The second part of The Test Way, from Romsey to Stockbridge, took us quite a while to get around to. Matching diaries with my wife and my dad was not easy! However last Tuesday (10 March) we finally got around to it.
We walked through some very nice countryside and made some interesting discoveries but before we even got to the start of the walk there was a logistical issue that vexed us for a short time. We had originally tried to organise the walk for a Sunday and planned to use public transport to get back from Stockbridge to Romsey, where we would leave the car. However after searching on the internet and eventually using the good old-fashioned telephone to ring Tourist Information in Andover it transpired that there are very few buses that go anywhere near Stockbridge! Those that do only go to Winchester. The service is the same on a weekday, just a little more frequent.
The choice was a convoluted combination of bus and trains to get back to the car in Romsey, or just a slightly less convoluted system of leaving cars in various places.
So at 9.45 on Tuesday morning we drove to Stockbridge and met my dad, left his car there and drove back to Romsey and started the walk.
On the plus side the weather was perfect - a bit overcast but mild and bright which is textbook walking weather. My textbook anyway! And when we got going, walking from Sadler's Mill in Romsey where salmon leap through the mill currents in their grand journey back up The Test, up into the countryside and woodland that skirts the northwest side of Romsey, the freshness of the air and the liberty you feel when surrounded by nothing apart from the big wide world, was invigorating. The BlackBerry and mobile where off, all we had in our pockets were apples and chocolate bars, and all we had in our rucksacks were waterproofs, maps and a camera.
Perhaps, though, I'm never going to be a natural walker because there was a downside to all this - underfoot there was a nightmare world of squelchy boggy goo. From the flats at the start of the walk on the way to Squabb Wood, to the sheltered woodland around Awbridge, the path was rarely easy. The problem with this isn't so much that I'm adverse to these conditions, but that it takes away the opportunity to look, see and marvel at what might be around me. At the end of the walk, as we staggered into Stockbridge thoroughly knackered 13 miles later, I wasn't too sure what I'd seen, although conversely I was absolutely certain we'd been through some really very nice countryside.
With the benefit of hundsight I know it was certainly a walk of varied terrain. We had flood plains just out of Romsey (with a nice view of Romsey Abbey - see picture), ancient woodlands, a vineyard (see second picture)and pig-farming country. At one point a sow came running in our direction, seemingly unaware of the low electric fence that seperated it from us. We waited, baited breath, for the great beast to recoil with a shock but she must have been toying with us because she reared up just short of it, much to our relief/disappointment (delete as applicable!). And then we walked through villages, across the National Trust estate of Mottisfont Abbey (one of our favourite places to visit) and along the old Romsey-Stockbridge railway line that Dr Beeching kindly turned into a footpath many years ago.
My Test Way book commented that walking on old railway lines is not to everyone's taste, and I can see what the author meant. For whilst it is very flat and straight, meaning that we had the chance to look around properly for the first time on the walk, there is a also a lack of challenge to it.
But I think that, having squelched our way through the first few miles, it was something of a relief.
I definately felt that, by the time I arrived at The White Hart Inn at Stockbridge for lunch, I had been well exercised and, if I had had any doubts, then the stiffness of my legs the next day proved would have categorically proved them wrong.
It's worth reflecting on a couple of other features of the walk. The old railway station that has been converted into holiday cottages and the other footpaths we crossed - The Monarch's Trail and The Clarendon Way - certainly offered interesting talking points. I will post seperately on these.
However to finish it is worth mentioning that, unlike the first stage of the walk, this one follows the river much more closely. Fishing rights along The Test mean that you'll never be able to walk along the banks for the full distance, and as such the path deviates away from the river on many occasions. But with this stage you see much more of it, and the world that operates in its midst.