Things to see and do in Tadley
- Credit: The Wellington Arms
Broomsticks and bedknobs, Tudor mansions and Roman towns… A visit to Tadley is a surprise
Tadley, six miles north of Basingstoke and nudging the Berkshire border, makes an unassuming destination. This town was developed in the ‘50s and ‘60s, with housing estates proliferating to accommodate those working at the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment in nearby Aldermaston.
Nonetheless, Tadley and its surrounding villages offer an escape and a chance to fantasise, romanticise and imagine. First, for Harry Potter fans, something magical: broomsticks aka besom brooms. Tadley was once a centre for woodland craftmanship and you can still pick up an authentic traditional broom from a local family business (on Mulford’s Hill) which has been hand making these brooms for 300 odd years. They have supplied brooms for films ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ and ‘Dark Shadows’, starring Johnny Depp, as well as customers as grand as HM The Queen. The late Arthur Nash received the Royal Warrant in 1999 for supplying brooms and pea sticks to the Royal household – an honour and responsibility that has passed on to his son, Bradley Nash.
The brooms are still crafted as they have been for generations with birch gathered during the winter months, from November to March, before being made into brooms in what Sue Nash, Bradley’s mother, describes as a hut at the bottom of the garden. Tadley is identified so closely with this tradition that a couple of crossed brooms appear on Tadley’s ‘arms’ as seen on the ‘Welcome to Tadley’ road signs.
From a brush with fantasy to the fanciful: local legend has it that there are treacle mines at Tadley. This errant nonsense was concocted in the 19th century, however visitors to the area can enjoy the annual Tadley Treacle Fair, held every June, a local fundraiser with crafts, funfair and music, but none of the sticky stuff.
Otherwise there is much about the Tadley area that is both fascinating and factual. Feel free to take a walk into the past. First pick your time period – you can journey back to Roman Britain at Silchester, just east of Tadley. This was once home to an important Roman town known as Calleva Atrebatum (after the Iron Age tribe of Atrebates once based here) covering some 40 hectares.
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Unlike most Roman towns, it was never reoccupied or built over, allowing decades of archaeological investigations (undertaken during summer months) to reveal an unusually complete picture of Roman life.
The Roman walls, some of the best-preserved Roman town defences in England, and well-preserved remains of the amphitheatre still stand, while foundations, roads and other features survive intact beneath the surface. This is an incredibly atmospheric location; simply walk the walls and let your imagination conjure up the townscape below.
Brunch and lunch
Pit stops are scattered around and about. Suggestions include The Calleva Arms at Silchester serving pub classics, such as steak and ale pie, and The Plough at Little London, an unspoiled old inn with log fires, low beams and a modest menu primarily comprising baguettes. Visitors have remarked that this old-fashioned pub is itself like going back in time. Recommendations for local cafes include Mortimer Café in Mortimer, on the county border, Little Roses in Elm Park Garden Centre, Pamber End, and Café Retreat in Tadley itself.
Continuing explorations into the past, travel to the Tudor period at The Vyne. This February is the last month visitors can experience the rooftop walkway and see conservation in action with the £5.4m roof project nearing completion. It is also the last chance to leave your own mark on this former Tudor palace, by writing a message or drawing a picture on a tile to go on the new roof.
Inside this magnificent mansion, visitors can experience the haunting sounds of a Tudor Lady Mass in the 16th century chapel – a unique audio illusion recreating what Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn may have heard when they visited The Vyne in 1535. Or you can take a winter ramble through the grounds. A downloadable walk here leads through a wonderland of wild gardens and wetlands. The grounds appear eerily beautiful at this time of year with mists occasionally cloaking the marshy grasslands. Weeping willows trail tendrils in the lake and you may spot coots, mallards, moorhens and little grebes, or use the bird hide to spy on water voles. The route takes in archaeological remnants from The Vyne’s medieval and Second World War past and you’ll also discover newly restored views across the lake to the mansion.
There are also plenty of walks through the local countryside which has an abundance of woodland, common land and nature reserves. Examples are Silchester Common and Pamber Forest, heathland common and ancient oak woodland respectively, east of Tadley and covering 478 acres, and Ashford Hill Nature Reserve, west of Tadley, a wildlife haven with meadows and woodland. Meanwhile the rolling countryside of copse and field is dotted with picturesque hamlets, villages and old churches (such as Tadley’s 11th-century St Peter’s Church) all crisscrossed by footpaths.
Or swap walking boots for golfing shoes and improve your handicap at Bishopswood Golf Course. This nine-hole course set in 70 acres of mature parkland with tree-lined fairways, meandering water hazards and superb greens was rated one of the best nine-hole courses in the south by Today’s Golfer in 2017. Best of all it’s not members-only.
Eat and sleep
There’s a good line in country inns. These include The Mole Inn in delightful Monk Sherborne, which was lost to the village for five years before being refurbished and reopened towards the end of 2016 by landlord Keith Giles. It is cosy and comfortable with woodburner, tempting menu, including the likes of pan-roasted saddle of venison, and an events diary offering gin tastings and cocktail evenings.
However, one particular pub with restaurant and ‘rooms’ (mostly adapted from various outbuildings) seems to take all the local accolades: The Wellington Arms in Baughurst. Owners Jason King and Simon Page have created an idyll that has cast a spell over foodies. Even the usually hard to please Times reviewer Giles Coren has declared that he would gladly stay here forever. What makes it special? This tiny, dog-friendly country inn has found a joy in growing, rearing and sourcing the very best ingredients for the kitchen. They have their own apiary, chickens, and flock of Jacob sheep in the field out back. They grow most of their own vegetables and salad leaves, some from their own polytunnel and raised beds, others from a local allotment, and herbs are picked from the herb garden right outside the kitchen door. They make their own ice creams and sorbets and bake their own bread, which can be bought, along with their own preserves and chutneys, over the bar. A choice of luxurious contemporary country accommodation includes The Apartment, The Barn, The Hayloft and The Cart House, between them featuring exposed beams, slate tiling with underfloor heating, goose down duvets and field views.
My Tadley - Adrian Smith, Founder, Mortimer Chocolate Company“Mortimer Chocolate Company is named after the village of Mortimer, straddling the Hampshire/Berkshire border east of Tadley. We are a member of Hampshire Fare and produce chocolate from cocoas that we import from West Africa and South America and specialise in making hot chocolate drinks, including a dairy free white couverture, 70% cocoa solids dark chocolate, drinking chocolates and flavoured chocolate drinks, such as our salted caramel drink and a chocolate orange drink, which we sell under our own brand, but also make for other people, including Harrods!
We create our new recipes here in our kitchen, tasting cocoas from all over the world, and trying out new combinations of cocoas and flavours to produce something fabulous that our customers will love. Our inspiration often comes while walking our dog in the birch woods and heathland around the village.
The old Greenham Common airfield, now a nature reserve, is a favourite, with its views across the downs to the south and the Kennet Valley to the north. And what better way to end the walk than with a warming mug of hot chocolate?”
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