An unseasonal gale blew through our part of the country last Friday and Saturday making outdoor activities a bit hazardous. Calm returned on Sunday, so after Church we whizzed home to make a picnic before driving the twelve or so miles to the little town of Whitchurch, Hampshire. Once there we donned our walking boots and set off on the 5.5 mile Mill Trail.
The trail forms a circular route within the gentle valley of the River Test. The underlying rock in this area is a deep, deep bed of white chalk. Rain water soaks into the chalk which acts as an aquifer (storing and transmitting ground water). Pressure brings the filtered, crystal clear water back to the surface where it flows fast and shallow over flinty gravel. The River Test rises from one of these aquifers just a few miles east of where we began our walk. Following the valley the river provides a natural habitat that is of national and international importance (apparently there are only 200 chalk streams in the world, most are in the UK the rest in France). The upper end of the Test is home to a large population of Trout. They are fascinating to watch, tails swishing as they face upstream seeking to maintain their position in the water.
The Mill Trail gives sight of four mills within 2½ miles of each other. We parked the car at Whitchurch Silk Mill
(noting the coffee shop was open!) and set off through the lower part of the village. Very quickly we were standing on a sheltered bridge listening to the narrowed river rushing through the mill race under Town Mill.
We then walked through fields and up and along the valley to the village of Laverstoke. The Domesday Book of 1086 records the existence of two mills in Laverstoke. The Mill now standing in the village was originally built as a corn mill. In the early 1700’s it was bought by Henry Portal who had it converted to a paper mill. The mill gained the contract to make paper for British bank notes (the modern Portals paper mill in nearby Overton still fulfils this contract). When Portals vacated Laverstoke Mill it was acquired by the Bombay Sapphire Gin Company and is now their distillery. It attracts a lot of visitors keen to be taken on the guided tour and try out the product!
A short distance away is the tiny village/hamlet of Freefolk. We took a slight diversion to visit the Church of St Nicolas.
What a gem! This small – but perfectly formed – place of worship bears the date 1707 over it’s door but much of it’s interior dates earlier than this. There is a faded wall painting and many of the timbers show evidence of coloured paints. Outside, the tidy little yard contains a comfortable wooden bench – an ideal place for a picnic 🙂
Back on the Mill Trail we next stopped to see the river running shallow and wide towards Bere Mill. This Mill was Henry Portals original paper mill, before it reached full capacity prompting his purchase of the Mill at Laverstoke.
From Bere Mill it wasn’t long before the route brought us back past Town Mill to the Silk Mill. Afternoon tea and a slice of cake were definitely in order! Sitting out in the sunshine surrounded by the waters of the River Test was a peaceful way to finish the Mill Trail and rest our feet.