A market town between Southampton and Portsmouth, Fareham lies just northwest of Portsmouth Harbour.
Given the harbour’s 800 years of naval history, the Ministry of Defence is a big local employer, and the town and wider borough are furnished with a lot of military heritage.
Portchester Castle is the best preserved Roman fort north of the Alps, while the Royal Armouries’ impressive artillery collection, spanning 700 years, is housed at the 19th-century Fort Nelson.
Factories around Fareham made the bricks that helped build Victorian England.
You can immerse yourself in this heritage at the super Westbury Manor Museum or the Bursledon Brickworks, a preserved factory.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Fareham:
1. Portchester Castle
Guarding the head of Portsmouth Harbour is a castle with 1,800 years of history.
Amazingly, the square walls protecting the outer bailey were built by the Romans in the 3rd century and still reach their original height.
They were reused as an outer defence for a Medieval castle, rebuilt in stone by the Normans in the early-12th century and then reinforced a century later in anticipation of an invasion from France.
The vast outer bailey became a useful rallying ground for campaigns across the channel, most of all during the Hundred Years’ War.
The intact keep has an exhibition interpreting the history of the castle, and a free audio tour is full of details about the many distinguished visitors, and tells the story of a plot against Henry V. Make sure to scale the spiral stairway for an awesome view of the harbour from the keep’s roof.
2. Titchfield Abbey
In 1537 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries Henry VIII granted the 13th-century Titchfield Abbey to the influential courtier Thomas Wriothesley.
Up to that time the monastery was an unassuming community of Premonstratensians, who were keen scholars and amassed an extensive library, the catalogue for which survives.
The Tudor house was abandoned and partly demolished in 1781, but a fine remnant endures at the former gatehouse.
Remarkably, this was built on the nave of the abbey church, which still stands to full height.
Exploring the site you can track down fragments of the church choir and transepts, as well as scraps of the buildings around the cloister, like the entrances to the chapterhouse and library, and some splendid tilework with a Latin inscription in front of the refectory.
3. Fort Nelson and the Royal Armouries
This Palmerston Fort was one of five defences constructed on Portsdown Hill in the 1860s to protect Portsmouth from a possible land attack from France.
Fort Nelson was restored in the 1980s and has 19 acres of ramparts, ditches, a parade ground, open emplacements and subterranean tunnels.
When the fort reopened in the 1990s it was chosen for the Royal Armouries’ staggering collection of artillery.
There are fortress guns from India and China, French field guns taken at the Battle of Waterloo and pieces of the Iraqi “Project Babylon” supergun.
But maybe most thrilling are two Medieval guns, the Boxten Bombard (1450), firing 60kg granite balls, and the Turkish Dardanelles Gun (1464), which fired stone balls more than 60cm in diameter.
4. Westbury Manor Museum
Found in a Genteel Georgian manor house that has been home to no fewer than six Admirals of the Fleet, this museum tells you everything you need to know about Fareham.
You can pore over exhibitions about the borough’s earliest settlement as well as Fareham’s historic strawberry production and brick-making industry.
You’ll find out how Fareham’s red bricks went into important Victorian constructions like the Royal Albert Hall, and learn about a scandal at Fareham Workhouse in 1837 that caught the nation’s attention.
There’s an enticing cafe at the museum, while kids can busy themselves with multimedia tablets and interactive exhibits that let them handle genuine artefacts.
Framed by an elegant 19th-century extension, the Victorian formal gardens behind were laid out in the shape of a compass as a nod to the globetrotting exploits of the manor’s residents.
5. Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve
In the same borough there’s a crucial 369-acre wetland reserve on the banks of the River Meon, where marshes, scrapes (shallow pools) and reedbeds shelter a diversity of wildlife.
Cetti’s warblers and bearded tits both breed in the reserve, while flocks of golden plover show up in winter and black-headed gulls are a magnificent sight in spring and summer.
More than 20 butterfly species have been recorded at Titchfield Haven, as well as over 500 plant species.
There are eight hides carefully placed around the reserve, with something to see in any season.
One of the many interesting things about this habitat is that it’s manmade.
The wetland only took shape after the mouth of the River Meon was dammed in the 17th century to build the Titchfield Canal.
6. Bursledon Brickworks Museum
You’ll have the perfect opportunity to uncover the local brick-making industry at Bursledon Brickworks, believed to be the last 19th-century steam-powered brickworks in the UK. The museum is at an ensemble of Grade II* listed buildings that went up in the late-1890s and were in use until 1974. The museum has a wealth of brick moulds, tile moulds, cutting tables, presses and machinery, all showing off the progress of this industry over 200 years.
The four static steam engines that drove the brickworks’ machines are in working order and fired up for special “Steam-Up” days every few weeks when you can experience the sights, sounds and smells of a Victorian factory.
On the same site is the Hampshire Narrow Gauge Railway Trust, which runs to coincide with the Steam-Up days.
7. Little Woodham Living History Museum
In a parcel of ancient woodland in Gosport you can take a journey back in time to the middle of the 17th century.
The hamlet of Little Woodham was raised for an English Civil War reenactment in the 1980s, and when these buildings were threatened with destruction, Gosport residents founded the Gosport Living History Society to look after the site.
You can see inside authentic reproductions of half-timbered homes, as well as a series of workshops and tools.
Among them is the only working replica of a 17th-century pottery kiln in the world, and there’s also a sawyer’s yard, blacksmith’s forge and pottery, all manned by artisans in period costume.
You may see the seamstress at work, or the weavers busy spinning wool, while children can listen to time-honoured stories about faeries.
All the staff are volunteers, so opening dates can be infrequent, especially outside the summer season.
8. Ferneham Hall
There’s live entertainment in spades at Fareham’s theatre, which is one of the leading performing arts centres in South Hampshire.
Ferneham Hall in the stage for a crowd-pleasing range of theatre, music, dance, comedy, children’s performances, as well as eccentric one-off shows by mediums, wrestling acts and more.
Also on the programme are charity balls, occasional talks by famous personalities and a calendar of workshops for the local community.
The annual highlight though is the pantomime from the mid-December through to January, always with a sprinkling of television celebrities in the cast.
9. Hill Head Beach
East of the dammed mouth of the River Meon and the Titchfield National Nature Reserve is a long shingle beach with wooden groynes every few steps.
At the west end the beach is tracked by a cliff with brown Pleistocene rock.
This disappears as you go east, giving way to a tarmac path and rows of painted beach huts.
Year round you can come for a stroll, do some beachcombing and gaze across the Solent to the Isle of Wight, or west to the opposite bank of Southampton Water.
Hill Head is just next to a small harbour and you’ll often see yachts, windsurfers and kitesurfers from the shore.
10. The Hovercraft Museum
HMS Daedalus at Lee-on-Solent was a primary shore airfield of the Fleet Air Arm, a branch of the Royal Navy.
The airfield was operational from 1917 to 1996, and in the 1960s the Joint Service Hovercraft Unit tested early hovercraft on the slipway.
This has become an appropriate location for a museum all about these machines, open on Saturdays.
There are more than 60 hovercraft here, including the last surviving SR.N4, the largest civil hovercraft in the world.
The museum has volumes of compelling hovercraft artefacts, like the world’s first working hovercraft model by inventor Christopher Cockerell, together with footage, photographs, plans and other documents in its archives.
11. Holly Hill Woodland Park
This captivating park used to be on the grounds of Holly Hill Mansion and was bought by Fareham Borough Council in 1954. A lot of original Victorian landscaping has been restored, like a sunken garden, a fern grotto and a string of ornamental lakes with islands and waterfalls.
Many of these features use Pulhamite “stone”, a man-made material invented in the 19th-century, with a recipe that its inventor, James Pulham took with him to the grave.
The park is in more than 80 acres, and divided between two main areas: The ornamental Winnards Copse, which contains formal gardens, lots of exotic plant species and those lakes; and Cawtes Copse, a tract of native woodland, with historic oaks and coppiced hazel and alder trees.
12. Titchfield Canal
Funded by a descendant of ThomasWriothesley in the 1600s, this two-mile water course runs next to the reserve, and may be the second-oldest canal in the UK. The exact purpose of the Titchfield Canal is unclear.
What is known is that the village of Titchfield has been a bustling inland port until the River Meon started to silt up in the 1500s.
So it seems likely that this waterway was built to bring trade back to Titchfield, but it may have been intended for irrigation instead.
As it is, the Titchfield Canal is somewhere to take a calming walk past grazing cows, from the village almost as far as the Solent.
13. Fort Fareham
One for the urban explorers, Fort Fareham is a 19th-century Palmerston Fort built as a hinge for the Portsdown Forts in the east with the Gosport Line to the south.
This Grade II-listed monument sits in the south of Fareham and has been turned into a business park, while the fabric of the fort has either been adapted by businesses or is in decay.
Looking at a map, it’s not hard to discern the polygonal outline of the ditch, and the most interesting remains on the west side are now in woodland.
There you can find the crumbling casemates and the main west caponier.
The woods on the outer side of the ditch are well looked after by Fareham Council and have cleared paths and benches.
14. Fareham Market
The pedestrian zone on West Street hosts a weekly market on Mondays, as well as an extra market day on Thursdays in the build-up to Christmas.
You can browse these stalls for fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, fresh bread, cheese, cut flowers, fashion accessories and arts and crafts.
On the first Saturday of the month there’s an independent farmers’ market at this spot, with up to 40 stalls.
This market is strictly regional, in that none of its fruit, free range eggs, meat, cakes, beer, herbs or cheese was grown, reared or produced further away than 100 miles of Fareham.
15. Three Choirs Hampshire Vineyard
One of England’s most reputable wine labels, Three Choirs has two vineyards, one five miles away in Shedfield and another in Gloucestershire.
The winery is actually based in Gloucestershire and the grapes are all shipped there after harvest, but the Hampshire vineyard does organise wine and dinner experiences every few weeks.
These will start with a friendly chat about the history of the vineyard, the various grapes grown here like Triomphe and Rondo, and the finer details of winemaking.
The talk is followed by a tasting session, canapés and a meal.
The shop on site sells Three Choirs’ acclaimed range of wines and is open Monday to Saturday.