What it's like to live in Petersfield

St Peter's on The Square, the town's central hub and venue for markets and festivals

St Peter's on The Square, the town's central hub and venue for markets and festivals - Credit: Emma Caulton

This thriving market town in the South Downs National Park may be your perfect match

Ice cream. I could be persuaded to move to Petersfield simply for the ice cream. I am thinking of Mooka, fresh gelatos and sorbets made to their own original recipes in a nearby village and served up in Sparkles dessert bar in Petersfield’s Folly Market.

At the other foodie extreme there’s JSW – a long-established Michelin restaurant on Dragon Street (one of only two Michelin-starred restaurants in Hampshire). In between there’s an abundance of cafes, inns and restaurants. These include Good Food Guide recommended Annie Jones; Fez, an authentic Turkish restaurant and meze bar; Sea and Spud, award-winning chippie; The Natural Apothecary, specialising in salads and smoothies; and Josie’s – a relative newbie. The long and short of it is that Petersfield is perfect for those who want to live somewhere they can enjoy a good cup of coffee, delicious eats and a decent pint.

Equally reassuring is the shopping experience. With a monthly farmers’ market and twice weekly general markets held in The Square, Petersfield is the genuine article - a traditional market town that has kept its character and individuality. There’s a mix of independents, such as One Tree Bookshop, Sew Creative, homeware boutique Tallulah Fox, Madeline’s Deli and The General Wine Company, alongside national names - the likes of Joules and Waitrose.

That’s the foodies and browsers sorted. Next families. They will be delighted with the facilities and activities available, encompassing both the usual and the unexpected. A good leisure centre has three pools, gym, squash courts, sports hall and health suite. There are also a couple of golf clubs, rugby club and football club.

However, Petersfield comes into its own with out of the ordinary amenities. These include a retro open-air swimming pool in a garden setting that in this summer’s heatwave has probably never been more popular. There’s the Physic Garden, a 17th century-style walled garden tucked behind the High Street that provides a welcome retreat from the 21st century bustle. Best of all, and just a stroll from the town centre, is Petersfield Heath: 69 acres of parkland with boating lake, cricket club, play area and café.

Meanwhile cyclists, riders and walkers can make the most of Petersfield’s exceptional setting in the South Downs National Park with chalk downland slopes rising beyond the townscape. Queen Elizabeth Country Park lies to the south with some 20 miles of waymarked trails, while to the north a steep escarpment of beech hangers creates a dramatic landscape that is often referred to as Little Switzerland.

Perhaps this location is responsible for Petersfield’s slower pace of life and rural feel. The town is certainly not known for its wild nightlife. It doesn’t even have a cinema complex. Back in the 18th century, writer Daniel Defoe described it as “a town eminent for little but being full of good Inns”. What it does have these days (as well as good inns) is a much-praised youth theatre, a number of Festivals, and a great Museum encompassing local archaeology, historic costume and exhibitions of Flora Twort’s paintings of the town. The arts offering is strengthened by the Olivier Theatre at Bedales (the illustrious independent school in Steep, just north of Petersfield) delivering top notch performances and events.

Bedales is known for its liberal ethos and famous alumni (The Good Schools Guide suggests the school is good for ‘articulate nonconformists’). Other impressive independents include Churcher’s College (considered “encouraging” and “friendly” by The Good Schools Guide) and Ditcham Park, idyllically positioned high on the Downs.

Otherwise, Petersfield Infant School is “Outstanding” says Ofsted. So, too, is Langrish Primary, while Herne Junior and Buriton, Sheet and Steep Primaries are all rated “Good”. At secondary level The Petersfield School is also “Good” and moving towards “Outstanding” – attracting many parents who would ordinarily happily pay.

As for accessibility, Petersfield developed in part as a coaching stop on the London to Portsmouth road with rail arriving in the mid-19th century. It remains well connected today with frequent trains to Guildford and Portsmouth (both about 30 minutes) and London Waterloo (an hour and ten minutes more or less). Meanwhile the A3 now skirts around the town, providing access to the M27 in one direction and M25 in the other.

With so many boxes ticked, unsurprisingly, property is pricey with those overlooking the Heath attracting a premium. However, in town there is a hotchpotch of period properties including half-timbered 16th and 17th century houses lining Sheep Street, elegant Georgian houses on The Spain and imposing Victorian Villas and Edwardian terraces near the station. There are also recent and late 20th century developments of family homes within easy walk of the High Street. If you really want to get away from it all, discover the surrounding picture postcard villages, including Buriton, East Meon, Steep and Sheet – mostly with good pubs and village greens.

All in all: great town, lovely countryside, plenty to do, well connected and retaining a strong sense of community. But don’t tell everyone.

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