Petersfield surprises. This traditional market town below the northern slopes of the South Downs is stuffed full of idiosyncratic treasures. There is The Physic Garden, a reinterpretation of an 18th century garden that provides a hidden green retreat; Petersfield Museum and Art Gallery, converted from the town’s old police station; a retro open air swimming pool; and the Heath, 69 acres of open space with boating pond just a stroll from the High Street.

The charming central square, the location of farmers’ markets, street markets and seasonal festivals, gives the town a liveliness, while the streets are lined with elegant Georgian townhouses and characterful wonky cottages, some dating back to the early 16th century.

What also appeals is Petersfield’s sense of individuality and community. This is a town dominated by independents with a lot of promising start-ups. There is that rarity, a really good art and craft store, Academy Art Centre. And located in the old packing area at Petersfield Station is a brilliant concept: a free shop. Open for a couple of hours every Wednesday afternoon and Friday and Saturday mornings, its slogan is ‘please donate, don’t throw away’, with the intention of repurposing foods and goods to anyone who can make good use of them.

Another joy is the excellent choice of cafes and restaurants. These include: Fez, an authentic Turkish restaurant and meze bar; The Natural Food Café, a stylish space with tasty wholesome food and good coffee; and Annie Jones a Petersfield institution that was recently refurbished and is now a French restaurant and cocktail bar. Madeleine’s Kitchen comes recommended - this cafe and deli supporting British produce won Best Café in last year’s The Petersfield Awards and has been mentioned in The Times as providing one of the best deli lunches in the country!

Great British Life: Tree FestTree Fest (Image: Tina Knowles)

Tree Fests and Eco Fairs

‘There’s no activism here,’ says Greg Ford, Chair of Trustees for Petersfield Climate Action Network (PeCAN), a community-based group comprising trustees, volunteers and three part time staff. Maybe not, but there’s certainly a lot of activity. Their aim is to engage with locals, helping them overcome climate anxiety and change consumption habits by realizing individual action can make a difference.

PeCAN launched in 2020, a year after Petersfield Town Council and East Hampshire District Council declared a climate emergency and the Town Council called a meeting with local residents to establish an action group. Four years on that group has started conversations and made practical contributions. These began with a project to give advice on the eco-refurbishment of hundreds of properties, part of the SuperHomes programme funded by the National Energy Foundation.

Greg explains: ‘This got us off the ground, enabled us to employ staff, and identified home energy efficiency as important. Our mission is to help Petersfield and surrounding villages reduce their carbon emissions and protect nature, so this project fitted within that, and it made us better known in the community and with local politicians who saw we were an organisation that could actually do things.’

Great British Life: Petersfield’s Fair on the HeathPetersfield’s Fair on the Heath (Image: Tina Knowles)

Next PeCAN adopted a strategy to undertake more public engagement. From that a lot of interesting projects emerged. These have included an Eco Fair (held every other year, alternating with Alton) and ‘A Fruit Tree in Every Garden’, a landmark project supported by funding from East Hampshire Council. Run from Petersfield’s Community Garden, this project is now in its fourth year and during this time has distributed around 2,000 fruit trees to residents at a subsidized price, and 2.7km hedging to homeowners and landowners, supplied for free by the Tree Council.

The ‘Tree Fest’ has been very successful and included useful demos for planting trees and after care provided by Phil Paulo, head of major tree planting projects for the Tree Council, who lives in Petersfield. However, it is also a complex logistical exercise involving a large number of volunteers, mostly required to help bag up the trees.

PeCAN Trustee Liz Bisset adds: ‘People can see we are doing something practical, and people who participate have achieved something for the climate and nature – which is important as wildlife has been drastically reduced in Hampshire.’

The Eco Fair, which will be held this year on Sunday, July 14, is located on the Heath and helps the Group reach a bigger audience. The first Eco Fair was in 2022, after the Town Council approached PeCAN and asked if they could deliver this event for them. This free Fair is well planned with different themed areas such as low waste living, active travel, nature, and home energy efficiency, and includes storytelling, music, activities, food and drink, and is supported by town councillors as marshalls and litter pickers from Petersfield Society.

Greg recalls, ‘We had about 1,000 visitors and It was fun, but we are trying to deliver a message.’

Greg and Liz both agree there’s a journey people can go on to feel they have contributed something positive.

Great British Life: Petersfield LidoPetersfield Lido (Image: Petersfield Lido)

Retro Cool Pool

Tom Callingham smiles: ‘The pool is loved by many locals, but the surprising thing is that there are people who live in Petersfield who don’t know it’s here!’

This is Tom’s third season managing Petersfield Open Air Swimming Pool, although his association with the pool goes back far longer. Petersfield born and bred, Tom himself learned to swim here when he was just five years old.

Tom continues: ‘The pool has been here since 1962 and has always been a family pool, so it’s in our DNA to provide kids’ swimming lessons, and we want to make sure that doesn’t change.’

However, alongside swimming lessons, lane swimming and family sessions, people can now enjoy twilight swimming, midnight swims, and increasingly popular ‘cooler water’ swims for a few weeks after the heat is turned off at the end of September. The pool can also be hired out for parties and events on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings.

This means, from 27 April this year, the pool is open some days from 6.00am to gone midnight. Yet the pool is run as a charitable incorporated organisation with support from the Town Council, a group of trustees and other volunteers who step in as required. Even local businesses give generously. Prior to the pool reopening, swish new loos and showers were installed thanks to RAK Ceramics, whose headquarters are in Petersfield, after employees who use the pool commented how grim the old facilities were, and offered to give them new sanitaryware, tiles and more. Are these the most stylish facilities ever seen at a public swimming pool? Probably!

Tom reassures: ‘We have updated the facilities, but not changed the way the pool looks or its feel. It’s a lovely place to be… especially for a swim while the sun goes down, followed by a hot chocolate.’

Great British Life: After her death in 1985, Flora Twort left her work to the people of her Petersfield hometown After her death in 1985, Flora Twort left her work to the people of her Petersfield hometown (Image: Flora Twort)

Arts and Crafts

‘Petersfield is very creative,’ says Kathryn Ellis-Blandford, events and media officer with Petersfield Town Council. ‘It is one of the things that drew me to the town; there’s a Camden Town feel about it!

There have always been lots of creatives in the area. The Petersfield Museum incorporates the Flora Twort Gallery and the Edward Thomas Study Centre, and an exhibition space [Katharine Swailes and Caron Penney: The Language of Weaving is currently on until June 1].

‘The Petersfield Arts & Crafts Society is very active and there are a number of different places where artists can exhibit their work. We have a Shakespeare Festival in the area, and it’s a very musical place with concerts, Music Festival and choirs coming out of our ears!’

Kathryn is herself an artist, producing artwork under the name Krizena Kreations, with an exhibition at Gallery 30 during June.

She reflects: ‘I am always creating; I always have something on the easel. I love Petersfield, having lived here for 27 years and brought up my children here. My grandfather was a rag and bone man in the town and my family owned the Shoulder of Mutton pub [now closed]. I live in a little cottage that used to be a coach house and is full of beams and character. I feel I am part of the tapestry of Petersfield.’

Great British Life: Sky Park Farm.Sky Park Farm. (Image: Getty)


Sky Park Farm is a family-owned working deer farm in West Harting, on the outskirts of Petersfield, and is great for a day out. It includes a destination farm shop, restaurant serving breakfast and lunch every day, as well as dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings, plus farm experiences, adventure playground, and picnic areas.