Avon Valley Path
The Avon Valley Path follows the course of the River Avon along a 34-mile walking route that takes you from Salisbury, one of the most beautiful cathedral cities in England, to Christchurch Priory and the sea. It was opened in 1992 and runs from Wiltshire due south through Hampshire to finish in Dorset.
The Avon Valley Path is fascinating to both the historian and the naturalist. From Salisbury, it passes through the villages of Odstock, Charlton All Saints, Harbridge, Turmer, Sopley and Burton and the market towns of Downton, Fordingbridge and Ringwood on its way towards the Norman town of Christchurch at the mouth of the River Avon. The naturalist will find that the way is rich in flora and fauna, crossing as it does the chalk uplands south of Salisbury, the gravel ledges alongside the New Forest and the rich alluvial water meadows dissected by many mill streams and irrigation channels. It is also the haunt of kingfishers and of the rare otter. The route crosses two water meadows which are both Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI's). For those who just enjoy the walk, the route affords some breathtaking views from such high spots as Bishop's Walk, Castle Hill and the ridge above Downton.
The Path can be divided into five sections, each providing a really good day out. The sections are: Salisbury to Downton; Downton to Fordingbridge; Fordingbridge to Ringwood; Ringwood to Sopley; Sopley to Christchurch. During the walk you will experience water meadows buzzing with wildlife, high chalk downland with exhilarating views, peaceful village pubs, and the chance to relax with a picnic while watching the grazing Forest ponies or beside a still trout lake. Keep an eye out too for the flash of blue as a kingfisher speeds by, or the slender body and brown fur of the elusive otter.
The broad flood plain of the lower valley mainly comprises hay meadows and pastures dissected by drainage ditches and streams, which frequently flood during the winter. This makes the Avon Valley Path a summer walk which should be undertaken between May and October for the most enjoyable experience.
Hampshire County Council has provided an excellent online guide to the Avon Valley Path, providing lots of background information, route finding instructions and an overview map. You will find this at: www.hants.gov.uk/longdistance/avon-valley-path.htm
The guide by Sarah Moxley has been out of print for some time, but may be available from libraries or secondhand. It provides an excellent description of the route and things to look out for.
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