The Test Way Relay has been run annually since 1985 and sees teams of eight racing over an unmarshalled 44-mile course from the supposed source of the River Test at Inkpen Beacon to Totton. Ordnance Survey’s Mark Stileman took part and tells us about the event.
The Test Way is a 44-mile footpath route which includes a fabulous cross-section of scenery through southern England. It begins (or ends, depending on your perspective, but north-to-south and source-to-coast somehow seems much more intuitive) at Walbury Hill near Inkpen in Berkshire at almost 200 metres above sea level, and finishes on the edge of Southampton Water at Ealing. It’s a well-loved route with an abundance of history on the way. It doesn’t hug the river Test as the Itchen Way does; rather, it takes its own meandering route along the general flow of the Test valley. You meet and sometimes cross the Test at intervals on the path – or rather parts of the Tests, which for much of its way splits and divides into lots of small chalk streams, all of them highly prized by fly fishers.
On Saturday 15 September the annual Test Way relay took part. This is a race organised by the local running clubs, comprising eight legs from start to finish. There is a real sense of buzz around the handover points, with family members and club co-ordinators anxiously scanning the landscape and cheering their sweaty runners as they charge in for a gasped, wet hand slap to the next runner, who has for several minutes been on tenterhooks to start. Each year there are plenty of adventures to be told afterwards, usually involving getting hopelessly lost.
This year I was running the Stockbridge to Mottisfont leg (9.1km) for Hardley Runners. It’s one of the flattest sections and for the most part follows the route of the disused and wonderfully named Sprat and Winkle line, a former railway between Andover and Redbridge. This was itself built around – and in places literally on top of – the Southampton to Andover canal. There’s still a disused canal lock just north of Horsebridge on the Test Way, and just south of it the old Horsebridge station, preserved as part of a private garden, and which opens on certain dates in the summer to sell cream teas.
All this is a bit incidental when you’re charging along, watching your feet on the slippy muddy bits and occasionally having to leap through nettles to dodge families out with pushchairs. And just when you feel you’ve been running through this wooded flat trail for ever, you turn right over the Oakley branch of the Test, passing one of the oldest and most stupendous oak trees you’ll ever see, and then across the fields for a final rush to the road and the handover point. I was worried that I’d see no other runners for the whole leg, but in the end caught overtook three of them, which seemed respectable. Afterwards there was a gathering of runners and supporters at the Salmon Leap in Totton, swapping stories over a pint… a perfect way to finish a great autumn tradition.
If you’d like to get involved, contact your local Hampshire running club.