A day out in Lymington
One's a Hollywood A-lister, another hosts the country's most popular radio show and the third is one of our greatest ever Olympians. But what do Johnny Depp, Chris Evans and Ben Ainslie have in common?
The trio are all confirmed fans of Lymington, a quintessential English market town which sits of the shores of the Solent with idyllic views of the Isle of Wight. Heads were turned one spring day in 2013 when the star of Pirates of the Caribbean strolled into the Haven Bar and Restaurant alongside his children and pet dog. The BBC Radio 2 DJ is a familiar face in the town, while the most successful sailor in Olympic history has been a long-time resident of this yachting Mecca.
So what is it about Lymington that appeals to these three as well as the legions of visitors who find themselves entranced by this delightful corner of Hampshire? Quite simply, Lymington is an enchanting town for all seasons, for all the family. Situated on the southern edge of the New Forest, it offers the perfect springboard from which to explore the stunning national park.
Head just north of Lymington and you'll stumble on Roydon Woods - carpeted in bluebells in the spring. Go west along the Solent Way, which hugs the sea wall around marshes and nature reserves, and you'll end up at the nearby waterside hamlet of Keyhaven.
Of course, the town is famous for its life on the ocean wave with regular daily crossings from its ferry port to the Isle of Wight. Known as the most scenic route from the mainland, the car ferry service takes less than 40 minutes to reach picturesque Yarmouth, one of the gateways to the island with a host of attractions on its doorstep.
Yarmouth Castle and Fort Victoria - an ancient gun battery - are little more than a stone's throw from the dock, while the Needles Breezer, an open-top bus service, is a great platform from which to investigate this spectacular island.
Back in Lymington, Puffin Cruises offer a range of boat trips as well as sunset voyages around the Solent and to the Needles and Yarmouth.
When summer comes, take a plunge in the family-friendly Seawater Baths - the UK's biggest open air lido - where inflatable obstacle courses, kayaking and a children's splash pool provide endless hours of fun.
Lymingtonians are rightly proud of their town, with its network of cobbled, Georgian streets and a bustling market dating back to the 13th century. Come rain or shine, dozens of stalls line both sides of the High Street each Saturday throughout the year, selling everything from crafts and bric-a-brac to an array of plants and delicious local produce. The town itself boasts a wide range of boutique shops, chandleries, designer stores and niche independent outlets. For those seeking the latest in men's and women's fashions, pop into Elliots of Lymington department store in the heart of the town. Spread over three floors, today it is run by the fifth generation of the Elliot family.
There are plenty of artisan shops to snap up souvenirs and gifts. Just off the High Street you'll find Huts 'n Boats where handcrafted decorative items are on display along with furniture and soft furnishings.
Lymington also offers a treasure trove of venues for foodies, with its restaurants, pubs, cafes and tearooms proving popular all year round. Dogs are welcome in many of the town's pubs, including The Chequers Inn, The Fisherman's Rest, The Waggon and Horses and The Walhampton Arms.
For homemade cakes and speciality teas and coffees, pay a visit to Bridges of Lymington. Along the street, Ciao Bello offers its own-blend Italian coffee and tasty pastries. If you've never tried oriental ginger or mince pie-flavoured ice cream, give them a go - they're specialities here in Lymington.
Meanwhile, the Barbe Museum and Gallery in New Street is the ideal spot to explore the area's heritage. Here, you can find out about the smugglers and salt-makers who once inhabited the town. The venue also features exhibitions by celebrated local artists.
And what better way to spend a lazy sunny afternoon than a visit to the bandstand, which hosts regular summer performances - from traditional brass bands to jazz and blues.
Lymington: a town that strikes the right chord for all the family.