Introducing Whitchurch, Hampshire
the ‘Town on the Test’ and gateway to the walking trails of the glorious North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Over a hundred years ago the Star newspaper reported: “Whitchurch is in Hampshire. People who live in it call it a town. People who live out of it call it a village. It is about as big as a good-sized pocket handkerchief”. Well, small it may be, but in 1890 Whitchurch wrote its name into the history books when eighty citizens won a famous ‘Victory for Liberty’ at the High Court of Justice, a victory that set down laws granting the legal right of all citizens to demonstrate peaceably.
Whitchurch is still Hampshire’s smallest town and we venture to say there are few towns that can boast a river as picture-perfect as the world-famous River Test chalk stream that flows through the centre of Whitchurch. Paper for the first Bank of England notes was produced here, paper washed in the crystal-clear waters of the Test, and Whitchurch also boasts Britain’s only working Silk Mill, still operating in its original building. The Mill continues to weave commercially on Victorian looms and is now a popular visitor attraction; it is just one of the five mill buildings representing their industrial past that you will see on the waymarked ‘Mill Trail’, see the video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHLqv2ZtrcU
This part of North Hampshire is a tale of two halves. The Whitchurch Mill Trail and the attractive thatched villages to the SW nestle in a landscape of species-rich water meadows and chalk streams offering a gentle walking experience for all age groups and many of the villages have excellent traditional pubs, so lunch is well catered for. From the square, the land rises steeply meeting the North Wessex Downs on the northern edge of town. This Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, where the Downs are the Ups, is a landscape of ancient flinty tracks along open chalk ridges and steep valleys cut through by chalk streams and winterbournes. This is Hampshire walking country without the crowds…
Take a step back in time and follow the Wayfarers Trail along the ‘rooftop’ of Hampshire where burial mounds, hill forts and ancient field systems provide evidence of early human occupation. Be sure to listen out for the call of the skylarks as you pass over Watership Down, made famous in Richard Adam’s book of the same name; Richard Adams was a resident of Whitchurch until his death in 2016 and look out for Highclere Castle or Downton Abbey as it has become known. The Wayfarers ends on ‘Gallows Hill’ (complete with gibbet) and here you can pick up the Test Way, where it is downhill all the way to Southampton Water. A short ten-minute bus ride from Whitchurch links with the Test Way at Harewood Forest, home to a large native deer population.
It is possible to explore the area using public transport. Andover bus station has connecting rural services to a number of the villages and trails. King Alfred’s Winchester – 30 minutes by bus; Salisbury – 40 minutes by train (onward buses to Stonehenge) and Whitchurch is just an hour by train from London.
Walk new paths in 2021; discover somewhere new https://whitchurch.org.uk/
River Test, Whitchurch Mill Trail courtesy of Chris Watts