Things to see and do in Stockbridge
- Credit: Copyright National Trust Images/Chris Lacey
Looking for a winter break that is suitable for outdoorsy types and shopaholics? Stockbridge delivers both in one glorious pastoral hit, says Emma Caulton
If you are one of those couples where one wants to shop with latte stops while the other considers a break away as an opportunity to get active, then Stockbridge is a perfect fit.
Let me point the browsers and coffee drinkers in the direction of the High Street of this delightful Test Valley town. This is not the usual high street. The Test runs underneath, emerging alongside pavements where shoppers can pause to spot trout in the clear waters… I counted 18 last time.
Stockbridge has the feel of a smart shopping village with clothing and interiors boutiques and a country meets London vibe going on. To give a flavour of what’s on offer, there’s Bakhtiyar, specialists in contemporary, vintage and antique Persian rugs, runners and kilims, and Wykeham Gallery, showcasing outstanding artists with a focus on landscape and wildlife, among them evocative scenes by Lindsay Keir and studies of eagles in flight by Karl Martens. There are fashion boutiques such as Browns, Gaynor and Hero with stylish, not-your-usual labels – like Mos Mosh, Ghost, Pyrus and Riani. For gifts and interiors there are the likes of George Clark Interior Design (check out the ceramic guinea fowls with bulbous patterned bodies), established Broughton Gifts (everything from fun mobiles to velvet scarves) and newish Stocks with glam faux fur bean bags and Kate Spade stationery. Stocks has moved into a retail unit within what was The Vine Inn and was joined at the beginning of December by Wine Utopia. This independent wine merchant, established in Stockbridge about five years ago by Rachel Gibson, moved from further up the High Street, attracted by more space for stock, tastings and tutorials.
And any country pursuits enthusiasts can find solace in his and her Orvis stores (from Barbour wellies to bobble hats), Roxtons, with an array of country-suitable clobber including thick socks and waterproof caps, and Robjent’s, specialising in shooting and fly-fishing equipment.
For those who want to avoid a trawl round the shops, what are the options? Plenty. Just out of town, Stockbridge Riding School offers lessons and hacks with direct access onto Stockbridge Down. They ride out in all weathers, too, including snow. Meanwhile opportunities to fish, hunt and shoot can be organised by locally based sporting agencies, such as Glorious Game, who work in partnership with Peat Spade Inn at Longstock. Their intention is to help others experience the best sport the county has to offer. After the shooting season finishes at the end of January, the Glorious Game team will be focusing on the upcoming fishing season. However, they also offer guided deer stalking all year round, as well as “Shoot With Your Camera” trips as a way for people to see and learn about deer in their natural environment.
Brunch and lunch
There are plenty of places in Stockbridge to stop for a break. I suggest popular Thyme & Tides bistro with deli; expect warming soups and homemade treats on the menu. Or there’s Woodfire, in the distinctive premises of what was previously Stokes Garage, with an Italian-influenced menu that includes sharing platters, authentic pizza and delicious pasta. On the balconied floor above you will find an outpost of Coffee Lab – an excellent group of cafes serving good coffee and gooey bakes.
Otherwise head out of town, taking a country lane through Longstock, a chocolate box village of thatch and timber-framed cottages that charms even in the depths of winter, to Leckford Farm Shop and Café. If there is something familiar about this barn-style eaterie with sofas around a woodburning stove, it is because the Leckford Estate is also known as the Waitrose Farm. While here take the opportunity to visit adjacent Longstock Park Nursery. It has an array of plants, plus inspirational gardens featuring an 80-metre long herbaceous border and stunning National Collections of buddlejas and Clematis viticella – admittedly not at their best out of season.
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Wrap up for a winter walk. A path off the High Street leads to Stockbridge Marsh beside the Test: a hidden treat cared for by the National Trust. Another is Stockbridge Down, east of Stockbridge, where you can take a walk through history. Discover an island of chalk downland with Bronze Age burial mounds and 3,000-year-old Woolbury Ring fort and ramparts, buffeted by winds and with views to Salisbury Plain. North-west of Stockbridge you can take a wind-swept walk round another Iron Age hill fort – Danebury, also with far-reaching views. If you prefer a more sheltered wander, try the grounds of Mottisfont Abbey, south of Stockbridge.
Eat and sleep
After a walk there’s nothing better than a country pub with cosy bar, roaring fire, delicious food and comfy bedrooms, and Stockbridge specialises in these. In the town you’re spoiled for choice. Good Food Guide recommended The Greyhound on the Test, restaurant with rooms and river beat garden, delivers 16th century quirky character, contemporary country style and a tempting menu. Almost opposite is The Three Cups, a cosy 15th century coaching inn with low ceilings, dark beams, logs fires and eclectic decorations including dressmaker’s dummy as floor light. The menu includes unexpected “pub classics” such as potted venison; bedrooms are warm and welcoming. At the other end of the High Street is The White Hart. It has origins as a brewhouse and is now a well-run Fuller’s pub with nicely done bedrooms. Out of town, there’s the Peat Spade Inn, in aforementioned Longstock – a pretty pub with menus that encompass fish and chips and venison haunch, plus country comfortable rooms.
My Stockbridge: Dagan James, Broughton Water Buffalo, Broughton, Stockbridge
“Here at Broughton Water Buffalo, we are working with nature, not against it. In 2001, we made the decision to stop arable production and commit to sustainable farming methods in order to ‘re-wild’ the land and improve and build up the soil for future generations. We have done this by ensuring that our buffalo are exclusively grass fed on complex herbal lays which not only provide excellent nutrients for the buffalo but benefit the soil as well. We see the rewards of our work daily and are now channelling some of our energies into spreading the word, engaging the public and re-connecting people with the nature around them. We’ll be kick starting this in the New Year with our Tree Planting Project – days where the public are invited to come and help us get a load of new saplings in the ground.
We’re really lucky with where we live. Broughton is a wonderful community to be a part of; with beautiful walks, fascinating people and excellent pubs! There’s no better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than taking the dogs out for a bracing walk on the downs swiftly followed by a pint by the fire at The Tally Ho!”