The chalkstreams in the south of England (70 miles from London) originate in the downs of Hampshire and Wiltshire. The best are the Test and its tributaries (the Bourne Rivulet, Dever, Dun, Anton, and Wallop Brook) and the Itchen (and its tributary, the Arle), which, like the Test, fishes all the way to its mouth. Also recommended are the Avon (from Upavon to Salisbury), the Kennet (from Newbury to Marlborough), the Winterbourne (south of Newton Toney to Salisbury), and the Nadder and Wylye, both good for their entire lengths. Generally, however, the headwaters hold the greatest appeal: The landscape is more attractive, and in the lower reaches the introduction of nonindigenous strains of browns and rainbows is driving out the native stock.
Telephone Numbers: The country code for the United Kingdom is 44. Add 0 to local numbers if calling from within the UK.
Local Time: Five hours ahead of EST.
Current Exchange Rate: $1.00 = £0.69
Weather: For forecasts, call Weather Check (9001-333-111).
Taxes: Most goods in the United Kingdom, including hotels, are subject to a value added tax (VAT) of 17.5 percent.
Tipping: Restaurant service is usually included and specified on the bill. Otherwise, tip ten percent. It is customary to tip fishing guides, or gillies, $32 a day.
Getting There: International airlines flying directly to London (seven hours from the East Coast) include American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Airlines, British Airways, and Virgin Atlantic Airways.
Local Travel: A rental car is the most sensible way to negotiate the chalkstream area. The drive from central London to Stockbridge is straightforward and takes about one and a half hours. You can also travel by helicopter or train and arrange for a private driver or rental car at the other end.
Car Rental: Avis (870-606-0100), Hertz (870-599-6699), and Budget (800-181-181) have offices at Heathrow and Gatwick airports and in Newbury (Avis and Budget) and Salisbury (Budget and Hertz).
Helicopters: Air Harrods, Ltd. (1279-660-800; fax 1279-660-880), provides chartered helicopters from London to hotels in the chalkstream area. Travel time, 20 to 30 minutes.
Trains: Bearing in mind that British trains are notoriously unreliable, direct services run from London's Waterloo Station to Winchester (55 minutes), Andover (one hour), Salisbury (one hour 20 minutes), and Southampton (one hour 15 minutes). From London's Paddington there's direct service to Newbury (45 minutes) and Hungerford (one hour 20 minutes). Call National Rail Enquiries (345-484-950).
Private Drivers: Carey Chauffeured Services (207-201-1700; fax 207-823-1278) is reliable and provides a good selection of Jaguars and Mercedes, all with uniformed drivers.
When to Visit: The season begins in the first week of April, becoming good from early May and running until the end of September, officially ending October 15. During the so-called mayfly season (mid-May to mid-June), which generally provides the cream of the year's sport, access to the best water is more difficult to obtain. (The mayfly hatch not only causes the trout to go into a brief feeding frenzy, it also lures the largest and most experienced fish from the riverbeds and tempts them to indiscretion.) September is a lovely month: The rivers are quieter (mayfly time sometimes feels like Ascot), and with the late-summer dusk come evening rises.
Fishing Operators: To obtain access to premier stretches of chalkstream, and be guided by John Russell, contact Roxton Bailey Robinson Worldwide (25 High Street, Hungerford; 1488-683-222; fax 1488-689-730). Beginners are welcome, and classes are available.
Prices: All packages are tailor-made. They can include everything from airport pickup and hotel reservations to as little as tackle hire or a single day on a particular beat. The cost of fishing varies, the middle and upper Test being around twice as expensive as, say, the Bourne Rivulet. As a guideline, a rod costs $345 a day during the mayfly peak, $145 at other times.
License: Legally essential. Costs $3.67 a day, $9.55 for eight days; available from any British Post Office. (Information: 845-722-3344.)
Tackle: Seven- and nine-and-a-half-foot rods, respectively, allow for minimum disturbance on the smaller rivers and access to distant fish on the wider beats. A nine-foot rod for a six-weight line is the best for all-around use. Also essential: polarizing glasses, new leaders, and tippet material. Mike Sugg (Homecroft, Sandford Orcas; 1963-220-335; no fax) is regarded as the best fly-dresser in England. Otherwise, The Rod Box (London Road, King's Worthy; 1962-883-600; fax 1962-883-419), a local institution, stocks a superlative range of appropriate fly patterns, including the popular Greenwell's Glory and Lunn's Particular (broadly speaking, the four most useful on chalkstreams are up-winged flies, sedges, stoneflies, and midges). Owner Ian Hay can also provide classes and, for your spoils, a taxidermy service. In Stockbridge, there is an Orvis retail outlet (Bridge House, High Street; 1264-810-017; fax 1264-810-504) with a good selection of fly patterns; they can, though, be American-centric, and it tends to be cheaper to buy in the States. In London, Farlow's (5 Pall Mall; 207-839-2423; fax 207-839-8959) provides expert, genial advice on all things piscatorial. The shop is also an Aladdin's Cave of tackle.
Clothing: Comfortable light clothing in muted colors, a sweater, boots, and a raincoat. Wading is rarely allowed, but check; it may be worthwhile to bring thigh waders for the few beats where banks provide no access.
Lainston House Hotel and Restaurant This is the nearest you'll get to a five-star hotel in the Stockbridge area, although some of the formulaic chintz and faux fourposters leave it one star short of the crowning accolade. It is a pretty red-brick, 17th-century manor house set in 63 acres of trim Hampshire parkland with playful topiary, a dovecote, and a ruined 14th-century chapel. The best of the 41 rooms, the Delft Room, has views of the dramatic avenue of lime trees that sweeps down in front of the house like something out of Jane Austen. The marble bathrooms are huge, and there's an excellent restaurant serving chiefly "New French" cuisine. The staff is thoroughly accustomed to fishermen and their needs. If there weren't so many signs of conferences, and rooms to accommodate them, you'd want to stay here even if you weren't fishing. Rooms, $221-$419. Dinner, $120. Sparsholt, Hampshire SO21 2LT; 1962-863-588; fax 1962-776-672; www.exclusivehotels.co.uk.
Hotel du Vin & Bistro If only they hadn't tried to charge me $12.50 for a pot of peppermint tea (I didn't want the whole spread at breakfast), I wouldn't have faulted Hotel du Vin in Winchester. As it transpired, this very attractive Queen Anne townhouse hotel—in the city center, yet convenient for fishing the Test and Itchen—tended to put numbers before service. This meant waiting to be noticed in the restaurant (it was packed) and no spare pair of hands in spite of seeing me struggle with luggage. But the 23 well-priced rooms, simply decorated with coir carpets and soft, muted eggshell hues, are impeccably clean and light, with crisp Egyptian-cotton sheets, outsized baths, power showers, fluffy robes, and heated towel rails. Go for either the suite or the Courvoisier Room, which overlooks the walled garden. The dining room—antiques, beat-up tables (stain rings retained for effect), dark floorboards, and distressed, pale-ochre walls—is relaxed, though reservations are essential. The bistro food is okay (my cod was a little too long in the fridge to be truly melting), and the wine is exceptional, with some quite good bottles for under $30. Rooms, $146-$272. Dinner, $120. Southgate Street, Winchester, Hampshire SO23 9EF; 1962-841-414; fax 1962-842-458; www.hotelduvin.com.
Howard's House Hotel The most surprising thing about Howard's House is that it remains relatively undiscovered in its ravishingly pretty Wiltshire village, the likes of which I thought existed only in Dorset. Yet service is so genial and unstuffy you'd think you were anywhere but in England. The old house, built in 1623, is of golden Chilmark stone with a steeply pitched, broad-eaved roof. Its nine rooms overlook the valley, the brook, the church spire, or the box-hedged garden—ineffably picturesque, serene, and well located for fishing the rivers Avon, Nadder, or Wylye. While not trying to be anything more than a comfortable bed for the night (the clean rooms with brilliant white linen are done up with a little too much magnolia and lemon), the restaurant is another matter altogether. The cuisine is New British, relying on the freshest local fare (quail, venison, and mallard) prepared in consistently successful combinations. At least come for dinner. If staying, ask for the fourposter. Rooms, $184-$272, including breakfast. Dinner, $80. Teffont Evias, Wiltshire SP3 5RJ; 1722-716-392; fax 1722-716-820; www.howardshousehotel.com.
Chewton Glen You aren't likely to bump into other fly fishermen at this hotel on the south coast of Hampshire (it's an hour's drive from Stockbridge). That said, the dearth of five-star hotels in the chalkstream epicenter justifies the jaunt, especially if you're traveling à deux and one of you doesn't care for sitting on riverbanks in silence. Chewton Glen is, quite simply, the best English hotel I've come across outside London. The white-gabled, Palladian-style house has been converted into 62 rooms, a superlative spa with indoor and outdoor pools, and a Michelin-starred restaurant—all among 130 acres of lawns, woods, and parkland. Because it's privately owned, service retains a personal edge. The decor is drawing-room English, with Colefax and Fowler chintzes, antiques, toile de Jouy walls, pinch pleating, pink-granite bathrooms, monogrammed linen, and Frette robes. Every room is different. Recommended: the sun-drenched suite 86-87 and the croquet-lawn rooms, with pretty loggias for sitting out after that massage. Rooms, $368-$1,059. Dinner, $140. Christchurch Road, New Milton, Hampshire BH25 6QS; 1425-275-341; fax 1425-272-310; In the United States: 800-344-5087.
Babington House If you're fishing the Wylye, you're better off staying at Babington House near Frome than at the hotel that everyone recommends, Bishopstrow House Hotel & Spa near Warminster (service is paltry, decor tired, and the spa downright dirty). Babington, the country-house sister to the perennially trendy Soho House private club in London, may have a "scene" that's more fashion than fishing, but the contemporary-style bedrooms are comfortable, the food is excellent, and there's a spa as well as indoor and outdoor pools. Rooms, $301-$375. Dinner, $90. Babington, Somerset BA11 3RW; 1373-812-266; fax 1373-812-112.
The Landmark Trust, an organization that rents historical buildings to help pay for their preservation, has an exceptional property on the Cathedral Close in Salisbury. Once the Bishop's storehouse, the Wardrobe is an attic-style apartment, sleeping four, with magnificent views of the cathedral and the Avon, and a walled garden. Rates, $540-$832 for a three-night stay. 1628-825-925; fax 1628-825-417; www.landmarktrust.co.uk.
Roxton Bailey Robinson Worldwide can provide picnic lunches—ranging from lobster and summer soups to strawberries and cream—to enjoy when you are out on the river. Otherwise, seek out a pub lunch, as recommended below. For very good food, the chalkstream region is a gastro-void; only three restaurants are worth a detour.
The Old Manor House Restaurant This dining room in Romsey, presided over by Italian chef Mauro Bregoli, is exceptional for game (he is a keen stalker, as the heads hanging on the walls attest). The roe deer is the house specialty, thinly sliced and lightly sautéed in olive oil, garlic, and herbs. Other signature dishes include roast piglet, barbecued eel steak, and home-cured wild-boar ham. Dinner, $81. Palmerston Street, Romsey, Hampshire SO51 8GF; 1794-517-353; fax 1794-513-855.
The Vineyard at Stockcross If you are fishing the Kennet, eat here. This soulless hotel outside Newbury has a very good restaurant—contemporary British interpretations of French classics, light on fat, strong on taste, with a superlative wine list that includes 600 California labels. Dinner, $140. Stockcross, Berkshire RG20 8JU; 1635-528-770; fax 1635-528-398.
The Chesil Rectory The best of the lot. I had butternut squash soup with seared scallops followed by roasted salmon with rhubarb, smoked-salmon mash, and ginger sauce—unusual and surprisingly successful combinations cooked with a precision that has recently earned the restaurant a Michelin star. Ask for a table by the open fireplace in the small, 15th-century, oak-beamed dining room. Dinner, $100. Chesil Street, Winchester, Hampshire SO23 0HU; 1962-851-555; fax 1962-869-704.
John O'Gaunt Inn If you're fishing in the Stockbridge area, O'Gaunt, on the banks of the Test in Horsebridge, is ground zero for a hearty pub lunch and restorative beer. The fare is homemade, old-fashioned English: smoked haddock, roast rib of beef, a ploughman's—with no evidence of the "boil-in-the-bag" vegetables that afflict many of the pubs in the region. Reasonably priced ($5-$10), it draws a mixed crowd of fishermen, walkers, and locals. (Tellingly, the bar sells flies.) Horsebridge; 1794-388-394.
The Peat Spade Five miles upriver, in Longstock. Food here is more inventive, ranging from Indonesian pork curry to marmalade bread-and-butter pudding ($10-$20). You need to reserve a table, and there's a no-smoking area. Longstock; 1264-810-612.
The Grosvenor Don't bother with Stockbridge's main pub and home of the Houghton Club, which must have seen better days to have ever merited its reputation.
The Plough Another fisherman's favorite, with a spread of 30 entrées, including lighter, healthier options if you cannot stomach another steak-and-kidney pie ($9-$22). Sparsholt; 1962-776-353.
Flower Pots For real ales, this is the best pub in Hampshire, at the source of the Itchen in Cheriton. This simple, poky inn, which can get smoky, is also thick with the scent of hops; it features beers from its on-site brewhouse (try Pots Ale, light, dry, and the local bestseller). Cheriton; 1962-771-318.
The Wykeham Arms In Winchester and one of the greatest pubs in England, serving impeccable fresh fish (bream), game (pheasant), and Hampshire Down lamb in a 250-year-old location by the cathedral. And a first for a pub: The wine list extends beyond a bad Merlot. Winchester; 1962-853-834.
If one of you doesn't fish, the area offers numerous nonpiscatory distractions. Gardens are plentiful, with three exceptional examples. There's Exbury, near Beaulieu (2380-891-203; fax 2380-899-940), created by Lionel de Rothschild in the 1920s, beautiful in spring with rhododendrons, magnolias, and daffodil meadows. On a midsummer evening when the crowds have gone, visit Mottisfont Abbey (1794-340-757; fax 1794-341-492), four miles north of Romsey; it has a spectacular rose garden, at its peak in mid-June. Just outside Stockbridge is Longstock Water Garden (1264-810-904; fax 1264-810-924), seven acres of arum lilies, flowering rushes, and irises fed by the Test. Call in advance, as this is a private garden open 12 times a year from April to September. Other worthwhile sights include Salisbury and Winchester cathedrals, boasting, respectively, the tallest spire in England and the longest medieval nave in Europe. Broadlands (1794-505-010; fax 1794-505-040), home of the late Lord Mountbatten, is one of the finest examples of Palladian architecture in Britain and a must-see stately home, despite being nestled in Romsey's suburban outskirts. The gardens, on the banks of the Test, were landscaped by Capability Brown, and inside there is a good selection of Van Dykes, Reynoldses, and Raeburns. Tours, though, are guided, which can be tedious. I prefer Wilton House (1722-746-720; fax 1722-744-447), near Salisbury, with its magnificent Inigo Jones-designed staterooms, Rembrandts, Rubenses, and furniture by Chippendale. If you've got the children in tow, you won't go wrong with The National Motor Museum (1590-612-345; fax 1590-612-624), in Beaulieu. This vast collection of vehicles and paraphernalia related to the history of motoring ranges from such World Land Speed record breakers as the Golden Arrow and Donald Campbell's Bluebird to the modest Mini. For all the above, private guide Anthea Russell of Fair Game, Ltd. (1264-889-884; fax 1264-889-883), can arrange tailor-made trips.
Due to the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, at presstime various emergency measures restricted access to many parts of the British countryside.
Public footpaths and moorland in the national parks are closed. Travel off main, paved roads into the countryside is discouraged. Travel to towns and villages, however, and to restaurants, shops, and other public facilities is safe, according to the Department of the Environment, Transport and Regions, provided the general public avoids all contact with susceptible livestock and does not go onto farm premises or cross land where livestock is or may be kept.
Those planning travel to the British countryside can consult such Web sites as www.ehso.com/IntlUI_DETR (Department of the Environment, Transport and Regions) and www.ramblers.org.uk (The Rambler's Association) for specific, up-to-date information.
About this Guide
Prices In U.S. dollars.
Hotel PricesHigh-season double occupancy, from the least expensive double room to the most expensive suite, including VAT but not breakfast (except where noted).
Restaurant Prices Three-course dinner for two without beverage, service, or tax.
Platinum Card Travel Service (PTS) or Centurion Travel Service (CTS)
For assistance with your travel to the chalkstreams of England, or any destination, call 800-443-7672 (PTS) or 877-877-0987 (CTS). From abroad, call 623-492-5000 collect.
Disclaimer: the information in this story was accurate at the time of publication in May 2001, but we suggest you confirm all details with the service establishments before making travel plans.