Favourite places to visit in the south of England counties of Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Wiltshire and Dorset or ‘Wessex’ as the area is sometimes called. A Blue Badge tourist guide can take you ‘off the beaten track’ to discover hidden gems*. Find a Guide to make the most of your visit.
*Some countryside and coastal attractions can only be reached on foot and not all the places featured are accessible to those with disabilities. Please ask your guide.
Portsmouth has been a major base for the British Navy for hundreds of years. With a Blue Badge tourist guide you can discover the old city, which few tourists find, or make the most of a visit to the Historic Dockyard. The Dockyard’s highlights include Henry VIII’s flag ship the Mary Rose, wrecked in 1545, now displayed in a purpose built museum with all her contents – a unique time capsule.
Go on board Nelson’s flagship Victory from the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 for a vivid experience of life at sea, visit the 19th c warship HMS Warrior and see the Royal Naval Museum.
The Spinnaker Tower soars to the sky, 170m tall beside the Historic Dockyard. There’s a lift to enjoy the view across the Solent to the Isle of Wight.
The D Day Museum in the grounds of Southsea Castle tells the story of the Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944 with displays and personal recollections. The centrepiece is the magnificent Overlord Embroidery, 272 feet long (83m), which took 5 years to complete.
Mary Rose Museum
Cathedral Christmas market
Winchester is a compact city which can easily be explored on a walking tour with a Blue Badge tourist guide. Under Alfred the Great, King of Wessex in the 9th century, Winchester was a major centre of culture and royal power and after his death it became the first capital city of England.
Visit the atmospheric ruins of Wolvesey Castle, the old Palace of the Bishops of Winchester, or Winchester College, one of England’s oldest schools founded in 1382. Winchester Cathedral is more than 900 years old and the longest in the country. A new exhibition ‘Kings and Scribes’, tells the story of members of the Saxon and Norman royal families buried there. You can also see the grave of author Jane Austen who died in Winchester in 1817. A statue to deep-sea diver William Walker remembers his work early in the 20th century underpinning the decaying foundations with sacks of cement.
At the top of the High Street is the medieval West Gate and the 13thc Great Hall, once a part of Winchester Castle, which houses the Round Table associated with tales of King Arthur. Peninsula Barracks are home to 5 regimental museums.
Jane Austen, author of Pride and Prejudice and five other novels, is one of our best loved writers. She spent her whole life in the south of England and one of the many Blue Badge tourist guides who specialise in her life and times can help you to explore her local connections. Jane was born in 1775 in the village of Steventon in Hampshire, and although the house has gone you can visit the church where her father was rector. After 5 years in Bath, Jane also lived for a while in Southampton and finally settled in a cottage in the village of Chawton near Alton. The cottage is now a museum that tells Jane’s story with many interesting mementoes. Lyme Regis in Dorset and Lacock in Wiltshire are amongst the other Wessex sites associated with her novels or the films which they have inspired.
When Jane became ill aged 41 she went with her sister Cassandra to Winchester to be cared for by Dr Lyford, who sadly could not save her. She died in 1817 and her grave is in Winchester Cathedral.
Celebrating Jane Austen
House where Jane Austen died
A vibrant, maritime city of more than ¼ million inhabitants, Southampton has been a port since Roman times. Today most tourists know it as one of the busiest ports in the UK for cruise liners. Rather than hurrying through at the beginning or end of your cruise, why not take the time to explore with a Blue Badge tourist guide? A guided walk from medieval Bargate can take you around the 14thc city walls, which are mostly standing today despite heavy bomb damage in World War II. Another guided walk follows Jane Austen connections.
The Titanic Trail and Sea City Museum tell the story of RMS Titanic which set sail from Southampton in 1912 on her fateful maiden voyage, carrying many Southampton men in her crew.
The Pilgrim Fathers, who sailed from Southampton in 1620 in the Mayflower, are commemorated with a monument down by the walls, while Mayflower Park nearby hosts the annual Southampton Boat Show.
At the heart of the Old Town is the Tudor House Museum and medieval St Michael’s church. The Civic Centre houses an Art Gallery with an outstanding collection of British and European art from the 14th – 21st century.
The Isle of Wight makes a great day out with a Blue Badge guide and can be reached by ferries from Lymington, Southampton and Portsmouth. There is a variety of scenery: chalk cliffs, rolling hills, meadows and farmland, woodland, villages with thatched cottages, beaches and holiday resorts. More than half of the island is classed as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and there are miles of footpaths and cycle routes to enjoy and explore. The climate is mild and sunny!
Queen Victoria bought Osborne House near Cowes in 1845 and rebuilt it as a family retreat by the sea. Now you can visit the house and extensive grounds including the Swiss Cottage where the royal children learnt to cook and garden, and the private beach with Queen Victoria’s “bathing machine”.
At 11th century Carisbrooke Castle you can explore the ramparts and keep, see the donkeys work the tread wheel bringing up water from the well and learn more about King Charles I’s time as a prisoner there.
Alum Bay has unusual coloured sands in the cliffs and a view of The Needles, distinctive chalk stacks at the western extremity of the Island.
New Forest pony
New Forest cottage
The New Forest was once a royal hunting ground, but today it is a National Park with 220 square miles of ancient woodland, heath and mires (bogs). The unique landscape is the result of grazing by ponies, donkeys, cattle and pigs that roam freely. These animals are owned by local “Commoner” families but you may also spot wild deer. A Blue Badge tourist guide can also help you to discover attractive villages with traditional thatched cottages and the lively towns of Lymington, Lyndhurst and Brockenhurst. There are opportunities for walking and cycling as well as car/coach trips.
Beaulieu, in a lovely riverside setting, was once an important medieval abbey and is now famous for the National Motor Museum with a fine collection of vintage and veteran cars.
Bucklers Hard nearby, on the banks of the Beaulieu River, was originally planned as a sugar port in the 1720s but flourished as a naval shipbuilding centre, providing ships for Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar. The museum and cottage displays show the home life of the villagers. Exbury gardens is famous for its display of rhododendrons and azaleas.
Salisbury attracts thousands of visitors each year to see the great Cathedral with its magnificent Gothic architecture and the tallest early medieval spire in the world. It is the home of one of four original surviving copies of Magna Carta. The cathedral has inspired many writers, including William Golding (The Spire) and Ken Follett (Pillars of the Earth).
Salisbury was founded 800 years ago and a walking tour with a Blue Badge guide can take in many surviving medieval buildings including John Halle’s house (now a cinema foyer!) and St Thomas’ church with its striking Doom painting.
The fine buildings of the Cathedral Close have associations with musicians and artists such as the composer George Frederick Handel and painters John Constable and JMW Turner.
18th Century Mompesson House was the location for the film ‘Sense and Sensibility’ based on Jane Austen’s novel, and ‘The King’s House’ is now the home of Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum with its extensive Stonehenge and Wessex Archaeology collection.
College of Matrons
Reconstructed Neolithic village
Stonehenge and Avebury lie within the same World Heritage Site. A Blue Badge tourist guide with an interest in prehistory can help you to appreciate these magnificent monuments, which are indeed more than ‘a jumble of stones in a field’.
Construction of Stonehenge seems to have begun c5000 years ago. The massive stones, some of which were brought from 150+ miles away, and the precision of their positioning indicate the extraordinary technical and organisational skills of our earliest ancestors. Stonehenge is aligned to both Midsummer sunrise and Midwinter sunset. The surrounding landscape contains many other monuments and burial sites, some pre-dating Stonehenge itself.
The great circles at Avebury were originally made up of 200 standing stones arranged in an outer and two inner circles, surrounded by a massive ditch and bank. Significant destruction occurred in the Medieval and Victorian periods but in the 1930’s many buried stones were restored to their original positions. Visitors now are able to wander within the stones, to touch and examine them, and there is a magical atmosphere not possible at more controlled sites.
Explore Dorset with a Blue Badge guide, the smallest and most rural county in Wessex. The county town is Dorchester, where the story of Dorset from its origins is told in the recently renovated Dorset County Museum. You can also see the remains of a Roman town house and follow the line of the ancient town walls. Nearby are the massive earthworks of pre-historic Maiden Castle where some say that the Roman legions fought the native Britons. Dorchester also has strong connections with 19thc author Thomas Hardy.
Sherborne has a magnificent Abbey founded in 705AD and two public schools. There are also two Castles, the more ‘modern’ built by Sir Walter Raleigh in the 16thc with a beautiful garden designed by Capability Brown.
Shaftesbury has another ancient Abbey but is perhaps most famous for the view down the steep street of Gold Hill which was used in a 1970s advert for Hovis bread.
Dorset also boasts beautiful countryside and historic Houses and Gardens such as Athelhampton, Minterne and Forde Abbey.
Much of Dorset’s coastline is a World Heritage Site – see Jurassic Coast. At the eastern end are the impressive ruins of Corfe Castle.
The poet and novelist Thomas Hardy, writing in the 19th century, left us a vivid picture of rural life in the region which he called ‘Wessex’. He is probably best remembered today for books such as Tess of the D’Urbervilles, the Mayor of Casterbridge and Jude the Obscure.
A tour of atmospheric ‘Hardy country’ with a Blue Badge tourist guide can take in his birthplace in a humble cottage at Higher Bockhampton and also Max Gate, the house he had built on the outskirts of Dorchester in his prosperous later years. Other local places have their Hardy associations, including Athelhampton House which he knew as a child and Stinsford church where his heart is buried (his ashes are in Westminster Abbey).
Stinsford was used as the model for Mellstock church in Hardy’s novel Under the Greenwood Tree, and many other Wessex towns and villages feature in his works although often under other names eg Emminster (really Beaminster) and Budmouth (really Weymouth). Even today Dorset is a very rural county, where it is easy to imagine yourself back amongst the shepherds, farmers and village folk who make up the characters of Hardy’s novels.
Reaching 95 miles from Exmouth in Devon to Swanage in Dorset, the Jurassic Coast is England’s only natural World Heritage site. Rocks from the past 185 million years have been exposed in the cliffs ie from the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. The area is of international significance for the discovery and study of fossils.
Join a Blue Badge guide to hear the story of Mary Anning, who in 1811 found the first fossil ichthyosaur near Lyme Regis. Her subsequent discovery of other nearly complete dinosaur skeletons shook the scientific establishment and helped to change the way in which people thought about the history of life on earth. Lyme Regis museum, on the site of Mary’s house, has an exhibition about her, while the Etches Collection at Kimmeridge houses an excellent display of local fossils. You too can go fossil hunting, although this is best done with an expert guide.
The Jurassic Coast has sandy beaches, picturesque bays, towering cliffs and interesting rock formations such as the arch of Durdle Door, the chalk stacks of Old Harry Rocks and the 18 mile pebble spit of Chesil Beach. Lyme Regis, Weymouth and Swanage are traditional seaside towns.