Basingstoke, the largest town in the county of Hampshire. It’s a nice place- friendly, lively, very welcoming and totally underrated. It’s got an interesting history, a ton of green space and it’s very walkable.
The Gateway to it All.
Literally. Our walk started at the Bolton Arch. Imposing, beautiful and gently decaying, this is all that remains of what would have been a grand entrance to the Hackwood estate. The estate was the residence of the Paulet family in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Now, the classical arch marks the beginning of some great, car free walking. The modern M3 has sliced the entrance off from the rest of the estate. Hackwood Park still stands in extensive grounds and this quintessential English country home was on the market not so long ago. Price on request. I guess if you need to ask you can’t afford.
I did a bit of research and the last time the estate sold it was in the region of £65 million. For that you get a lot, but you don’t get the old gateway back. That’s free for any old riff raff to enjoy and walk through. And so we did, for a green wander across…
Once part of the estate, now an open green space for the public to enjoy and a place where nature is thriving. This is the place to see wildflowers blooming in the Spring and, come Summer, an important resting and breeding site for butterflies.
It’s also a great place for dog walking and off-the-lead time, with no traffic and plenty of open space. From here, it’s a pleasant stroll to…
Black Dam Ponds
A lovely place to wander, does what it says on the tin. A series of ponds and pretty pathways. Ducks and swans for company. A few play parks along the way for the young and the young-at-heart. You’re never too old for a go on the swings or the zip line, are you?
The name is fascinating. Black Dam Ponds. Sounds like it should have a story to it, but if there is, I’ve not been able to find it. Sounds like the kind of place that would feature in a historical saga where something awful happens to the lass from the mill and that sort of thing.
Enough of my imaginings. The next part of this walk is my favourite and is a tribute to real people who really did experience something awful…
Basingstoke War Memorial Park
Originally established in 1919 in memory of those lost in WW1, the War Memorial park is everything a traditional town park should be. Now it’s a blend of traditional and modern, open spaces and pretty corners.
Highlights for me included the Victorian bandstand and the aviary. Both relics of bygone times, but both very charming. The modern steel aviary was designed to replace the original, which dated from the 1940’s.
The band stand is a vintage beauty but the sign on it is definitely a sign of the times. If, like me, you find band stands a bit fascinating there’s a great blog post about them on the Historic England blog.
The park is also home to a peace garden featuring a bust of plastic surgery pioneer Sir Harold Gillies and a series of ‘ Peace Plaques’ designed by local children.
Lovely as the War Memorial Park is, children might prefer…
Ah, Basingstoke. The town that keeps on giving with not just one, but two lovely town parks. The War Memorial Park was designed as a place to remember and reflect. Eastrop, on the other hand, has been designed for fun.
The main feature is the boating lake, complete with rowing and pedal boats to hire at very reasonable prices. There’s also a trim trail, a splash pool, plenty of space to wander or sit and some wilder corners. Despite being just a stones throw away from the town centre, those wilder corners are attracting some wildlife.
The Bit Where We Get Lost
So, in theory, it was an easy walk from Eastrop park back to the Bolton Arch via Basingstoke Common. We were roughly- very roughly- following part of The Basing Trail. The trail is a 7 mile marked walk and although we weren’t doing all of it, by following the markers we should have had a fairly direct route.
We did not follow the markers. Maybe we missed one. Ended up wandering round some boggy woodlands somewhere in the wilds of Basingstoke. The paths got less, the nettles got more, I increasingly wondered where we would emerge. Eventually we picked up a path and got back on track. And when we did…
Basingstoke Common & Back to Bolton Gate
Basingstoke Common, a huge green space on the edge of the town. Walking across here, you could be anywhere. Back in the day, this was a place where townspeople could graze their cattle. Those days are gone now, but the common is home at times to free roaming ponies.
Looking across the common one way you can see the village of Old Basing. That view probably hasn’t changed that much in hundreds of years.
Through the tree lines in the other direction you can sometimes glimpse and definitely hear the traffic on a busy road. A final leg stretching walk across the common tracking said road brought us right back to where we started.
The Useful Info Bit
Basingstoke and neighbouring Old Basing are both fantastic places, and both easy to explore on foot. We roughly followed part of the Basing Trail, a circular 7 mile walk that can also be broken down into a couple of shorter routes. Details here.
There are plenty of events in Basingstoke across the Summer and lots more to explore beyond what I’ve touched on in this post. If you’re interested in finding out more, Love Basingstoke are the people in the know. Find them online here and on Instagram here.
And Just Before You Go…