The Mill Trail, Whitchurch
Finally, spring is doing its things: there’s warmth in the sun, carpets of snowdrops, and children in the park after school.
Time for a good leg-stretch then. The Mill Trail in Whitchurch, North Hampshire, is an easy, circular hour-and-a-half. Flat, push-chair friendly with kissing gates all the way and a rope-swing en-route, it hugs the River Test — Hampshire’s most famous chalk-stream — then flattens out through rolling farmland ending in Bere Mill.
The best place to park is The Gill Nethercott Centre on Winchester Road (RG28 7HP). Bring bread, there are ducks to feed. Pass The Silk Mill on your left (check for events, they do lovely outdoor craft sessions in the summer) cross the road and opposite take the narrow path signposted as a footpath.
There’s a play-park to your right, but herd the children onwards if you can; they’ll love the rope swing ahead.
When you hit the road, Mcfauld Way, turn left and follow the footpath sign. You should be walking around the primary school, passing chickens, a forest-school area and then out into an open grassy space which is great for frisbee or stick throwing, there’s a skate-park too for budding Tony Hawks.
Hug the left-hand side of the field and follow the footpath through the stand of trees out to open farmland on the other side; yellow catkins floating in the hedgerows, deep-purple brambles and stubble rolling out to the horizon.
Walk on, until the path hits woodland with the river to your left. Keep an eye on the steep bank to your right and you’ll see the rope swing. Here’s my daughter Bbell, a shame I can’t add audio!
Beyond the shaded path, you’re out into open water meadow with native trees their branches hanging low and Belted Galloway cows mooching in the grass, chewing the cud and generally basking in the early spring sunshine: Gainsborough, eat your heart out.
Follow the path onwards, today the grass was thick with snowdrops, until it opens onto Bere Mill. Bucolic means nothing until you’ve seen this mill house connected to Churchill, Prince Charles and most intriguingly Christine Keeler (her of the Profumo affair, ask your mum!).
It’s clad in wood and brick; on the day we were there in very early spring the lawn was thick with pink, purple and yellow crocuses, insects gathering nectar. It was magic after months of mud and winter.
Here you can either turn back on yourself or cross the brick bridge, head down the access road for five minutes. There’s a footpath to your left that will take you back to Whitchurch. We somehow missed this and took the road ahead instead, so I can’t vouch whether the footpath is pushchair friendly. The road is, although the pavement cuts in and out. Follow the tarmac into Whitchurch and head to the garden of The Red House for bar snacks, a drink and a play in the slide, swings and Wendy House. Alternatively you could head to H’s Coffee House for coffee and cake.