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: West Somerset Railway

The West Somerset Railway is the longest heritage railway in England, and one of Wessex's most popular tourist attractions, carrying over 200,000 passengers a year. Originally a GWR branch line covering the 22¾-mile stretch between Taunton and Minehead, it was closed in 1971, one of the last casualties of the Beeching rail cuts. Due to the opening of the Butlins holiday camp at Minehead, its status was listed as "possible return to operation" after its closure, and in 1976, it was taken over as a private concern. It was originally intended to run as a mainly diesel service for the entire length of the route, with occasional steam services aimed at tourists, but the National Union of Railwaymen was worried that it would take too many passengers from local bus services! It therefore became a purely heritage service running only as far as Bishops Lydeard, four miles from Taunton. Occasional special services still join the Bristol to Exeter line at Taunton.

The postcode for Bishops Lydeard station is TA4 3RU and for Minehead TA24 5BG. Buses of Somerset route number 28 runs from Taunton railway station on days when there are no direct WSR trains.

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: Royal Garrison Church, Portsmouth

The Royal Garrison Church in Penny Street, Portsmouth was built around 1212 by the Bishop of Winchester, as part of a hospital complex, which also provided accommodation for pilgrims. After the Reformation, it started to decay and was turned into an ammunition dump, hence the name. The church was extensively restored in 1871, but was bombed out during the Blitz.

It is now managed by English Heritage, who are currently undertaking a second restoration. The church is scheduled to reopen to visitors in June 2022. Entry, when the church is open, is free. The postcode is PO1 2NJ. The church is three-quarters of a mile from Portsmouth Harbour station, and is served by bus routes 1, 16, 19 and 700.