Wessex Attractions: Bembridge Windmill

Bembridge Windmill is the last surviving windmill on the Isle of Wight. Bequeathed to the National Trust in 1961, it is open to the public on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sundays from 10.30 am to 4.30 pm.

The windmill was built around 1700, and has featured in a watercolour by JMW Turner. The first record we have of a named miller is 1811, when the Hampshire Chronicle recorded a Mr Cook, miller of Bembridge, as having frozen to death there.

Today, the mill is preserved much as it was in the 18th and 19th centuries. Those who are able to manage steep steps can climb to the top and see the view, spotting the six hidden millers on the way, On the ground floor, visitors can try their hand at grinding flour in the traditional way, whilst several nature trails run outside the mill.

Visitors are advised not to use the postcode (PO35 5SQ) for satnav purposes, but to follow the brown signs. Southern Vectis bus service 8 from Ryde to Newport passes nearby.

Wessex Attractions: Ashdown House

Ashdown House, on the Berkshire Downs, in some ways represents the very heart of Wessex. Centuries before the house was built, the surrounding area was pretty much all that was left of the ancient kingdom of the West Saxons. A victory led by King Ethelred I and his brother Alfred, soon to succeed him as king, led to a change in fortunes, but that is a subject for another article.

The present-day Ashdown House was built in 1662 for William, 1st Earl of Craven. He had donated substantially to the royalist cause during the English civil war, though he himself did not fight, being safely ensconced in The Hague. There, he met King Frederick and Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia, who were in exile following Frederick's defeat at the Battle of the White Mountain. Craven married Elizabeth following Frederick's death in 1632, Craven provided financial support to Elizabeth, and they are rumoured to have married in secret, though there is no proof of this. Regardless, she came to live in his house in Drury Lane, London. Worried by the great plague in London, he built her a country house in the Dutch style at Ashdown. Unfortunately, she died before it was completed, bequeathing him many of her possessions, which can be seen at Ashdown House to this day.

The house is now owned by the National Trust. The surrounding gardens and woodlands are open all year round, while guided tours of the house are available on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. Advance booking for these is essential. The postcode is RG17 8RE, and West Berks Connect bus number 47, Swindon to Lambourn, stops right outside.

Wessex Attractions: North Street, Brighstone

When visiting the Isle of Wight, be sure to take a look at the pretty village of Brighstone. North Street is now owned by the National Trust, and its picturesque cottages have been preserved more or less as they were in the 18th century. There is a library and youth hostel on the street, and a traditional village shop just around the corner on Main Road.

Brighstone is situated within the Isle of Wight AONB, along the coastal route between Ventnor and Freshwater. The postcode for North Street is PO30 4AX, and Southern Vectis bus route 12 (Newport to Alum Bay) stops near the Three Bishops pub on Main Road.

Wessex Attractions: Shute Barton

Shute Barton is a late-medieval manor house near Axminster, owned by the National Trust and now converted into a 5-bedroom luxury holiday home, accommodating up to 10 guests. It features a 15-foot high window, allowing you to survey the grounds from within, and one of the largest fireplaces in England.

The oldest parts of the house date back to 1380, and it was then owned by Sir William Bonville, Sheriff of Somerset, Dorset and Devon. Most of the surviving building is of a much later date, however. The whole manor was sensitively renovated in 1955.

Bonville's great-granddaughter Cecily married Thomas Grey, later the 1st Marquess of Dorset, and as she was the sole living descendant of the Bonville line, the house passed to his family, later being inherited by Lady Jane Grey. Upon her execution, Queen Mary awarded it to her Secretary of State, Sir William Petrie, who later sold it to a lawyer named William Pole for £300 (£156,900.61 in today's money, according to the Bank of England inflation calculator). Her ghost is still said to haunt the grounds, although others say the ghost is that of a female member of the royalist Pole family, who was ambushed while out walking by a parliamentarian lynch mob during the civil war.

In 1959, the Pole family donated Shute Barton to the National Trust, though they retain the right to live there. The estate is opened to visitors four times a year, and is a popular venue for wedding receptions and other special events. If you are interested in booking it for a minimum of three nights, click here.

Wessex Attractions: Brownsea Island

Brownsea Island is a nature reserve just off Poole, jointly run by the National Trust and Dorset Wildlife Trust, It is reached by a ferry which runs hourly from Poole Quay and takes 20 minutes to reach the island.

There is a campsite on the island, located close to the site where Lord Baden-Powell held the first ever Scout camp in 1907; and a lodge, which sleeps up to 24 people in bunk bed accommodation. There are also two holiday cottages, each sleeping up to five people. The Villano Cafe is open during the day, serving snacks and light meals to visitors.

Brownsea Island is one of two places in Wessex with a population of red squirrels, the other of course being the Isle of Wight. Daily squirrel walks are organised by volunteers. Also resident on the island are sika deer, a species originally introduced from Japan around the turn of the 19th century. Stags have sometimes been spotted swimming from the mainland in order to mate with the island's does!

Bird species include spoonbills, avocets, sandwich terns and nightjars. The latter are a rare visitor from Africa, which are on the amber list for conservation concern in the UK.

You can now buy a single ticket which covers both the ferry and admission to the island, with discounts for National Trust or Dorset Wildlife Trust members, See the National Trust website for more details.