Daphne's report with photos from Robert and Sarah B below
After avoiding train strikes and bus crashes most of the group met for lunch at the Red Lion PH, Overton, then decamped to the nearby beautiful Bombay Sapphire Gin Distillery at Laverstoke Mill. Those walking set off for a hot afternoon stroll on the Upper Test, notable for massive trout and a particularly numerous swan family (8 cygnets). Later at Bombay Distillery’s “Bus Café” most had tea while the leader had a blue “Italian Riviera” cocktail to calm her nerves, before we departed for our comfortable ensuite accommodation in the conference centre of Sparsholt Agricultural College. The College which covers many acres of rolling countryside near Winchester, has the usual farm livestock some exotics and a resident herd of Japanese Sika Deer. The entire group (13) arrived in time to queue for Thursday supper in “Bytes Restaurant” - the College Refectory. We also had an amusing breakfast each morning in Bytes, along with hoards of young vacation students from many countries. Hot food was doled out by cheerful staff and all the refectory tables were well supplied with jars of “Nutella” spread, but we had to forage for marmalade, toast, fruit, coffee and other provisions.
On Friday the weather was still hot so a figure of eight walk on the Test and Anton Rivers was organised from West Down. The route included crossing lush water-meadows, cooling streams with paddling children and wet dogs and a welcome coffee stop at the White Lion, Wherwell. Later we circled back arriving at amazing and very popular Mayfly Pub near West Down for lunch. Here we sat on tables in a beautiful setting beside the River Test, and although the pub was busy, excellent food was swiftly delivered. The afternoon walk took us south towards Longstock where we crossed the river by a line of (unused) wicker eel traps. Large trout and an actual eel were sighted in the crystal clear water which caused great excitement. That night the evening meal was taken at The Plough PH in Sparsholt Village. Sadly the much heralded “Blood Moon” for that night was blocked by clouds.
The next day, Saturday, the weather was bright and breezy and walking cooler. We met in Farley Mount Country Park on Pitt Downs near a large pyramidal monument to a local squire’s lucky horse. After walking down hill to King’s Somborne, where John of Gaunt had his palace in the 14th century, we moved on to his (more recent) pub at Horsebridge. Here over-dressed people were massing for a nearby wedding but despite the huge number of guests present the landlord produced massive sandwiches for us, all in record time –amazing. Then after a brief stroll along the river, we returned (uphill) on part of the Clarendon Way back to Fairly Mount. The meal that evening was at the excellent White Hart PH in the attractive town of Stockbridge - at which point it began to rain.
After breakfast on Sunday with the rain now falling steadily, we handed in our key cards and visitor passes and most departed for home. The few remaining diehards met at Selbourne, near Alton. Here the advertised walk was abandoned in favour of a cultural visit to the 18th-century naturalist’s Gilbert White’s House, followed by Sunday lunch at the low beamed Selbourne Arms.
Sorry there were no naked hikers this time, otherwise I think it went well – no one complained (except one about some snoring - not me!) I am now in the planning stages for next year – another strange weekend to a random British destination with interesting group accommodation. So watch this space ……………………..Daphne