Things to see and do in Romsey
- Credit: Emma Caulton
With the New Forest on the doorstep, historic houses, stunning gardens and award-winning pubs, Romsey makes a great get-away
Time travel into the past. From the magnificent Abbey, which dominates this charming and characterful market town, to a restored signal box, hidden down Brick Lane, much of Romsey’s historic and architecturally significant built structure exists today thanks to the passion of its residents. The Abbey survived the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII when it was bought by the townspeople in 1544 for use as their parish church (treasures include the Rood in St Anne’s Chapel thought to date from the 10th century and the Romsey reredos, dating from the 16th century).
In more recent times the Romsey and District Buildings Preservation Trust (a sub-division of the Romsey and District Civic Society established in 1974 to protect Romsey’s heritage) probably prevented the town going the way of Andover and Basingstoke where architectural gems were lost to over-development. For example, the Trust rescued and renovated rows of 18th and 19th century houses in Cherville Street (some have earlier medieval timber-framed structures). The Society has also supported 13th century King John’s House, opposite the Abbey. Once part of a medieval complex, today King John’s House encompasses 750 years of history, including early roof timbers, medieval graffiti, rare bone floor, Tudor cottage, Victorian museum, and an old gun shop reconstructed using original fixtures and fittings. In addition, volunteers have transformed its gardens into a hidden oasis in the heart of town with pre-18th century plants and fountain courtyard.
Rescuing Romsey signal box was another of the Trust’s projects. The restored 1860s signal box now attracts enthusiasts and is open the first Sunday (excluding January) and third Saturday (excluding December) of every month with demonstrations, interactive displays and opportunities for visitors to pull levers, operate points and signals and ring bells.
Browse, brunch and lunch
Romsey is dominated by independents - among them Bradbeers department store with covetable collections from tasselled Guess bags to satsuma-bright gilets by Barbour and sunflower print dresses from First Avenue. Otherwise browsable gift shops, jewellery stores and fashion and lifestyle boutiques include Kit & Caboodle Children, stylish Bergman & Brown and Offord & Sons jewellers on Church Street, plus Consortium vintage furniture, Cavendish for dapper chaps, and Inz.pired and Regatta, between them curating a variety of labels from quirky lesser known names to top designers, all on Bell Street.
This range of quality independents is also evident among the eateries. Indulge at Hampshire Life Food & Drink Award winner Sundae’s Child, Market Place, an ice cream parlour concocting all manner of creative flavour combinations on the premises, such as raspberry jam doughnut, cardamom and rose, and pear and liquorice! Dish. Deli and Kitchen, Latimer Street, serves up breakfasts, brunch, lunch and afternoon teas with a focus on scrummy local produce, plus gluten-free and veggie choices. (The Welsh rarebit is particularly recommended.) Meanwhile, another past Food Award nominee, Luc Purveyor of Fine Foods, also Latimer Street, presents simple platters of charcuterie and cheeses. A choice of traditional tea rooms includes Miss Moody’s Tudor Tea Room at St John’s House, all exposed beams, china cups and generous cream teas.
For a relaxed local inn, try The Old House at Home – a popular thatched inn on Love Lane dating in part from the 17th century and serving up good, hearty food. Another favourite is welcoming Three Tuns, Middlebridge Street, Hampshire Life Food & Drink Awards’ Pub of the Year. It’s popular with locals and people walking the Test Valley Way, and the tasty menu has classics with a twist – among them macaroni cheese with watercress pesto and homemade pie with a jug of gravy as well as big roasts on Sundays. Well-kept ales include Romsey’s own Flack Manor (you can also pick up Flack Manor’s ales from their Flak Shack brewery shop on Romsey Industrial Estate). Drinks also encompass an impressively lengthy list of gins and another local treat – Chalkdown Premium Cider.
Art in the afternoon
Artists and gardeners will find inspiration round and about. Mottisfont, north of town and positioned beside the River Test, is renowned for its walled rose gardens, but the estate also has acres of ancient woodland providing ideal habitat for a springtime show of dazzling drifts of bluebells. Meanwhile the house is recognised for its contribution to the arts. A glamorous salon was decorated by Rex Whistler (spot the trompe l’oeil pot of paint brushes); his last and finest piece before he was killed in active service in France. Upstairs the gallery space regularly hosts big name exhibitions.
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You will find art among the foliage at Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, Ampfield. This arboretum covers 72 hectares and has notable collections of camellias, magnolias and rhododendrons which bloom into spectacular colour in late spring. Every year these gardens also provide the backdrop to an eclectic display of imaginative sculptures called Art in the Garden (12 May to 14 October).
One for the kiddies
Paultons Park, just outside Romsey, is considered the UK’s number one family theme park with Peppa Pig World, Lost Kingdom including lifelike moving dinosaurs, Velociraptor coaster, plus play areas and a variety of rides to suit little ones as well as bigger children in 140 acres of parkland.
Evening and sleeping
The Plaza Theatre is an Art Deco venue owned and operated by Romsey Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society with a varied programme. The Abbey itself is the sublime setting for occasional Saturday evening concerts.
Foodies can feast at one of Romsey’s well-established restaurants. There is Suan Thai restaurant, off Bell Street, for classic Thai cuisine - fresh and spicy. La Parisienne, on Bell Street, offers an authentic French experience with the likes of garlicky escargots de Bourgogne and entrecôte bordelaise. While contemporary British using local and seasonal ingredients is showcased at The Brasserie, The White Horse’s delightful courtyard restaurant and holder of two AA Rosettes for its well-presented, flavoursome platefuls.
This Grade II listed building has a long history of looking after travellers. Originally built as a hostel serving the Abbey, The White Horse is thought to be one of only 12 inns in the country that have remained in continuous use as hotels since the 14th Century. Today bedroom accommodation includes loft apartments and luxurious penthouse suites and every room is individually styled blending character with comfort.
Or there’s Cromwell Arms, a pub with rooms just a short walk from the town along riverside footpaths. The style is cosy, comfy, contemporary country and tasty pub grub. Breakfasts are a hit, too.
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