Hook, Hampshire (England)
If you found yourself in this page, this may only mean one of the three (not necessarily mutually exclusive) things:
Two years later, after a number of visits, I considered myself an old Hook hand. My kidneys were about to receive a honorary British citizenship, so to celebrate this event I posted a this brief Web page on Hook, just to make the life of other travelers less miserable. Like it or not, here it is: the town of Hook for the first time on the Web — just don't blame me for anything...
Note of 2002: From 1996 until Summer, 2000, I've been visiting Hook at least three times a year. Where applicable, this article has been updated as needed. Now, however, I'm not planning new trips to this charming town, therefore my information is becoming more and more out-of-date. Do not depend on it as a current source of travel information.
Note of 2007: Five years later, the warning above becomes even stronger. Kind strangers to the rescue: one of the Readers just sent me an email with some updates in a capsule; this is quoted verbatim in a new section, added at the end of the article.
|Where is Hook and how to get there?|
Hook is located in Hampshire, southwest of London, one rail station before Basingstoke. There are trains from the London Waterloo station every half hour during the day, the last one leaving just after 1AM. The trip takes less than one hour (don't take a fast train: they don't stop here!).
If you are arriving to the Heathrow (or, preferably) Gatwick airport, the taxi to Hook can cost you an arm and leg. It is much cheaper to call the U.K. Chauffeur Service (01256-761-800) ahead of time, and have the friendly, dependable and very British Mr. Besh or one of his drivers meet you at the airport. Otherwise just take the train.
|The center of Hook, the main intersection: a newsstand, a barber, a wine dealer and... well, there is also a convenience store and that's it...||Another view of the main street which changes into London Road, with the White Hart Inn being the most prominent building.|
You have a choice of two quite charming, very English inns:
— The Raven (01256-762-541)
— The White Hart (01256-768-351)
Both are located within easy walking distance from the train station at the main street. Both provide civilized accommodation, although don't even dream about having both hot and cold water from the same faucet: this is England, after all.
|The Raven is somewhat closer to the railway station (about 100m) and its rooms are a little roomier...||...but the White Hart (about 300m, a three-minute walk) is my preference, being more homey and old-style.|
|Where to eat?|
Both inns have pubs, the Raven also has a restaurant (where I've had the most expensive and the worst lamb chops in my life).
For lunch both pubs will do (with a slight nod to the Raven, Beef Stroganoff is good there), although the potato shells filled with cottage cheese, chives and pineapple at the White Hart are very good (my wife's favorite!) and the lamb liver there is also worth trying. Still, this is the British pub food, take it or leave it.
For dinner the only choice is the Hook Tandoori (01256-764-844) at the Station Road.
The food here ranges from good to excellent, if somewhat on the filling side, and the place ranks as one of the better Indian restaurants in Britain.
The service is exemplary: these guys want you to come back! Be sure to call ahead on Fridays, when the place is really packed!
In 2000 the restaurant acquired a second dining room (non-smoking), but I'm somehow missing the old, crowded atmosphere.
There are some restaurants in the nearby Basingstoke (seven minutes by train, every half hour), of which I like the Chicago Rock Cafe with very decent barbecued ribs.
If you have a car at your disposal (see under "driving" below), you may like the relaxed and pretty Leather Bottle pub/restaurant (0118-932-6371) in the nearby Mattingley — walking back 2 km to Hook is OK, especially after a couple of pints of the local ales, and you can stop for some more refreshments at the Crooked Billet (01256-762-118) just before you reach the town.
Possibly the best English food in the area can be found at the (somewhat upscale) Stilton Dish restaurant (01252-842-107) in Hartley-Wintney, about 5 km away. Try the outstanding Younger's Red served on tap there; this may be worth the trip!).
|What to do?|
There are some obvious choices:
Of the two pubs to consider, White Hart at the London Road is my choice, with a good selection of English ales (unfortunately, the new owners removed my favorite Old Thumper from the list, here goes the neighborhood), and a nice ambience in a stylish, well-worn interior.
(While at the Whitehart, don't take the place at the far left end of the bar: it belongs to the guy with two dogs, and he'll be lost if the place is taken!)
There is a major difference between an American bar and an English pub: in the States you go out to a bar, while in England the pub is an extension of your living room. Well, I can't help liking these places!
One has to remember that the pubs stop serving at 11PM (with a 20-minute legal drink-up time), half an hour earlier on Sundays. This limitation is waived, however, if you are staying at the same inn!
|The nearby Winchester (25 minutes by train, direct connection) is a jewel of the early Norman England and deserves at least a full-day trip.|
|The hart (deer) painting at the second-storey level is related to the origins of Hook, about 800 years ago.||Home away from home — this is what English pubs are about. I've got to talk Lonnie into moving my office here...|
Driving: Just don't.
Money: The conveniently located Lloyd's bank with a cash machine at the London Road has been closed in 2000; there are ATMs in the Tesco supermarket behind the railway station (closed a few years ago, but restored since).
Language: People in Hook (as in most of England) speak a language similar to English, very much like the funny talk you can hear in BBC comedies shown on the PBS. You thought my English sounds funny?
Laundry: There is a cleaners' shop at the Station Road half-way between both inns; shirts take four working days. You can always buy extra socks and underwear at C&A in Basingstoke.
Shopping: The Budgerns convenience store (formerly 7-Eleven) is the favorite hangout of teenagers on Friday nights, there is another grocery (also housing a post office), a drugstore, a newsstand and a bakery. The nearby Basingstoke has a large shopping center near the rail station, with a number of department stores — but remember: everything there closes at 5:30!
London: I've checked all guidebooks of this city I could find, and tried out a number in the field. If you actually want to see things, use London Step by Step by Christopher Turner, published by St. Martin's Press in N.Y. — listen to me now and thank me later...
Recent developments: The main street has been nicely repaved in the last years; as of this writing the Millennium pond nears completion and the town is raising cash for a Millennium sculpture.
Surprisingly, if you do a Google search for "Hook Hampshire" or "Hook Hampshire England", this humble little page comes on the top. This means that not much on Hook is still available on the Web, but here are three links I've checked recently (July, 2003), courtesy of a member of the Hook Village Parish.
Time flies fast, and things do change. In June I received an email from a current Hook resident, adding some information, which I decided to quote in extenso, in case you will find it useful or interesting.
The Raven has been refurbished to look like an Intercontinental hotel lobby — awful. It still has a restaurant, but it now only does pizzas.
The White Hart Hotel has been bought by an American private equity company, and is currently being run into the ground by an incompetent manager. I wouldn't let my dog eat there now.
The Old White Hart now has a competent staff, who tolerate no nonsense. All the under-age drinkers and druggies have been barred, and they now use The Raven.
The Leather Bottle is now a Blubeckers Eating House. Walking back from there to Hook is not to be recommended - traffic volume has increased almost exponentially, and there is no footpath.
The Crooked Billet [...] has been refurbed, and is probably the 'poshest' pub in the area. Food and beer are excellent, but not cheap. It is a 15-20 minute uphill walk back to the centre of the village.
The Stilton Dish is now a pizzeria.
UK licensing laws have been relaxed, and landlords can set their own hours. In practice this means that at The Old White Hart closing time on Friday and Saturday is now midnight, and on Sunday it is 11.00pm.
All of the pubs and most of the shops now have ATMs.
"The guy with two dogs", known affectionately as 'Two Dogs John', died suddenly last month.
Please keep in mind that these are just one Reader's remarks, not necessarily endorsed by the author of the original article (myself), and representing his personal opinions.
On a personal note, I am saddened by Two Dog John's demise. All other things aside, the place will not be the same without him.
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