Best things about living in the Test Valley
PUBLISHED: 16:11 29 February 2016 | UPDATED: 14:57 01 March 2016
Roses over the door, lush water meadows and stylish village inns - all reasons to live the country life in the Test Valley says Emma Caulton
I remember sitting in a Stockbridge pub (years ago) chatting with three locals: a waterman, a city gent and a record producer (who had worked with Roxy Music, Elton John and Pulp). Our little group summed up the area’s mix: old-fashioned country, traditional city and moneyed hip. There can’t be many places where you get that sort of social combination. But then Stockbridge and, indeed, the Test Valley, isn’t just any place.
Stockbridge is a hub of the Test Valley, located roughly halfway along the River Test which rises near Overton and meanders past quintessentially English villages of thatch cottages with gardens overfull with hollyhocks and roses. Each village holds delights: Overton is home to Jody Sheckter’s pioneering Laverstoke Park Farm, location for CarFest South. Whitchurch is the base for Whitchurch Silk Mill and you’ll find Bombay Sapphire Gin Distillery in Laverstoke. Wherwell and Chilbolton share Cow Common – an ancient rural common located between the two villages and perfect for picnicking and paddling. While Longstock hosts John Lewis’ Leckford Estate, its popular farm shops, Longstock Park Water Gardens and Nursery.
As for Stockbridge itself, it seems to float on the Test with the river and several of its tributaries flowing under the High Street, making for an unusual shopping experience. Trout can be spotted swimming in waters running beside pavements, and ducks waddle among those browsing Stockbridge’s high end galleries and luxury fashion, home and garden boutiques. This is where the smart set shop and live. And always have done – Edward Prince of Wales and Lillie Langtry were once regular visitors (for the races – now long gone). Its town hall is a legacy of a rotten borough bribe and Stockbridge still maintains its tradition of the annual Courts Leet and Baron - dating back to the 12th century feudal system of administering justice and land use. Today it’s essentially a community meeting (albeit a quaint one) reviewing parish matters such as grazing on Common Marsh and Stockbridge Down.
Stockbridge has also become a bit of a Mecca for foodies. Highly acclaimed butcher John Robinson (Butcher of the Year runner up in the Hampshire Life Food & Drink Awards) attracts custom from far and wide. There is a very good deli, Thyme and Tides, chic eateries such as The Greyhound on the Test, and it is home to a food festival each August, Trout ‘n About. This is well named for at the heart of Stockbridge is fishing. This is what the Test is known for worldwide and the fishing fraternity flock here – either to visit or live.
Beyond Stockbridge the Test wends its way past Houghton and picturesque Mottisfont Abbey before continuing on to Romsey, another foodie draw with breweries, delis and a tasty smattering of cafes, bistros and pubs.
However the Test Valley – geographically and administratively – takes in a wider area than the river, including the Sombornes to the east, the Wallops to the west, and the Clatfords to the north. All offer the benefits of active and strong local communities, footpaths through verdant rolling countryside, decent rail and road connections and a good selection of schools.
Most schools in the area are rated ‘good’ by Ofsted, including primaries at Broughton, Kings’ Somborne, Stockbridge, Wherwell and Whitchurch, and Test Valley secondary school in Stockbridge. Three or so are rated ‘outstanding’, such as the primary schools at Longparish and St Mary Bourne and Testbourne Community secondary school in Whitchurch. Only the primary school at Middle Wallop needs to pull its socks up. As for the major towns, Romsey returns a fairly solid ‘good’ across the board while Andover’s school report fluctuates. Several are rated ‘outstanding’ (like Anton junior school, Norman Gate primary school and Icknield school), the majority are considered ‘good’ and a couple ‘require improvement’. Meanwhile there are also a number of highly regarded independent schools including Farleigh School, Hampshire Collegiate and Rookwood.
Access to road and rail networks is good, too. Romsey station is on the Southampton to Bristol line, however mainline services into Waterloo are available at useful village stops, Grateley, Whitchurch and Overton. As for driving, some reasonably ‘quick’ roads cutting through the area include the A303, A34 and A30.
All in all - a country idyll with everything you need for a modern country lifestyle.
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