Wessex Attractions: Three Choirs Vineyard

Three Choirs Vineyard in Newent, Gloucestershire, is one of the longest-established large-scale commercial vineyards operating in Wessex today. It was founded in 1973, just as Britain was emerging from a 30-year slump in wine production caused by the deprivations of World War 2.

It bills itself as the oldest and largest vineyard in England, though of course this only applies to the vineyards still in existence. Wine has been made in England since Roman times, and many of the larger villas had their own vineyards. Since Wessex largely corresponds to the “villa belt” in Roman Britain, it is likely that it was a major centre for wine production.

Over the years, a restaurant and hotel has been added to the original vineyard, making it a major tourist attraction, largely focussed on romantic getaways for couples. The number 132 bus between Gloucester and Ledbury (the latter being the closest railway station) runs right past the vineyard. The postcode, for satnav purposes, is GL18 1LS.

Wessex Attractions: Bembridge Fort

Bembridge Fort, on the Isle of Wight, is an example of what is known as a Palmerston folly. Ordered by Lord Palmerston, prime minister from 1855 to 1858, and again from 1859 to 1865, these were a series of forts on England’s Channel coast designed to defend Britain from a threatened French invasion that never materialised.

The fort finally saw service during both world wars, but gradually fell into disrepair until it came into the possession of the National Trust in 1967. In 2011 Trust volunteers uncovered the gun racers at the top of the fort, which gave them some insight into how the guns were moved, and their line of sight.

The surrounding downs offer spectacular views, with excellent birdwatching, as birds of prey use the chalk cliffs as a vantage point.

The fort is currently not taking bookings for tours, as the Trust finalises its plans for 2024. The postcode is PO36 8QY. Southern Vectis buses 8 and 71, and the open-top Island Coaster service pass nearby, and Brading Station on the Island Line is about a mile away.

Wessex Attractions: Ashleworth Tithe Barn

Ashleworth Tithe Barn is a 15th century tithe barn near the banks of the river Severn in the Gloucestershire Cotswolds, owned by the National Trust. A four-phase project to replace crumbling stonework was launched by the Trust in 2020, complicated by the fact that the blue lias limestone used to build the barn is relatively rare.

Three species of bats are known to roost in the barn; the Natterer’s bat, the Lesser Horseshoe bat and the Noctule. The Trust is working with bat experts to ensure that the bats are not harmed during the repair work.

There is an ornate round window at one end of the barn, which was designed to encourage owls to enter it – a natural method of controlling rats and mice.

The satnav postcode is GL19 4JA, and Stagecoach West bus number 351 from Gloucester to Tewkesbury stops half a mile away, by the Primary School.

Wessex Attractions: Stoke-sub-Hamdon Priory

Stoke-sub-Hamdon Priory, two miles west of Montacute House, is a collection of 14th century farm buildings that once housed the college of priests serving the Chapel of St Nicholas, which no longer survives. The 15th century Great Hall, a Grade I listed building, is open to visitors, and the entire complex is maintained by the National Trust.

The buildings are constructed from the local Ham Hill stone, and originally housed four priests. The college had already fallen into disrepair before the dissolution of the monasteries, and passed into the hands of the laity in 1548. The buildings changed hands several times over the next 70 years, eventually being sold to the Strode family. The National Trust acquired the complex in 1946.

The satnav postcode is TA14 6QP, and the what3words is ///resembles.backfired.contour. Bus numbers 81 and 652 stop at nearby Main Street Post Office.

Wessex Attractions: Hinton Ampner

Hinton Ampner is a National Trust-property near Alresford, Hampshire, noted for its beautiful gardens, The house, originally a Tudor mansion, but extensively renovated since, has been lovingly restored after a devastating fire in 1960 gutted it, leaving just a shell.

The original building was probably constructed in the 1540s, although no record survives that can date it precisely. It has been rebuilt at least three times since then, the last restoration being completed just a few months before the fire that destroyed it. It took three months before the house was habitable again.

The extensive gardens feature over 20 different varieties of dahlia, a pumpkin patch, and a lily pond. They are divided into several “rooms”, including a sunken garden, an orchard, and a walled garden.

Part of the estate at Hinton Ampner is given over to regenerative farming, avoiding the use of harmful chemicals and rotating crops to allow wildflowers to grow. The Trust plans to sell beef from its herd of Sussex cattle, as well as honey from its beehives, cereals, fruit and nuts.

The postcode for Hinton Ampner is SO24 0LA. Stagecoach bus number 67 from Winchester to Petersfield stops within 5 minutes walk of the main entrance, and transfers are available from Alresford station on the heritage Mid-Hants Steam Railway.