Chimichanga lrThe Glasshouses at Staunton Country Park lrThe Watercress Line lr

L-R: Chimichanga, Staunton Country Park and the Watercress Line


By Tim Saunders

There’s a rainforest in Hampshire…

It’s remarkable to learn when you consider how cold it is in the county especially in the winter. But it can be found at Staunton Country Park in Portsmouth.

This rainforest experience is provided in the Victorian glasshouses where mesmerised children and adults can actually see large millipedes and other frightening creepy crawlies (in their own glass boxes) as well as bamboo and other tropical plants and wildlife. It’s quite an achievement to maintain this warm environment when during our visit it is bitterly cold outside. It is also home to a butterfly house which comes to life from March onwards.

This Regency landscaped parkland encompasses 1,000 acres of landscaped parkland and forest and was established at the turn of the 19th century. In 1820 the park was purchased by Regency botanist Sir George Staunton as part of his country estate Leigh Park. He built a lake and a number of follies.

Thankfully it stops raining and the sun appears making it possible to sit on one of the benches outside the glasshouses to eat our picnic. Replenished, we roam around the gardens and get lost in the mazes. It’s a great way for little ones to exhaust themselves. We see peacocks. We head for the farm and there is plenty of livestock ranging from hens to pigs and sheep. Our three year old daughter Harriett’s eyes light up when she approaches the indoor and outdoor play areas and she thoroughly enjoys the trampoline and going up and down the various slides.

Another splendid day out can be found at the Watercress Line at Alresford. The service, maintained by the Mid-Hants Railway Preservation Society, provides a wonderful opportunity for travellers to acquaint themselves with the glorious bygone age of steam. We board at Alresford and it is possible to stop at every station (Medstead, Four Marks and Ropley) along the 10 miles of track running to Alton. We travel on 31806 – SR U Class locomotive. Designed by R Maunsell it is one of just 50 and was built in 1928 at Brighton Works being withdrawn from service in January 1964. Currently one of seven operational steam engines at Mid-Hants Railway it carries five tons of coal, 4,000 gallons of water and weighs a total of 102 tons. We all thoroughly enjoy ourselves and Harriett mimics the sound of the train as it makes its way down the track: "Jickety can, jickety can," she smiles. We alight at Alton to do some shopping. It’s a little walk into the market town from the railway station but there is enough time for us to amble about and then catch the 31806 back to Alresford.

The weather continues to disappoint and at such times a good meal lifts the sprits. We find this at Chimichanga, the Mexican restaurant at Whiteley near Fareham. It is nestled within the shopping complex, which has recently been the subject of a multi-million pound overhaul. The two storey restaurant is large and modern with plenty of windows that maximise on the light even on a dreary day. Robert Sipos from Hungary is the manager and with his staff, provides great customer service. He’s worked for the group that owns Chimichanga for four years. Chimichanga offers a really welcoming environment and there are even real cacti to enhance the Mexican appeal. We’re always concerned that little Heidi will start crying when we’re out but the pleasant background music entertains her and when required muffles her tones for fellow diners. I’m quite conservative when it comes to spicy food and it’s encouraging to know that this restaurant caters for awkward souls like me and Robert helpfully recommends the best dishes. The starters of cheese coated nachos with fresh salsa and guacamole could almost be a main meal in themselves and certainly provide welcome entertainment for fidgety Harriett who enjoys dipping the nachos into the various sauces. Mummy and daddy savour a few moments of relaxation as I sup on a pint of Brahma draught beer and Caroline enjoys a cocktail. “I’d like some of that mummy,” chips in Harriett. “When you’re bigger.” The Chimichanga floured tortilla with fajita steak is a great choice for me, unusual and very tasty while Caroline opts for a beef burger and Mexican rice. Here is a restaurant that serves good sized portions so you’ll be lucky if you have room for desserts. The liqueur coffee is a good way to finish the meal, too.

For more information visit the following websites:






Tim Saunders on Facebook
Tim Saunders on Twitter
Tim Saunders on LinkedIn