It may be best to conclude with a sketch of the present appearance of the parishes (in 1898).
To begin at the west, where the border is on Romsey, Michelmersh and Farley, the Romsey road, formerly the direct road from Winchester to Salisbury, running through it, beside Ampfield Church and village. This is high ground, and Ampfield Wood extends along it to the borders of Hursley Park. It is chiefly of oak, fir, and beech, and on the southern side are the fine arcades of beechwood that Mr. Keble used to call Hursley Cathedral. From one point in the wood long sight can distinguish a sort of needle which is the spire of Salisbury Cathedral. The wood is very old, probably primeval, as it is guarded in the oldest notices of the Manor of Merdon, and it contains a flora of its own, in which may be mentioned that rare and beautiful Melittis Melissophyllum, bastard balm, like a purple and white archangel. The bilberry is plentiful there and all along the beautiful park-like road to Romsey and Salisbury. The church, raised above the wayside fountain, and the churchyard full of very beautiful varieties of pine, still nestles into the wood, and there is a charming view over the open country towards the south.
Farley Chamberlayne, which joins the wood on the other side, rising much higher, has a monument viewed from all the country round, erected by one of the St. John family to a horse which leapt down with him into a chalk-pit of considerable depth, and so alighted that neither horse nor man was hurt, and the horse won the cup at the races the year after, under the name of Beware Chalk-Pit. Parnholt wood, that clothes one side of the mount, is beloved by botanists for possessing tracts of lily of the valley, Convallaria majalis, and likewise Paris quadrifolia, a great rarity. The mount itself is bare chalk down,  but has a wonderful view over the whole undulating country--to the southward the beginning of forest land, and to the south-east, where the beechwoods of South Lynch begin to creep up the rapid slope of chalk, there is delightful hunting ground; for bee orchis (Ophrys apifera) swarm; careful search may discover the brown velvet blue-eyed fly, Ophrys muscifera, the quaint MAN and DWARF orchis can be found; butterfly or honey-suckle orchis, Habenaria, as we are constrained to term it, is frequent; and where the beech-trees begin there are those curious parasites which are the only plants they tolerate, the Listera Nidus-avis, birds'-nest orchis, the Monotropa Hypopitys, or yellow birds'-nest, the beautiful lily-like Epipactis Grandiflora; while helleborine and the curious and capricious tooth-wort, Spiraea Filipendula or drop-wort, Gentiana Amarella, and other distinctive chalk-down plants are found.
On the southern side of Ampfield lies the parish of North Baddesley, which preserves the curious old Hampshire village church with a timber bell turret. This side is where there once stood a Gospel oak, marking the place where the Gospel was read, when the bounds of the Manor of Merdon were trod at Rogation-tide. The whole tract is an extension of the New Forest land, almost all heather and bog, undulating and, in the drier spots, growing bushes of the glistening holly. It is forest scenery without the trees, excepting the plantations of fir made by a former generation, but presenting grand golden fields of gorse in the spring, and of red and purple heather in early autumn; and whereas the northern side of Hursley gives the distinctive flora of dry chalk, here we have the growth of the black peaty bog, the great broom-rape, brown and leafless, growing on the roots of the gorse; the curious dodder spreading a tangled red skein of thread over it gemmed with little round white balls, the rare marsh cinquefoil, the brilliant yellow asphodel, the delicate, exquisite, bog pimpernel, the blue skull-cap, the two weird and curious sun-dews, and even in former times the beautiful dark blue Gentiana Pneumonanthe, as well as the two pinguiculas--Vulgaris, like a violet, and the rarer Lusitanica.
But alas! the giant called "High Farming" is an enemy to the botanists, and had starved out many of the choicest of these, even before the building of villas at Chandler's Ford put a total end to most of them.
Hursley Park touches on one side the forest land of Ampfield Wood, and on the other the chalk of the South Downs, and it shows its length of having been reclaimed in the well-kept trees with their straight lines finishing their foliage beneath, due to the feeding of deer and cattle. Its chief beauty is when the thorns are like masses of snow. Moreover, there grows up from the moat at Merdon, over the back of the remains of the gateway, a traveller's joy with an enormous trunk that must be of many years' duration. Merdon Castle is just where the chalk begins, and from thence, running down to the house itself, there is a broad level space of deer park clear of trees, and making a fit setting to the early Georgian red brick house with the gardens on the other side, containing several fine old lime- trees. On all the sides, except towards Ampfield, the ground falls away, and the village of well-kept, picturesque cottages lies in the valley beneath the park, the tall white spire of the church making a beautiful object looking along the walnut avenue leading from the gardens.
The lime-trees enclose the church on three sides most fitly, except in the eyes of an old woman, some sixty years ago, who objected to worshipping in a grove.
At a short distance eastward of the churchyard begin the two roads, both leading to Otterbourne; the northern one, part of which still bears the name of King's Lane, is said to have been the way taken by Purkis's cart when bringing William Rufus's body to Winchester.
The southern road, which is part of the Romsey and Southampton highway, soon rises into the height of Ladwell Hill, fields with very fine elms bordering it on the west, and the copse of Mr. Keble's petition on the east. At the gate of the wood is a patch of the rare Geranium Phaeun, the dusky crane's-bill, but whether wild, or a stray from a disused garden, is doubtful.
After another dip, the road to Otterbourne leaves the main one, and skirts Cranbury Park, and has on the opposite side the once open country, since planted first with trees and later with houses, leading to Chandler's Ford. The very pretty and uncommon Linaria repens, a toad flax, white and striped with purple, is a speciality that it is hoped may not be smothered with houses and gardens. A lane, called even in 1588 Mallibar, runs southward over the heath, and emerges into the Southampton road. It is a grand place for heath, ferns, and broom-rape, with daffodils in a field at the end. There are remains of a farm-yard and orchard, once apparently rented by Mr. Coram of Cranbury.
Cranbury Park is on a hill, intersected by various springs, and where the peaty ground soon gives way to gravel. The house, a large red brick one, built round a court, so that it looks low in proportion to its width, is on the level ground at the top, flat as it fronts to the south, but in the rear descending rapidly. In fact, on that side the grounds have the air of cresting the hill, and there is a group of exceedingly tall pine-trees which are a land-mark of the country on all sides, though the tallest of them was blown down a few years ago. Near them is one of the old-fashioned orangeries, with a great deal of wall and very little glass, and near it stands the sundial of Newtonian fame.
From the ridge where the pines stand the ground descends through very steep fields belonging to the Home Farm at Longmore to King's Lane, where Hursley parish touches upon Compton, at the hamlet of Silkstede, which is reported to have been a priory, and has a fine old barn and a dell in the orchard full of snowdrops. No mention of it is in Dugdale's Monasticon, and it was probably only a grange; but it still owns some very fine old trees, the bordering copses are full of violets, and the rare Lathyrus Nissolia has been found there.
Returning to the open park in front of Cranbury, there occurs that fitfully blooming plant, lady's-tresses--Neottia Spiralis autumnalis- -and a profusion of brown-winged orchis and cowslips. All the slopes are covered with copsewood, much of it oak, the tints of which are lovely shades of green in spring and golden-brown in early autumn. The whole is a place remarkable for masses of blossom. There are giant garlands of white wild cherry above in spring, and equally white anemone below; by and by an acre of primroses growing close together, not large, but wonderfully thick, a golden river of king- cup between banks of dog's mercury, later on whole glades of wild hyacinth, producing a curious effect of blue beneath the budding yellow green of the young birches with silver stems. Sheets of the scarlet sorrel by and by appear, and foxgloves of all sizes troop in the woods, and are succeeded by the rose bay willow herb, and lastly come perfect clouds of the little devils'-bit scabious. Ferns adorn the watery glens, and bracken spreads on the undulating ground in wild beauty of form, here and there enhanced by a bright faded tint of gold.
At the bottom of the hill, close to Otterbourne Church, the gravel has given place to clay. On the side of the hill, a rough hedge divides the private ground of the copse from Otterbourne Common and Hill, which is crossed by the old high road from London to Southampton, the very steep hill having had a cutting made through it. The Cranbury side of the road has the village cricket ground on it, though burrowed under by the concentric brick-work circles of the Southampton Company's water works, which are entered by a little staircase tower, cemented over so as to be rather ornamental than otherwise. Beside it, there is a beautiful view of a delightful home landscape; stretching out on the south lie woods and low hills to the gleam of Southampton Water, the smoke of the steamers, and even the gray hills of the Isle of Wight. On the other side, beyond the rich water meadows of the Itchen valley, may be seen the woods of Colden Common rising into Concord Hill, and beyond them the view is closed by the broken outline of Longwood Warren. While more to the north there is visible the round smooth outline of "the beech-crowned steep" of St. Catherine's Hill. It is a charming prospect, especially on a day of sunshine and clouds, making shadows chase one another over the distance. Nor, except for a white thatched cottage and an extensive gravel-pit by the road, have the native charms of the hill been much disturbed; and gorse, heather, and honeysuckle flourish till, where the clay begins, there is a grassy slope bearing a few elms and horse-chestnuts. Perhaps loaded waggons drop some of their seeds, for on those cuttings through the gravel on the road- side have sprung up the dainty little yellow stonecrop, Sedum acre, and the Stork's bill, Erodium moschatum. These are plentifully spread over the cutting; but the Trifolium arvense, which came for a few years, seems to have vanished again.
On the eastern side of the road lies the village green. The old cottages used to stand round in an irregular amphitheatre, some with poplars before them, and the name of Maypole-field (now allotments) testifies to there having been sports there before the memory of the present man. The arrangements have been broken by modern building, but "right of common" still protects the green expanse for donkeys and children, including the more youthful cricketers, not yet promoted to matches.
From the top of the hill extends a large space of woodland known as Otterbourne Park. The higher part is full of a growth of beautiful ling, in delicate purple spikes, almost as tall as the hazel and mountain ash are allowed to grow. On summer evenings it is a place in which to hear the nightingale, and later to see the glow-worm, and listen to the purring of the nightjar. It is a very ancient wood, part of the original grant of St. Magdalen College, and bears plenty of the yellow cow-wheat which Kingsley holds as the mark of primeval waste-land; but it is not exceptional in its other plants, except that a spring, half-way down, has the rare Viola palustris around it. The whole tract remained untouched till a pleasant residence called the Grange was taken out of it to the south, at a ground rent, by Rowland Jones Bateman, Esq., whose beneficent kindness and excellent religious influence told on all the neighbourhood, and especially on the hamlet of Allbrook, till his death in 1897.
The parish here borders on Bishopstoke, and the Grange commands a pleasant view over the water meadows, and up the opposite Bishopstoke Hill. Otterbourne Park reaches down to where the meadows begin along the course of the Itchen.
In these meadows, the will-of-the-wisp has undoubtedly been seen, as well as in a wet field in the central part of the parish; but it is a disappointing phenomenon--nothing but a misty, pale bluish light, rather like the reality of a comet's tail, and if "he" was by "Friar's Lantern led," "he" must have had a strong imagination.
Probably drainage, sawmills, and brick-making have exorcised Jack-o'- Lantern, for Allbrook, from a hamlet of four cottages, has grown up into a considerable village, with a school-chapel of its own, and a large population. The two farms called Hams and Boyatt border it on the southern or Bishopstoke side, and on the northern it extends to Highbridge (apparently so called from the lowness of the bridge), where is another small hamlet, half Otterbourne half Twyford; and there was for many years a Roman Catholic chapel attached to a large cottage, and distinguished by a cross. It was endowed, but nearly all the flock having faded away, the endowment was transferred to Eastleigh, and it is now inhabited by a market gardener with numerous glass houses.
It is the real Itchen that is crossed at Highbridge. The canal goes through Allbrook, but both serve the purpose of irrigation, and a network of ditches crosses the meadows. Both river and canal, too, are excellent for fishermen, who in the season can find
here and there a lusty trout, And here and there a grayling
in the clear stream, which now and then an otter inhabits, soon to serve as sport for his many enemies.
Smooth and level, the river is still an unfailing source of enjoyment in the walks along the towing path, when moor-hens are swimming, and dipping on a glimpse of the spectator; when fish are rising, or sometimes taking a sudden "header" into the air and going down with a splash; when the water-vole rushes for his hole with head just above the water; when a blue flash of kingfisher darts by, and the deep blue or green dragon-flies sit on the sedges, or perhaps a tiny May- fly sits on a rail to shake off its last garment, and come forth a snow-white fairy thing with three long whisks at the tail.
The REAL Itchen is the boundary, and beyond lies Brambridge. But on coming to the bridge over the canal, the road leads westward, towards Otterbourne Hill. First it skirts a stream, a tributary to the Itchen, and goes between meadows till the old church is reached, now only a chancel in the midst of old headstones, and still bordered with trees on the bank between it and the stream. There are square brick monuments covered with stone slabs. In the interstices there used to be a great deal of Adiantum nigrum--black maidenhair, but it has disappeared.
The flowers are quite different from those of the peaty marshes on the opposite side of the district, belonging to an alluvial soil, washed down from the chalk hills. The great reed-mace adorns the Itchen, and going along the disused towing path of the canal there is to be found abundance of the black and golden spikes of the sedge, and the curious balls of the bur-reed, very like the horrid German weapon called a morning star. Also meadow-sweet, meadow-rue, and comfrey of every shade of purple, the water avens and forget-me-not, also that loveliest plant the bog-bean, with trefoil leaves and feathery blossoms. Orchis latifolia is in plenty, and also Orchis incarnata, sometimes called the Romsey orchis. Of late years the mimulus has gilded the bank of one of the ditches. Is it compensation for the Pinguicula vulgaris, which has been drained away, or the mountain pink at Highbridge, which I suspect some gardener of appropriating? Higher up the course of the river, Orchis conopsea, long-spurred and very sweet, the compact Orchis pyramidalis, and the rare Epipactis palustris are to be found, as well as Campanula Glomerata, and crow garlic, in an old chalk-pit nearly destroyed by the railway and the water works.
Otterbourne Farm bounds the churchyard on the west side, and below, on either side of a low bridge, stand two fine yew trees where boys in the old church days used to climb and devour the waxen berries with impunity. Meadows lie on each side the road, and on the left is a short lane, leading up to the old manor house, the Moat-house but it is no longer even a farm-house--the moat is choked with mud and reeds, and only grows fine forget-me-nots, and the curious panel picture of a battle, apparently between Turks and Austrians, has been removed. The fields beyond, bordering on Otterbourne Park, are the best for cowslips in the parish.
Returning into the road, whose proper name is Kiln Lane, the way leads between two fields, oddly enough called Courtiers, rising a little, and with a view of Otterbourne Hill, the east side of which, below the slope of Otterbourne Park, has been laid out in allotments for more than fifty years, at first by Mr. Yonge, though it has now been taken in hand by the Parish Council, and it makes a pleasant picture of stripes of various shades of green and brown with people working in them. The hedge sweeps round in a curve, leaving a space where stands the Pound, still sometimes used for straying cattle. The Stocks were once there, but never used in the memory of man.
The valley is of clay, strong yellow clay favourable to oaks, though too many have been cut down, whenever they came to a good size in the hedges; but in the grounds of Otterbourne House, where they have been undisturbed for at least eighty years, there are a number of very handsome well-grown trees; and near them is Dell Copse, dug out for the bricks for the "King's House," and the home of countless daffodils. Half way up the hill is a small spring, where the water rises so as to make little jets of sand. It flows down in a gutter to the green at the opening of Kiln Lane, around the Pound, and here spreads into a pool, called the Dip Hole, the resort of cows from the common, and long of village women, as the blue galt below the yellow clay never affords good water, but this has been remedied by water works.
At this spot Kiln Lane opens into the high-road, and there is a broad space of green at nearly the bottom of the hill, before the main body of the village begins. Every line in the place is a curve-hedges, roads, gardens and all, and this gives the view a peculiar grace, so that one of the old men used to say he knew not where to find a better or prettier view than looking down into the village from the hill, and on far beyond to Owslebury, Crowd Hill, and Longwood Warren, a lovely home view.
The church stands on the hillside just where the upward road to Cranbury begins to branch off. The churchyard is full of crosses, a large granite cross in memory of John Keble as rector in the midst, and there is a splendid Wellingtonia, or more properly a Sequoia, now about fifty years old, and overtopping the bell-turret. And the outside space on this side is scattered with horse chestnuts and elms.
Below are the schools, and the irregular curving street of houses, thatched, tiled, or slated, in gardens or close to the road. Here stands Otterbourne House, and, after two large fields, more cottages, and the vicarage, like the schools, with the fancy brick chimneys moulded at Hursley.
Not far beyond, the little stream that had crossed the meadows from the church is spanned by another bridge, belonging to the high-road from Winchester. Thence may be seen the source of the stream, in Pool Hole, said to be fed from Merdon well, and now forced to spread into a bed of watercresses.
And here begins Compton, Silkstede is in sight, and the round of the parishes is completed with King's Lane, turning to the west from the high road to Winchester.