Friday, 31 July 2015

Test Way from Hurstbourne Tarrant to Vernham Dean

After a cooler and wetter interlude another opportunity to explore the countryside. This was 'once in a blue moon' - perhaps according to how you define it, as today was the second full moon in the month. I explored my next section of the Test Way that runs south from Inkpen to Southampton. I started off at the delightful village of Hurstbourne Tarrant which is on the currently dried up course of the River Swift. The ‘Test Way’ is a misleading name for this section as it follows the River Swift to Hurstbourne Priors, I explored the actual source of the River Test near Deane last year. Here is a map of the 14 mile walk:

The church of St. Peter had the additional delight of the organist practising for the Sunday service.

Hurstbourne Tarrant, church

Many features remain of the 13th century, I liked the ‘naive’ boss at the base of an arch in the nave. Quite appropriately Jane Austen was acquainted with the daughters of the vicar here in 1800.

Hurstbourne Tarrant,church

The Test Way runs through the village, I followed it north, where it climbs up East away from the valley. There were many arable weeds and lots of gatekeeper and small skipper butterflies. I came across this shieldbug with rather fetching red legs, somehow I thought of Malvolio, but his were yellow. It is, appropriately the Red-legged Shieldbug (Pentatoma rufipes) which is unusual in being apartly predatory type of sheildbug rather than a sap sucker. There are 46 species of shieldbug in the UK, I originally thought there was probably just the one. You get a hint of its diet from its posture, ready to pounce on an insect stumbling past.

Red-legged Shieldbug,Pentatoma rufipes

It was certainly a good day for insects, I was followed by a cloud of flies for much of the way and was bitten by a horsefly. I even had ladybirds clambering over me. This is the somewhat rarer 14-spot ladybird (Propylea quatuordecimpunctata), with rather rectangular spots.

14-spot ladybird,Propylea quatuordecimpunctata

I then reached Linkenholt and joined up with my previous exploration of the Test Way that I did three years ago. This is more of a hamlet than a village but has some fine buildings and a lovely little church with a bench where I could eat my lunch. The village was bought by Swedish billionaire Stefan Persson for £25 million in 2009. The 12th century church of St. Peter was rebuilt in 1871.

St. Peter,Linkenholt,church

I then left the Test Way to walk back along the other side of the valley. Along the way were many more insects, this time I feature a hoverfly on a knapweed flower. I think this is the Sunfly (Helophilus pendulus).

Hoverfly,Sunfly,Helophilus pendulus

What do you need with so many pesky insects flying around? Some swallows - and that is what I saw at Vernham Street, where the nest had at least two young swallows almost ready to fledge - you can just about see their heads. The parents were very busy after a cool and wet period.

Swallows nest

I walked down to the valley bottom passed another church - this one (St. Mary the Virgin) - was originally associated with the manor house some distance at Vernham Dean. It had this fine late Norman doorway, the decoration somehow reminds me of Game of Thrones or Noggin the Nog. It has Saxon foundation and was unsympathetically rebuilt in standard Victorian style in the 1850s, the doorway is about the only original feature left.

Vernham Dean,church,St. Mary the Virgin,doorway

I met up with a walk, one of the very first in this blog (13th October 2009) at Vernham Dean. I was pleased to see the main pub dating back to 16th Century - The George was still in operation.

Vernham Dean,The George,pub

The village of Vernham Dean has one of the highest densities of thatched houses I have seen anywhere, I could have included several pictures of them. Some of the chimneys had special fittings to stop any sparks setting the thatch alight.

I headed out south to the other side of the valley and then down towards the small village of Upton. Along the way I saw a hare, a deer and less fortunately a large dead deer. Here I came across a stately collection of tall (6 foot) woolly thistles (Cirsium eriophorum) - a very thorny plant. Only a few of the flowers were open, this one had a tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) and a hoverfly on it. Much of this area was carefully managed for pheasant shooting.

woolly thistles,Cirsium eriophorum,tree bumblebee,Bombus hypnorum

I walked back up the south side of the valley along the road - very little traffic and here saw a dewberry (Rubus caesius) mixed in with blackberries - it could actually be a hybrid between the two species.

dewberry,Rubus caesius

Near the top of the hill a herd of young heifers were gathered close to the fence, surrounded by a great many flies.


The land then opens up with views to the south from the commanding height of 680feet, it is the last high ground before the English Channel. This spot is called ‘Pill Heath’ and had one or two gorse bushes to attest to the acid soil. Along the lane some newly planted Wayfaring Tree (Viburnum lantana) already had ripening berries.

Wayfaring Tree,Viburnum lantana

I then was frustrated by lack of a footpath sign, I took the lane instead which turned out OK as I found a resting female Silver washed fritillary. For the record, the butterflies I saw on the walk were small white, large white, brimstone, ringlet, gatekeeper (loads), meadow brown, small skipper (loads), peacock (first ones of the new season), small tortoiseshell, silver washed fritillary, comma, speckled wood, common blue (I think) - 13 of the more 'common' species.

butterfly, Silver washed fritillary,female

And so back to Hurstbourne Tarrant. The village has a number of fine thatched buildings and as I have held back with posting too many of these I thought I would end with one. The walk was quite a gruelling 14 miles but at a leisurely pace - it took about seven hours.

thatched house

I look forward to walking the next section of the Test Way to the delightful sounding village of St. Mary Bourne, surely not far from Miss Marple's St. Mary Mead?