Walking Town And Country – Test Way Part 1

My most recent training walk turned out to be a lot drier than the previous two, and also completely different in terms of the terrain, plus we didn’t get lost!  We are fortunate to have several long-distance footpaths nearby, including the 44-mile Test Way, running from the source of the River Test on the chalk downs at Inkpen Beacon, along the river’s length to it’s end at Eling Wharf.  We’re not quite ready to walk the full length (hah!) so we decided to work backwards and start at Eling Wharf, walking the first section to finish at Romsey.

Due to where we parked we actually started a mile away from the start point, in Totton, and walked from there to Eling Wharf. What we saw of Eling as we passed was very pretty, but our visit was quite fleeting, as the route soon led us inland along the river as it meandered through a grassy area interspersed with groups of trees. The people living in the houses backing onto this section are so lucky to have such a lovely view.  Sadly this brief foray into nature was soon at an end, as we crossed the railway bridge and then a recreation ground, leading us back into the urban sprawl of Totton.  We crossed and walked along a few major roads, passing within a few hundred yards of where we had parked the car to start with!

Next, my walking companion, who wishes for the purposes of this blog to be known as Fi-lion, took the lead as she knew the area well, and we meandered our way through the Test Nature Reserve, a marshy area with dedicated bird nesting sites and a board walk to stop your feet getting wet – Fi-lion tells me that cows live here too, and can often be up to their armpits (do cows have armpits?) in the mud because it is so deep.  Whilst I wouldn’t describe this section of the walk as beautiful, it was very peaceful, and might be prettier in sunshine. As we left the reserve, which did get a bit muddier towards the end, we turned round to see we had attracted the attention of some horses in a field running alongside the road.  Sadly we could not get close enough to say hello properly but these were the first of many equine friends we made along the way.

New friends
New friends – just ignore the fellow on the far right who is using the barbed wire to pick his teeth…

After a moment of confusion over whether we were supposed to take a turning that seemingly the directions had glossed over somewhat, we forged onwards and (happily having taken the right direction) turned into some woodland, walking in the direction of the motorway, which we could begin to hear more clearly as we approached.  This section was also a bit muddy, but we were by no means the first walkers to find ourselves a bit stuck in the mud, and a handy detour had been plotted out by those who had gone before us.

Not far along this path we encountered what must be the most pointless stile in the history of path building.  We were baffled as to why it had been put there…well, see for yourself in the photo below, but I don’t think anyone would use it…!

The most pointless stile we've ever seen!
The most pointless stile we’ve ever seen!

Nursling ChurchAfter following the path alongside the motorway for some distance, and then crossing underneath it at an underpass, we found ourselves on the Westerly outskirts of Nursling. A short way down Church Lane we found out why it was named as such, as there is a rather lovely old church, and Victorian era church hall here.  It was starting to drizzle and we didn’t want to delay our walk so we didn’t stay long to have a look around, but it was very peaceful.

Nursling Church

After passing the church we headed down a path lined either side with fields, with horses on the right and the most ridiculously adorable Shetland ponies on the left, one in each of two fields.  The first pony was very friendly, and trotted over (on tiny, tiny little legs) to say hello so we made a good fuss of him.  The second pony seemed at first to want to say hello, but it wasn’t long before we realised that he was more interested in the grass on the other side of the fence, as his own field looked rather bare and scrubby. In some cases the grass really is greener!

Our path then took us past a kennels and dog agility centre, and we were surprised to see two donkeys using the agility field.  Needless to say they were not using the see-saw to full effect!  The small white donkey was completely disinterested in us, but the larger brown donkey trotted over pretty smartish to see us; perhaps he thought we might have treats.

Leaving the donkeys behind the path we entered a section of woodland. Or at least it had recently been woodland, but as we wandered down the path it became clear that beyond the line of trees along the path itself, all of the trees had been cleared, leaving a field of tree stumps, wood chippings and discarded branches.  This was very sad to see, although I am sure it had been done for good reason.

Leaving the fallen trees behind we entered a stretch of farmland, and inevitably we were led across the farm yard itself.  It didn’t take us long to discover that this was a dairy farm, complete with calves, so of course we stopped to say hello.  I had never been licked or chewed on by a cow before, but I can tell you now, they have rough tongues!

Baby Cows Baby Cows

After the excitement of meeting the calves we stopped outside the farm for a brief jelly baby snack and then continued across two miles of fields which ran alongside the River Test.  There’s not much to say about fields so I’ll let you imagine this section in your head.

However, as we neared the end of this section we found that one part had come quite badly flooded. I’ve mentioned mud a few times in this and in other posts…well instead of mud, think small pond.  Some helpful walkers before us had tried fording the pond with branches and rocks but it must have flooded further since then, as there was no safe way across.  We took the plunge…literally…and walked through, the water becoming so deep that it went over the tops of our boots, resulting in a rather squishy final 2 miles, though we were rewarded with a lovely view of Broadlands in the distance.

View of Broadlands in the distance.
View of Broadlands in the distance.

Not long after sighting Broadlands we came to the end of the official route for this section, ending at Pauncefoot Hill (a cycling side note – this hill is a pain to cycle up but a beauty to cycle down!).  But this was not the end of our walk, as we still had to find a way home!  Turning East we put our best (least squelchy) foot forwards and headed into Romsey, passing more than a few of its many, many public houses, and crossing the River Test one final time, before reaching Romsey train station (and a very friendly station cat).

The River Test at Romsey
The River Test at Romsey

This was a very pleasant walk, and quite varied, moving inland from the sea through tidal estuary, urban sprawl, marshland, woodland and fields, and finally ending in the pretty market town of Romsey. This was also by far the least muddy walk, if we disregard the flooded section which hopefully will be fixed soon, and so I would definitely do this again in the winter months.  Total distance including an extra mile at the start from where we parked the car, and an extra mile to the train station was 11 miles, which we completed in 4 hours and 17 minutes, so we’re getting faster!

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