Little-known links to fashion and culture in Hampshire’s largest town

Late night shopping in Basingstoke
Late night shopping in Basingstoke
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Morning weather and travel: mist descends on parts of Hampshire

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It’s not a name synonymous with glamour, culture or haute couture – so what exactly has Basingstoke got to offer?

I headed there to indulge in a spot of Christmas shopping – and to spend some time with my partner.

With Christmas fast approaching, it’s easy to forget to spend any time with our loved ones. It’s all go go go, with a mad rush to get shopping, and work, complete in preparation for those wondrous festive days.

So it was a great relief to check into a hotel and indulge in a little R&R, plus take in a few of the sights and learn a bit more about the often-overlooked Hampshire town.

To learn some of the town’s history (yes, there really is history in Basingstoke) there was no better place to start than the Willis Museum.

A walk through the decades saw us learn how this once-bustling market town grew into the largest town in the county after it saw a rapid expansion in the 1960s as a result of an agreement with London County Council.

The museum, which also had a touring display of Alice in Wonderland artefacts, is home to a magnificent wedding cake. It’s thought to be one of the oldest in the world, having been baked in the 1890s and displayed in the window of a family bakery in the town. It survived the wars, with only a crack in the icing to show for it. It was unbelievably odd, and fascinating.

After we’d filled up on a tasty and reasonably-priced lunch from the friendly Festival Street Kitchen (you must try the burritos, and burgers, and dish of the day....), we set off into what most people can only describe as Christmas shopping hell.

But only this time, in the warmth and comfort of Festival Place Shopping Centre, with its vast array of different high street shops, and the wonderfully kitsch All Our Own Crafts, it wasn’t actually that bad.

We checked off the last remaining gifts from our lists, then rounded the day off by sampling some of the best booze on offer at Majestic Wines. This set us up for a night on the Basingstoke tiles.

We were welcomed into the busy Lime Leaf, a traditional Thai restaurant, where we made the most of the set menu to try an array of delicious dishes.

We followed this by some more drinks at the Tea Bar which, with its eclectic mix of clientele and live music, could almost pass for Brighton.

Although the lure of the hotel – the Hampshire Court – with its superb rooms proved too much and we headed back for some relaxation.

The next day, we rounded off our weekend by catching the Santa parade while on a walking tour around the town.

On the tour we saw the ‘willy’ on Wote Street, a sculpture crafted to commemorate the site of the Emmanuel Church.

Plus we learnt about the town’s connection to Jane Austen and Thomas Burberry – proving that, surprisingly, Basingstoke really has got links to culture and haute couture.