Hampshire, situated 40 or so miles south east of London, is one of the most beautiful counties in England. It offers the visitor numerous attractions, unspoilt countryside and woodland, traditional villages, beautiful coastline and many historical sites dating back hundreds of years. Hampshire's natural trails over open countryside or through the unspoilt New Forest provides ample opportunity to experience its beautiful environment. Apart from its natural attractions, Hampshire has many significant towns such as Winchester, England's former capital and such ancient ports such as Portsmouth and Southampton and it is particularly rich in historical heritage. Although originally named Hamtunscir, meaning the shire of Hamtun, during the 8 th century, Hampshire was inhabited in the Neolithic period, evidence of which survives in the form of earthen long barrows. The bronze and iron ages also left their marks on the county in the form of numerous ancient monuments, notably the iron-age hill forts scattered around the county.
Information, on the other hand, about Roman Britain is somewhat sparse, although the county does have a number of Roman remains in and around Winchester and on the Isle of Wight (the island is covered separately). The beginning of the Saxon invasions during the late 3 rd century AD, however, did force the Roman occupiers to strengthen their southern fortifications. The most prominent of these so-called "Saxon shore forts" was built at Portchester, which still remains to impress current generations. The late Saxon period and the early Norman period was one of great prosperity for Hampshire, which during the 9 th century under the Saxon king, Alfred (the Great ) became the first of the kingdoms of Wessex with Winchester as its capital. Of particular cultural importance was the production during the 12 th century by Winchester's monasteries of the illuminated manuscripts. We are fortunate that much of the landscape and other features of the period survive to this very day - churches, villages, houses, woodland, street names.
With the passing of the medieval period, Hampshire's prosperity waned somewhat amidst the conflicts of the English Civil War between King Charles I and Parliament during the mid 17 th century. Good times, however, returned to the county during the 18 th and 19 th centuries as evidenced by the many grand houses that were built during this time. As with all other parts of Britain Hampshire experienced enormous change during this period with the arrival of the railway and the expansion of towns and trade and the creation of sea-side resorts. Nevertheless, the county has preserved much of its historical heritage and natural richness making it a wonderful place to visit.