A local’s guide to Whitchurch
- Credit: Photograph supplied by Bere Mill
Whitchurch is special, lying at the end of the silk road and near the source of the River Test – but what is it like to live and work here, wonders EMMA CAULTON
Surrounded by tranquil chalk downland, Whitchurch was once on a major coaching route and an important trading centre for grain, paper, wool and silk provided by the agricultural location and mills along the Test.
For a small town, its residents have made a significant cultural contribution to modern life. These include Lord Denning, Master of the Rolls, described as the most influential judge of the 20th century.
A plaque commemorates his birth in the building adjacent to the Town Hall. Then there’s Carl Barat, co-frontman of the band, The Libertines with Pete Doherty.
Most memorably perhaps was author Richard Adams who drew on the surrounding landscape for his modern classic, Watership Down.
Rosy Hardy, Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants
Rosy Hardy has been growing herbaceous perennials commercially for 30 years, introducing many new varieties such as Gaura Freefolk Rosy and Gaura Ice Cool Rosy. She was immersed in plants from an early age, taking inspiration from her mother and grandmother, ending up as a prizewinning student at Writtle College.
When not travelling the length and breadth of the UK to stage award-winning floral displays, Rosy and Robert Hardy are busy growing at their nursery (established at Freefolk in 1991), hosting open days and fundraising for Naomi House children’s hospice.
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Rosy is a member of the RHS Herbaceous committee, an RHS exhibit judge and a consistent medal winner at RHS Flower Shows including 24 Gold medals at Chelsea Flower Show, making her the most successful female floral exhibitor.
She’s also a Gold Medal garden designer with four Golds and three Silver Gilts for her garden designs and an RHS Chelsea Silver medal for her Forever Freefolk Garden.
Rosy’s Local Life
“Whitchurch sits in the valley of one of the most beautiful chalk streams, the River Test, with glorious rolling countryside surrounding it.”
A secret: “There are fabulous wildflower areas, both in woodland and verges including fabulous orchids.”
Restaurant: “The Dewpond, Old Burghclere, because they go the extra mile and the food is amazing!”
Overnight stay: “Watership Down Inn, just down the lane, have new bijou chalets with green roofs.”
Fitness class: “My Pilates instructor, Dr Tracy Rich, Pilates by Nature, comes to me.”
Hair salon: “Toni Hair in Overton.”
Local attraction: “Whitchurch Silk Mill for its history, heritage and educational facilities.”
Sue Tapliss, Whitchurch Silk Mill
“There are just four working silk mills in the country, and Whitchurch Silk Mill is the oldest; a gem of industrial heritage. For more than 200 years the mill has been drawing power from the Test.
“It’s still weaving beautiful silk using 19th century machinery and is the only place in the UK where visitors can see delicate silk thread being woven into beautiful cloth by highly skilled weavers.”
Sue’s Local Life
“There are about 13 Whitchurches in the UK, but ours is the only one with a working silk mill!”
Café: “I love the big comfy window seats with river views at the Mill’s café, the coffee and cake at Kudos, and the bistro menu at newly opened Dennings.”
Shop: “I like the Friday Market at the Gill Nethercott Centre. I buy my marmalade there from John at Tufton Small Holdings, it is the best I’ve ever had.”
Walk: “The Mill Trail is my favourite; download it from hants.gov.uk/rh/walking/mill-trail.pdf.”
Day out: “Combine a visit to the Mill with a tour of Bombay Sapphire distillery - a perfect heritage cocktail.”
Keith Simm, Loam Gardens
Loam Gardens was established in 2018: a small team of garden creatives designing and building gardens across Hampshire.
Keith’s Local Life
“Whitchurch has all the convenience of a town but with a village feel. It has good road links and a mainline station to London Waterloo that’s just a ten-minute walk from my house.”
Something special: “You’re never far from running water as the River Test runs through the town. There are many tributaries off the main river. I bought my house because there is a lovely stream running through the bottom of the garden.”
Café: “Has to be Kudos. Having lived in London for some years, I’ve become a bit of a coffee connoisseur! So, Kudos opening up on my doorstep was great: fantastic coffee, professional and friendly staff and good cake. What more do you want?”
Shop: “Ollie’s Den - a shop selling reclaimed goodies, anything from a French dresser to a plant pot.”
Walk: “There are so many walks around here. Any close to the river are good by me. There’s a really great walk towards Tufton.”
Best evening out: “Whitchurch Pub Race: an annual fancy dress pub crawl for charity. The whole town gets involved. It’s great fun to watch and even better to get involved.”
Fitness class or gym: “John’s Gym – aka Hampshire Fitness Centre. It’s a great facility – everything you need to work out and it comes with stunning countryside views. John is an exceptional personal trainer as well as running the gym, and always on hand to put together a gruelling workout.”
Dinah Nabarro, Bere Mill
“The Butchery at Bere Mill developed organically with the purchase of 20 acres of degraded water meadow alongside the River Test. These required sensitive grazing, so a few Black Welsh Mountain sheep arrived followed by a number of Belted Galloway cows.
The aim was to improve the water meadows and its flora and fauna, and to feed family and friends on meat grown slowly and carefully. Twenty years later we farm across 250 acres and have a herd of 75 cattle and 200 breeding ewes.
The Butchery opened a few years back, but it was only with the current butcher that the business has begun to flourish, opening on Saturdays and delivering meat locally as well as to followers across Britain.”
Dinah’s Local Life
“We are lucky in having probably the prettiest butchery setting anywhere. Bere Mill is surrounded by footpaths and a lot of people walk across the fields to get to us or come and buy their meat and then go for a walk. At this time of year, the banks of the Test are alive with flowers, butterflies and dragonflies.”
A secret: “River Test Distillery: they recently won Best London Dry Gin in England!”
Favourite pubs: “The Prince Regent for being exactly what a pub has always been: walkable, good Guinness, pool table, darts and a juke box. The White Hart for being friendly, relaxed and having the most child-friendly menu.”
Restaurant: “The George and Dragon in Hurstbourne Priors - this has one of those chefs who play with ideas and are truly creative.”
Shop: “The Overton bakery, with shops in Whitchurch and Overton, does amazing jam doughnuts with cinnamon in the sugar.”
Local walk: “The Harroway. The farm backs onto it and you can walk or ride for miles.”
Overnight stay: “The B&B I suggest to friends is Yew Cottage in Longparish. They have a separate annexe and cook awesome breakfasts!”
Local event: “Hampshire Country and Garden Festival hosted here at Bere Mill in aid of Hampshire Hospitals. We had to cancel this year, but it will be back in 2021. It is the most brilliant, fun, inspired day and makes a huge amount of money for our local hospitals!”