Things to see and do in Petersfield
- Credit: M Focard de Fontefiguieres
Petersfield combines the two essential ingredients for the perfect short break – great walks and good food, says Emma Caulton
Few towns in Hampshire are better positioned for walking. Petersfield is at the heart of the South Downs National Park, and both within and around are landscapes to explore.
You don’t need to wander far. The Physic Garden is a 17th century style garden created from one of the original 12th century burgage plots behind the High Street, while five minutes’ stroll from the town centre is Petersfield Heath, a wide, open space perfect for games and picnics, with children’s playground, café and lake with boats for hire.
To the north are the Ashford Hangers with scenery so dramatic it is often referred to as Little Switzerland. Its escarpments are covered in beeches which turn flaming gold, rich red and russet at this time of year. This landscape inspired the poet Edward Thomas, who lived in the village of Steep, and mapped much of the area in his work. There is a memorial to him at one of his favourite spots, Shoulder of Mutton Hill, which has glorious views. The Hangers Way, a 21-mile long distance footpath, passes through the Ashford Hangers, heading south through Petersfield and picturesque Buriton before crossing the South Downs Way and finishing at Queen Elizabeth Country Park. This Park is another great destination - some 2000 acres of downland and woodland with trails for walkers and cyclists, play areas for children and barbecues for hire.
Petersfield has succeeded in retaining many of its independents including Pickets & Pursers, one of Hampshire’s longest established family firms of jewellers, and Richard C Arnold, family-run optometrists in town for over 125 years. More recent additions include a great selection of fashion boutiques, among them Rhona Russell, overlooking The Square, Blue Tree, Mimosa for shoes and accessories, and Willow with unusual labels in muted tones.
Quirky yet cool finds include Vinyl Matters, a store selling new and used records, and bric-a-brac and vintage at The Folly Market and Antiques Centre – also home to Chinwags café and an amazing gelato parlour, Mooka.
For a history fix, visit Petersfield Museum. It used to be confined to the old court house. Following the acquisition of adjacent Petersfield Police Station, the Museum is undergoing a process of extending and improving. As part of this, The Flora Twort Gallery is now on-site with exhibitions focusing on an aspect of her work; her portraiture being this year’s exhibit.
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Other highlights include a museum shop, selected items from Bedales’ Historic Dress Collection, and improved displays in the court house, including one of the Bronze Age urns recently unearthed on the Heath. Activities for children include puzzles, dressing-up clothes and a pop-up Georgian house.
Planning ahead, the intention is to open the old cells for events and tours, turn the garages into a community gallery space and convert the old stables into an Edward Thomas study centre. Underlying all this is the aim to make the Museum a cultural hub.
Staying over? There’s every sort of experience available. Let’s start in town at The Old Drum. HG Wells used to dine and write at this 18th century inn which has been given a chic contemporary makeover. The menu focuses on local and seasonal produce, service is smiley and boutique bedrooms are cosy and characterful.
Go west for Langrish House Hotel – a charming 17th century manor house in 14 acres of grounds. This elegant country house hotel has an intriguing history that includes defeated Royalists imprisoned in the vaults! It has been owned more or less continually by the Talbot Ponsonby Family since 1842 and fuses the relaxed with the formal – Frederick’s is a smart 2 AA Rosette restaurant.
For a more Swallows & Amazons adventure, try dog-friendly Adhurst Yurts, deep in 450 acres of ancient woodland above the River Rother. Each yurt has its own campfire and woodburner. Fun includes rope swing, zip wire and bushcraft lessons.
Whatever you want to eat, you should be able to find it here. Country pubs vary from smart gastropubs like The Thomas Lord at West Meon, with woodfired pizza oven in the gardens and new lodges for staying over, to timeless Harrow Inn at Steep, surely unchanged since Edward Thomas’ day with its hearty homecooked food, ales straight from the barrel and low-ceilinged rustic bars.
In town, vegans and veggies can discover Earth, a new eaterie with a fast food-style menu that is totally vegan. Or there’s The Natural Apothecary, health food shop and café, serving imaginative soups, salads and sandwiches. For somewhere different, Fez is popular, a Turkish restaurant and meze bar tucked down an alley (Petersfield’s numerous hidden passageways are one of its charms), with good value set lunch and dinner menus. Other favourites include Madeleine’s Kitchen on Lavant Street – with a satellite café in One Tree Books – and The Town House bistro/ bar with Mediterranean-influenced menu.
Petersfield is foodie heaven. There’s JSW – a smart restaurant (with rooms) serving exceptional food. If memory serves me correctly, this is Hampshire’s longest Michelin-star holder. Expect clever tasting menus accompanied by flights of wine. Annie Jones is another that is long-established and a Good Food Guide stalwart; comprising café, bar with tapas menu and restaurant with creative a la carte. Other popular eateries include a steakhouse, Monoloco, good Thai restaurant, Lemongrass, and relaxed wine bar, Upstairs at The Folly, with regular live music.
My Petersfield: Tom O’Kelly - One Tree Books “I set up One Tree Books 23 years ago in an old hardware store in Lavant Street having worked in publishing both in London and Auckland, New Zealand. Like the town it has seen many changes over that time. From a small bookshop, we have expanded and now include a café, run by the brilliant Madeleine’s Kitchen, and big music and games departments upstairs. We have a lot of loyal customers who enjoy chatting to our booksellers who are all keen readers and happy to advise on the best new books.
Petersfield’s position, both equidistant and about half an hour’s drive away from Portsmouth, Guildford, Chichester and Winchester, has enabled it to retain its feel as a market town with plenty of independent shops and numerous places to eat and drink.
I grew up in South Harting, a village outside Petersfield, and my favourite store when I was a child was Rowswell Bros toyshop on the High Street, a magical place which sadly closed in the early seventies and is now an estate agents. My priorities have changed a bit over the years; my shop of choice now would be The General Wine Company in Lavant Street – a brilliant independent specialist who really know their wine and are happy to share their knowledge.”
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