A 46 mile walk to the mouth of the River Test from the highest point on the downs in Southern England
The Test Way, as one might expect, follows the valley of the River Test for much of its length, starting high on the chalk downs where the pure waters begin their journey underground. The waymarked route enters the valley at Longparish via the valley of one of its tributaries, the Bourne. It includes numerous diversions out of the valley, giving great differences in the character of the walk along the way.
The 46 miles of the Test Way provide four comfortable days of walking. On the way one spends much of the time among the water meadows and villages along the valley. The raison d'etre for the development of the Test Way, however, was the re-use of an old railway line. It was no ordinary line for much of it was built on the bed of an old canal which linked Andover and Southampton. The waterway was first used in 1794 but had fallen into disuse within 50 years. The railway began service in 1865, eventually becoming a route between Southampton and Cheltenham. It was much used in both World Wars to move troops and supplies to Southampton Docks. Twenty years after the closing of the "Sprat and Winkle" line, as the line between Andover and Romsey became affectionately known, the section between Mottisfont and Chilbolton was re-opened as part of the Test Way long distance footpath.
From Inkpen To Hurstbourne Tarrant(10 miles)
The Test Way begins just off the minor road between Hurstbourne Tarrant and Inkpen. There is parking nearby. Here also begins, or ends, the Wayfarer's Walk. The Test Way passes the ancient gallows at Coombe Gibbett, and soon, turns south down Sheepless Hill beside Coombe Wood. At the foot there is a beautiful valley and the path passes through this before climbing to Linkenholt. From here the route continues on old farm tracks which come out at the attractive hamlet of Ibthorpe. A path then follows alongside the bed of a winter bourne down to Hurstbourne Tarrant, approximately ten miles from the start.
From Hurstbourne Tarrant to St Mary Bourne(4 miles)
At Hurstbourne Tarrant the path runs around the back of the village to the church and then crosses the valley to enter the woods called Wallop Hill Down. From the woods the path cuts through fields and other small woods, gradually dropping down to run along the back of the village of St Mary Bourne - well worth exploring, with a choice of three pubs.
From St Mary Bourne to Longparish (6 miles)
The path continues on a private road to the south west. It climbs out of the valley and becomes a farm track through the fields for 1.5 miles to a road by Lower Wyke Farm. The Way continues as a farm road past Faulkners Down Farm before skirting a field to emerge at Fox Cottages on the B3400 road. It then continues down the beautiful eastern edge of Harewood Forest and comes out at Longparish, a good stopping place for lunch, with the path actually crossing a pub garden!
From Longparish to West Down, Chilbolton (5½ miles)
Through the churchyard there is a meadow to cross to the pretty hamlet of Forton. Across the busy A303 road a drive and old track takes one back to a corner of Harewood Forest. A path here avoids a piggery and a group of poultry houses before entering a beautiful cut through the ancient woods, then along their edge. A pleasant old farm lane comes down into the valley again, to Wherwell. Here the route runs behind the village but it is more pleasant to walk along the much-photographed street.
Footbridges outside the village cross the Test to Chilbolton Common from where a path leads to West Down, where there is a car park. The path climbs up above the valley for a pleasing view down the next stretch which begins close to another fine pub with a garden beside the River Test
From West Down to Stockbridge (4 miles)
From West Down, the Test Way continues down to Stockbridge on the old "Sprat and Winkle" railway line. The last half mile of the line into Stockbridge has been used to widen the A30 road so the route here runs alongside the road. Stockbridge High Street is well worth a detour, with antique shops, pavement cafes and other facilities. There is also plenty of room for parking here.
From Stockbridge To Mottisfont (6½ miles)
The Test Way rejoins the old railway line near the White Hart Inn. It passes along Stockbridge Common and continues for 1.5 miles to the next access where the Clarendon Way crosses the valley between Kings Somborne and Houghton. After a further mile there is a former station at Horsebridge with a car park and a pub near at hand. Two miles further down the valley at Lower Brook, the Test Way leaves the railway line to cross the valley westwards to Mottisfont. The path crosses the meadows to join a track by some cottages and then the fields to the road on the edge of the village by the famous National Trust House. Mottisfont Post Office is well-regarded for its cream teas!
From Mottisfont to Romsey (4½ miles)
The Way turns right past the church, follows a track to a bridge over a small river and enters a wood beside a railway line. Returning to a road after a mile the route turns right then left to enter another small wood with a pond. A short stretch of road leads to an overgrown farm track, a field and a muddy wood beyond that. A lane then brings one to Awbridge. From here the route follows a track across a farm, and passes another small lane before skirting, and then entering Squabb Wood. The path emerges into the Test Meadows across which one heads for the Mill buildings in the distance. Romsey Town Centre is close by as well as the entrance to Broadlands and a convenient roadside pub. The town is well worth exploring especially for its Abbey and medieval 'King John's House'.
From Romsey to Totton (6¼ miles)
From Romsey one heads south along the A31 past the Salisbury Road A27 junction. The path sets off along the edge of large fields of the Broadlands estate, along a line of woods at the edge of the valley, down to Moor Court where there is a pretty view by the bridge over the River Blackwater. The Test Way crosses the valley on a modern farm road. An old track continues south to Nursling House and church, beside the M27 motorway. The Way detours east on the road to cross under the motorway and skirt an industrial area. Past Manor House Farm the track bears right to meet the railway line and then turns west over the river to enter the Lower Test Nature Reserve, one mile from the motorway. This is an area of marshy land which can be waterlogged even in high summer. A track near a picturesque mill leads down to the edge of Totton, where the 'Salmon Leap' pub is strategically placed to reward the walker at the end of his journey.