Fordingbridge - Hampshire
Situated on the edge of the New Forest on the A338, the small Hampshire town of Fordingbridge is one of those recorded in the Domesday Book, when it was simply known as Forde.
The bridge, over the River Avon, was added, upstream from the ford, in 1286 and still remains as perhaps the main feature of the town today. With its seven graceful arches, the bridge is perhaps best photographed from the Riverside Park, with its willows and beautiful foliage.
Thankfully, a by-pass was constructed 30 years ago to divert most of the heavy traffic away from the village centre, so it remains in its medieval glory.
Through the years, Fordingbridge has been a centre for brickmaking, pottery and textiles, evidence of which can be found at the fascinating small museum, housed on two floors of a former granary, situated in King’s Yard near the Visitor Information Centre.
Two local personalities are particularly remembered in the museum. Firstly, the painter Augustus John, a controversial early twentieth century eccentric best known for his portraits of people such as George Bernard Shaw, T E Lawrence, Thomas Hardy and Dylan Thomas, spent the last 31 years of his life in the town.
There is a statue of Augustus John on the banks of the river near the bridge and his personal ‘local’, along the Damerham Road, has been renamed in his honour – and its rather austere exterior doesn’t do justice to the warm welcome and good food within.
Captain Jack Diamond, the ‘Smuggler King’, is the second of Fordingbridge’s most remembered characters, having spent much of his time here – when not smuggling tea – before being captured in the town and taken off for execution at Winchester.
Fordingbridge has a church, St Mary, predominantly constructed in 1150, which has many typical Norman characteristics and near to the town is Alderhot Mill – a fully working flour mill on a site which has been utilised since the 14th century.
You can also sample some delicious cream teas here, in the peaceful surroundings. Also nearby, just south of Fordingbridge, is the Saxon church at Breamore.
There are some typical forest walks for visitors to explore in the area – the Avon Valley Path from Salisbury to Christchurch passes through -and anglers can easily obtain Day Tickets for fishing in Riverside Park from the Visitor Information Centre or the Q8 petrol station in town.
Apart from the Augustus John Pub, there are some beautiful gardens attached to the Ashburn Restaurant and The George on Bridge Street has a delightful conservatory in which you can eat and watch the Avon flow by.
As well as the New Forest itself, you are also very close to Breamore House and Countryside Museum, a large Elizabethan house in some beautiful parkland and an old walled garden; Blashford Lakes; Furzey Gardens at Minstead, with an international horticultural reputation; and Martin Down Nature Reserve. Of course, in addition the towns of Salisbury, Lymington, Lyndhurst, Brockenhurst and Romsey are all within a very short drive from Fordingbridge.
Although no longer a market town or a trading centre as it once was, Fordingbridge is always worth visiting, if only to see the fabulous bridge itself and to wander along the banks of the Avon.
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