Day out: Marshcourt River, Hampshire

Follow creeping water rails, singing warblers and shimmering brown trout along this stretch of England's chalk-stream Marshcourt River

FF7YTF Brown Trout swimming in the margins of a UK river

England is home to more than 85% of the world’s chalk streams, with Hampshire offering some of the finest examples.

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The geological landscape here is dominated by chalk, a porous rock that slowly filters groundwater before storing it in reservoirs beneath the surface.

Marsh court River
Marshcourt River – a tributary of the Test – meanders between the cattle-grazed water meadows of Stockbridge Common Marsh and a band of deciduous woodland.
It is one of roughly 200 chalk streams in the world, the majority of which are found in England ©Alamy

The water is then released through springs to form rivers such as the Test, Itchen and Meon, each flowing with extraordinary clarity and purity.

From the main courses are numerous sidestreams and tributaries. Some remain winterbournes, rising only when the water table swells, whereas one or two are noted for their own individual beauty. One such stream slips almost unnoticed below the cottage gardens of Stockbridge, before finding space for itself on the wide meadow and marsh to the south of the town. There, for a short distance, the Marshcourt River widens and forges its own identity, running parallel with the Test before the two eventually merge.

Wild flowers blooming in picturesque cottage gardens
Wild flowers blooming in picturesque cottage gardens © Getty

Reeds of the river

The Marshcourt flows along the western edge of Stockbridge Common Marsh, where access is granted to the public by the National Trust. A gentle stroll offers plenty of views of this classic chalk-stream habitat and the wildlife that thrives here. Sedge, reed and Cetti’s warblers may be seen and heard, while water rails and water voles creep deep in the reedbeds and river margins.

Within the river, swathes of water crowfoot swing with the current, while in the sky above, swallows and hobbies gorge on the clouds of hatching insects. The fish also enjoy the feast, with brown trout and grayling crashing with abandon.

The area is renowned throughout the world for its dry-fly fishing and the influence is often evident. In Stockbridge, tackle shops and outfitters such as Orvis UK nestle between the cafés and pubs, and people gather beside the white-fenced barriers to feed bread to the trout, rather than the ducks.

A fresh-water, white-clawed Crayfish atop a wet and slimy rock
A fresh-water, white-clawed Crayfish atop a wet and slimy rock © Getty
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Main Image: The Brown Trout is a medium to large fish with spotted back and sides and a yellow belly. It lives in fast-flowing, stony rivers feeding on insect larvae, small fish and flying bugs, such as mayflies © Alamy