An easy walk down the Test valley which passes many interesting mills, old and new.
Main Walk: 17 km (10.6 miles). Four hours 5 minutes walking time. For the whole excursion including trains, sights and meals, allow at least 9 hours.
Main Walk, with alternative route: 14¼ km (8.9 miles). Three hours 25 minutes walking time.
Circular Walk (from Whitchurch): 12 km (7.5 miles). Two hours 50 minutes walking time.
Explorer 144. Overton, map reference SU518508, is in Hampshire, 12 km W of Basingstoke.
3 out of 10 (2 for the Circular Walk).
This walk is along the upper reaches of the River Test, a world-famous trout stream. You can expect to see brown trout vigorously competing with ducks for scraps of food from passers-by at any of the bridges along the route, notably at Whitchurch Town Bridge by the Silk Mill.
The clear, iron-free water of the river is ideal for several industries, including silk-making. Overton's silk mill failed but Whitchurch Silk Mill is still operating. After a major refurbishment it re-opened in 2018 and can be visited towards the end of the walk (Tue-Sun & BH, last entry 4pm); admission is £7 (2020).
An even more prominent local industry is paper-making. The industry was started in 1712 by Henri Portal, a Huguenot refugee who brought over the secret of watermarking paper. The business was so successful that he was soon able to transfer production from Bere Mill to the much larger Laverstoke Mill, a short distance upstream. The industry continues at De La Rue's modern Overton Mill, alongside Overton station.
Much of the picturesque Bere Mill was destroyed by fire in February 2018 but it is being comprehensively restored.
Laverstoke Mill closed in 1963 and was derelict for many years, but the site is now the Bombay Sapphire Distillery. Tours of the Distillery cost £17.50 and have to be booked in advance, but casual visitors can freely access a Heritage Room describing the history of the mill (as well as the Mill Bar and Gin Shop).
Many of the churches in the area look solidly Victorian, including All Hallows Church in Whitchurch, but this one dates from the 13thC and has many interesting features. The most unusual church passed on the walk is St Nicholas in Freefolk, which contains an elaborate Jacobean monument to a Shakespearian-looking gent, Sir Richard Powlett.
From the ridge to the north of the river you can glimpse Watership Down, the setting of Richard Adams' celebrated 1972 novel about a group of rabbits who undertake a perilous journey to the Down. The author (who died on Christmas Eve 2016) lived locally and the lunch pub was renamed in his honour (see below).
The end of this river valley walk overlaps slightly with the Whitchurch to Andover walk (1–48), which goes through Tufton and continues further downstream.
There are two ways of shortening the Main Walk in the afternoon. At Bere Mill you could switch to an alternative route into Whitchurch, which finishes with a short loop to Fulling Mill instead of Tufton. More simply, you could stay on the main route and head directly for Whitchurch station when you reach the town.
Directions are also given for a short Circular Walk from Whitchurch, which goes up the valley to the lunchtime pub in Freefolk and finishes with the alternative route. This option is worth considering if you miss a train and would have to start an hour late.
Overton and Whitchurch are adjacent stations on the line from Basingstoke to Salisbury. There is an hourly service from Waterloo (two-hourly to Overton on Sundays), taking about 1 hour. Buy a return to Whitchurch (Hants).
If you want to abandon the walk Stagecoach 76 runs along the B3400 from Whitchurch to Basingstoke (every 20-30 minutes Mon–Sat, hourly Sun).
If driving, the station car park at Overton is free “for railway users”; the one at Whitchurch costs £5.20 Mon–Fri, £1 Sat, free Sun (2020). Both are likely to be full on weekdays. The free car parks in the centre of Whitchurch (in Bell Street and near the Silk Mill) would also be convenient for the Circular Walk.
Take the train nearest to 10:00 from Waterloo to Overton. For the Circular Walk, take the train nearest to 10:30 to Whitchurch.
The suggested lunchtime pub is the Watership Down Inn (01256-892254) in the small village of Freefolk, after 7¼ km on the Main Walk or 5 km on the Circular Walk. The late author Richard Adams was a regular patron (when it was called The Freefolk Arms) and after the success of his novel this free house was renamed in his honour. It has a good selection of local ales and ciders and serves excellent home-cooked food to 2.30pm (3pm weekends).
The alternative is to continue to Whitchurch for a late lunch. The White Hart Hotel (01256-892900) is right in the town centre, with two alternative pubs on the roads radiating out from The Square: the Kings Arms (01256-896333) in Church Street and The Bell (01256-893120) in Bell Street.
The suggested tea place in Whitchurch is the Riverside Café at the Silk Mill (01256-892065; open to 4.30pm Tue-Sun & BH), with outdoor seating available on the front and back lawns even if you are not visiting the mill. In the town centre there are several convenience stores as well as the three pubs listed above. Allow at least 15 minutes (20 mins from the Silk Mill) for the long walk up the hill to the station.
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Out (not a train station)
Back (not a train station)
National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline (bus times): 0871 200 22 33 (12p/min) • TFL (London) : 0343 222 1234
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The directions for this walk are also in a PDF (link above) which you can download on to a Kindle, tablet, or smartphone.
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Walk Options ( Main | Circular)
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- Main Walk (17 km)
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If you are doing the Circular Walk (from Whitchurch), start at §H.
- Go down the approach road and turn right onto a bridleway alongside the River Test. Turn left on the B3051, cut through St Mary's churchyard and turn right onto Church Road. Go along Silk Mill Lane to Southington Mill and continue on The Lynch to Northington Farm. Turn right onto a byway going over the railway and up to an ancient track, the Harroway.
- Leave the station at the London end of the platform and go through its small car park to the approach road, with Overton Mill? behind you on the other side of the tracks. Go downhill on this road, which in 300m merges with the access road to the mill. Keep ahead on the main road and follow it round to the right at a junction by farm buildings.
- 100m past the entrance to Quidhampton Farmhouse veer right at a bridleway sign, going past a vehicle barrier onto a path alongside the infant River Test?. The bridleway later joins the gravel driveway to a house “Flashetts”, which curves round to the left alongside a backwater and eventually comes out onto the B3051. Turn left onto this road to head S, passing Little Meadow? on the right.
- In 150m cross the road and go up the right-hand of two flights of steps into a churchyard. The path climbs away from the road and turns left at the top, going past a small “Quiet Garden” and then St Mary's church? itself. Follow the path down towards a sports ground and turn right onto Church Road.
- In 100m ignore Bridge Street on the left and bear right into Court Drove. In a further 150m, having gone past Glebe Meadow on the left, bear left downhill into Silk Mill Lane. Follow this quiet tree-lined lane for 600m, later with occasional glimpses of the River Test over walls on your left.
- At the junction with Southington Lane (with a nice view of the river from the bridge on your left) keep ahead on The Lynch, ignoring a parallel footpath on its right-hand side. You pass the converted Southington Mill? on the left and a picturesque thatched cottage on the right. The lane goes alongside a mill-stream, then swerves right and left uphill, away from the river.
- In 200m the lane passes the driveway to Northington House and comes to Northington Farm. Turn right in front of its entrance onto a stony farm track, with an orange byway waymarker. This goes gently uphill between tall hedges, crossing over the railway after 500m.
- In a further 300m keep ahead as indicated on an enclosed grassy track where the farm track splits off to both sides. After climbing gently for 400m this green lane reaches a strip of woodland containing a broad track known as the Harroway?.
- Turn left and go along the Harroway for just under 1½ km. Turn left at a junction onto a farm track which goes back over the railway. Follow it round to the right at North Lodge and turn left onto Watch Lane. Cut through a back lane to the B3400 to reach the Watership Down Inn in Priory Lane.
- Turn left to head SW along the Harroway Belt for 800m. The simpler route is to take the main track at the signposted byway crossing, but if this is too muddy a narrow path meandering through the belt of trees on its left may be easier. There are several places where you can switch between the two routes before the narrow path swings right to join the main track at a signposted byway junction.
- Ignore the byway off to the north at this junction and go along the tree-lined main track for a further 600m, with occasional views through the trees on the right towards the North Wessex Downs. At the next junction (unsignposted at the time of writing) turn left off the Harroway onto a farm track.
- This track goes gently uphill at first, levels out and passes a water tower. It then slowly descends, crosses back over the railway and passes some houses and dilapidated farm buildings. Ignore all driveways off to the left and follow the lane sharply round to the right by an entrance to Laverstoke Park? at North Lodge. In 100m there is a signposted footpath on the left.
- If you are not visiting the lunch pub you can take this footpath down across a field, through a wood and past St Mary's church to the B3400. If you take this short cut, take the lane opposite signposted to St Nicholas's church and resume the directions at [?] in §C.
- At the time of writing there was nothing to deter walkers (rather than vehicles) from using this useful back lane, but if necessary you could continue along the rather awkward Watch Lane and turn right at the bottom onto the main road.
- From the pub return to the B3400 and head east along it, passing Manor Cottages. Turn right into a lane which goes past St Nicholas's church. Halfway up the valley turn right onto a footpath going across fields to Bere Mill Bridge, with Bere Mill off to the left.
- From the pub, return to the B3400. Cross over carefully, turn left and go along the road for 400m, passing a rather neglected war memorial near the junction with Watch Lane and then the striking Manor Cottages? on your left, with the parish church of St Mary the Virgin? behind them. At the end of the row of thatched cottages, turn right into a lane signposted to St Nicholas's church.
- The lane bends left and crosses the River Test at a picturesque spot. After another left-hand bend the lane turns right in front of the tiny St Nicholas's church? (which you could visit via the black metal gate in the hedge ahead). Continue uphill on the track, soon passing the entrance to an isolated house. Just after a metal fieldgate turn right through a wooden kissing gate in the hedgerow.
- Follow a clear grassy path alongside a wire fence for 500m, initially with a line of trees down to your right, then an open field. At the end of the large field go through a wooden kissing gate in a belt of trees and keep ahead across another field. Go through a gate and down a broad track to the left of a cottage to emerge on a lane in front of Bere Mill Bridge, another picturesque spot on the river with the attractive Bere Mill? off to your left.
If you are taking the alternative route into Whitchurch (the same as the Circular Walk), go to §K.
- Go across Bere Mill Bridge. In 250m turn left onto a footpath which curves round the edge of some large fields, then goes along the side of a water meadow. Continue along The Green, then turn left at Pound Meadow onto a path going past some old watercress beds to Town Mill.
- For the main route keep ahead on the lane, crossing the river on the old brick bridge. In 250m, with a barn ahead on your left, turn left through a wooden kissing gate and follow a faint grassy path across a field, initially heading S and later bending slightly to the right. On the far side go through another kissing gate and follow a fenced path along the left-hand edge of two large fields, gradually curving round to the right.
- In 600m the path veers left down a slope to continue on a similar fenced path alongside a water meadow. At the end go through a wooden gate to continue along a short enclosed path and then a residential street (The Green) on the outskirts of Whitchurch.
- In 250m, as The Green bends right to meet the B3400, fork left briefly into Pound Meadow. By its street sign turn left onto a fenced tarmac path heading S, soon passing some old watercress beds on the left. The path crosses some branches of the river and comes to the end of a cul-de-sac, with Town Mill? up ahead.
Cross the river and turn right onto a path which curves around the primary school playing field and leads into McFauld Way. Turn right along the side of a recreation ground to reach Winchester Street. Turn right to cross Town Bridge and continue past the Silk Mill to The Square in the town centre.
- If not doing the loop out to Tufton, head north on Newbury Street. In 800m turn left into Station Road to reach the station.
- Cross the footbridge over the River Test and turn right in front of an entrance to the primary school grounds. Follow this path for about 400m, gradually curving left and then with a few sharp zig-zags. Continue briefly along a residential street (McFauld Way).
- In 75m turn right onto a path along the side of a recreation ground (or take the lane to its right), then continue on an alleyway leading to Winchester Street. Turn right and cross Town Bridge to come to the entrance to the Silk Mill and its Riverside Café, a pleasant place to break for refreshments.
- A further 150m along the main road brings you to a busy five-way road junction called The Square, with the prominent White Hart Hotel ahead on the right as another possible refreshment stop.
Finishing at Whitchurch Station (+1 km)
The full walk continues by turning sharp left into Church Street, but if you are not doing this loop out to Tufton, complete the walk with the directions below.
- Head south-west on Church Street for 150m, then turn right into Fairclose. Go across Wells Lane and through a subway under a dismantled railway line. Turn left onto a path around the edge of a housing estate and cut through the town's cemetery to the B3400. Turn right to go under the A34, then turn left onto a permissive path which merges with a public footpath leading to the River Test. Go under an old railway viaduct and cross the river on a footbridge. Turn left onto a lane going through the hamlet of Tufton to its church.
- From The Square head SW on the B3400 (Church Street) for 150m, soon passing the Kings Arms on the right. Just after a petrol station turn right into Fairclose, signposted as a footpath; this consists of two short sections of roadway connected by a tarmac path.
At the end of the second roadway cross Wells Lane and keep ahead through a subway under a dismantled railway line?. On the other side turn left onto a path running alongside a new housing development.
Behind a high garden fence on the left you might be able to see part of the old station house on this line, now a private residence.
Cross over the access road to the development. Where the path splits fork right to come out by some of the houses. Turn left and go downhill to find a gate on the right leading into the town's cemetery.
- The route through the cemetery is particularly attractive in February, when it is carpeted with snowdrops. If the gate is locked, however, simply continue down the lane and turn right at the bottom onto the B3400.
- Inside the cemetery turn left by a gazebo (The Cross) to go down the central tree-lined avenue. Go out onto the B3400, cross the road carefully and turn right onto a footway. Just after going under the bridge carrying the town's bypass (the A34) go over stile on the left onto an enclosed track, designated as a permissive footpath.
- At the far end go over another stile and veer right as indicated to go along the right-hand edge of a large field, gently uphill and then down the other side. Near the bottom veer right through a fieldgate and turn left onto the old public footpath coming down from the B3400.
- Go through the first of several metal kissing gates on this fenced path, ignoring the continuation of the permissive footpath off to the right along the way. The public footpath continues through an area of scrubland containing some abandoned watercress beds and comes out into a meadow. Turn half-left as indicated onto a faint grassy path towards another gate in the tree boundary.
Go through this gate to continue along the bottom of a steeply-wooded bank (the old railway embankment). At the far end follow the path through more gates and under the old railway viaduct to a narrow footbridge over the River Test, another picturesque spot. After crossing the river go up to a lane and turn left, ignoring a footpath signpost pointing the other way.
You will now be following the route of Walk 1–48 (in reverse) to All Hallows church.
- Follow the lane past cottages and round to the right by some barn conversions to come to the attractive St Mary's church? (which is worth visiting) in the hamlet of Tufton.
- Immediately after passing the church turn left onto a farm track. Keep ahead on an enclosed path around two sides of a large field, alongside the embankment carrying the A34. Turn left to go under the main road and continue along Winchester Road towards Whitchurch. In 500m turn left onto a footpath going across Millennium Green to Fulling Mill.
- Immediately after the church turn left onto a farm track, signposted as a footpath. Shortly after passing the churchyard veer right in front of a wooden fieldgate to find a yellow waymarker a few paces away indicating the continuation of the right of way, a narrow grassy path between fences.
After passing a few outbuildings this potentially overgrown path goes around two sides of a large field, eventually running alongside the embankment carrying the noisy A34. Follow the path out to a lane and turn left to go under the main road. Unless you choose to take a problematic footpath on the other side of the road bridge, you have a 500m stretch along Winchester Road towards Whitchurch.
- A signposted footpath on the left just after the bridge leads into a field with a right of way cutting across it, rejoining Winchester Road 200m further along. This would cut out some of the road walking but the field is overgrown and there is virtually no trace of a path through it.
- For the suggested route, therefore, follow the footway alongside the road round to the left at the junction with the slip road up to the A34. In 500m, just after passing the access road to a new housing development on the right (Shuttle Street), turn left through a wooden gate onto a signposted footpath.
- The path leads into an open space called Millennium Green. Unless you want to detour onto some of the other mown paths through this meadow, keep left where the path splits to head directly away from the road. On the far side of the meadow keep ahead across a backwater to come out onto a lane (The Weir) by the entrance to Fulling Mill.
Complete the directions at §M.
- Turn left onto Station Road and turn right at a T-junction to go down Newbury Road towards the town centre. Turn left into Kings Walk and then right into Jobson Close. Continue on a path which crosses a sunken lane and goes across a semi-open area. Turn left onto a footpath running along the side of Lynch Hill, eventually dropping down to meet the B3400. Turn right briefly onto the road, then left down steps leading to The Green. Turn left and continue on a footpath which goes along the side of a water meadow, then curves round the edge of some large fields. At the end turn right onto a lane which crosses the River Test on Bere Mill Bridge.
- Head directly away from the station and make your way out past a car park and some new houses. Turn left onto Station Road, following directions to the Silk Mill. At the far end turn right to go down towards the town centre on Newbury Road.
- In 350m turn left into Kings Walk. Take the first turning on the right (Jobson Close), passing Berehill House? on the right. At the end of this cul-de-sac take a tarmac path past the left-hand side of the last house and follow it round to the left across a sunken lane on an old flint bridge known as Jerusalem Arch?. Veer right to go down to and then across a semi-open area, aiming for the far left-hand corner.
- On the far side go past a bench onto a path into the trees, heading E. This soon meets a path crossing where you turn right to drop down to a public footpath running along the side of Lynch Hill. Turn left onto this path, with occasional views through a chainlink fence of the Test valley below.
- The footpath eventually drops down to the busy B3400; take great care when you reach it as there is no pavement. Cross over the road and turn right, briefly heading back towards Whitchurch. Immediately after passing the Prince Regent pub, turn left onto an unmarked path which goes down a flight of concrete steps and comes to a residential street. Turn left onto this cul-de-sac and keep ahead on a signposted footpath at the end.
- At the end of this short path go through a wooden side gate onto a fenced path alongside a water meadow. In 250m this veers left up a slope to continue on a similar fenced path on the other side. Follow this along the right-hand edge of two large fields, gradually curving round to the left and later with glimpses of the river behind the trees on your right.
- At the far end go through a wooden kissing gate and keep ahead on a faint grassy path across a field, with the historic buildings of Bere Mill 250m away to the right. In the far left-hand corner go through a side gate and turn right onto a lane, ignoring the continuation of the footpath ahead. The lane crosses a ditch on a small brick bridge and then the River Test itself on Bere Mill Bridge, a picturesque spot with the attractive Bere Mill? off to your right.
If you are doing the Short Circular Walk (omitting the loop out to Freefolk), go to §K.
- Go past the buildings of Bere Mill on a track which continues along the bottom edge of a field. At the end turn sharp left, going uphill to reach a large field at the top of the valley. Go along the ridge and then back down through parkland to St Nicholas's church. Go down a lane and turn left onto the B3400, passing Manor Cottages. Turn right into Priory Lane to reach the Watership Down Inn.
- Go along the tree-lined gravel drive towards Bere Mill, passing a farm shop on the left. Continue on the track to the left of the converted mill building. After going over a small rise and through a fieldgate it continues between a wire fence and a hedge, with a field sloping up to the left. Where the track curves right towards a wooden fieldgate veer left as indicated, going up the short side of the field with another wire fence on your right.
- At the top of the slope turn left again, still climbing. Stay close to the right-hand field edge to come to a kissing gate in the top corner. Go through this to continue in the same direction along a fenced-in path at the top of a large field. In 600m this becomes a broad grassy track along the top of another field; the churches of Laverstoke and Freefolk are in the valley below and you might be able to glimpse the top of Laverstoke House?, further up the valley.
- At the end of the field you could simply turn left onto a track going downhill, but the suggested route is to go through a wooden gate in the trees ahead. This leads into some rather neglected parkland dotted with ornamental trees, with the old industrial buildings of Laverstoke Mill? directly ahead in the valley below.
- Turn left down the field edge and go back out through another gate after 150m to join the track you crossed on the way into the parkland. Go downhill on this track to come to the tiny St Nicholas's church? (which you could visit via a black metal gate in the hedge on your right) in the hamlet of Freefolk?.
- Follow the track round a few bends and across the River Test at another picturesque spot. At a T-junction turn left onto the B3400, with the striking Manor Cottages? across the road and the parish church of St Mary the Virgin? behind them. At the end of the row of thatched cottages you pass Watch Lane on your right.
- For the pub, continue along the B3400 for a further 250m. Cross the road carefully and go up Priory Lane to find the Watership Down Inn on the left-hand side.
- From the pub return to the B3400 and head east along it. Turn right onto a footpath opposite Watch Lane which crosses the river. Halfway up the valley turn right onto a footpath going across fields to Bere Mill Bridge. Turn left to go past Bere Mill again.
- From the pub, return to the B3400. Cross over carefully and retrace your steps for 250m. Opposite the junction with Watch Lane turn right onto a track, signposted as a public footpath.
- Almost immediately fork left off the track to cross a wooden footbridge over a stream. Bear right and follow a grassy path heading S across a field to another substantial footbridge. Go over the River Test and follow the path to the left to cross a mill-stream on a narrow sluice-gate. Go through a gate and keep ahead along the left-hand edge of a field, then in the same direction across the next field, now gently uphill.
- After going through a line of trees turn right in front of a wire fence to go alongside it on a clear grassy path for 400m. …. Do not cross the bridge but turn left to repeat a section of your outward route for the next 300m.
- Go past the buildings of Bere Mill on a track which continues along the bottom edge of a field. Turn right through a gate into a crescent-shaped meadow below Coombedown Hanger. At the far end keep ahead on a footpath following the course of the river to Town Mill and go back across the river.
- At the top of the slope turn right through a wooden gate in the fence to continue along the left-hand side of a long crescent-shaped meadow below Coombedown Hanger. At the end of this wooded hillside go through a small wooden gate to continue on a fenced path in the same direction. In 250m go through a metal kissing gate and along the bottom edge of two large farm fields, with branches of the river behind the trees on your right.
At the end of the second field a short path through trees leads into a corner of Daniel Field, an open-access meadow and community orchard. The simplest continuation is to stay near the right-hand edge of the meadow, following the line of the public footpath in the trees on the right.
- If you are tempted to detour onto some of the other broad mown paths through this open space, aim to leave it on a path into the trees in the bottom corner, at the end of which you can veer left to rejoin the public footpath.
- Shortly after the end of the meadow the footpath comes to a wooden fence with a gate into a private property ahead. Turn right in front of this gate onto a short path leading to a footbridge across the River Test, with Town Mill? on your left.
- Go along Town Mill Lane and turn left onto the B3400. Turn left again into Test Road and follow this to Winchester Street. Turn left to go past the Silk Mill and across Town Bridge. In 500m turn right into Millennium Green. At the far end turn right to reach Fulling Mill at the end of a lane called The Weir.
- After crossing the river ignore a tarmac path on the right and keep ahead along Town Mill Lane, which curves to the left and goes alongside the mill-stream for the Silk Mill. At the end it crosses the stream on a small humped bridge and comes to the B3400 (London Street), with the tiny Voters Cottage? (#41) opposite. Turn left and go along the main road for 100m, then turn left into Test Road.
- This residential street goes back across the mill-stream, bends right and eventually comes to a T-junction with Winchester Street. Unless you want to head directly for the station, turn left to come to the entrance to the Silk Mill and its Riverside Café, just before Town Bridge.
- To continue the walk, cross the River Test and follow the main road S for 500m, passing Micheldever Road on the left and a lane called The Weir on the right. 125m after The Weir, turn right through a black metal gate with a fish symbol to enter an open space called Millennium Green.
- Take any of the mown paths through this long triangular meadow, aiming for its top right-hand corner. About 50m before the far side, turn right onto a straight path running across it. This public footpath crosses a backwater and comes out onto The Weir by the entrance to Fulling Mill.
Cross the river in front of the mill and head north on the riverside path towards All Hallows church. Turn right onto Church Street and follow this to The Square in the town centre. Head north on Newbury Street for 800m and turn left into Station Road to reach the station.
Take the continuation of the footpath (just off to the left) to cross a footbridge over the River Test, with the picturesque Fulling Mill? on your left. On the other side, bear right and follow the fenced riverside path alongside a meadow, with a church spire visible up ahead. At the end follow the path out to the B3400 (Church Street) in front of All Hallows church?.
- It is worth making the short detour ahead to visit this interesting church. Afterwards, return to this bend and follow the road round to the left.
If you are not visiting the church turn right onto the road. Soon after passing the Kings Arms you come to a busy five-way road junction called The Square, with another possible refreshment place ahead on the left, the White Hart Hotel.
- If it is still open it would be worth detouring along Winchester Street to the Riverside Café at the Silk Mill.
For the station head N on Newbury Street from The Square, climbing steadily. In 800m turn left into Station Road, then in 150m turn right into the station's short approach road. Cross the footbridge to Platform 1 for trains to London.
» Last updated: October 30, 2020