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Tucked away in a picturesque corner of southern England, the mainly rural county of Hampshire is one of the country's oldest regions and boasts a history that is both romantic and epic. Its monumental heritage makes Hampshire a unique focus for tourists hoping to get a sense of old England.
Elsewhere lies the New Forest National Park, a wonderland for nature lovers, and hosts a large portion of the glorious chalk-based South Downs.
Hampshire is mainly built on chalk and has wildlife-rich areas known as the North and South Downs, both of which contain areas of outstanding natural beauty.
The highest point in the county is Pilot Hill at 938ft, or 286 metres, on the North Downs. Butser Hill (886ft, or 270m) is the highest point on the South Downs and lies within the Queen Elizabeth Country Park nature reserve near Petersfield. The county's chalk substrate has turned its key rivers, the Itchen and the Test, into world-famous magnets for coarse and game angling.
Most visitors, however, will be seeking out the county's breathtaking scenery, taking in both forest and heath. Many villages here are quiet, quaint and quintessentially English and among the many enthralling attractions are numerous great houses, country pubs and time-honoured stop-overs.
Nowhere is the 'great outdoors' better represented than by the New Forest, a land of oak and beech. It once provided the timber needed to build the British Empire's world-beating sea-going fleet.
Hampshire's splendid New Forest stretches for a mere 140 square miles, or 18,000 hectares, yet it is internationally significant as one of the largest areas of wildlife-rich heathland in Europe.
Now protected as a national park, this comparatively small area contains important tracts of woodland, picturesque river valleys and numerous countryside villages, all standing in stark contrast to the region's few modern conurbations.
One of the major themes in this part of the world is the conservation of animals and birds. Hence, you'll come across signs for Birdworld and Underwater World, the Cholderton Rare Breeds Farm, Marwell Zoo and the Hawk Conservancy.
Equally significant are Hampshire's many gardens located in a county that is replete with flowers, fields and farmland.
The Saxon King Alfred the Great made ancient Winchester his capital and fought a series of battles in an ultimately vain attempt to halt the advance of the Vikings.
More than three centuries earlier another British hero, King Arthur, is reputed to have created his own piece of heaven – also at Winchester – and called it Camelot. The county became one of the first parts of Britain to fall prey to the invading Romans and then the Normans who, in 1079, built Winchester's magnificent cathedral.
North of Basingstoke is Watership Down the landscape that inspired the novel of the same name and written by one of Hampshire's famous writers Richard Adams.
Jane Austin penned her major novels at Chawton and the pioneering naturalist Gilbert White wrote 'The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne', whilst living at Selborne. His 18th century house has been preserved within a 20-acre park. Part of the house is devoted to a permanent exhibition on Captain Lawrence Oates, co-explorer with Scott of the Antarctic.
At Romsey stands sumptuous Broadlands House, former home of Earl Mountbatten, with grounds that constitute 'Capability' Brown's finest work. Its stable building has hardly altered since the end of the 17th century and now houses a Mountbatten Exhibition.
Elsewhere, visitors will find military museums in the Army town of Aldershot, a Roman town-cum-museum at Silchester (Calleva Atrebatum), and a Romany Folklore Museum near Selborne.
Today southern Hampshire is home to the famous National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, a litany of picturesque villages and some of Britain's most enchanting castles and great houses.
The South Downs were settled in Neolithic times and boast a range of chalk hills which end spectacularly in Sussex at the Seven Sister's cliffs and Beachy Head. They contain hundreds of prehistoric earthworks.
Hampshire's coastline is stuffed with seaside resorts and includes the great maritime cities of Portsmouth and Southampton, two of England's largest and most historic ports.
And that's not all. Just off the shoreline can be found the Isle of Wight and splendid Hayling Island, a focus for both windsurfers and yachtsmen.
The thoroughly modern metropolis of Southampton lies on the edge of the New Forest. A bustling container port, it was ravaged by wartime bombing raids but has managed to preserve ancient buildings together with sections of its old city walls and gateways.
The city is blessed with a natural harbour that boasts an unusual double tide, making it suitable for the largest of ships, including some of the world's luxurious cruise liners.
Sailing in the Solent is only a pastime today, as illustrated by the Southampton Boat Show – the city's biggest annual event.
The city of Portsmouth became a major British port only when Henry VII built the world's first dry dock here. Its Historic Dockyard is still the jewel in its crown and is home to world famous ships such as The Mary Rose, HMS Victory and HMS Warrior 1860. The Mary Rose Henry VIII's flagship sank with all 700 hands in 1545 but was miraculously recovered from the ocean in the 1980s. The Victory was the flagship of Admiral Nelson – he died on board, while HMS Warrior was the world's first iron-hulled battleship.
The Roman castle of Portchester overlooks the city's busy harbour while elsewhere in the region Henry VIII constructed other strongholds – including Hurst, Calshot and Netley castles – to remove the threat of French invasion.Read More