The Test Valley Literary Trail
Travel anywhere in Test Valley and you'll find yourself walking through the pages of novels, children's books, travelogues and comic cartoons. Writers down the centuries have left a legacy of Test Valley landscapes, country houses and colourful local characters in their books.
Head of to explore and spot the locations where the plots have been set. Test Valley can be found in the 14th century ballad of Piers Plowman right through to Thomas The Tank Engine. Agatha Christie, Geoffrey Chaucer, Thomas Hardy and Jane Austen all drew on Test Valley inspiration for their novels. The Test Valley Literary Trail takes you on a journey from the north of the borough to the south.
Jane Austen (1775 - 1817) - Ibthorpe
Jane Austen is one of England's most celebrated authors and was a frequent visitor to Ibthorpe House just six miles north of Andover. It was the home of family friends, the Lloyds. Her brother married Mary Lloyd in Hurstbourne Tarrant Church and Jane marked the couple's move to Ibthorpe with the gift of a 'housewife', a tiny sewing kit of embroidered silk accompanied by these words:
This little bag, I hope, will prove
to be not vainly made;
For should you thread and needles want,
It will afford you aid.
And, as we are about to part,
T'will serve another end;
For, when you look upon this bag,
You'll recollect your friend.
Jane loved visiting this quiet corner of Hampshire, and wove the experiences of staying with her extended family and the characters she met into her novels.
She would still recognise many of the buildings in the villages today, including the inns she must have visited on her walks and Andover's markets. A section of the Test Way walk passes Ibthorpe.
IMAGE: Ibthorpe House 2009
William Cobbett (1763 - 1835) - Hurstbourne Tarrant
William Cobbett the travel writer, political commentator and author of 'Rural Rides' was a frequent visitor to Rookery Farmhouse in Hurstbourne Tarrant. his writings mention visits all around Test Valley and his initials are still visible, carved into a brick garden wall at the farm.
IMAGE: St Peters Church, Hurstbourne Tarrant
Geoffrey Chaucer (c1343 - 1400) - Weyhill
Geoffrey Chaucer was the owner of the Weyhill Fair site as part of the Ramridge Manor estate, near Andover. The Weyhill Fair features in some of England's earliest literature. The 'wares' traded at the Weyhill Fair included livestock, food, clothing, liquor, ornaments and fancy goods. There were cures for all sorts of illnesses and sideshows of human freaks and exotic animals. The Weyhill Fair ran for three weeks in October with separate days for sheep, horses, cheese, leather and hops - but the Pleasure Fair was held everyday.
Today the Weyhill Fairground Craft and Design Centre is a vibrant community of skilled artisans making and selling a variety of arts and crafts. The combination of wares and refreshmentson offer provides a reminder of the historic connection of this site to its famous past.
Chaucer author of The Canterbury Tales, which is a collection of stories written in Middle English at the end of the 14th century, must surely have visited the Fair on numerous occasions. The nearby Harrow Way was part of the route pilgrims used to travel to Canterbury, so some of Chaucer's tales may have been based on stories he heard at the Fair.
Daniel Defoe (1660 - 1731) - Weyhill
Daniel Defoe the author of Robinson Crusoe, lived through tough times of political upheaval and social unrest. He wrote numerous political pamphlets and journals but one of his most interesting books is 'A tour thro' the whole island of Great Britain' (1724-26) which provided a vivid first-hand account of the state of the country on the eve of the Industrial Revolution. He visited "Weyhill, where the greatest fair of sheep is kept that this nation can show."
Thomas Hardy (1840 - 1928) - Weyhill
In Hardy's classic novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge put his wife up for auction and sold her for 5 Guineas to a sailor at the Weyhill Fair, which was loosely disguised in the story as Weydon Priors.
Unbelievable as it now seems, selling one's wife was not unknown in those days. Indeed, a similar sale took place in nearby Andover in November 1817 apparently to the satisfaction of all parties!
Agatha Christie (1890 - 1976) - Andover
Agatha Christie based one of her most famous novels 'The ABC Murders' in Andover. the 'A' in the title stands for Andover where Alice Ascher was murdered, the fictional setting was The Angel Inn that dates back to 1445. 78 High Street was used for the filming of the Hercule Poirot TV version.
Agatha Christie was a hugely successful author. Her novels have sold roughly four billion copies.
H.G. Wells (1866 - 1946) - Stockbridge
H.G. Wells based an episode of his comic novel, The Wheels of Chance, in Stockbridge. In this story of an 1895 cycling holiday, Mr Hoopdriver heroically defends the honour of his travelling companion in the Grosvenor Hotel, Stockbridge, which is loosely disguised in the novel as Wallenstock.
The Grosvenor Hotel straddles the pavement in the centre of Stockbridge's historic High Street and hosts the famous Houghton Fishing Club. It is a unique High Street where trout swim along beside the pavement, and it is famous for its galleries, gifts and great food. Situated perfectly for exploring the surrounding countryside on foo, or like H.G.Wells, by bike. The 'Test Valley Tour' offers a series of 30 circular walking/cycling tracks and there is also the 'Test Way Off-Road Cycle Trail' between Stoclbridge and Stoneymarsh.
Ian Fleming (1908 - 1964) - Mottisfont
If walls could speak, what stories would the stones of Mottisfont the gloriously romantic 13th century Augustine Abbey reveal?
During the first half of the 20th century, the Abbey provided an out-of-town setting for the love affairs and intrigues of the Bloomsbury Set, a hugely influential group of English writers, artists and free-thinkers. The owners, Maud and Gilbert Russell, were wealthy patrons of the Arts and made Mottisfont the centre of a fashionable artistic and political circle.
One of their guest was Ian Fleming with whom Maud had a love affair and long friendship. Maud was involved in secret intelligence work during World War II and it's just possible that she introduced Fleming to this clandestine world. He joined Naval Intelligence and went on to create the world's most famous spy, James Bond, through his internationally renowned series of novels.
Have a day out at Mottisfont Abbey, a popular National Trust attraction where you can identify the original stonework of the church nave and trace the footings of the Gothic buildings in the gardens. You can take a tour inside the Abbey to see the substantial collection of early 20th century art and a changing programme of art exhibitions.
Take a stroll in the grounds alongside the River Test, picnic or enjoy games on the wide lawns and wander around the beautiful fragrant rose gardens. There is a gift shop and a cafe for refreshments. In the summer months theatre productions take place in the grounds. It is open for visitors 7 days a week, check the website for opening times.
Noman Thelwell (1923 - 2004) - Timsbury
Norman Thelwell settled in Timsbury and is best known for his cartoons of small, pig-tailed girls perched precariously on top of fat, mischievious ponies. However, these were just part of his creative achievements as he had been selling drawings and cartoons since the age of 15. A fine draughtsman, Norman Thelwell places many of his figures in naturalistic settings depicting aspects of English country life such as riding, fishing, sailing and motoring.
One cartoon shows a queue of traffic over a bridge under which a walker is cheerfully trekking down a disused railway line. he must have got his inspiration from the former Sprat and Winkle Line, which formed part of the 44 mile long Test Way.
Reverend Wilbert Awdry OBE (1911 - 1997) - Ampfield
In the 19th century the vicar of Ampfield built a huge train set that ran through the vicarage gardens. He encouraged his own and local school children to watch the trains as they ran through a tunnel and past platforms on the 40 yards of track. His son grew up to become the Reverend Wilbert Awdry OBE, and like his father, developed a lifelong passion for steam engines. Wilbert built a toy engine for his own son and wrote some initial Thomas the Tank Engine* tales to go with the toy. Stories of this cheeky little engine are now loved by children world over.
iMAGE: Thomas the Tank Engine book cover
Charlie Dimmock - Romsey
Charlie Dimmock lives in Romsey and as a gardening expert and TV presenter has shared her knowledge and skills in gardening books such as 'Enjoy your Garden' and the 'Ground Force' series.
Romsey is a historic market town dominated by its magnificent Norman Abbey. Definetly worth a visit are the world famous Sir Harold Hillier Gardens and Aboretum at Ampfield, and the romantic cottage-style gardens at Houghton Lodge, near Stockbridge.
IMAGE: Hillier Gardens, Romsey