Fordingbridge, Bickton and the Hampshire Avon: a walk of birdsong and buttercup-filled meadows

In which I walk among clouds of Cow Parsley and Meadow Buttercups, meet some young Long-tailed Tits, and hear a Sedge Warbler

Take the Ringwood highway and keep to it until a lane bears off to the right. At first it goes through hedges but soon exchanges them for the river bank and lovely views of water-meadows and elms and wooded hills. It goes straight as a die to Bickton, a village beloved by painters.

Joan Begbie, Walking in the New Forest, pub. 1934

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am following walks, or parts of walks, described by Joan Begbie in Walking in the New Forest, which was published back in 1934. I’m interested to discover what has changed and what has not in the Forest, as I walk alongside Joan and her two characterful dogs, Bill, a white bull terrier who loves to charge out of sight across the heaths, and Mr. Bundy, “a rough-haired brindled griffon of diminutive size and choleric disposition”. 

Joan includes a chapter of what she calls road walks.

To those who like road walking the Forest has as much to offer as it has to the lover of quiet woodland path and lonely moorland track. It is safe to say that there are no ugly or uninteresting roads in all this part of Hampshire and many that are really inspiring. Even the great tarmac highways become things of beauty as soon as they enter the Forest.

Joan Begbie, Walking in the New Forest, pub. 1934

Back in the 1930s, of course, the ‘great tarmac roads’, and even the smaller ones, wouldn’t have been as busy as they are now. I’m not a big fan of road walking myself, and I’m not sure Joan would have been, though she was obviously catering for all preferences in her book of walks. In this chapter, though, she takes the opportunity to visit some of the Forest’s villages, and those just outside its boundary. One of these latter places is Bickton, which sits in a lovely setting on the banks of the Avon. That’s where we’re heading today.

If you have a copy of Walking in the New Forest, you can find Joan’s description of Bickton and its surroundings on pages 232 to 233.


The sketch map shows the route from St Mary’s Church in Fordingbridge to Bickton and back – a three-mile (there and back) mainly linear route. Double-solid lines are roads, the dashed line is the Avon Valley Footpath, and dotted lines are other footpaths. The route I walked is marked in red. There is a town centre car park in Fordingbridge, and it only takes five minutes or so to walk from there to St Mary’s.

The path from Fordingbridge to Bickton

I don’t take the Ringwood highway to Bickton, as Joan suggests in Walking in the New Forest. Instead, I persuade her and the dogs to meet me for a 7am start at St Mary’s Church (a lovely mediaeval building, and well worth a visit) in Fordingbridge, a place Joan knew and describes in her book. 

From there, we head off down what is now part of the Avon Valley Path. For the last two days it has been raining, but today the sun is glistening on the still moist leaves and flowers, droplets of water sparkling like stars. Cow Parsley (or, as my Yorkshire mother used to call it, Dead Man’s Oatmeal) has been growing and growing, and now meets and waves across the path as if dancing a mediaeval farandole, so our clothes are soon sodden and blessed with tiny petals as we brush against the plants. The Hawthorn is in full blossom, and buttercups nod gently by the path in a wispy breeze. Shining flecks of tiny insects float in the air. It’s warm, already. 

Hawthorn blossom on the Avon Valley Path, near Fordingbridge

We get to the end of this footpath, and turn left, heading for the sluices and pools to the west of Bickton. There’s a familiar high-pitched tsee-tsee of Long-tailed Tits, a whole gang of them flitting in and out of a wayside tree. They’re fledglings, getting to grips with their wings. If they were human, they would be riding motor bikes and going to wild parties.

Long-tailed Tit, recently fledged. Just look at that moody teenage expression.

There are other delights. A single Wild Rose flower, waiting for its companions to open; Hemlock Water-dropwort, poisonous but beautiful, a plant of waterways and parasol flowerheads; a field of Meadow Buttercups and frothy Dandelion seedheads; Red Campion and Speckled Wood butterflies, and there, an Orange-tip, bright as poster paint, hurtling by.

Our way takes us over wooden footbridges, crossing the streams, sluices and damp earth of the water-meadows. Dragonflies – Beautiful Demoiselles, the males iridescent blue and the females coppery – pass swiftly by in their angled flights. A Grey Heron flies overhead, and then another, and then another, and then even more. I count seven. It’s a little like walking under an airport flight path, only soundless and serene.

As we reach the end of the path at the Avon, and find the minor road that travels through Bickton, a swan takes off from the water and we marvel at the powerful rushing beat of its wings. Not soundless, but still serene.

Bickton

Here is a big water-mill with weirs, noisy race, and a big still pool where wild swan and mallard float and dabble peacefully with the prosaic quackers of the village.

Joan Begbie, Walking in the New Forest, pub. 1934

The weirs and races remain, and the waters of the Avon are slow and peaceful. The water-mill is no longer operational, but its eighteenth and nineteenth century buildings still stand, now converted into apartments. (Later on the walk, I meet one of the residents, walking his friendly dog, who lives in one of the upper-floor flats. He tells me the views over the river and water-meadows are beautiful, making up for the lack of a lift.)

There are also Mallards, mostly in pairs, but I don’t see any “quackers” – presumably farmyard-type ducks. Joan recounts an amusing story, with an enchanting insight into village life in Bickton in past days.

An old lady who used to live in Bickton told me that nearly every cottage had its ducks and that in the evening it was an amusing pastime for the villagers to watch the birds leave the water in a body, proceed along the lane, and as the different cottages were reached break up into separate companies each bound for its own particular gate.

Joan Begbie, Walking in the New Forest, pub. 1934

Now that I would have loved to have seen.

A Mallard pair at Bickton

The cottages have thatched porches and pretty gardens, and at the far end of the village is a beautiful old farmhouse whose green lawns drop sharply down to the river.

Joan Begbie, Walking in the New Forest, pub. 1934

Bickton is still very pretty. I add it to the list of places I might like to live.

I turn off on a footpath. Its beginning doesn’t look very promising from the road side of the stile – overgrown and under-used. But, as I step over and into the foliage, I find a trodden path.

The start of this footpath in Bickton looked very overgrown, but it soon opened out into a pretty way.

The path then turns right, over two stiles, to cross another buttercup meadow, guarded by a horse that looks at me suspiciously, but obviously deciding I am alright. I am allowed to proceed. 

The horse in the buttercup meadow

After the buttercup field, I cross another stile next to a white gate, and then turn back towards the Avon and the footpath I arrived on. Apart from the beating wings of the flying bird earlier, I haven’t seen any swans. Now, there they are, preening and gliding on the river, graceful, as if they too are mesmerised by the peace of the day. I stop and watch them, while Joan stands by me, remembering the swans she has seen in all her life. She’s in her thirties now, as she writes her book. She has many more swans to see, many more paths to walk.

Mute Swan on the Hampshire Avon

Back to Fordingbridge

Our path takes us back on the same way we came out of Fordingbridge, across the water-meadows, along the footbridges, by the buttercup meadows. The Long-tailed Tits have taken their teenage tantrums elsewhere, but I hear a Sedge Warbler and see a Whitethroat.

Then, we’re back in the churchyard of St Mary’s. It’s late morning, the sun is high, and it’s time to turn home for rest and to remember a lovely, nature-filled walk.


6 thoughts on “Fordingbridge, Bickton and the Hampshire Avon: a walk of birdsong and buttercup-filled meadows

  1. Gail

    I did the walk early this morning Amanda, starting at Bickton Village. It was glorious. I stood on the bridge over the main river and recorded a video, with a Cetti’s Warbler shrieking in my ear!
    I extended my walk out to Midgeham Farm, which meant I had to walk along the “main” road back into Fordingbridge, and then back the proper route via the Church path. Did you know that there is a Heronry, out towards Midgeham Farm, which is why you had the fly-past. If you walk that short bit of the Avon Valley Path that goes off left, you get a lot closer to the Heronry. I counted 11 Herons around the Fishery this morning. Thank you sooo much for the suggestion 🙂
    If you want to see the video, it is on Wildnwindblown on instagram x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Gail – I’m glad you had a lovely walk. I didn’t know about the heronry, though maybe I should have guessed given the number of herons! Your video is great – love the Cetti’s Warbler. Aren’t we lucky to live in this beautiful place 💚

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  2. Carolyn Lambert

    What a wonderful walk! You were richly rewarded for getting up so early! Your photos, as usual are a joy….the fledgling long tailed tit….adorable…and the swans…breath takingly beautiful! I shall have to read about this walk a few times, to fully absorb .the atmosphere ….or I could get up very early myself, and hopefully find such a heaven!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was such a lovely walk! Early morning ramblings are a joy. I’m really glad you enjoyed reading about it. I wonder what Bickton was like when the mill was still operational? – it must have been quite a sight and sound!

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  3. Gail

    Gorgeous. I know the part of the route that is the Avon Valley Path but I hadnt a clue that a little diversion would have taken me to the Mill. I have known the Mill over a couple of incarnations. You used to be able to buy trout from a shop at the back and a few years ago, I viewed the top most apartment. The lack of a lift was one issue, but management and maintenance was another. The views are lovely.
    I may even do your walk this evening….thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a lovely route to explore, and also the first time I’d been that way and seen the Mill. It must have been wonderful when the Mill was operational, and I like the thought of being able to buy trout in the past. I hope you enjoy exploring! Say hello to the swans for me.

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