The sound of running water and the splash of waterfowl landing are important parts of town life. Although public access to the river bank is restricted to only a few locations, residents and visitors enjoy feeding the ducks, and the sight of ducklings swimming in the river brings great springtime pleasure. Fish watching and fish feeding are also popular recreational pursuits where the public have access.
“More riverside walks”
— Public Opinion Survey
As one of the most famous trout streams in the country, the Test is carefully tended by its owners, whose water bailiffs preserve a quality riverscape enjoyed by fishermen.
The river once provided power for several mills as it passed through the parish. The one remaining working mill is the Whitchurch Silk Mill, now a working museum with skilled weavers producing high-quality silks to order for theatrical costumes, interior designers and historic houses.
“Landscaping of approach roads from Basingstoke, Newbury and Southampton should present a welcoming and eye-catching atmosphere to the town, including grass and maintaining flowerbeds.”– Public Opinion Survey
In the past the fresh spring water supported watercress beds. One of these is now a private area for wildlife, and the other supports another commercial aquatic plant nursery growing a wide range of indigenous and exotic water plants.
Management of the river is an important function in preventing pollution and flooding and ensuring that the river is scenically attractive and abundant in fish and other fauna. This work includes keeping springs open and free from pollution and ensuring that the various sluices which are part of the river management heritage are maintained and restored.
The Millennium Meadow off Winchester Road provides an escape for walkers, who can enjoy expansive views of sky, meadow and woodland. In the adjacent Orchid Meadow there is an ancient spring, between the Millennium Meadow and the A34 bypass, a rare and historic vestige of a spring fed feeder to the River Test.
There is an active horse-riding community in Whitchurch with paddocks located mainly within the Test valley. The horses provide a valuable role in grazing in the water meadows, thus keeping the views open, similar to how they were when sheep grazed there. However, the introduction of buildings for shelter, access for horse-boxes and other changes associated with the keeping of horses needs to be carefully controlled if it is not to adversely affect this rurally sensitive area.
Riverside walks offer unique views to residents and visitors – these are illustrated in the Walkway Network map in Section 5. From the direction of Bere Mill in the east there is limited access to waterside scenery, and from there the wilder countryside, rich in wetland flora, gives way to a private conservation area that was once full of watercress beds.
This links with an area on Town Mill corner, where the natural vegetation forms a visual background to the new houses in Pound Meadow. The water meadow beside Town Mill Lane conserves ancient grazing scenes and is a favourite view of residents (see Section 3).
Another popular river walk is the one from the parish church in Church Street to Fulling Mill and on through the Millennium Meadow – this links with countryside walks to the east of Winchester Street and also ranks high in the residents’ list of favourite views.