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King's Somborne - A Palace by the Test

Enjoy the Test Valley and the fine downland scenery around King's Somborne, once the haunt of Norman kings.

Distance 3 miles (4.8km)

Minimum time 1hr 15min

Ascent/gradient 138ft (42m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Former railway track, field paths, tracks and road, 3 stiles

Landscape River valley, open farmland and downland

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

Start/finish SU 345305

Dog friendliness Off lead along the Test Way, otherwise keep under control

Parking Test Way car park at Horsebridge, opposite John of Gaunt

Public toilets None on route

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1 Leave the car park and turn left, opposite the John of Gaunt. Cross the River Test and turn right along the Test Way, dropping down onto the old railway line. In ¾ mile (1.2km), pass beside a gate and turn right along the Clarendon Way.

2 Climb out of the valley, the track becoming metalled at the top. Where a track leads off right, keep straight ahead, then just before a junction of lanes, turn right with a waymarker down the left-hand edge of a field towards King's Somborne.

3 Turn right along the lane, then right again at the A3057 into the village. Turn left along Church Road opposite the Crown Inn. Just beyond the churchyard wall, take the narrow footpath right alongside the churchyard.

4 Go through a gate and enter rough grassland. This is where John of Gaunt's palace is supposed to have existed. Cross to a further gate and enter a playing field. Bear diagonally left across the field to
the top left-hand corner and join a grassy path leading to a close of houses. Turn right then, in a few paces, bear off left along a narrow fenced path between properties to the main road.

5 Cross straight over and go through a gate into pasture. Take footpath No 7 half-right across the field to its boundary. Keep to the path that leads you through gardens, via small gates, to a field.

6 Continue ahead towards a house and shortly cross the drive in front of it. Maintain direction through further pasture to reach a stile and lane in Horsebridge. Turn right, then right again at the junction and turn left back into the Test Way car park.

The tiny hamlet of Horsebridge is situated beside the River Test at the exact point where the original Roman road from Winchester to Old Sarum crossed the river. It is believed the Normans revived the old road to provide easy access from a hunting lodge, at Clarendon in Wiltshire, to a palace that probably existed at King's Somborne, and the huge deer park that occupied land between the village and the Test. The close proximity of the former deer park to Horsebridge is remembered in the name of the pub, the John of Gaunt, who acquired the hunting ground after his marriage to Blanche of Lancaster in 1359.

King's Somborne takes its name from where the 'som' (swine) drank at or crossed the 'borne' (stream), with the royal connection dating back at least to Saxon times. In the Domesday Survey of 1086 the manor was held by the crown. Tradition has it that John of Gaunt (1340-99), the English prince, fourth son of Edward III and father of Henry IV, had his palace behind the church in King's Somborne. Various hollows and humps can be seen as you cross the field, indicating the remains of a building, but excavations have only revealed evidence of an Anglo-Saxon settlement. It is known that a large manor house existed here in 1591. The term 'John of Gaunt's Palace' is a more recent connotation based on the fact that the manor of King's Somborne was inherited by his wife in 1362. The Deer Park was created by William Briwere before 1200 and you can see parts of the 14th-century enclosing banks and yew trees as you leave the Test Valley and begin ascending on the Clarendon Way, and banks up to 10ft (3m) can be seen alongside the Horsebridge road.

As you stroll through the village you should also spy the village school, situated next to the church. It was founded in 1842 by Revd Richard Dawes and built from knapped flints salvaged from the nearby ruins of the manor house. Dawes was an educational innovator and his progressive teaching methods attracted great interest. Prime Minister, Lord Russell and Florence Nightingale were among the early visitors. According to Dawes, its construction was inspired by the need to raise moral standards of those who lived here, as he found the parish run down and demoralised when he moved to the village in 1837.

Your route through the Test Valley follows the disused Test Valley Railway, or the 'Sprat and Winkle line' as it was affectionately known. The line was built in 1865, replacing the canal that ran between Redbridge and Andover, but closed during the Beeching era in 1964. The Test Way, a long distance path that traverses Hampshire from Inkpen Beacon in the north to Totton in the south, follows it for 10 miles (16km) from Lower Brook to Fullerton.

While youre there

Instead of turning right along the Test Way from Horsebridge, turn left and follow it for 150yds (137m) to pass Horsebridge Station. Although private, you have a good view of this beautifully preserved station, complete with waiting room, parcel office, signal box, platform and an L&SWR third-class carriage. The atmosphere of bygone steam days can be relived in this nostalgic scene.

Where to eat and drink

The thatched Crown Inn in King's Somborne offers a homely atmosphere and good bar meals. Expect a warm welcome and wholesome, home-made food at the John of Gaunt, close to the Test Way at Horsebridge and popular with walkers.

What to look for

In the striking Church of St Peter and St Paul in King's Somborne you can see one of Hampshire's oldest monuments, that of a priest, William Bristowe who was vicar here between 1305 and 1327. On the chancel floor you should note two of England's oldest brasses, dated around 1380, which are thought to be of two of John of Gaunt's stewards. The war memorial in front of the church was designed by the famous architect Edwin Lutyens, who also designed Marsh Court, an elegant mansion overlooking the Test Valley near Stockbridge.

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