We started this walk at Overton train station (which actually seems to be in Quidhampton!?). There was space there to park our cars and our friend could join us by train.
We immediately found our first landmark, right by the station – Overton Mill which produces the paper for banknotes! There is a long history of paper mills in this area. Henry Portal founded Portals Paper Mill on the River Test between Overton and Whitchurch, in 1712. He won the contract to make banknote paper for the Bank of England in 1724, by which time he also owned other mills in the area. Overton Mill was developed in 1922 and the Bank of England relocated a significant number of employees to the area during World War II.
We had a pleasant walk through farmland. The path was marked on our maps as Harrow Way. We were very pleased that just near here we saw what we believe might be a harrow. Harrows are used to break up the surface of the soil, and this looks like it would do that.
After walking up a lane we reached to Tidgrove where we stopped to have our lunch by a pond.
Tidgrove estate is a mixture of parkland, woodland and farmland with three lakes. We were joined by a four-legged friend on this walk, and having got Skye dog safely past the first bit of the lake, we let our guard down for a moment… and in an instant he’d leapt in for a swim!
During the medieval period Tidgrove was the site of a royal palace complex used by the norman kings for sporting pursuits and as a convenient stop over between their domains in England and France. In 1176 King Henry II apparently held a large party at Tidgrove, probably to celebrate the birth of a son. In 1212 King John, stayed here and paid a bounty of five silver shillings for the last wolf killed in Hampshire.
For the last quarter of a century the farmland has been used as a habitat improvement project to re-introduce and re-establish threatened species of both flora and fauna. The estate now provides suitable breeding habitats for a number of rare birds including Stone Curlews, Lapwings and most of the native varieties of Owl.
We joined the Wayfarer path and continued to North Oakley and then to Frith Wood. We wondered if this was the inspiration behind the Frith rabbit God in Richard Adam’s Watership Down? Here we saw lots of wild damsons – although we weren’t sure that’s what they were until we got home & looked it up, so we didn’t pick any!
Skye dog loved having so much open space to explore, but by the time we stopped for afternoon tea near Little Deane Wood, the poor boy had very sore paws from walking so far on the rough ground!
We enjoyed the humour of the farmer at Deane Down. Then, after crossing the railway we could see Oakley Hall, a Georgian Manor now a fancy hotel and events venue.
At Deane Park we left the Wayfarers Walk and headed towards Ashe. We didn’t go in the church, as we were walking during coronavirus restrictions, but we might need to come back another time. Apparently if you look near the rood screen, there is a tiny door you can open to find a little robin. When the church was being renovated in the 19th century, the little bird would come to share the workmen’s lunch. She then made a nest in the church and hatch her young. The workmen became so attached to the robin that they made the tiny cupboard and created a carving of their robin friend on her nest for passersby to discover all these years later.
Just beyond the church we came to the object of our walk – the source of the River Test.
The River Test will flow from here some 40 miles to Southampton where it will converge with the River Itchen to form Southampton Water. This chalk stream has one of the richest fauna and flora of any lowland river in England, with more than 100 species of flowering plant recorded along its banks and 232 invertebrate species in the river. It is also important for wetland birds, with kingfishers, grey wagtails and little grebes all breeding on it.
We then went over the ford (which actually had a footbridge!) and followed the lane via Polhampton back to Quidhampton and our cars.
This loop was about 11 miles