Combine a stroll through the infant Test Valley, famous for its specialised paper-making mills, with a visit to a working silk mill.
Distance 5.5 miles (8.8km)
Minimum time 2hrs
Ascent/gradient 90ft (30m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Riverside paths, field edge paths and road, 7 stiles
Landscape Town streets and farmland
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 144 Basingstoke, Alton & Whitchurch
Start/finish SU 463478
Dog friendliness Keep dogs until control at all times
Parking Car park next to Whitchurch Silk Mill on Winchester Street
Public toilets Whitchurch
1 Turn right along the road, then right again at 'The Weir'. Cross the stream and take the footpath right over the River Test and beside the river. Bear sharp left up to All Hallows Church and the main road. Turn right for the village centre. At the roundabout, take the road to the right of the White Hart, signed 'Basingstoke'. In ¼ mile (400m), turn right down 'The Green', the road narrowing to a track. Keep to the left-hand edge of water-meadows. Bear left through a hedge and follow the right-hand field edge, which soon swings left beside the River Test. Cross a stile and bear half-left across a field to a metalled drive. Turn right, cross the bridge above Bere Mill and keep left at a fork of footpaths to a stile.
2 Bear half-right across the field to a stile and keep ahead along the right-hand field boundary. Follow the path to the right of cottages and down a metalled track, following it left by the church, then right over the Test to the B3400. Turn left here for 200yds (183m) for the Watership Down pub, otherwise turn right, cross the river and turn right, opposite Laverstoke Mill, along Laverstoke Lane.
3 Pass the sports and social club, then take the second path right along a track. Climb steadily, then as it turns sharp right, bear left into a field and head half-left to a gap in the corner. Walk along the left-hand edge of two fields. Gradually descend to the stile in the corner, ignore the stile and path left, and proceed beneath a small hillside to a further stile. Walk along the right-hand field edge of two fields. Join a metalled footpath, pass the school gate and skirt the playing fields. Follow McFauld Way and turn right along a track, just before playing fields. Go through a gate and cross the road back into the car park.
First established as a borough and a market in the 13th century, due to its location at a crossing point on the River Test and a junction of two major routes, the small town of Whitchurch was at its most important during the coaching era when it was the first overnight stop out of London. Industry, in the form of mills, flourished in the town and along the Test, utilising the river to provide power before electricity. The Silk Mill, which straddles the Test, survives and is a splendid example of industrial architecture. Built in 1815 on the site of previous mills, it was used for hand-weaving wool before switching to silk around 1830.
You can visit the Silk Mill before or after your walk. But it is not the only mill you will see along the route. The iron-free water of the infant Test is ideal for paper making, notably for the manufacture of water-marked banknote paper.
Henri Portal, a Huguenot from France, first established his paper making business at Bere Mill in 1712. This attractive weatherboarded mill, although no longer in commercial use, has been carefully preserved and has changed little since Portal occupied it.
Portal moved to his new mill at Laverstoke in 1724 where he started making the watermarked paper for banknotes. Portals had and still have a monopoly in this specialised type of paper. The original contract with the Bank of England survives to this day. The business remained in Laverstoke until 1950, when it moved to a mill in nearby Overton which Portals had opened in 1922. The Georgian red-brick Mill House you can see dates from 1881 and much of the estate village was built by Portals for its workers. Look out for the unusual row of half-thatched cottages, built in 1939 in an Arts and Crafts style, and the fine, ochre-coloured brick building (Laverstoke House) set in parkland and built in 1796 for Harry Portal.
Visit the Silk Mill, now a working museum, and take a trip back in time to the days of water power and flying shuttles. See the restored Victorian machinery and weavers working the looms which turn the silk into luxury fabrics for theatrical costumes, historic houses and Britain's top barristers.
All Hallows Church in Whitchurch has some interesting memorials, particularly a fine brass of Richard Brooke and family (1603), complete with a rhyming epitaph, and a rare 9th-century Saxon gravestone with a carving of Christ. It is believed to be from the tomb of a woman named Frithburga, a nun from nearby Wherwell. The Latin inscription reads: 'Here lies the body Frithburga, buried in peace', and for generations bell-ringers used the stone to stand on before realising its significance. A classical reredos and a 15th-century wooden screen that forms the front of a family pew survive in the tiny rustic Church of St Nicholas at Freefolk.
Whitchurch has a good choice of pubs, notably the Red House for interesting food and the White Hart, a 14th-century coaching inn. Home-made lunches, tea and coffee are available in the Silk Mill Tearoom. The Watership Down Inn, just off the route at Freefolk offers bar snacks and decent ale.