Growing up in Yorkshire, day trips for us were often to places like Whitby or Northumberland; anywhere that meant you could travel there and back in one day. Now I am based in the south, Surrey to be precise, there are a number of places in the south that I have not been to or explored properly. I have been to East Hampshire before, and we’ve ventured down to the likes of Peppa Pig World, but Test Valley in Hampshire, is a place that we haven’t been to at all. So on a recent press trip, we were invited down to see a few of the places that you can visit in the area, and see how they are all adapting to dealing with the global health crisis, making it safe for visitors.
We honestly felt completely safe and pretty normal, with a new way of doing things, of course. Test Valley is in Hampshire, named after the valley of the River Test. The river featured in a couple of the places that we visited, so it is definitely a prominent feature in the area. Here are the three places that we visited and what we thought.
Mottisfont, National Trust
Mottisfont is a historical home, garden, and country estate in the village of Mottisfont, found in the heart of Test Valley, and it is managed by the National Trust. Although you don’t need to be a member to visit, it does make sense, and make booking in a time so much easier. You need to book online, and you get given a time slot for arrival (with thirty minutes to arrive in which is helpful in case of bad traffic).
The grounds themselves are really huge, with a plenty of space to spread out. You can walk in the meadow, along the river, and even see the original font of water, where the village and site get their name. We especially enjoyed the river walk, with some shade, cute little bridges, and plenty of fish to spot in the clear waters. It really is a lovely way to spend a few hours, and I would definitely plan to go there again, next time we are in the area.
In order to keep safe and adhere to social distancing and government guidelines, there are a few things in place. There are signs to follow for distancing, as well as one way systems in place around some areas of the grounds, though this is clearly marked out on a map that you get on arrival. There are hand washing locations available in the toilets, and a number of hand sanitiser stations around the grounds too. Toilets have a ‘one-in-one-out’ rule in place, so honestly, we felt completely at ease, safe, and hygienic.
You could get food from two locations on the grounds, and you need to wear a mask / face covering when entering (they’re not required when outdoors). With partitions and dividers for staff, there was no problem with getting some food and making it a day out like any other. Oh, and I’d recommend the Victoria sponge cake; amazing.
Hawk Conservancy Trust
Our next stop on the day was at the Hawk Conservancy Trust, just under half and hour’s drive from Mottisfont. It is located near Andover, and it is well worth a visit.
As we entered the conservancy, you need to wear a mask / face covering in any indoor areas, but a lot of the place is outdoors. There are plenty of hand washing and hand sanitising stations around too. You can wander around the trust and see a variety of different birds, and learn a little about them. They all have a card and you can read about them, as well as their names, and even ‘adopt’ one, should you wish. I was very impressed that they had a trail for children, based around Top Trumps of the birds. They children really enjoyed this and spotting the other Top Trump cards around the site, so definitely a good thing when visiting with children.
If that was it, it would be fine to spend an hour or so, but really the pièce de résistance of the Hawk Conservancy Trust is the shows. There are three to see throughout the day, timed at 11.30am, 2pm, an 3.45pm. They are all shows of different things, and in different areas of the park, but they are really what makes it worth it, in my opinion. The show that we saw was at 2pm, which was ‘World of Birds of Prey’. Honestly, so, so good!
The show presenter was brilliant and really informative, who knew I knew so little about birds of prey? The way that the birds do their thing was just amazing, and really fascinating to see. There are some funny moments and close calls when the there were four vultures flying pretty low over the crowd, but the whole show was just fantastic. This show is at the top the park, right by a wildflower meadow, and so the setting is great, and you get a great view across Test Valley. The show was just under an hour long, but it honestly flew by, and the children were mesmerised as well. If we had the chance to stay all day, then I like how the shows are spaced out to give you enough time to see and do everything, see all the shows, and really make a day of it.
There is a nice place to eat on site too, as well as one-way systems in place, and the seating at the show was spread out and only grouped with the people you came with. So again, we felt totally safe and everyone as adhering to the rules.
Hawk Conservancy Trust,
Houghton Lodge Gardens
Our final stop of the day was at the beautiful Houghton Lodge Gardens. Houghton Lodge is a Grade II listed house, right on the River Test in the valley, which was built in the 1790s. Houghton Lodge is England’s finest surviving example of a Cottage Ornée (beautiful Gothic architecture), which makes it a great location to visit and to see; truly stunning. But when you throw in the large grounds, fourteen acres to explore, gardens, and a tearoom, it is a lovely place to visit.
There are both formal and informal gardens to explore. There is a traditional kitchen garden that is enclosed within chalk walls, as well as an orchid house, a topiary dragon (the children loved this), and peacock garden. They are all so pretty and well kept, and it was fun to spot the different fruits and vegetables with the children, that were growing in the kitchen garden. Any loose apples and pears that have fallen on the ground can be taken home too, which I think is really lovely.
The rest of the grounds are more open, and you can explore to your heart’s content. There are even some sheep and alpacas to see, which the children really enjoyed. This makes it a great spot for all of the family, as there is something for everyone to enjoy.
Tearoom and accommodation
You can use the tearoom without paying to go into the gardens (although I would say it is definitely worth doing). But if you’re in the area in need of sustenance, then the tearoom is very lovely, with a range of traditional teas and herbal and fruit infusions, as well as some delightful cakes (the chocolate brownie was exquisite).
Houghton Lodge Gardens also has some fairly new accommodation on site too, only two years old, which makes a lot of sense as it is a popular wedding venue. The accommodation is self-catering, with all of the mod-cons, and the style is modern, yet still classic in style. And as you can enjoy the gardens ‘after hours’ if you are a guest, I think it would be a great place to stay for a little English getaway.
Tickets for the gardens need to be booked in advance, to make sure that numbers are controlled, and there are forms to fill in for test and trace purposes. There are also clear one-way signs in place, and places to hand wash / sanitise hands. The gardens has the ‘good to go’ mark from Visit England, and as there is so much outdoor space to enjoy, you don’t feel crowded and it is very easy to keep apart from other groups. Houghton Lodge Gardens is a must for a day out in Hampshire!
Houghton, North Houghton,
If you are close to Hampshire and could make day or a weekend of a trip to the Test Valley, then I would really recommend it. There are views for days, cute an quaint little villages, walks, and as you can see some great attractions for all members of the family. We thoroughly enjoyed our day, and would definitely visit these places again.
Have you been to this area of Hampshire before? It would be great to hear what you think.
*this post is a press collaboration, and our entrance fees were gifted in exchange. All words and opinions are my own, and would only recommend something that I’d pay for myself.