We had a long criteria list: Hampshire, close to rail and bus transport, reasonable schools/colleges, swimming-training facility, hopefully a dancing school and some shops and so it went on.
Basingstoke popped up on the screen and although not the village where we have now settled, is close enough to enable us to tick off most things on our list. Created in the 60s to accommodate part of the ‘overspill’ of London, this town developed quite rapidly into a prosperous one with an above-average standard of living and relatively low unemployment. Recorded in the Doomsday Book, this town was a market site.
Referred to as ‘doughnut city’, it was only funny whilst reading about it. Once there, the roundabouts (traffic circles) had me shivering and shaking to the point where I wanted to evacuate my car at the roadside and attempt crossing by foot. These roundabouts may not seem intimidating to everyone, but to me it was like trying to cross a F1 track. With some roundabouts having three lanes running round them and cars whizzing by, I preferred taking the train into town for the first year. I know – I’m such a baby.
I do think that although the town was voted ninth in the 2003 Crap Towns survey, the rebuilding of the shopping centre (now known as Festival Place) has surely lifted that perception. The centre has a great sports centre with two huge pools where immediately upon arrival, I enrolled my son into the Basingstoke Blue Fins team. The training was truly tough with some kids collapsing in exhaustion around the poolside. I proudly watched as my son took part in competitions and won medals but the euphoria did not last as he soon decided to give up his budding talent for girls, friends and parties.
In the absence of UFO sightings, Basingstoke once laid claim to sightings of the Beast of Basingstoke, believed to be a big cat, possibly a lion or puma. Legend also suggested the animal was shot and killed. Never a dull moment in Basingstoke, I kid you not!
In contrast to the harsh winter which recorded Basingstoke as the worst hit region in the UK this year, the summers are a glorious display of flower covered trees lining the roads. Just the other day I discovered Eastrop Park. Tucked away neatly behind the trees along the A30 lies this great park with a little lake where you can rent a boat and row around for a while.
My daughter mentioned this park on several past occasions where she and her friends rented a rowing boat and gorged on icecreams. I could not for the life of me see any lake as I mostly focused on tackling the many doughnuts ahead of me when driving. Last weekend was a blistering summer’s day, so we finally parked in the vicinity of this park, (mainly as my daughter was due to meet some friends) and wandered off in search of the lake. Eastrop Park was packed with tanning bodies lying strewn across the grass, kids eating icecreams, boats circling the little fountain in the middle of the lake and a great ambience all round.
My dear husband set off in search of flaky-ice-creams whilst I claimed a bench alongside the little lake to take in the delightful setting. Always fascinating to see how the British tear off layers of clothing at the first sign of the sun peeping though the clouds. Or so I used to think until I found myself doing the exact thing, sitting there on the park bench. Up went the legs of the trousers, as far above the knees as possible, T-shirt sleeves pulled over the shoulder blades attempting to create a shoe-string top. Hair out the eyes, face up to the sun. Tan, I willed my body.
A beach it has not but Basingstoke is also the proud owner of Leisure Park which is home to cinemas, ice -skating rink, bowling alley and the Aquadrome that houses great pools and water rides. Nothing sleepy about this town!