A river runs through it: Highlights of the Test Valley, Hampshire, UK


The Test Valley rises and dips between the North Wessex Downs and Southampton Docks. At its spine, The River Test carves a 40 mile journey from the sleepy villages where Jane Austen lived and worked to the tidal waters of the Solent. Here are some of our favourite spots on the river to discover whether you’re visiting for the day or planning a longer break:

Stay at the Greyhound on the Test

This 16th Century pub with bedrooms is a firm favourite with locals and weekenders. In the winter, low beams, hundreds of flickering candles and roaring fireplaces provide a quintessential cosy pub vibe. In warmer weather tables are set up in the pretty riverside gardens for guests to relax and watch river life pass by. Each of the ten bedrooms is designed with bundles of country cottage charm and embellished with all the little luxuries from roll top baths to impossibly comfortable beds (really, it’s like sleeping in clouds). The Greyhound has perfected the country pub retreat and its fantastic location at the top of Stockbridge High Street makes it a near perfect base from which to explore.

Insider tip: We love the cottage rooms. Book Leet Three, which has a roll top bath, separate shower and a huge king sized bed.

Shop in Stockbridge

Stockbridge High Street was once a hustle-bustle of Drovers moving livestock from one end of the West Country to the other. Today its local charm is preserved by some of the most creative independent shops in Hampshire. We love The Owl and the Pussycat for quirky clothes, Bookmark for its shelves of literary gems, Woodfire for homemade pizza (look out for the original balcony where ladies once ruffled their petticoats to attract passing Drovers below), Thyme and Tides for deli nibbles and Broughton Crafts for traditional toys and knick-knacks. If you’re travelling with someone who isn’t keen on shopping, send them on a mission to find the ten poems by famous poets who loved this town inscribed in plaques along the High Street.

Insider tip: If you want to feed the trout in the river that runs down the High Street ask the staff in Orvis for a pack of fish food (much better for the fish than bread and crisps).

Fly fishing on the River Test

Anyone serious about fly fishing will have a day on the River Test at the very top of their wish list. This is without a doubt one of the most famous chalk streams in the world and arguably the birthplace of fly fishing. If you’re still waiting for membership to the famous Houghton Club, which owns a good portion of these riverbanks (most people wait a lifetime), there are some truly talented local fishing guides who know these waters like the back of their hands. Your private guide will take you to the very best spots for world-class fly fishing and tie it in with a luxury picnic by the river. Booking in advance is essential, particularly in the Mayfly season.

Insider tip: We love the independent fishing shop, The Rod Box. The team has an impressive knowledge of which fly will suit which stretch of river on what day at what hour.

Walk The Test Way

The Test Way is just under 45 miles from Inkpen to Eling. The trail follows the river through exquisite Hampshire countryside from lost hill forts to ancient woodlands and over grassy hilltops with jaw-dropping views that stretch as far as Southampton. The whole walk in one go isn’t for everyone but on almost any section you’ll discover peaceful, bucolic countryside perfect for a good ramble and maps along the way to guide you.

Insider tip: Use the Mayfly pub just outside Chilbolton as a stopping point to recharge with a drink beside the river.

History at the Army Flying Museum

Not technically on the river but history boffins won’t want to miss this one. The Army Aviation Centre at Middle Wallop opened in 1940 and remains one of the country’s most elite training grounds for Army Air Corps. Anyone interested in World War II history will find this a fascinating visit with over 40 original aircraft housed in its hangers. The archives hold a comprehensive collection of documents and papers including poignant letters written by pilots away from home. The museum has a team of highly knowledgeable private guides who will bring the experience to life for inquisitive minds of all ages.

Insider tip: If you’re planning a visit in the summer look out for the Wallop Wheels and Wings event in July; you may even get a chance to ride in an apache helicopter with a birds eye view over Salisbury Plain.

Picnic on the Mottisfont Estate

This National Trust property is enchanting at any time of year. The Priory was founded in 1201 and there is a palpable sense of history within these old walls. The River Test runs through these beautifully landscaped gardens with endless walking trails to explore. Or simply lay down a rug in the shade of an ancient tree and watch the world go by.

Insider tip: If you’re looking for a really special venue for a private event, this is a great option for a truly memorable evening.

Eat at The Hawk in Amport

This pub comes into its own in the winter when log fires and twinkly lights beckon you to tuck in and forget the icy air outside. In the summer the terrace and gardens sweep down to a babbling brook and sheep fields beyond. Behind the bar you’ll find an impressive selection of local ales and one of the most extensive gin menus around. The traditional menu is seasonal, thoughtfully prepared and delicious without exception.

Insider tip: If you’re a group of eight or more book the oak panelled private dining room at the back of the pub.

Visit Romsey Abbey

Romsey was once a sleepy Saxon village surrounded by not much other than marshlands and the fringes of the New Forest. The Abbey traces its origins all the way back to 907 AD. It became a place of education for the daughters of Kings and noble families bringing notoriety and fortune. The original site of the Abbey has crumbled and risen many times over centuries but today it stands strong at the heart of this lively market town. A short walk from the town centre, is the magnificent former home of Prime Minister Palmerston and, more recently, Earl Mountbatten. Broadlands is one of the finest private estates in the country and home to exceptional fly fishing and shooting in the parklands designed by Capability Brown.

Insider tip: If you’re planning a longer stay there are some superb private houses to hire on the outskirts of town with 360° views of the New Forest.

Jenny Wilkinson is the Founder of The Insider Travel. The Insider Travel designs bespoke small group journeys and retreats in the United Kingdom, Europe, Asia and Latin America.

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Comments (4)

  1. Ted says:

    There is also a wonderfully historic pub in the heart of Stockbridge, well there was the last time I visited, which had a fantastic menu specialising in fish. Worth checking out to see if it is still there.

  2. Richie Bennett says:

    This really is an under rated part of the U.K. Most people drive down the M3 or the A34 ignoring the pretty villages they are racing past. I expect that’s part of the charm of the area, it’s very quiet.

  3. Carolyn says:

    For those of us with aged knees this is easy walking country too. Gentle easy-going strolls and never too far away from the next pub to replenish energy and liquid levels. One of my favourite parts of England.

  4. Mina Fenton says:

    Ah, the visuals in this village are pretty amazing. I love how quintessentially countryside everything seems to be. It’s like watching a movie. It makes me picture modern and rustic farmhouses with cozy fireside seating, lots of bread and cheese, ham, and wine. I could just imagine a quiet holiday simply enjoying the slow pace, the scenery, and the breeze.

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