Test Valley walk - Stockbridge circular

PUBLISHED: 00:00 17 June 2020

River Test from bridge, west end of Stockbridge High Street

River Test from bridge, west end of Stockbridge High Street

Fiona Barltrop

A circular walk from Stockbridge via Houghton

Footbridge over River Test, near Houghton (1)Footbridge over River Test, near Houghton (1)

The attractive town of Stockbridge lies in the heart of the lovely Test Valley, its wide Georgian High Street reflecting its early role as part of a drovers’ road, when sheep and cattle were driven through en route from Wales. The road rests on a chalk causeway built over the various channels that make up the River Test, visible as you cross over them walking along High Street.

The tranquil River Test is one of Hampshire’s beautiful clear chalk streams (as such rivers are known) world famous for its trout fishing. A 44-mile long distance path, the Test Way, runs from Inkpen Hill in Berkshire southwards to Eling where the River Test flows into Southampton Water. Apart from the initial section, the route follows much of the course of the River Test. The river itself rises in the hamlet of Ashe, about six miles west of Basingstoke, and flows southwest through Overton and Whitchurch to Longparish, where the Test Way first meets the River Test. Not too testing (despite its name!), the Test Way is a good choice for a first multi-day walking trip, or can be walked on an ad hoc basis in stages. Circular day walks exploring the countryside close to the Test Valley and incorporating stretches of the Test Way are also easily devised.

At roughly the halfway point along the Test Way, Stockbridge makes an ideal base for a variety of walks. As well as the Test Way, which here follows the course of an old railway line both to the north and south of the town, there is some fine walking to be enjoyed over the surrounding downland. The outward leg of this route takes in the downland to the southwest of the town, returning along the Test Valley, following a stretch of the Test Way with a lovely final section alongside the river.

Cattle grazing National Trust Common Marsh, near StockbridgeCattle grazing National Trust Common Marsh, near Stockbridge

1. (SU355351) With your back to the church, turn right/west along High Street/A30 soon crossing the River Test. Carry on up the pavement alongside the main road, pass a turn on the left for the school and as the road bears right turn left into a no-through road called Roman Road. Keep ahead at the end to continue along a restricted byway up Meon Hill, joining an access road for a short distance. When this curves right to the A30 keep ahead along a path soon meeting the A30. Carry on alongside it for about 150m.

2. (SU337353) Turn left along a byway beside West Lodge and follow this for a mile to a minor road. Turn left along the byway – the right hand track of the two (the other is for a solar farm) – and follow this south for a little under a mile to a junction where there is a bench on the left.

One of the branches of the River Test which flow under Stockbridge High Street (1)One of the branches of the River Test which flow under Stockbridge High Street (1)

3. (SU322331) Turn left along this grassy track for a quarter-mile, then turn left onto a footpath through a gap in the hedge over a stile. The path soon turns right along a field edge (hedge on left) and joins a farm track/access road. When this turns left, keep ahead along the grassy field edge path. Turn left at the next junction to the 12th century All Saints Church at Houghton. Carry on down to the road, with the Boot Inn opposite. Houghton Lodge Gardens, where there is a tea room, half-a-mile along the road to the north is worth visiting, but the road can be busy, and the bend in the road makes it unsuitable for walking.

4. (SU342325) Turn right along the pavement through the village for just under half a mile, then left along the footpath to the River Test, the clear spring-fed water crossed by a footbridge: a beautiful spot. Continue to another footbridge crossing Park Stream, soon after this reaching the Test Way.

River Test from footbridge near HoughtonRiver Test from footbridge near Houghton

5. (SU350315) Turn left along the Test Way which here follows the old track bed of the former Sprat and Winkle railway, as the Andover to Redbridge line was known – it was closed in 1967. Continue for just over 2km/one mile.

6. (SU354336) Leave the Test Way and go through a gate into National Trust-owned land, Common Marsh. Bear round to the left and then right to walk alongside Marshcourt River, one of the channels of the River Test. Go through another gate and across a footbridge and continue along the path that leads back to Stockbridge High Street, turning left back to the church.

COMPASS POINTS

Start/finish: St Peter’s Church, Stockbridge (SU355351). Roadside parking all along High Street on both sides. Bus stop in front of church.

Map: OS Explorer 131

Distance: Eight miles (13km)

Terrain: Downland tracks and paths, old railway line track, riverside grassland, roadside pavements. After initial ascent at start, gently undulating terrain, then downhill and back along the valley.

Time: Four hours

Refreshments: Plenty of choice in and around Stockbridge, including The Boot Inn, Houghton

01794 388310; thebootinn-houghton.co.uk

Public transport: Stagecoach and Wheelers bus services between Stockbridge and Winchester/Andover, bustimes.org.

Accommodation: River Test Annexe, a delightful apartment peacefully situated on the banks of the River Test in the village of Longstock, just north of Stockbridge. Contact Mulberry Cottages: 0345 2681414; mulberrycottages.com

Further information: Walking Hampshire’s Test Way by Malcolm Leatherdale (Cicerone guidebook);

visit-hampshire.co.uk

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