- On the upper reaches of the beautiful River Test and on the edge of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the small historic town of Whitchurch is a little gem waiting to be explored. www.whitchurch.org.uk
Following a very successful local campaign, in October 2015 Whitchurch was awarded accreditation to the ‘Walkers are Welcome’ national town network becoming the first town to represent North Hampshire and the Test River Valley. Membership of this community led national accreditation scheme offers economic benefits to smaller towns and villages that perhaps lack the investment, marketing opportunities and the high profile of the National Parks & tourist hotspots. www.walkersarewelcome.org.uk
The Whitchurch Association that led the successful campaign see this accreditation as an economic winner for the town and it forms part of a wider tourism initiative that they have undertaken over the past two years. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Whitchurch has certainly benefited from the exposure it has received from the national network and national website with local businesses commenting on the increase in the number of ‘walkers’ visiting the town. This summer the town was delighted to support nearby Overton in their successful bid for Walkers are Welcome village accreditation, an excellent example of communities working together and Whitchurch has just recently been elected Regional Mentors for the SE England. We look forward to working together to encourage more people to come and explore the lesser known North Hampshire countryside.
Unfortunately the recession has already had an impact on countryside access. Last year the Ramblers Association conducted the largest ever survey of footpaths in England & Wales and found that almost half of the 140,000 mile network was in need of improvement. The report showed that it’s the thousands of miles of small essential footpaths administered by local authorities, which link the whole rights of way network together that have been hit the most by swingeing cuts to council budgets and of course we don’t yet know what Brexit will mean for our countryside.
Demonstrating a commitment to the countryside on our doorstep is just one of the key criteria that Walkers are Welcome towns/villages must meet and here in Whitchurch we are determined to keep our countryside footpaths fit for purpose for all to enjoy. We have worked hard this year establishing volunteer groups that have helped us to deliver on these commitments; in addition to our countryside footpath litter picking programme, we now have a very enthusiastic volunteer footpath maintenance group that have so far devoted 144 man hours working alongside the North Hampshire Access Team cutting back vegetation, carrying out footpath repairs and replacing damaged fingerposts. A successful grant from the HCC Small Grants Scheme (Countryside Access) has allowed us to purchase tools to enable us to build on the achievements so far.
In Whitchurch we encourage people to make use of public transport to visit our town….’use it or lose it’ as they say. We have an hourly main line train service and a good Stagecoach bus service linking with many of the local countryside paths…..look out for our new series of Bus Walks coming soon.
If you would like more information about Whitchurch and ‘Walkers are Welcome please email. Jacqueline Browne at WalkersAreWelcome@whitchurchassociation.org.uk
Find us on Facebook at Walkers are Welcome – Whitchurch, Hampshire.