Wiltshire, Dorset & Hampshire
Three counties we often overlook in favour of Devon and Cornwall, me and the boss finally got to Wiltshire, Dorset and Hampshire.
It's always nice to see something different and for us the counties are only a two hour drive. Everywhere was busy, sometimes too busy, but you can always find a peaceful spot.
For scenic drives through the New Forest simply take the 'B' and side roads off the A31, A35 and A337. The B3056 is a good one. Plenty of ponies, donkeys, pigs and deer to go all soft over. If you get lost, which is fun, your satnav will get you home.
The missus and I love a good ruin and Corfe Castle is up there with the best. Sitting imposingly in the Purbeck Hills above the village of the same name, there has been a stronghold here for a thousand years.
Today's ruin was founded by William the Conquerer (of King Harold and the arrow fame), and updated by Henry I, King John, Henry III and Edward I. I doubt they had trouble getting planning permission.
The castle finally succumbed to destruction in the mid 17th century during the English Civil War and the Roundhead sappers. When wandering the 'film set' ruins, spare a thought for the Bankes family (of Kingston Lacy fame) who lost their home. It must be tough losing a castle.
For a better experience, take one of the National Trust guided tours. They look like fun and you can join in. I didn't, but I am a miserable old git.
Hinton Ampner is a good old 'stock' National Trust property sitting in the tiny village of Hinton Ampner, Hampshire, not far from the 13th century village church.
There was a Tudor mansion here in the 1600s but the house you visit was built in 1793. Gutted by fire in 1960, the house was restored to its former Georgian glory, finally bestowed to the National Trust in 1985.
The decor is interesting but for me it was the garden that stole the show. Created by the last owner, Ralph Stawell Dutton, there are over 100 varieties of rose (in season), a plethora of kaleidoscope flowers and shrubs, an enviable kitchen garden plus some very clever topiary. You have to smell it to believe it.
Oh, and if you hear any banging noises, it's the resident poltergeist. Spooky.
If you're up for a blowy, two mile shingle walk then a visit to Hurst Castle is just up your beach. Situated near Milford-on-Sea, Hampshire, there is plenty of sea front parking and toilets, but obviously no amenities on route.
At the castle the medieval tower offers fantastic views over the Solent and the Isle of Wight. The fort you can see across the water is Fort Albert at Cliff End.
Another of Henry VIII's artillery forts, Hurst Castle was built between 1541 and 1544. Modernised over the centuries, it was repaired for the Napoleonic Wars and made ready for WWI and WWII. The remaining exhibits give a fascinating insight into the castle's use over the years.
If you love a shingle walk with an absorbing destination, then crunch this way. A great little adventure.
Sadly, due to coastal erosion some of the castle has been closed. Maintained by English Heritage.
One can only imagine what it is like to own and live in such grandeur – so many rooms to fill. No wonder the likes of William John Bankes, one previous owner of Kingston Lacy, was a collector of note – it must have been a full time job sourcing art and antiquities.
Originally residing in Corfe Castle, the Bankes family had to leave after the English Civil War. As supporters of Charles I, they lost and Corfe Castle was ruined.
Kingston Lacy (now National Trust) was built by Ralph Bankes in the 17th century and sits in 410 acres of gardens, grounds and parkland. On the terrace, look out for the four tortoise pot stands. They were stolen, seen at auction, then returned many years later.
We loved the opulence of this stately pile. Combine it with Corfe Castle for a great, historical day out.
Known the world over, Durdle Door (or Dor) is a magnificent Portland limestone arch formed some 10,000 years ago on the Jurassic Coast at Lulworth, Dorset. Accessible to the public, this important ancient geological feature is owned by the Lulworth Estate.
There is plenty of parking at Durdle Door but if you fancy a walk, park at Lulworth Cove and take the short but steep path past the picturesque Man O'War Bay. It's worth it for the views and you can visit the cove on your return.
If you can, visit out of season. The beach gets very busy and apparently the autumn sunsets are a joy to behold, so I'm told.
Formed by over millennia by wave diffraction, Lulworth Cove really needs to be seen from on high to appreciate its full beauty.
Famed for its geological features, the cove and the village of West Lulworth, are a mecca for tourists during the summer holidays. If you're in search of serenity, look elsewhere.
The cove though is the ideal spot for launching a kayak or paddle board to explore Durdle Door or find a secluded beach. I wish we had.
Looking at this grand 18th century mansion sitting in its manicured grounds and walled flower garden, it's hard to imagine in 1201 an Augustinian priory was founded here. You can still see remnants of the priory in the walls of the house.
Fancy a stroll? There are estate walks, a riverside path and the flower garden is a joy in summer. My wife and I being gardeners, always enjoy a good stately garden. You can get so many ideas for free.
Yep, it's another National Trust property. But how many more housing estates would there be without the Trust? You'll find Mottisfont near Romsey in Hampshire.
It's hard to picture Old Sarum as a thriving hilltop settlement during the 12th century. Its ruins are one dimensional, rather flat. But it is very interesting.
Salisbury's first settlement, Old Sarum was used to defend against berserking Vikings, has been a palace for Henry I and once contained a great cathedral.
Maintained by English Heritage, there are great views over Salisbury and the plain. It's worth an hour of anybody's time.
Old Wardour Castle
Another property in the English Heritage portfolio, Old Wardour Castle is some 15 miles west of Salisbury in Wiltshire. A little bit out of the way but one of my favourites as castles go. These ruins really do take you back in time.
Great to explore, you can still wander over the remains of several floors of this once fortified home. Hexagonal in design, Old Wardour was constructed in the 1390s as a medieval castle, becoming an Elizabethan mansion, a Civil War battleground and finally, a very camera friendly ruin. A truly lovely spot.
Me and the missus love a good cathedral and Salisbury certainly didn't disappoint. I can thoroughly recommend taking a tour. Guides are dotted around and are only too willing to impart their knowledge. We had a lovely lady who kept us enthralled for well over an hour.
There is far too much of interest in the cathedral for me to waffle on about but don't miss the original Magna Carta document from 1215. One of four survivors, it's difficult to grasp its significance and meaning to the modern world.
If you ever visit Salisbury, take time to see the cathedral. You can also climb the spire but to be honest, it was just too expensive.