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!


Thank Goodness For Waterproof Boots!

So, after my last walk being rather wet and windy, and feeling like I really needed some fresh air, sunshine and quiet, I went on an extra training walk yesterday on my own, to take advantage of the lovely spring weather we’ve had this week. Being somewhat spontaneous I just picked a nearby train station and Googled walks originating from nearby, and fortunately I found a rather lovely 6 mile circular walk from Brockenhurst, New Forest.

I am so fortunate to have this National Park on my doorstep – I can get a train there within an hour and with minimal fuss – so it is a shame that I haven’t really done much walking there. After our misdirection last time I armed myself with a compass but sadly I don’t have an Ordnance Survey map of this area, so had to make do with an approximate map provided on the walk leaflet. Sadly, this was not enough to stop me getting lost four times…

It all started well; I headed out from Brockenhurst station as the leaflet directed, crossed the road and turned right.  What the leaflet did not indicate was which exit to take from the station, and clearly I had taken the wrong exit, having arrived on a different platform than the walk assumed.  I saw some pretty shops and a flash looking car, then realised this wasn’t right and turned around to head over the level crossed, to where I was supposed to start the walk from.  Getting lost strike one.

Once facing in the right direction I soon found the path I was looking for and headed uphill alongside a very pretty graveyard which seemed to have a lot of history. On the other side of the path was farmland, with some disinterested ponies munching on some hay. It was here I saw the first of three buzzards, this one was circling high above the field.

Very pretty church and graveyard of St Nicholas
Very pretty church and graveyard of St Nicholas

At the top of this path I found the church of St Nicholas, a very pretty little church with lots of interesting features. Cue getting lost again.  The instructions said bear round to the left with farm buildings to the right….and neglects to mention that this could apply to two of the paths you are presented with. I chose the left-most path…got all the way to the bottom of a very muddy, slippery (and manure-y) path only to realise I had ended up pretty much at the end of the walk (missing out all five miles of the middle). Getting lost strike two.

So, I ploughed my way back up the muddy hill and took the other path instead (I would have called this the middle path, personally), until I found a field of sheep.  Running alongside the field of sheep was one long 2-ft wide puddle path that someone had labelled “bridleway” and my instructions told me I was to go down it, so I did. I stopped every so often on a hillock of grass to rest, as it is pretty tiring pulling your feet out of mud every step, and looked round to see the sheep just staring at me. I am sure that if they could laugh they would have been.  It was here that I saw my second buzzard of the day, at first swooping down on the farmland on the other side of the path, and then taking up a perch in a tree on the far side of the field.

Even the sheep thought I was mad for taking this path.
Even the sheep thought I was mad for taking this path.

I finally reached the end of the puddle path and after negotiating one last patch of mud around the gate, a sign proclaimed that I had entered Roydon Woods.  “At last,” I said to myself, “dry land!”  And in hindsight it was probably the driest section I walked on all day that wasn’t tarmac, but I still found I could barely walk on the actual path, and instead had to weave in and out of the trees either side to avoid the swamps puddles.

Despite the damp conditions, Roydon Woods were very pretty and I really did enjoy this section of the walk. In summer there will be an abundance of butterflies and bird-life here and it will look fantastic with a coating of green.

The lovely New Forest in sunshine
The lovely New Forest in sunshine

The path eventually took me out of Roydon Woods and I realised I was now alongside the grounds of Roydon Manor.  I passed an old lodge house, updated with a new trampoline out the back, and just as I was looking around for my next landmark, something caught my eye in the field opposite the lodge.  Deer!

I have a soft spot for these shy creatures, so it’s always a treat to see them in the wild. I stopped, and even though they were some distance away I knew they had seen me because they had stopped too and were looking right at me.  I took a few pictures and waited for them to move….and waited….and waited.  I waited for so long I started to think I’d been had – maybe someone had some carvings put in the field or something, but they were just so still.  Then, suddenly, one of them flicked his ear and I realised they were real after all.  Two roe deer – at least one was male as I could see the antlers but the other one was at the wrong angle for me to see.

Not sure if you can see them, but there are two deer here.
Not sure if you can see them, but there are two deer here.

Pressing onwards I found my next turning and immediately became grateful for the waterproofing on my boots.  Oh boy, what a puddle!  No matter which way I looked at it there was no way round.  I tried opening the gate a bit wider and found it was as wide as it could go, so the only thing for it was to take the path of least resistance…I literally followed in the footsteps of whoever had gone before me. They were very squelchy footsteps, and I have to admit, my boots are not waterproof if the mud goes in over the top. I also managed to splash the mud all up the legs of my new jeans!  Note to self, wear old trousers in future. Addendum to note, you have no old trousers that fit. Oh rats.

The mud was worth it though, because as I pulled my shoes out of the last footprint I heard a rustle to my left. Tiptoeing over I saw a little tuft of fur poking out from under the leaf litter.  Whatever it was clearly wasn’t put off by me being there so I hung around, and was rewarded with my first ever sight of a real life MOLE!  So cute, but I won’t bother writing about it…I took a video!

Continuing along this path I checked my instructions to see what was next – “follow the path…across the Lymington River…” – so I assumed the river was not very wide at this point and I could jump across, or something.  I almost had a heart attack when I rounded the bend in the path and saw this….

As I rounded the corner it looked like I was about to take a swim.
As I rounded the corner it looked like I was about to take a swim.

The path literally went straight up to the waters edge and out the other side.  Fortunately as I took a few more steps forward I was able to see what you can just see at the side of this photo – a bridge! (I am noticing a theme of precarious and slippery bridges in my walks….)  So at least I didn’t have to swim or fly, but although it looks quite sturdy I think more than one of those boards is on it’s last legs.

Now I was in Newlands Copse, a very pleasant stretch of woodland which opens up to farmland on one side at the top of the hill. As I left the river behind I was startled by a slender figure hunched by the stream bed….until I started him and the graceful fellow unfurled his wings to show himself as a handsome heron, before flying overhead and away.  I also saw the first bumblebee of the year, which I believe was the Tree Bumblebee Bombus hypnorum – surely a sign of spring if ever there was one!

My directions next told me to take a left turn just before the farm. If only I had realised how literally to take that!  I came across the gate to the farm, and seeing the left turn and what looked like a fallen bridleway marker I naturally assumed this was my turning and headed off down an even muddier (I didn’t think it could be any muddier!) slope…until I ran out of path.  I checked my map and compared it to the trace on my workout tracking app and they seemed to match, as much as two inaccurate things can, but there was no path!  Fortunately some Forestry Commission men were working nearby, identified my plight and told me where I had gone wrong – apparently when it said turn left just before the farm, it meant literally right in front of the barn door! I had turned left too early. Getting lost strike three.

So I climbed back up the muddiest slope yet (it was like walking on room temperature butter), and back to the gate to the farm.  Unfortunately the gate was tied shut with rope.  Yes, tied shut. With rope.  In a puddle seven inches deep.

Just one of many very deep and wide puddles. Thank goodness for waterproof boots!
Just one of many very deep and wide puddles, not even as bad as the one that was tied shut! Thank goodness for waterproof boots!

Well, what was I supposed to do?  Aside from it being tied shut there was nothing to indicate that the right of way had been rescinded, and the chap down in the woods had told me to come this way, so I climbed the gate, landed in a puddle of manure, and continued on my way until I finally found the correct bridleway to turn down. Yuk!

This path was also very muddy…are you detecting a theme here?  But more worrying for me was that it ran along side a field of cattle (didn’t stop to check if they were bulls or cows), and the fence was squashed.  I mean actually squashed into the ground in the way you would expect if a herd of cattle pushed down on it in their hurry to leave the field.  This conjured up all sorts of images of me being mowed down by raging bulls, but happily it appeared that hay had just been provided and they were all happy munching on that. I guess I’m just not as tasty as hay.

After following this path for a while, jumping across the occasional stream, pulling threads on my jeans by squeezing past too many brambles, grabbing hold of barbed wire (luckily between the barbs) to steady myself when I fell in some mud, having a buzzard (third of the day) swoop so low overhead I could have touched it, and saying hello to some foraging piggies…


….I got to the other end and found that this gate was tied up with rope too.  Not just one bit of rope either…four. Four bits of rope. So I once again climbed the gate (feeling quite the daredevil adventurer now!) and found myself in a section of typical New Forest heathland, with the ubiquitous ponies dotted around.

The path from here was quite straight forward, it seemed, until I reached what the instructions described as a stream, but under current conditions was more like a river. I had to make a makeshift bridge out of fallen branches to cross, and then found that the other side of the stream was one large bog.  I don’t just mean the bank…the remaining mile of woodland was bog with a loose covering of crunchy leaf litter giving it the appearance of being dry.  This made for an interesting walk.

I have to admit, I gave up.  The path followed the course of a B road, so I walked along that instead, having realised that the section nearest the river would be impassable I felt this was safest.

Having rejoined the official route at Mill Lane I toddled onwards, looking for the next turning.  I thought I had found it but could find no way into the actual path, so I walked up the road a bit further. Then it was obvious I had missed it, so I walked back again, re-examined the path I had found before and dismissed it again, carried on to the start of Mill Lane, and then headed all the way back up it again because there was no sign of any turning.  Getting lost strike four.

Upon my third examination of the path I had tried twice before I realised I had in fact found the path the instructions told me to take, but someone had blocked it off…with BARBED WIRE!  Not just rope this time, barbed wire, and there was no way I was climbing that, so I just walked all the way back up Mill Lane. As it turns out, the path I was supposed to take just went parallel to Mill Lane anyway so it didn’t make any difference.

Having finished getting lost for the day, I crossed over the railway and after a short residential road was back on the road I had started on.  I was happy to discover a lovely pub called the Rose and Crown conveniently located at the end of the route, which was still serving food although it was nearly 4 pm.  Having had a late breakfast and no lunch I popped in for a light bite (fish finger butty £5.50, yes please!), and had the largest fish fingers I have ever seen!  I couldn’t even manage the whole thing. I definitely recommend the venue and the staff were very friendly.

The largest fish fingers I have ever seen!
The largest fish fingers I have ever seen!

This walk was lovely, if muddy, and it may seem like I’m spending a lot of this post moaning about the mud, because it really was muddy, but that is to be expected in the first week of March following weeks of heavy rainfall and recent storms.  That’s probably why those gates were tied shut, but having come so far I really had to continue.  With all my getting lost, the six miles turned into over nine miles, but despite the mud I did it faster than my last 9 mile walk so that’s a good sign. I will do this walk again, but in the summer, and once they’ve had time to fix the winter damage to the fences, bridges and paths. Also, next time I will take a stick so I can test how deep puddles are before I step in them!