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A weekend in the Test Valley - things to do, places to eat and where to stay

PUBLISHED: 12:45 01 May 2015 | UPDATED: 12:45 01 May 2015

Children playing Pooh sticks on a bridge over the River Test at Mottisfont ©National Trust Images/Megan Taylor

Children playing Pooh sticks on a bridge over the River Test at Mottisfont ©National Trust Images/Megan Taylor

©National Trust Images/Megan Taylor

The tranquil landscape of the Test Valley tempts visitors with its award-winning food, home-grown fizz and gentle riverside walks. Throw in a gallery or two and the boutique-lined Stockbridge High Street and you have an indulgent weekend ahead

Stroll

Mottisfont is perfect for a weekend stroll. At this time of year swathes of bright yellow daffodils litter the lawns beneath the beautiful house, and the ancient woodland floor will soon be carpeted with bluebells. The crystal-clear waters of the River Test run through the estate – making it the only National Trust property with its own specialist River Keeper. On riverside walks, freshwater fish can be spotted in the chalk streams, hiding beneath overhanging trees, whilst otters, kingfishers and even the rare southern damselfly flourish here. Once you’ve explored the grounds, stop at the café to fill up on a smoked trout, horseradish and watercress deli roll or Mottisfont cream tea, before heading upstairs to the art gallery. Until 19th April, the ‘Light works’ exhibition brings together photographers whose work focuses on the effects of light and reflection. Whilst Christiane Zschommler’s striking images of light and shade on water showcase the beauty of natural light; Chris Bucklow’s stunning series ‘Guests’ are people who he’s dreamed of, created through tiny pinpricks of intense light.

Find out more at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/mottisfont

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Ponder

The Garden Gallery is a wonderful little gem. Nestled in the pretty village of Broughton this inspiring garden exhibits and sells stunning contemporary sculpture, ceramics, glass and furniture for gardens and interiors. “Most of the work is shown in the gallery’s pretty, peaceful garden, enabling visitors to visualise the pieces in their own garden - there is also a small indoor gallery,” says proprietor and garden designer, Rachel Bebb. This summer, The Garden Gallery will host a special exhibition, Truth to Material, explains Rachel: “In 2015 100 years will have passed since the death in the trenches of the great sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, at the age of 23. Influenced by Jacob Epstein, Gaudier-Brzeska was an early exponent of the practice of direct carving, originally introduced by Brancusi. Direct carving adhered to the doctrine of truth to materials, allowing the innate qualities of the stone, marble or wood to show through simple forms, respecting the block, and often polished to bring out the colour and grain. Truth to Material is an opportunity for artists to demonstrate how their chosen medium expresses their ideas and creativity.”

The exhibition runs from Saturday 9th May (Private View/Meet the Artist 11am – 5pm) until 18 July, on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 11am – 5pm, or by arrangement. Find out more at www.gardengallery.uk.com

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Feast

Foodies will love the Test Valley. Abundant with tasty produce - you can feast on oak-smoked local trout from the River Test Smokery; Broughton water buffalo, grazed and grown on the chalk downs; and award-winning sparkling wine from Danebury vineyard. Spend the weekend merrily indulging yourself on the Test Valley Food Trail, which takes in a further 20 local food, drink and craft producers from across the region. Visit www.hampshirefare.co.uk for the map. Another must-stop is The Plough Inn at Longparish, which has just been ranked 4th place in the Budweiser Budvar Top 50 Gastro pubs and number 17 in The Good Food Guide’s Top 50 pubs of 2015.

“We were very pleased as the Good Food Guide is purely based upon customer reviews, so it’s great to know that what we are doing as a team is working and making people happy,” says Chef Patron, James Durrant. “To get 4th place in the Budweiser Budvar Top 50, and be this year’s highest climber, really blew me and the team away. This is nominated by industry experts so to be recognised by our peers is fantastic. It is really great for the team here who work so hard for me to get recognition for it. It’s a big pat on the back for us all!”

Not a stranger to success, James was also selected as one of the four winning chefs on last years’ BBC2’s ‘Great British Menu’. He went on to cook his winning main at the D-Day 70th anniversary banquet at St. Paul’s Cathedral. “It was an absolute honour to treat those veterans to a great meal after all they have done for this country. It was a really humbling experience,” James explains.

Find out more and book a table at www.theploughinn.info.

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Sleep

What better place to stay than in the heart of Stockbridge High Street and at the Michelin pub of the year 2014, no less. The Greyhound on the Test, as the name hints, has the fabled River Test running right through its back garden – making it a mecca for fly fishing aficionados. Out the front, you can wander from independent boutique to deli to tea room before retiring to your contemporary chic suite for a well-earned nap! Rooms are £80 per night bed & breakfast. Find out more at www.thegreyhoundonthetest.co.uk

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Leave the car behind…

Every Sunday and bank holiday, between May and September, a free bus service runs from Romsey train station to Longstock Park in Stockbridge, via Mottisfont and Sir Harold Hillier Gardens. You can find the timetable at www.threeriversrail.com

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My weekend in the Test Valley - Chris Nesbit

Local, Chris Nesbit, has lived in the Test Valley for most of his life after moving from Suffolk to Romsey at the age of five. “I now live just past Lee, which is situated towards the end of the district, with my family (and husky, Sochi),” says Chris. “I am very fortunate to have a clear view of the farm and flood plains of the Test Valley, with the river Test running at the end of a meadow behind my garden. The wonderful ‘Test Way’ is also at the bottom of my garden – which is very convenient!”

A software developer, with a serious passion for photography, Chris comments: “It’s easy to be consumed with photography given where I live. The pleasure of the Test Valley is it is ever changing. From the flat farm areas south of Romsey, to the rolling valley areas around Stockbridge. However, the one constant is the ‘gin clear’ waters of the river Test and the stunning array of fish which inhabit it.

“Spending time at the weekends for myself and my family is easy, and needn’t be planned. A wander out the back door puts us onto the Test Way path. Heading North towards Romsey, the path enjoys views across the Broadlands estate and farmyard, stopping on bridges which span the beautiful river - and a good game of Pooh sticks can take place along with photographing the many swans, or if you are lucky a kingfisher.

“It’s a great route for walkers (with or without a dog), the odd cyclist and horse rider. I have yet to walk and not spot buzzards, falcons or deer. Many of the fields will home horses at various times and they like to run across and greet any admirers. Once in Romsey a stop off at any of the cafes or restaurants is always welcome. Particular favourites would be the Cromwell Arms, the Three Tuns or ‘Dish’.

“Another favourite walk is a wonderful stretch at Stockbridge - a footpath which runs along Marshcourt River. Many a weekend picnic can take place here, where the kids can play in the shallow clear waters. A walk into Stockbridge for an ice-cream or drink is then quite easy. However, jumping into the car you can quickly drive north towards Longstock where a visit to the Leckford estate and its lovely farm shop (part of Waitrose) is a must. Yummy cakes and strong coffee await.”

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