The Avon Valley Path is a 34-mile, long-distance 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 Path is named after the river whose course it follows. Please bear in mind that this route can become seriously waterlogged from December to May.
The Path has been divided into five sections, each providing a really good day out. Choose between water meadows buzzing with wildlife or high chalk downland with exhilarating views, peaceful village pubs or a sophisticated cathedral city, or relaxing 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 Avon Valley is a very special place; it has a greater range of habitats and a wider variety of flora and fauna than any other chalk river in Britain. 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, and this flooding has possibly saved the area from intrusive development.
Wetland wild flowers thrive, such as water avens, meadowsweet and tubular water-dropwort. In the more acidic areas look for tormentil, Devil’s-bit scabious or meadow thistle. Nearly seventy species of aquatic plant and twenty-four species of fish have been recorded, including barbel and salmon. The valley is of national importance for birds, particularly over-wintering wildfowl such as white-fronted geese and Bewick swans, lapwing, golden plover and black-tailed godwits. The lakes around Ringwood play host to ducks, great crested grebe, cormorants and many other species of bird. In spring the valley supports huge numbers of breeding lapwing, redshank and snipe and in the summer the reedbeds and scrub are alive with reed buntings, blackcaps, sedge warblers, reed warblers and the rare Cetti’s warbler. Special care should be taken to avoid disturbing sensitive species, especially wildfowl and ground-nesting birds such as lapwing, redshank and snipe. Walkers with dogs are particularly requested to keep them under close control during the nesting season (April to July), or when wildfowl are present.
The river and its water meadows dominate this route. You pass mills, weirs and sluice gates along its length. Water meadow channels were cut to carry water on to the pasture and then drain it off again. Keeping a steady trickle of water through the grass roots during the spring protected them from frost and resulted in a valuable earlier crop of grass or hay. The man employed to manage this critical water flow was called a ‘Drowner’. There is the magnificent city of Salisbury and the Norman town of Christchurch where you can visit antique shops, sample local crafts and food or even stay for a night or two. There are also some charming villages such as Odstock, Hatchet Green and Mockbeggar, where you can explore the village churches and twisting lanes, stop for a rest at welcoming pubs to sample the local beer or learn some local lore.
Avon Valley Path 2.2mb pdf