Twyford Village, in the midst of Hampshire, is in the middle of Saxon and Victorian England. Today villagers walk their dogs along the Itchen River, where the path connects Southampton to Winchester through Twyford. In centuries past, this road was a major military and market thoroughfare. The river was a coveted fishing stream, as it is today.
From Twyford, the Itchen River path to Winchester is three miles long. It emerges at the university and at the bridge, where the Bridge Winchester serves burgers and the Chesil Rectory across the street, now a restaurant, was erected in 1490 and was confiscated by King Henry VIII from the church in the mid-sixteenth century as a gift to his daughter Anne. To the south is Southampton, the cruise port, ferry port to the Isle of Wight, and gateway to Portsmouth, the Royal Navy Base, where Captain Bligh attended the trial of his mutineers.
Diverting from the Itchen River, the road from Twyford north runs to Stockbridge, Alresford and eventually London. The faster route north is the M3. Faster is not better in leisurely Hampshire.
The first and most frequent out-trip from Twyford is Winchester. Adding to historic prominence as the Cathedral town, burial place of Viking king of England, Canute, William II and Jane Austen, is vibrant Winchester a foodie and used bookstore haven. Find used bookstores in the old city walls, behind the Cathedral and in narrow alleys. Bookstores specialize in English history, which is history of most of the world up until the twentieth century. Leather-bound volumes of Shakespeare, Byron and Austen are frequent best sellers.
For foodies in Winchester, special dinners are found at the Michelin rated restaurant, The Black Rat. Creative courses, wine list and service at the Rat deserve their star. For quick meals and a pub, the Rat owner commands both sides of the street, at the Black Hole. The black moniker comes from historic proximity to coal bins. Today the restaurant is close to public parking, free after six in the evening. Park in the same garage for the Rat and Chesil Rectory.
Our new favorite place to dine in Winchester is the Italian restaurant Tom’s Deli. Deli by day and candle-lit dining at night. Tom makes pizza and so much more. For pizza go to Three Joes, or the Winchester Stable and cider bar, both on Winchester Square. Tom’s is on St. Georges Street, parallel to High Street, opposite from the Cathedral Square side of High Street. The menu is traditional Italian, very well executed. My favorite was saffron and champagne sea bass. Not your usual Italian; Tom’s is special.
On any Saturday morning head north from Twyford on the B3335 and divert to Stockbridge Road for seven miles. Follow the fifty-somethings in spandex on very expensive bikes to the Woodfire Pizza in Stockbridge for great breakfast and coffee. Try the hearty Italian or poached eggs, avocado and seeds with red chile sauce. Truly a little bit of California in south England.
Stockbridge has only a single road shopping district, on High Street, with more shops per block than big cities. The first Orvis in England opened here in 1985 to serve fly fishermen on the nearby River Test. Fishermen come from all over the world on a pilgrimage to the Test. More recently, Sandie opened Stocks at the Vine, which has become well-known through England for English and Danish designer silk dresses and skirts. A relaxed life calls for floral silk at tea time. www.shopatstocks.com
The big town in eastern Hampshire is New Alresford, boasting of four shopping streets. The Alresford bookstore is the place to pick up a copy of The Hampshire Village Book, by the Hampshire County Federation of Women’s Institutes. Give it a read at Tiffin Tea Room on West Street. Beware of the salted caramels, they are habit-forming.
Watercress was a major crop in Alresford, harvested in Old Alresford across the Arles River until the plague two hundred years ago. (somehow the “r” moved from river to town, it is not a typo). Today the Watercress Express Steam Train leaves the Alresford station for Alton and returns. A day ticket and family passes are sold to have a full day along the river towns.
Old Alresford is home to a Norman church and thatched roof houses along the road from Itchen Abbas. Itchen Abbas is famous for its churches, where the last man hanged in England was buried. Locals come from all over the area for dinner at the Plough across from the church.
So many small villages in Hampshire are a world away from London, so we will leave the road trip to the big city for another time. It would be interesting to see what Ben Franklin wrote in his memoirs while in Twyford, before the revolution. In this quiet place, where even the weather is calm, it is easy to be lulled from thinking of what adventures are in our future.