The rolling, wooded countryside of Hampshire is the first taste of the charm of rural England that you get after leaving London through its prosperous southwestern suburbs. But the most attractive feature of the county is the coastline. The sea has penetrated far inland, creating not only the fine harbors of Portsmouth and Southampton, but also dozens of quiet, reed-fringed estuaries which are a paradise for yachtsmen, windsurfers, and anyone else who loves salt water.
Southwest of Box Hill, the A31 leads to Chawton and Jane Austen’s House. England’s great woman novelist lived with her mother and sister in this red brick house, today a museum filled with Austen memorabilia.
Returning to the A31, turn left on to the A32 (for Fareham), a quiet road through the park-like country of the Meon Valley with numerous old, picturesque villages. A turn left on to the B2150 leads to Hambledon. Cricketlovers should follow the signpost to Broadhalfpenny Down, where the rules of England’s oldest national sport were laid down in the 1750s in the Bat and Ball inn, which still stands beside the cricket ground. Continue on the B2150 to Denmead; a small road leads right from the middle of this village toward Southwick, high on the downs. Southwick became famous in World War II as the headquarters for the D-Day invasion of Normandy. It was in Southwick House, on June 6, 1944, that General Eisenhower gave the immortal order: “OK, let’s go!” Behind the village, the road toward Portchester leads up to the crest of the Ports Downs, which commands a magnificent view of Portsmouth Harbor, the Isle of Wight, and the Solent Narrows. At the crossroads turn right and you will see the 150 ft (50 m) Nelson Monument, with the 19th-century Fort Nelson just beyond it, now containing an artillery museum. Opposite the Nelson Monument, a minor road runs down to the spit of Portchester. Towering over the elegant old houses is massive Portchester Castle. Built by the Romans in the 4th century to defend the harbor against the Saxons, it was extended by the Normans some 600 years later.