Things to see and do in Alton
- Credit: Lasham Gliding Society
Taking time out in Jane Austen country with Emma Caulton
Alton is Jane Austen country. Her home at nearby Chawton was where she wrote many of her works and is set out as it would have been in Jane’s time. Each year her birthday is celebrated with free entry for visitors (16 December) and next year is the 200th anniversary of her death with a programme of events to celebrate her life. In the meantime a Jane Austen Trail in both Chawton and Alton allows you to follow in the footsteps of the author, discovering Georgian England.
Alton is a quiet market town that has in large part survived the onslaught of modern life, and there are plenty of period properties to admire. On the High Street, number four was the home of Jane’s doctor, the Swan Hotel was where Jane caught the coach to London, number 10 was brother Henry Austen’s bank, and numbers 106-110 was let to another brother, Captain Francis Austen RN.
Interested in discovering more social history? Visit The Curtis Museum, said to have one of the finest local history collections in Hampshire. Exhibits include the Alton Buckle, the finest piece of Anglo-Saxon craftsmanship found in Hampshire, the Selborne Cup, a rare high quality enamelled Roman cup, plus displays about the Battle of Alton in 1643, hop picking and brewing, and the Gallery of Childhood packed with dolls and toys dating back to the 18th century.
Don’t miss The Allen Gallery with one of the South’s most outstanding ceramics collections of English, continental and oriental pottery, porcelain and tiles such as 17th century slip decorated earthenware and a teapot with a design by Hugh Casson.
While in town browse the independents. Fashion boutiques include The Wardrobe which has chic print dresses and cashmere ponchos, Wild Hare is a tattoo and vintage shop selling glam forties and fifties style dresses, Katy Mae has new, nearly new and vintage designer clothing, and M E Howitt is a traditional country shop with Hunter wellies and Barbour jackets. Homeware boutiques include Unique Chique with Annie Sloane chalk paints and decorating courses, and Little Vintage Interiors with furniture painted 50 shades of cream, plus pieces by local craftspeople such as handmade lampshades.
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Take to the skies at Lasham Gliding (www.lashamgliding.com), found north of Alton. Take a trial lesson for £85 or a ‘Flying Start’- two flights for £160. You will enjoy incomparable views over Hampshire and can take the controls under the tuition of your instructor. The fee includes a month’s membership of Lasham Gliding Society entitling you to use the facilities and flights at club rates during that time.
Nervous about flying? Face your fear at Flying Without Fear (www.flyingwithoutfear.com) based between Alton and Lasham – in a hunk of aircraft adjacent to the Departure Lounge (great cafe serving breakfasts, ploughmans and jacket potatoes from a timber hut with decked terrace). Classes are taken by an understanding pilot and ‘passengers’ benefit from personal, practical and proven courses.
Otherwise you can take a ride on a steam train as Alton is one end of the Watercress Line.
If learning a craft is more your thing, visit Stitched By You in Alton (www.stitchedbyyou.co.uk). This craft school and haberdashery is run by Caroline Beacon who has trained on Savile Row. There are classes for seven-year-olds and up and, following the success of Great British Sewing Bee, more men are coming along too (many doing up their camper vans). Classes include machine embroidery, crochet snowflakes, Christmas stockings and much more.
The attractive old Market Square is lined with eateries including familiar groups, but if you want to support independents (and why wouldn’t you?), try The George, a smashing pub with scrubbed pine tables and painted chairs, tea served in mugs or pots, burgers made from scratch daily, all puddings made in-house, and a menu that includes Tunworth cheese, Hampshire’s answer to Camembert, made locally in Herriard. Or there’s Bettaga dei Sapori, a well-established, family-run cafe with the emphasis on freshly prepared patisserie and Italian dishes made with local produce whenever possible.
More to try include Monty’s, a bistro with good value set lunch menu, Sunday roasts, and informal tapas evenings, and The French Horn pub which overlooks The Butts, a tree-fringed green once used for archery practice. Feeling energetic? Take a walk through Bushy Leaze Wood to the Sun Inn, Bentworth, all low ceilings, beams and open fires. If you’re going to Four Marks, Nosh cafe is recommended for its lunches including watercress scone with smoked haddock and poached duck egg.
For a relaxing country pub try The Anchor Inn, at Lower Froyle, serving good food, plus there are stylish bedrooms with beams and beds topped with thick wool blankets. Or there’s Audleys Wood, a former Victorian hunting lodge with impressive restaurant, bar and lounge, plus classic bedrooms.
My Alton - Andy and Claire Daniels
“We moved to Alton around 20 years ago. I worked for IBM and needed to reduce the amount of time I spent travelling to and from various offices and so Alton’s location was ideal. We’d been used to living in the country and so it was very easy to fall in love with the Hampshire countryside which surrounds the town, we also found the local people friendly.
When we decided to start our own business, Gorilla Spirits Co., we didn’t need to look any further than the village of Four Marks, where we were offered a building which is part of the Triple FFF Brewery. With the history of brewing in the area, it is nice to be able to continue the tradition of crafting alcoholic drinks here, albeit gin rather than beer!
We are building a great network of customers on our doorstep, which gives us opportunities to experience the great food on offer in the area: like The Fur & Feathers at Herriard, The Royal Oak at Lasham and Sun Inn at Bentworth. I have to mention The George in Alton itself, which is one of the best town pubs I’ve come across in a long time.
We live right in the centre and love that we can walk in for a coffee or in the other direction we can walk for miles over open countryside with our two Westies. With our new business firmly rooted here we don’t intend leaving any time soon. We are often out offering tastings of Silverback Gin and we can give tours of our distillery on request (gorillaspirits.co.uk).”
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