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Here's what it's like to live in the Meon Valley

PUBLISHED: 15:55 10 April 2019

Green and pleasant land - looking towards the sea from Old Winchester Hill

Green and pleasant land - looking towards the sea from Old Winchester Hill

Emma Caulton

For countryside living, those in the know head to Hampshire's quieter chalk stream valley

Given half a chance it is the Meon Valley where you will find me. The Shoe Inn at Exton is my retreat of choice. It’s not just the food (which is excellent) and the fact that they sell their own very moreish bread baked on the premises, but the garden on the banks of the River Meon with views across to another favourite: Old Winchester Hill.

Yet often when I eulogise to others about the Meon Valley, the response is ‘Where’s that?’.

The River Meon is the lesser known of Hampshire’s chalk steams. It is smaller than the Rivers Test and Itchen which tend to take the plaudits and rightly so. However, it is a more ‘natural’ river than the other two and with more energy due to a steeper gradient.

Tucked into the South Downs, the Meon Valley is all pretty villages with country pubs and leisurely walks. These include the Meon Valley Trail, an 11-mile long route along a disused railway track, or you can take a bit of a hike up Beacon Hill or Old Winchester Hill on either side of the River Meon. For house hunters in the know, looking for countryside that’s not too far from the madding crowd, it is a bit of a hot spot destination.

The river rises near East Meon before winding and wending its way first northwards and then south-westwards through some of Hampshire’s loveliest villages with flint, timber-frame and wisteria hung, low slung thatch cottages. East Meon itself is a delight with Norman church, medieval court house and not one, but two pubs - Ye Olde George Inn, a 15th century coaching inn, and the Izzak Walton, described as a dog-friendly local.

Following the course of the river, West Meon has popular The Thomas Lord inn named after Thomas Lord who founded Lord’s Cricket Club and retired to the village. Locals also benefit from a good village store and traditional butchers. Warnford has the George and Falcon, then there’s aforementioned Exton with The Shoe Inn, and while Corhampton doesn’t have an inn of its own, it is home to the excellent Meonstoke Village Stores with lots of goodies usually found at farmers’ markets such as Catch fishcakes, Mud pies, Lyburn cheese and artisan breads. It also stocks Exton fizz – from grapes grown on vineyards within a mile of the shop. Corhampton shares The Bucks Head with its close neighbour, Meonstoke, as photogenic a village as you’ll ever find right on the banks of the Meon. Next is Droxford, home to what has long been considered one of the best country gastropubs in the county – the charming Baker’s Arms. Soberton has the traditional White Lion pub serving local real ales from Bowman Brewery in Wallops Wood just up the road.

Then you have Wickham, a proper old-fashioned market town known for its super-size market square, good restaurants and annual folk festival. Here the river changes character, continuing on through Titchfield and Titchfield Haven before joining the Solent. Other market towns in the area include Bishop’s Waltham and Botley, between them they offer everyday needs and quality and quirky finds, from fresh fish to stylish fashion and vintage pieces for the home. If it is big brand names you’re looking for head to nearby Petersfield.

So, river, countryside, villages, pubs and walks is about the gist of it. Retirees and those looking for a slower pace of life will be delighted. However, families will like the village schools, among them Meonstoke Infant, Bishop’s Waltham Infant, Droxford Junior and Hambledon Primary are all rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, while many are considered ‘good’, including Bishop’s Waltham Junior, Swanmore Primary, East Meon Primary, West Meon Primary and Wickham Primary. At Secondary level Swanmore College is also rated a very sound ‘good’.

Does Meon Valley sound too good to be true? Well some may consider it a little out of the way. Motorway connections are 20 minutes’ or so drive away, although the A3 runs to the east of the valley. Another drawback are noisy motorcyclists on the A32 which winds through the valley – roughly from Alton to Fareham. More often than not, however, the Meon Valley is a quiet, hidden retreat. It encompasses such idiosyncratic facilities as the wonderful Sustainability Centre on Droxford Road, an award-winning social enterprise charity exploring how to make greener, healthier and more ethical choices. And, of course, there are its natural assets, the light dappled Meon River and the chalk downlands of Old Winchester Hill with its masses of wildflowers and butterflies in high summer, distant views to the sea and buzzards crying plaintively as they wheel on the thermals overhead. Magical!

Agent talk - Andrew Furnell, Taylor Hill and Bond

“The delightful Meon Valley attracts a steady flow of people retiring from London. It is a popular location because of the A3 and the Hindhead Tunnel, but we are also finding that, with London prices slightly calming, people aren’t able to purchase what they want in Surrey for their budget. So, they’re looking a little bit further out, within 25 minutes’ drive of their original search area, and seeing Hampshire as a less expensive alternative.

With the Meon Valley they appreciate the quality of country life, the South Downs National Park, the many country pubs dotted around, and the historic market towns of Bishop’s Waltham, Botley, Petersfield and Wickham for cafes, restaurants and boutique shopping. In addition, there is good access to the major shopping centres of Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth and West Quay in Southampton.

There are a number of routes back to London, alongside the road network, with Botley, Petersfield, Havant and Southampton Parkway train stations all providing direct services to the capital. The area also benefits from Southampton airport and Portsmouth ferry terminal for access to Europe.

Typically, property in the area comprises cottages and country houses with old terraces in the villages, and prices range from £325,000 to £3.25M. These attract a wide spread of purchasers – some looking for classic Georgian rectories, others require paddocks, some want character, others are looking for a project to modernise. Certainly, the number of people moving from London is keeping the market buoyant, but so, too, is the sprinkling of international buyers we see regularly, which have included people moving from California.

It’s an attractive location. Personally, I’m a big fan of Wickham. It is a very good afternoon or evening out with all its restaurants. My favourites include the Veranda and the newly opened Table 22 at the Old House Hotel. The Executive Head Chef Greg Emmerson was a semi-finalist in MasterChef; we’ve been there a couple of times and it’s fantastic.”


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