19th May 2019
Four Highlights of the Test Valley and East Hampshire
The beautiful Test Valley in Hampshire is sprinkled with characterful villages and home to some unusual and interesting attractions.
The River Test and its many tributaries wind their way through the lovely landscapes of the Test Valley in the very English county of Hampshire. Here narrow lanes wind their way through an agricultural countryside and well-marked trails skirt the fields. My visit to this area and East Hampshire was enhanced by an exploration of some unusual attractions involving hawks, chalk streams, a natural historian and sparkling wine.
Fishing Hut on the River Test in Hampshire
The Hawk Conservancy in the Test Valley
I thoroughly enjoyed some unique experiences while visiting the Hawk Conservancy Trust at Weyhill. This bird park and conservation charity looks after birds of prey from all over the world and visitors can wander at will among the enclosures. I arrived just before it was time to feed the vultures. Not very pretty birds but I was to discover, through watching their keeper Ryan inter-acting with them, full of character. It came as a great surprise to learn that vultures are fast becoming an endangered species as their numbers are being dramatically reduced by poachers who put poison in carcases to kill these birds for their body parts. As vultures are vital to the whole eco-system their loss will result in disastrous consequences.
Vulture Coming in to Land at the Hawk Conservancy Trust in the Test Valley
I moved on from the vultures to the first flying display of the day, Wings of Africa, in the Savannah. The display started with different birds flying above the spectator area to their handlers positioned on each side. There was much amusement when one of the vultures decided to take his place amongst the audience but was quickly called to order by Ryan. We were all fascinated by Angola, the Secretary Bird, who rose quickly to the challenge of dealing with a snake (a rubber snake) by furiously stamping on it.
Secretary Bird at the Hawk Conservancy in the Test Valley
A dramatic finale to this display involved a bush fire and the sudden appearance of several different birds flying overhead including vultures, storks and ibis. A cheeky meerkats was perched on a rock keeping an eye on the proceedings. Deep, throbbing African music accompanied this incredible display.
Meerkat at the Hawk Conservancy Trust in the Test Valley
Another highlight was my VIP encounter with the burrowing owls. These small owls, with very long legs do actually live in burrows. They are very sociable birds and were happy to fly onto my hands and chat away to me. It was an amazing experience and one of many available here.
Burrowing Owls at the Hawk Conservancy Trust in the Test Valley
Fly Fishing in the Test Valley
Fishing is one of the most popular pastimes in England but, apart from a brief flirtation on the banks of the River Thames, not one have ever indulged in. However, being in an area famous for its fly fishing I was curious enough to have a go and headed for The Mill in Never Wallop home to Fishing Breaks a company that offers many diverse activities related to fishing. Simon Cooper, an engaging character and expert on chalk streams, was my instructor. Soon after I arrived we set off for a walk along the banks of some narrow chalk streams nearby. Simon has written a book, the Life of a Chalk Stream, about these rare waters that flow through very few places in the world. They are very popular for fly fishing as they are a favourite habitat for trout. On our walk we took a short diversion to visit the church of St Andrew. This Grade 1 listed building features a painting depicting the fate of those who dared to work on a Sunday – their own tools would attack them.
Church of St Andrews in Nether Wallop in the Test Valley
Simon was a great instructor and I was soon happily casting a line – onto the grass of the lawn. I then chose my fly from a large selection off different kinds representing the many species of flying insects the hover over streams and rivers. Apart from hooking Simon once and my own jacket once (the wearing of sunglasses is compulsory) I actually managed to catch two rainbow trout. Both were returned to the water after Simon had removed the barbless hook. Much as I enjoyed the experience I was not hooked but have enjoyed several long walks beside some very pretty chalk streams.
The Grounds of the Mill at Nether Wallop in the Test Valley
Gilbert White’s House in East Hampshire
As I arrived in Selbourne with time to spare before Gilbert White’s House opened I walked up the zig zag path to Selbourne Common on top of the hill that overlooks the village. This path was created by Gilbert White himself when he lived here. It was a very pleasant walk to the top. Feeling adventurous I decided to take the longer path back to the car park where I had started my walk. I took the wrong path and emerged at the far end of the village but walking back was a good opportunity to enjoy the lovely cottages in Selbourne.
Cottage in Selbourne in the Test Valley
The house where he moved to as an eight-year-old boy in 1728 (and stayed there until he died in 1793) has been extended several times since then. The original part of the house has been restored as it would have been when the Reverend Gilbert White lived there. Although he had two small livings Gilbert White chose to live in Selbourne. Gilbert White was also a natural history expert whose meticulous diaries and data recording of his natural surroundings provided invaluable data for scientists of the future. His lifelong investigation of his surrounds resulted in his world-famous book The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne. Exhibits in the house tell the story of Gilbert White within the walls of his family home and in his unique eighteenth century garden.
Gilbert White’s House at Selbourne in the Test Valley
Gilbert White was inspired by garden designers such as William Kent to establish a garden in the spirit of the English landscape movement by creating a series of landscapes where nature could be admired from viewpoints marked by urns, obelisks and statues. Some of these are still there today including the sun dial on the Ha-ha.
Sundail on the HaHa in the Garden of Gilbert White’s House in the Test Valley
It was thanks to the generosity of Robert Washington Oates that Gilbert White’s house is open to the public. He provided the money to buy the house and convert it into a museum on the condition it would also be used to house the Oates Collection and his large collection of nature books. Exhibits in the Oates Collection focus on the lives and adventures of two members of the Oates Family who were pioneers and explorers of the natural world. Captain Lawrence Oates is best remembered as the brave Antarctic hero who was chosen to join the Scott Antarctic Expedition1910-12
Exhibit in the Oates Collection at the Gilbert White House in Selbourne in the Test Valley
Hattingley Valley Vineyard in East Hampshire
As the chalk terrain of the Test Valley is ideal for growing grapes that make a good sparkling wine I visited a vineyard that is renowned for its sparkling wines. Hattingley Valley Vineyard has won many awards for its sparkling wines and in particular its sparkling rosé wine.
Winning Wines at Hattingley Valley Vineyard in the Test Valley
The vineyard is buried deep in the countryside and it is bit scary driving down the narrow lanes as the locals speed down the middle of the road towards you. But it is all part of the experience of exploring this area and it is amazing how quickly you get used to it and enjoy the novelty of it all. My tour of the production area was very interesting. I was surprised that most of the classical method (fermenting the wine in the bottle) is now mechanised. But the grapes are still picked by hand and experienced teams of pickers are employed to do this to minimise bruising of the fruit. My tour concluded in the special tasting room where I tried their two most successful sparkling wines. I was impressed.
Tasting Room at Hattingley Valley Vineyard in the Test Valley
Where to Stay in the Test Valley
The Apple Rooms at Houghton Lodge Gardens offer well-appointed rooms in an unusual setting. Six self-catering units, each named for a different apple, have been fashioned out of old cow byres. This unit include a good sized bedroom, a bathroom, kitchenette and the luxury of lounging in a slipper bath while watching television.
The Cox’s Orange Pippin Room at Houghton Lodge near Stockbridge in the Test Valley
These rooms are an extension to Houghton Lodge a Grade 2 listed fishing lodge on the Test River. It was very pleasant after a long day out to wander down to the river and spend some time watching the swans diving for their evening meal.
The River Test at Houghton Lodge in the Test Valley