Saturday, August 22, 2009

Test Way #11: Dodgy signage

There is little doubt that the third leg was simply brilliant in all respects, although if I had one critisism, it would be the signposting. There are plenty of waymarkers on The Test Way but, at crucial points between Stockbridge and St Mary Bourne they went completely AWOL and almost resulted in us taking long diversions that wouldn't have been ideal when we already had 13.5 miles to do!

So if you're walking the route in future remember these key points:

1) When the route comes alongside The Mayfly Pub (although this isn't particularly visible from the path) you leave the old railway line and cross the road towards Wherwell. The crossing point is a junction of the A3057 and a local road and there are a couple of footpath options here - make sure you get the right one!

2) We accidentally left The Test Way when we got to Wherwell. There is a point when you move along a very narrow cutway at the back of some houses and once you are through this the waymarks are non-existent. We turned right towards the village centre and, quite by accident, found the path again shortly afterwards. However we should, I think, have gone straight on. If we had OCD about this walk then we would have gone back and rewalked that section!

3) At several points between Longparish and St Mary Bourne the waymarks have their own signposts, and we saw three of these that had broken and been laid into the hedge or long grass. Be careful not to go off in the wrong direction by trying to guess!

Best thing is to have a good local map with you and try to work it out from that!

Luckily we were so in awe of the scenery and the countryside, that it hardly mattered. It was definitely a feature of this leg, however, and something to watch out for!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Test Way #10: Finally The Test Way delivers!

Well, yes, we took the 13.5m option and we were very glad we did. It was a long walk but the scenery and the variety on this section made it a real pleasure and not in any way a chore. The time seemed to pass by very quickly and the walk didn't drag out like the final section of leg 2 had.

We met in the same pub car park where we finished leg 2 and set off for St Mary Bourne. By the time we arrived five hours later we'd seen watermeadows, villages, farmland, forest and downland. We'd walked on a busy road, another dismantled railway line, through overgrown woodland tracks, cutways between houses and fields.

This was definitely the standout section of the walk so far. It delivered exactly what Miche and I had hoped to get out of The Test Way, and what I think my dad was hoping for too.

One of the things that has really struck me about this section of the walk is how remote sections of it felt. At one point we seemed deep in woodland and at another we skirted around some farmland and within minutes found ourselves walking across rolling downland. It was all very attractive on the eye but, most pleasingly, through big sections of this walk we didn't see anyone else at all. We were in deepest, darkest Hampshire, that was for sure.

Well... yes it was deep, but it certainly wasn't dark. In fact this was the type of enlightening experience I hoped for when I started this blog. In my first post I talked about walking The Test Way to discover not only my local area but "the world immediately beyond it", and I really feel like I'm starting to achieve this now. These parts of Hampshire are areas that you cannot really discover by road - yes, you can visit Longparish and Stockbridge and Wherwell and St Mary Bourne, but you don't really "see" them by car. Walking a footpath like this helps you really discover them, gets you under the skin a little bit, and shows you how the whole community links together.

I guess it shows you the facade of this string of villages (that drivers see) but also the bits in between because, when you think about it, they weren't always linked by tarmac roads which you tear along at 40 or 50 miles an hour in your family hatchback - they were once linked only by these footpaths and some tracks. A couple of hundred years ago no one would have been able to pass this countryside by without "seeing" it, but these days we drive so fast that we have no choice but to keep our eyes on the road.

So I guess to that extent we've started to achieve our aim - seeing the world that's around us, the world we usually miss because it's hidden away in our peripheral vision, not even registering as we try to make sure our vehicles stay on the road.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Test Way #9: Photo slideshow on Flickr

I've now placed a selection of pictures from the first two legs onto Flickr.

Click on the links below for more:

Test Way Leg 1
Test Way Leg 2

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Test Way #8: Planning and logistical issues!

E-mail, 11 August 2009, in preparation for me, my wife (Miche) and dad undertaking the third leg of The Test Way this coming weekend.


It's going to be a bit of a long haul on Sunday I think, and we need to consider the best way to do it. Essentially there are is 24.5 miles still to do but you can't easily break it down into two easily manageable chunks. We either need to 13.5m this Sunday followed by the final 11 miles next time, or 8m this Sunday followed by 16.5 (not the desired option as far as I can see!).

The slight concern is that 13.5 is much longer than the section between Romsey and Stockbridge which came in at 10.5m and was knackering enough! Having said that we don't really want to do the remainder in three sections because each would be too short.

The way perhaps to break it up is to meet Jenny and the girls for lunch in Longparish (The Plough Inn), at which point we will have completed 8.5m, then do the remaining 5m (to St Mary Bourne) after lunch. Do you think this is going to work? Not sure having lunch in the middle is a good idea, but 13.5m is a long stretch and probably needs to be broken up.

Downside is that it breaks up Jenny's day and makes it difficult for her to plan what to do with the kids. Let me know what you think.

The other issue I've thought of is how we get back to Stockbridge. With the girls in the car with Jenny we might get two of the three of us in too, but not sure what to do with the odd one! We will need to do two trips back to Stockbridge I think, unless you or Jenny waits at St Mary Bourne whilst the other drives us all back to Stockbridge, before returning and heading home.

Let me know what you think on this too.


Test Way #7 - Time passing by

Well it's certainly taking longer than expected to complete this walk.

First leg - Eling to Romsey - 27 October 2008
Second leg - Romsey to Stockbridge - 10 March 2009

And now we finally seem to be about to do the third leg. This Sunday coming will be 16 August and almost 10 months since we started. And then, of course, there was the aborted start back in September last year.

Let's hope we complete the fourth and final leg before the anniversary of leg 1. There's so many other walks to do!