If you know your duck from your rabbit and are excitedly anticipating the England v South Africa game that will launch us into the Cricket World Cup on Thursday, you will recognise the name Hambledon.
Indeed, this unassuming village is considered the birthplace of the noble sport as we know it (please do not offend aficionados by claiming that it’s where the sport originated, rather it’s where the rules of the modern game were drawn up).
At some point in the late 18th century the planets aligned to create a phenomenal cricket team from the farmers and shepherds that inhabited this tiny pocket of Hampshire. Indeed, so exceptional were their batting and bowling skills that in the period between 1772 and 1796 the team played 39 matches against the all-England team and won 23 of them, making their unremarkable green on Broadhalfpenny Down the Lords of its day.
Hampshire? I thought Hambledon was in Surrey?
Don’t make the mistake that a 1908 cricket team did and head erroneously to the identically named scattered village in Surrey (apparently they got into a right pickle trying to turn their turn-of-the-century vehicles around).
So what’s the club like today?
The club is now based at Ridge Meadow, just down the road from Broadhalfpenny Down. You’ll still spot men in cricket whites and hear cries of “owzat” and the patter of polite applause on a summer’s day, but the team are nowhere near as formidable as they once were.
If you want to find out all the details of the history, then head to the nearby Bat & Ball Inn, which is where the rules for the game were drawn up (bats the width of the wicket were outlawed!) and provides refreshments for players to this day. It’s now a Fuller’s pub (batandballclanfield.co.uk), but cricket memorabilia lines the walls and you can still sink a pint in the original part of the pub where the legendary Richard Nyren, who captained the championing team, was once landlord.
But I don’t give a (full) toss about cricket!
Well in that case you’ll probably enjoy Hambledon’s other claim to fame. It’s home to the oldest commercial vineyard in the UK (hambledonvineyard.co.uk). The first 10 acres of vines were planted here in 1952, but it wasn’t until Ian Kellett took over in 1999 that the focus turned to the champagne grape varieties of meunière, pinot noir and chardonnay. And they thrived – the pure chalk soil here is 65 million years old and is the same grade of soil as that in the Côtes de Blanc.
Now Hambledon Vineyard owns 200 acres of vines in the surrounding area and creates Champagne-quality English sparkling wine. It’s delicious stuff and in a blind tasting it stands up against the best of the French (in 2015 the Classic Cuvée came out first in a blind tasting by Noble Rot magazine, ahead of Pol Roger, Taittinger and Veuve Clicquot). You can rock up here at any time and buy a case or two of fizz, but to discover more about the method traditionale that’s employed it’s worth booking on to a two-hour tour, which rounds off with a tasting.
Where do I sop up the fizz?
The aforementioned Bat & Ball has an appealing menu of classic English dishes, such as slow-braised lamb shoulder shepherd’s pie alongside more exotic items like curried monkfish with tarka dahl or falafel with tabbouleh and chilli jam (mains from £8.50). Alternatively head into the village itself (Broadhalfpenny Down is a little on a limb) and try the Vine pub for a traditional Sunday roast with all the trimmings and a helping of sticky toffee pudding (mains from £10.95; thevinehambledon.co.uk).
And where do I sleep it all off?
By far the most convenient place to stay to enjoy the village, the Bat and Ball pub and the vineyard is a glamping site called Wriggly Tin Shepherd’s Huts (wrigglytinhuts.co.uk). This is by no means slumming it as there is exceptional attention to detail from the jovial owner Alex Evans. The huts themselves are full of vintage chic and are cosy thanks to a wood-burning stove.
For a small extra cost he will shuttle you to Petersfield train station, to save on your carbon footprint, and provide you with maps of the best walking routes in the area. A breakfast basket of organic local produce is delivered to your hut in the morning for you to cook up on your campfire outside (or on the stove if it’s raining).
Glamping really isn’t for me
If you can’t cope with the idea of no electricity and would rather a conventional hotel then head to Langrish House Hotel (telegraph.co.uk/tt-langrish-house-hotel), just a 20-minute picturesque drive away. Not only will you find hot running water and plug sockets here, but you’ll be treated to some exceptional food in their restaurant and an enthusiastic welcome from the Talbot-Ponsonby family who have had this characterful house in their family since Victorian times.