The Silk Mill at Whitchurch was established on the banks of the River Test in the early 1800s and has recently undergone extensive restoration. The grass upon which we were standing had been put in position the day before our visit and was perfect, green and weed-free, unlike many of our own lawns which are in a sorry state after the long hot summer. After a very welcome cup of coffee, our guide explained that the chalk stream, mill pond, leat and race, with Frog Island in the middle, are micro-managed throughout the year to ensure that the quality and flow of the water is pure.
Grayling, brown trout and Mallard ducks pootled about in the river as we learned that fast flowing water produces tightly-woven silk and slow flowing water gives a much looser weave.
After a fascinating morning at the Silk Mill, we then drove a short distance to The Bombay Gin Distillery where we had lunch on the top of a double-decker bus which has been turned into a cafe very successfully! After sampling a delicious quiche, salad and coleslaw, we headed off to the factory.
The Botanicals Glass Houses add a very contemporary look to the factory which was established in 1761 by Thomas Dakin. The constant warmth in the glasshouses is maintained by using the moist warm air rising from the copper stills. Butterflies from Africa live amongst the thick vegetation comprised of juniper, cassia bark, lemon trees, liqourice roots and other exotics all of which are used to flavour the gin. We saw tanks containing 100,000 litres of pure gin, 90% of which is exported – surprisingly, the UK market is only 10%.
At the end of the tour we enjoyed sampling a fruity cocktail in the late afternoon sunshine before our drive back to Dorset. Our thanks to Mary for organising an excellent day out!