Stockbridge to Houghton

Posted on May 19, 2016

The latest trek on my dog walks of Hampshire took me from the National Trust car park in Stockbridge (called The Lion’s Den)  then along the Test Way, before joining the Clarendon Way and meandering on to the pretty village of Houghton.

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So far, the few parts of the Test Way I have completed have all been wooded lanes with only fleeting glimpses of the famous old river; however, the consolation is that the trees at this time of year are alive with spring birds in full song.

Today, as I marched along, I saw several goldcrests, a nuthatch, a treecreeper, a wren and a green woodpecker, which I suppose, is a candid admission that I am something of a twitcher. However, I would like to add that I do not wear nylon slacks or carry a Tupperware box of lemon curd sandwiches…at least not yet anyway.

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This particular walk along Test Way seemed to take some time as it all looked the same and it was quite a while before I encountered anyone else, meaning I was a little confused as to how far I may have travelled. Eventually, I did meet a man with several dogs of a similar make to mine and I asked him how far it was to the Clarendon Way.

“Oh not far at all, about five minutes straight ahead and you will see the railway crossing…can’t miss it!”

About fifteen minutes later, I arrived at a kind of crossing I suppose but not in my wildest imagination did it look like a railway crossing, so I wasn’t sure quite what to do. Then, out of nowhere, came a dead ringer for Jeremy Corbyn, on a mountain bike.

Is this where the old railway line is?” I said.

“It is an old railway line.” he replied with an air of disdain.

“What is?”

“The path you are walking on!”

It turns out that this part of the Test Way is in fact a disused railway line, which annoyed me as I felt I should have known this. However, he at least resisted the temptation to call me a cretin and pointed me in the direction of Houghton along a gravel track through open meadows rather than woods and at last, a glance of the River Test that was full of the joys of spring.

There are three bridges over the river as you approach Houghton, all of them charming and easily accessible for my dog to dive in, quench his first and cool down. He did with rather flamboyant gusto which seemed, rather surprisingly, heartily amusing to a nearby fly fisherman whom I had already assumed, would be understandably furious.

“Eeees got more chance catching one than me…came down ‘ere with Mayfly, found out they were only taking Daddy Longlegs all day yesterday.”

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I feigned knowledge and tutted as if to say “typical” and went on my way before I got myself in more trouble, arriving in Houghton about ten minutes later. My plan was to walk from Houghton to Stockbridge along the High Street and back to my car.

This was partly so I could admire Jim Davidson’s palatial home by the river, staring in wonderment at how you could possibly earn so much money by being an unfunny racist with a black friend who loves being called Chalky.

However, my progress was halted by a Hampshire man from yesteryear, complete with checked shirt, braces and a face like a toffee apple.

“It’s road all the way boy, it’s boring and it’s dangerous…what you could do is go up the hill, through the meadows, back across the bridleway, through another meadow and that will take you to the back of Stockbridge School.”

“How far is that?”

“Six mile.”

Fucking hell, I was walking my dog, not training for a biathlon, so it left me no alternative to go back on the same route. On the way back I met the man who I saw with the dogs earlier and he informed me that for a change of scenery, instead of turning left and back on to Test Way, I could carry on up a steep hill and advance back down to the path that way.

Stupidly, I took him on his word and ended up trespassing into a Tarmac production site, resulting in some bloke furiously running out of a cabin and shouting…”OY…OYYY…WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU ARE GOING?”

I don’t know what he thought I was going to do (fill my pockets with tarmac perhaps?) but he wasn’t happy, so I ended up traipsing back down to the bottom of the hill and starting again. Why that guy sent me there, I don’t know? Maybe he did it for the sheer crack of it, or perhaps he hadn’t been up that way for years and was oblivious of the ‘KEEP OUT’ signs?

On the way back a lady stopped me and asked if she was heading in the right direction to Houghton.

“Yes, you are not far now, carry along the railway line and you will see where it crosses.”

“Railway line?”

“Yes that’s right; this is a disused railway line, didn’t you know!” I said, with an air of disdain that was laced with childish satisfaction.

Oh by the way, the chap with the toffee apple face told me that where I was parked was called the Lion’s Den because in Victorian times a lion escaped from the circus and that is where it was found.

Yet another essential piece of history for the bulging part of my brain marked ‘Useless Information Department.’


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