our mid-week hike this week we continued our quest to rove further from our home area and find new, interesting destinations for our constitutional exertions. Having done extensive fly-fishing for trout in the past I was interested in the area of Hampshire renowned for its clear, clean chalk streams and rivers.
I could not find a likely candidate on Wikiloc and having searched the web I fell back on a usually reliable source, iFootpath utilizing their app on iPad. This activity took me to a 7.5 mile circular trail starting in Stockbridge, arguably the capital of trout fishing in Hampshire, which sits astride the famous River Test.
Situated 65 miles from London on the A30, Stockbridge is first mentioned in the Charter Rolls of 1239, appearing as Stocbrigge. In Inquisitions post mortem of 1258, (local inquiries into valuable properties, in to discover the income and rights due to the crown and who the heir should be), it appears as Stokbregg. The town was the scene of the capture of Robert of Gloucester by William of Ypres in 1141. Edward I stayed there in August 1294, as did the last Catholic King, James II, on his way to Salisbury to meet the forces of the Prince of Orange. He dined at the still existing Swan Inn in November 1688.
The town was given the right to hold a market before 1190 in the reign of Richard I, reviewed and confirmed in 1200 and extended to an annual three-day fair by Henry III. In the 12th century, the town consisted almost wholly of one long wide street and it is to this characteristic that it owed its early name of Le Street. The town grew and prospered as an unincorporated mesne borough before - probably because of plague - the place became almost deserted and the poverty of the remaining inhabitants was so great that the market, which had been confirmed to the town by Henry V and Henry VI, was discontinued.
By the mid-Tudor era, under Edward VI, the wealthy burgages (tenures) numbered 58, partly in consequence of this, in 1562, two members of parliament were granted. Charles I had confirmed the right to annual fairs in 1641, however during the start of the nineteenth century a marked decline in trade was noted at the three agricultural fairs, with only one continuing until after 1911.
Finding a convenient parking place in the High Street near the Grosvenor Hotel we changed into our boots and set off in an easterly direction crossing two bridges across the Test towards our first waypoint the Roman Road. Climbing one of the moderate slopes to the Roman Road and then continuing on through a steep path between hedges we eventually came upon a chicken run on our left which was a reminder to look for a stile hidden in the hedge on our right. This took us to an open field, the edge of which we followed for about three quarters of a mile, before we turned in a southerly direction and climbed uphill near where a Racecourse operated until 1898.
The first racing at Stockbridge took place on Houghton Down from, at the latest, 1775, and possibly earlier. By 1839 a new course had been developed on Danebury Hill near Nether Wallop. The course is associated with leading Victorian trainer John Day who, together with stable jockey Tom Cannon, sent out multiple Classic winners. He trained from stables at Danebury House, built in 1832 by Lord George Bentinck, adjacent to the track and now the headquarters of a winery. Another important, but short-lived figure in the history of the course was Harry, Marquis of Hastings, who had horses trained at Stockbridge in the 1860s. A notable visitor to the track was King Edward VII, who, whilst still Prince of Wales, watched his horse, Counterpane, come last in the Stockbridge Cup and then fall down dead. It is reported that souvenir hunters pulled out every hair of its tail . It is also to be noted that, when in Stockbridge, Lilly Langtree stayed with the prince at a house in Stockbridge, now the site of N J Stokes Garage. In 1898, the land on which the eastern end of the course stood was inherited by Marianne Vaudrey who strongly disapproved of gambling, and therefore refused to extend the lease. At the time, Jockey Club rules stated that all racecourses should have a straight mile and since Stockbridge's straight mile extended into this area of land, the course was forced to close. The final meeting took place on 7 July 1898.
Pressing on we reach a junction with the road - Clatford Junction. It is here that you can choose to divert from the trail and visit Danebury Hill Fort, which entails walking 300 yards along a quiet road to access the hill part of the round trip diversion of approximately 2 miles. Danebury is one of the most studied Iron Age hill forts in Europe and a Scheduled Ancient Monument. 'Iron Age' describes the period between the end of the Bronze Age and the start of the Roman period (700BC to AD43). Evidence found suggests that the fort was built 2,500 years ago and occupied for nearly 500 years. You can discover more and see some of the finds at the Museum of the Iron Age in Andover. Large beech trees around the perimeter of the earthworks make the site prominent in the surrounding landscape.
Returning to Clatford Junction we now follow a vehicle track between hedgerows for around 1.5 miles. There is a healthy bird population here and we spotted a number of long tailed tits as well as woodlarks. Eventually we reached the village of Longstock with St Mary's Church on the right and the lovely thatched Church Cottage on our left . Turning left at the road we walked about 100 yards until we reach the amusingly named street on the right "The Bunny". Following this route passing attractive thatched buildings on the way we came upon 3 streams of the Test including the main channel. Rising near the village of Ashe, 10 miles from Basingstoke the Test meanders its way across Hampshire meeting with the river Itchen on its way and ultimately flowing into the Southampton Water. Mentioned in Richard Adams' Watership Down the river is more famous for being one of the premier trout fishing streams in the country. Approaching the bank at Stockbridge and at any point on the flow, wearing a good pair of polaroid sunglasses we will spot many fine examples of Salmo Trutta, commonly known as brown trout. Arguably one of the most famous fishing waters in the world it will forever be associated with F.M Halford and his role in the development of dry fly fishing in the 1870s and 1880s. The fine fishing rights are owned by a very privileged number of people or companies and it is very expensive to spend a day stalking the elusive trout on these waters.
Looking left from the bridge over the main stream, a Victorian angling shelter can be seen alongside some traditional eel traps. From this point we are following the Test Way - a 44 mile long walking route that takes you from its dramatic start, high in the chalk downs at Inkpen, to follow much of the course of the River Test to Eling where its tidal waters flow into Southampton Water. Following this route we eventually emerged at the east end of the high street in Stockbridge, a short walk from our car. Casting aside our walking boots we repaired to the Grosvenor Hotel for coffee and a sandwich before the long drive back to Surrey.The route for the trail can be downloaded from Wikiloc here
Difficulty: Moderate. Distance: 8.5 miles if diverting to the Danebury Hill Fort if not 6.5 miles. Time: 2 hours 45 minutes with breaks