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A Testing Trail from Stockbridge

Tales of fish, fillies and forts accompany you on this invigorating downland walk to Danebury Ring from the River Test's fishing capital.

Distance 7 miles (11.3km)

Minimum time 3hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 492ft (150m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Wide byways, field paths and railway track, 4 stiles

Landscape Open downland and river valley

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 131 Romsey, Andover & Test Valley

Start/finish SU 355351

Dog friendliness Can run free on Danebury Hill (prohibited in hill fort area)

Parking Along Stockbridge High Street

Public toilets Stockbridge and Danebury Hill

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1 Walk west along the main street (A30), crossing the numerous braided streams of the River Test. Pass Carbery Guest House and soon bear off to the left, going uphill along Roman Road. Keep ahead at the end of the road, walking along the narrow defined path that climbs Meon Hill.

2 Just before reaching Houghton Down Farm on your left, look out for a stile in the hedge on your right. Cross this and walk along the right-hand edge of a small plantation to a stile. Cross the A30 (which can be busy) and stile opposite, then walk along the right-hand edge of a large field, enjoying open downland views.

3 Ignore the stile on the right and keep to the main path, eventually bearing left with the field edge to a grassy track leading to a gate and stile. Turn immediately right along a wide, hedged track and follow this for ¾ mile (1.2km) to a road junction. To visit Danebury Hill Fort, turn left along the road for 200yds (183m), then left again along the drive to the car park and access to Danebury Hill.

4 Retrace your steps back to the road junction you passed before Danebury Hill and take the byway to the left beneath a height barrier. Remain on this track as it descends back into the Test Valley. Eventually it becomes metalled as it enters the village of Longstock.

5 At the T-junction by the church turn left, then right beside the Peat Spade pub, along 'The Bunny'. Cross the numerous streams that make up the River Test, notably one with a thatched fishing hut and replica metal eel traps.

6 Just before crossing a bridge over the disused Test Valley railway, and reaching the A3057, take the narrow footpath on the right. Walk along the old railway trackbed (here forming a part of the Test Way) for about a mile (1.6km) to the A3057. Taking great care, turn right, walking along the roadside for 100yds (91m) to the roundabout, then follow the grassy verge to the next roundabout by the White Hart Inn. Turn right here to walk back into the Stockbridge.

Present-day Stockbridge has developed from a frontier stronghold, built across the Test valley by the Saxons to defend Wessex from marauding Danes, and a prosperous market town attracting Welsh sheep drovers en route to the great markets in Surrey and Kent, to become Hampshire's undisputed 'fishing capital'.

The clean waters of the River Test - one of England's finest chalk streams - are renowned for their trout fishing. On your journey down the long main street you will cross at least six branches of the Test and a short diversion onto Common Marsh will give you rare access to the river bank. Much of the riverbank in this area is reserved exclusively for wealthy fishing syndicates. The imposing 17th-century Grosvenor Hotel is the headquarters of the oldest and most select fishing club in the world, the Houghton Club, founded in 1822. Membership is limited to 24 and the club rigorously controls the fishing of the Test. The room above the distinctive overhanging porch, built so that coach travellers could alight under cover, is where all the club's records have been kept since the club's inception.

Towards the end of your walk, as you cross the valley at Longstock, you will see one of the distinctive, thatched fishing huts that are dotted along the banks of the river. Beside the hut, on a bridge across the river, you will notice some iron traps. Originally made from hazel they were lowered into the river to catch eels. Behind the hut and hidden in the reeds, are the remains of a 'Danish Dock', built to harbour flat-bottomed longboats. These may well have belonged to King Canute, who is known to have sailed up the Test and destroyed Romsey.

Before fishing for sport dominated village life, Stockbridge maintained its importance and wealth by becoming a famous horse racing centre during the 19th century. Between 1753 and 1898 a racecourse existed high on the downs above the village and was a venue for important meetings in the racing calendar, on a par with Ascot and Goodwood. A frequent visitor was the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII), who rented two properties in the village, one for himself and the other for Lillie Langtry. At its peak the area had no less than nine racing stables. You can still see the old, ivy-covered stadium across the field below Chattis Hill as you make your way towards Danebury Hill.

Your long and gradual climb out of the Test Valley culminates at an important Iron Age hill fort on top of Danebury Hill. The ancient earthwork covers an area of 13 acres (7.3ha) and is a magnificent sight, with a double bank and ditch and an inner rampart up to 16ft (5m) high. It was occupied by the Atrebates, a Celtic people, from about 550 bc to 100 bc and excavations have revealed a detailed picture of Iron Age society. Discoveries include a pattern of streets, circular houses, shrines and storage pits, and over 100,000 pieces of pottery. You can see many of the best finds in the Iron Age Museum in Andover. Equally rewarding are the far-reaching views across Hampshire and into Wiltshire from its summit, a vista that can take in six other hill forts on a clear day.

While you're there

Take the path by the side of Lillies Tea Room to access the 200 acres (81ha) known as Common Marsh. It was granted to the lords of the manor by charter some 900 years ago, allowing residents of Stockbridge to use it to graze their cattle - up to six beasts each. Now owned by the National Trust, it is one of the few places along the length of the Test that you can actually walk on the bank of the trout-filled river. Just to the south of Stockbridge you'll find Houghton Lodge Gardens overlooking the tranquil beauty of the River Test. Spacious lawns with fine trees surround the 18th-century fishing lodge and sweep down to the river.

What to look for

A short distance along the Houghton road you will find the thatched Drovers' House. Dating from the 12th century, it was formerly an inn and provided lodgings for sheep drovers on their way from Wales to fairs in South East England. The inscription in Welsh on its façade reads 'seasoned hay, delicious pastures, good beer, comfortable beds'. If you have time to spare in Stockbridge, locate the old churchyard at the east end of the High Street and search for the gravestone of John Bucket. He was a local landlord and parliamentary candidate investigated for bribing voters at the 1790 elections. His epitaph is well worth a read.

Where to eat and drink

There's a good range of pubs in Stockbridge, notably the White Hart and the Greyhound (both open all day), and Lillies Tea Room for coffee, light lunches and afternoon tea. Imaginative pub food can be enjoyed at the Peat Spade in Longstock (closed Sunday evening/all Monday), so time your walk accordingly.

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