and enjoying themselves. A “super-smooth, super-fast wind tunnel for indoor skydiving” is an attractive bonus. This combination of a full workout and a family fun (there is also a party area where the whole family can head fro after the practices) effectively ensures Skiplex to become a huge success – similar to what happened to the Rock Circus in London about 30 years earlier. As a result, the centre is open 12 hours a day on weekdays (from 11:00 to 23:00) and full 16 hours a day (from 7:00 to 23:00) on weekends and bank holidays.
Throughout history England has been among the most technologically advanced countries of any given time period – be it in weaponry, ship building and navigation or industrial production. Technology had helped the country to build a mighty Empire stretching over half-the-Globe – yet the heart and soul of England remained back home. Since the medieval times Englishman’s home was his castle - or mansion. England would never be the same without noblemen’s mansions with their numerous spacious rooms, manicured lawns and orderly parks – and the Vyne in Basingstoke is a perfect example of such a mansion. Through several centuries the Vyne belonged to a typical representative of English aristocracy, the Chute family. Its rooms saw many distinguished guests, Henry the VIII used to have his personal bedroom which he used every time he would honour the Chutes by paying them a royal visit. The mansion was turned into a museum in the middle of the last century, and every effort has been made to leave the house and the estate exactly as they had been when in the Chutes possession. As a result, the castle provides its visitors with a rare opportunity to get immersed in the refined lifestyle of the crème de la crème of the English high-society.
The Vyne has survived many centuries and preserved its magnificent beauty. Its fellow Tudor house and a relative neighbour, Basing House, was much less fortunate. A 16th century structure, for more than hundred years it had looked as impressive in size and luxury as the Hampton Court Palace but the Civil War in the middle of the next century proved its undoing. The house had been a hereditary possession of the Paulette family whose representatives bore a title of Marquis of Winchester – and the fifth Marquis in succession, John Paulette, happened to be a notorious supporter of the king, Charles I. For that reason the Basing House was repeatedly besieged by the Parliament forces and finally destroyed in 1645. Today the site can boast but extensive ruins and a Great Barn. Even though the barn is the largest of its kind that managed to survive since Tudor times, to compete for public’s attention with something as impressive as the Vyne, the Basing House’s management had to be creative. And it did succeed in finding its own niche – namely, a costumed re-enactment of the 17th century siege. A 90-minute presentation supported by by special effects and accompanied by experts’ commentary is a memorable experience, particularly for children.
For those who has more than an hour-and-a-half to spend in the area, the Basing House might become the starting point of the famous Basing Trail – an about 10-kilometres-long circular walk (it is always possible to choose shorter route). The picturesque trail leads past a splendid arch named after Duke of Bolton. The Bolton Arch is all that was left of Hackwood Estate, the Paulettes’ main residence after the destruction of the Basing House. Another highlight of the circular route is the Black Dam ponds – an affluent reservoir boasting a variety of aquatic wildlife. All in all, the walk ensures three hours spent in peace in quiet.
To balance peace and quiet with speed and excitement, one can attend the Viables Minature Railway developed by a group of passionate amateurs about 30 years ago. They had founded Modern Engineering Society that managed to build a 600-meter track and model locomotives to run on it. The locomotives are exact copies of real full size steam engines (they even burn coal and use water like their “bigger brothers” do!). Those miniature cars carry passengers from 11:00 to 16:00 for just 1 pound per passenger. The most fascinating aspect of the ride is that the passengers are located on the cars rather than inside them!
England was one of the first countries in Europe offering personalized walking tours (as opposed to bus tours catering to big groups). Basingstoke taps into this great tradition (and innovation!) by offering a unique tour devoted to a popular author, Jane Austen, who was born in the area and spent a significant part of her life there. This is a bus tour but with a personal feel provided by the guide’s narrative about Jane’s social and cultural life that had become an inspiration for her novels. It is a full day tour and it includes a visit to Jane Austen museum.
In a way, Basingstoke would fail to provide a typical English experience if it did not offer a tour that combines everything else in the area. The New Forest Walks tour is organized by the same agency and led by the same guide who is as knowledgeable about nature plants as about society. There is a walking part as well that lasts about 2,5-3 hours – just like the one along the Basing Trail. The difference is the above-mentioned informative commentary provided during the walk. The pace is comfortable, so no special preparation is required. The cost of the tour is 15 pounds.
Vacation rentals in Basingstoke (England)
How to get there ?
Due to Basingstoke’s proximity to both London and Southampton – as well as the fact that it serves as a major intersection for a number of motorways – getting to the city is an easy task which can be accomplished in many different ways. All you have to do is to fly to London or Southampton and continue from there. In the latter case it is possible to take a train straight from the airport using the Southampton Airport Parkway, and the journey takes mere 34 minutes. Another option is to rent a car and drive for 37 minutes on the M3 and M27 roads. Both London airports also provide a rail connection to Basingstoke. It is a direct ride from Gatwick (and the train goes via Clapham Junction) while a journey from Heathrow would necessitate a change of trains in Woking or Reading. Traveling by car is a viable alternative from both airports, and in both cases the roads M3 and M25 will have to be used. Whichever route and transportation means you choose, you are like to arrive at your destination in about 60-75 minutes. It is quicker to come from London proper as a direct train ride from Waterloo or Victoria stations should take less than an hour.
Hotels in Basingstoke (England)