Basingstoke locals share what they love about the town

The life size bronze of the author Jane Austen was commissioned by the Hampshire Cultural Trust, sta

The life size bronze of the author Jane Austen was commissioned by the Hampshire Cultural Trust, stands in Basingstoke's Market Place, in front of the Willis Museum, and was unveiled on the 200th anniversary of her death (Photo by Joe Low) - Credit: Copyright: Joe Low

From trail running to pop-up galleries, we discover personal stories about a town which we often assume is all road interchanges and shopping malls

Steve Vanhinsbergh of StoneCIRCLE

Steve Vanhinsbergh of StoneCIRCLE - Credit: StoneCIRCLE

There are many faces to Basingstoke. It has long offered a serious retail experience (this was the birthplace of Burberry), while it is the only out of London warehouse shop of wine merchants Berry Bros & Rudd. It is also leisure central from skiing to sky diving, while the acoustically excellent Anvil concert hall is 25 years old this year. Often overlooked though is Basingstoke’s rich history. This was a Tudor hot spot, with The Vyne to the north, visited by Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, and Basing House to the east, which once rivalled Hampton Court Palace, but was stormed and ruined in the Civil War. And while the familiar image of Basingstoke is a busy town centre, it is surrounded by the loveliest countryside with hidden villages. But it’s the locals that know this town best, here they share their top tips and favourite places.

Steve Vanhinsbergh, stoneCIRCLE, Wootton St Lawrence

Mitch, her mum, Petra, and daughter, Heidi, outside Petra Jewellery during one of their Winter Wonde

Mitch, her mum, Petra, and daughter, Heidi, outside Petra Jewellery during one of their Winter Wonderland events - Credit: Petra Jewellery

Last year StoneCIRCLE celebrated 50 years in business having been founded in 1968 by Steve’s father, Bernie. The company is now run by Steve and his brother, Jeff. Manufacturing natural stone products for both residential and commercial customers, it is the largest stonemasonry factory in the south of England.

Steve recalls: “The land on which the showroom and factory are built was owned by Queen’s College, Oxford, as is all the land around there, having been part of Pamber Priory which the College owned from 1462. My father would drive past the barn every day and finally bought it from the College in 1984 when he needed to expand the business.

Steve’s local life:

• Favourite pub: “The Bel and Dragon in Kingsclere where I grew up. I have fond memories of teenage nights spent in there (when it was the Swan), but it is a lovely traditional coaching inn with a roaring log fire in winter and good food.”

• Favourite walk: “When I’m not terrorising the local ramblers on my Enduro motorbike, my family and I enjoy going for a walk and calling into a pub for lunch. One I can recommend is a circular walk of six miles from Hook through woodlands to Greywell and then along the Basingstoke Canal to North Warnborough and back across Bartley Heath. All three villages have pubs so you can choose where to stop and eat en route.”

• Where to stay overnight: “You can’t beat the Fernbank Hotel, which is in a quiet residential area but within walking distance of the town centre. It’s a small family-run hotel with a great welcome.”

Mitch Lloyd, Petra Jewellery, Viables Craft Centre

Artist Sian Storey

Artist Sian Storey - Credit: Sian Storey

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Petra Jewellery has been voted Most Loved Jewellers in the UK for the past three years and this year celebrates 40 years in business. Petra started the business in 1979 with just her apprenticeship pieces and her own work bench in the corner of a converted bull pen. Daughter Mitch is now running the show from a stunning contemporary showroom and workshop in a converted old farm cottage.

Mitch says: “We love what we do, designing and making beautiful pieces of jewellery that capture special memories. We especially enjoy understanding the story behind every piece we’re making and have our on-site goldsmith available to give expert advice.

Mitch’s local life:

• Favourite pub: The Fur & Feathers on the A339 is a lovely local family business. Free range chickens roam the large cottage garden and Fran is so proud of her steaks, they taste delicious too.”

• Spare time: “I love trail running round the countryside with my running buddies from Basingstoke & Mid Hants Athletic Club and my springer spaniel Banjo. Working Saturdays means I often get up early on a Sunday and do a 10 mile off-road loop through Hackwood Park to Ellisfield and back through Cliddesden, where there’s another great country pub, The Jolly Farmer, near the duck pond.

“We have a fabulous sports complex called Down Grange. I’ve been training hard on the track for Masters Athletics events (I shocked myself winning the British 1500m Champs last summer), my daughter Heidi plays hockey there, and we’ve loads of rugby friends, too. Even on a cold, wet winter evening it’s a hub of activity. We’ve also got some amazing community running and cycling clubs like Hatch Warren and Old Basing. These brilliant Basingstoke sports clubs welcome all ages and abilities – I’d recommend joining a club over a gym any day.”

Sian Storey, artist

Michelle Pickard, Accommodation Manager, The Wellington Arms

Michelle Pickard, Accommodation Manager, The Wellington Arms - Credit: Red Mist Leisure

Artist Sian Storey specialises in paintings that combine the beauty of the natural world with vivid colour and pattern. Her work hangs on walls round the globe from New York to Melbourne. High profile commissions have included The Green Party and Marwell Zoo and she’s currently planning a solo show in Winchester in April 2019.

Sian’s local life:

• Best things: “I’ve lived here for over 10 years and seen so much positive change in that time. This is an up and coming town with plans to develop a new cultural quarter. It’s not an obvious place to be an artist, but I really enjoy being part of helping to build a creative movement here.”

• Best event: “Basingstoke Festival is growing each year and brings so much energy and excitement to the town. This year the theme is ‘Discover art in unusual places’ so there are great opportunities for creative people to get involved.”

• Best attraction: “The Anvil is a gem of a venue, right on our doorstep. There’s always something worth seeing. It attracts some big acts, but is small enough to still feel intimate.”

• Favourite Walk: “Beggarwood Park is a favourite - it’s close to where I live with a vast expanse of green space, woodland trails, outdoor gym and play park for my toddler. I believe it’s one of the highest points in Basingstoke; you can see for miles. On a summer’s evening you get this uninterrupted view of big blue sky and setting sun. Stunning.”

Michelle Pickard, Accommodation Manager, Wellington Arms, Stratfield Turgis

Recently refurbished and reopened, Wellington Arms is run by award-winning Surrey and Hampshire-based pub company, Red Mist Leisure, who invested £2.5M to turn it into a family-friendly destination pub with 25 boutique bedrooms. It is located on the Wellington Estate - 7,000 acres of farmland, parkland and woodland owned by the Duke of Wellington, including Wellington Country Park where you can walk off a delicious meal and a G&T (or two).

Michelle says: “I’ve loved north Hampshire ever since my first day at Wellington Riding, where I was a working student back in the day!”

Michelle’s local life:

• Favourite pub: “The Wellington Arms, of course, where there is an emphasis on fresh, seasonal, local food and local ales and gins.”

• Spare time: “I love playing rugby for Basingstoke Ladies at the weekend.”

• Best event: “Lowde Fest in Hazeley Bottom - a festival in a day with 12 hours of non-stop live music, real ales and a great atmosphere.”

• Family day out: “Millers Ark, on the Earl of Malmesbury’s Estate at Hook. The home farm specialises in rare breed cattle and sheep, pygmy goats, miniature donkeys and kunekune pigs. Open days are opportunities to tummy tickle piglets and cuddle gentle goats.”


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