Today was one of those busy days with no time for a proper walk. The sky was too blue not to take advantage and get some fresh air though so, when I was out running errands, I decided to take a little detour to Millers Pond. It’s been a while since I was last there and I thought there might be some nice autumnal reflections in the water and maybe a few ducks. Continue reading Escaping the chores at Millers Pond
In the end CJ chose the river for our walk home from Hatch Grange, even though it was the longest route. With the sun in the sky and the rich vein of Autumn colour we seemed to have hit once we passed Allington Lane, I wasn’t complaining though. Continue reading Autumn leaves along the river
After our adventures at Exbury Gardens I thought today would be a good day to see how the trees were doing locally. Autumn has been slow to start this year but the colour does seem to be creeping in (or out as the case may be) very slowly so the avenue of limes at Hatch Grange seemed as if it might be worth a look. Of course CJ, who missed out on Exbury and has never been to Hatch Grange, said he’d come along too. Continue reading Fluttering green and gold at Hatch Grange
In the end Gilbury Bridge wasn’t quite the end of our Exbury adventure. Distracted by all the halloween decorations, we’d missed a few of the things Commando wanted to see so, instead of turning for the exit, we carried on. As far as I could tell we were on the Hydrangea Walk. At least there were plenty of hydrangeas along the path.
Hydrangeas weren’t the only things to capture my attention. We seemed to have hit a vein of fungi somewhere along the trail. The first was an odd clump of brown feathery stuff at the base of a bench. Close by I spotted the remains of something much larger. It looked as if it might have once been interesting, perhaps a cauliflower mushroom, but, with so little of it left I couldn’t identify it.
The next crop I came to were far easier to identify, although I’ve rarely seen them. The white ball shaped fungi, covered with tiny spines were spiny puffballs, lycoperdon perlatum, and they are, apparently, edible when they’re young. Oddly, the only time I’ve seen them in England before was right here in Exbury, although I did stumble upon a few on my wanderings in the woods in Canada.
Commando, I’m fairly sure, wonders what all the fuss is about mushrooms and such, but he waited patiently while I took my photos. Not long after my puffball find we came to the first of the things he wanted to see, Jubilee Pond.
At first sight the pond wasn’t quite as exciting as I’d expected. Unlike Top Pond, which was surrounded by colourful trees and stunning reflections on our last visit, this pond was far more subdued. The trees surrounding it were mostly willows and still green. Perhaps a little sun and blue sky would have helped.
A closer look revealed there was more to see than reflections though. The pond was teeming with fish and they weren’t shy in the least. As we stood at the edge looking in they came right up to us and seemed to be watching us as much as we were watching them. Perhaps people feed them?
Leaving the fish behind, we walked around the pond. There was more colour to be found and even a sloe bug who, with his beautiful burgundy red colour, might have been well camouflaged had he chosen a different tree to sit on. This cheeky bug was probably not too worried about being seen though, he was after the juicy red berries. Like his cousin, the shield bug, this little fellow excretes a smelly substance, used for protection. It seems the taste is even worse than the smell and predators will only ever eat one before they learn their lesson.
Our wanderings took us back to the trail and across a boardwalk before leading us back to the other end of the pond. Here, behind the willows, green was the order of the day. The willow leaves and the huge gunnera leaves were green and the water, where it wasn’t sprouting acid green weed, was covered in a scum of algae. It put me in mind of pea soup.
As we left the pond for the second time the the jolly sight of the hydrangea flowers seemed like a welcome contrast after all that green. Back on the path it was back to the fungi and the colourful foliage. There must be something a little magical about the woods here because I’ve never seen so many different fungi anywhere else in England and we even found a lone azalea flower somehow still clinging to its branch.
A few of the side trails we passed were marked private and I couldn’t help wondering if, somewhere at the end of them, there was gardening magic going on. A garden this size must take an awful lot of work to keep looking nice so I imagine there are greenhouses, potting sheds and masses of equipment hidden away somewhere. Perhaps they are at the end of these tantalising trails?
On the trail we were following we passed rhododendrons as tall as trees with buds forming high in the branches waiting for next spring to burst into colourful flowers. Some seemed to want to get in on the autumn colour act, turning a few of their old leaves bright yellow.
Further on we found a pair of paperbark maples with curls of russet coloured bark hanging from the trunks and branches. This is one tree that doesn’t need to change the colour of its leaves to get attention and these were keeping their leaves steadfastly green.
Not long after this we reached the final destination on Commando’s itinerary, the Sundial Garden. The entrance was through a rickety looking gate with a small blue notice. This warned us to close the gate to keep the rabbits out. A quick look around didn’t reveal any rabbits and, from my experience, it would take more than a gate to keep them out if they wanted to get in. We went through and closed the gate nonetheless.
On the other side we found a beautiful pergola made of stone columns and covered with wisteria. It was tempting to stop for a closer look but Commando was determined to find the sundial so, slightly reluctantly, I passed by.
The sundial, it turned out, wasn’t hard to find. It stood in the centre of the garden supported by a quartet of stone lions. The tall column was topped by a griffon and, just beneath it the most unusual sundial I’ve ever seen. Each of the four faces had a copper dial, each angled differently. A closer look showed numbers carved around the edges, although most were worn away by time and weather. Sadly, with no sun, we couldn’t tell how well it worked.
The extraordinary sundial wasn’t the only thing to see in the garden. There were flowers around every corner, bursting with colour. Unfortunately, none of them were on the wisteria covering the pergola. Now that would have been a wonderful sight.
With the sundial ticked off Commando’s list, I could now go back to look at the beautiful green bower of the pergola. The stone columns were almost hidden by the lush green wisteria leaves but, inside, there were thick wooden beams supporting the branches and a wooden seat to sit and contemplate the garden. When the wisteria is in flower the scent must be breathtaking. Even without it, it was a hard place to leave.
Exbury is a magical place where time, even with a sundial to tell it, seems to bend and distort. It would be easy to get lost in its beauty and never leave but leave we must. Sadly, walking slowly past the rainbow coloured trees and the giant spiders on the bridge, we made our way to the exit. Maybe next time I’ll visit in spring.
So far this autumn has been decidedly subdued so, when Commando suggested a trip to Exbury Gardens today, I wasn’t exactly hopeful. We last visited in Autumn 2015, just after we returned from Canada. Then, the trees might not have been as startlingly bright as those in Toronto, but they were beautiful all the same. This year I had the feeling everything would still be green. I was wrong…
As Kylie and I strode off across Southsea Common past food vans that made our mouths water and through crowds of other spectators all vying for good positions, I rang Commando. He’d had a head start on the position finding front and told me he was on the opposite side of the common somewhere near mile five, or so he thought. Given the size of the common and the number of people, I wasn’t sure we’d be able to find him. Continue reading Bunny spotting at the Great South Run
Another Sunday morning and another cold, early start. This time it was for one of the biggest races of the season, The Great South Run. The sun was barely up when we set off for Portsmouth. The race didn’t start for hours but we knew finding somewhere to park wouldn’t be easy and we didn’t want to miss the team photo. There was a tiny amount of getting lost and some entering Portsmouth then leaving, then reentering Portsmouth from the opposite side, but I wasn’t driving so I’m not taking the blame. Continue reading Bunny ears and the Great South Run
All Summer long CJ and I searched out the wonderfully coloured zebras all over Southampton. Sadly, they couldn’t stay forever and, a few weeks ago, they all quietly disappeared, leaving the city feeling slightly bare and bereft. By the skin of our teeth we’d found all of them, although our trip to Marwell wasn’t entirely successful and we’d missed a couple of clusters of the miniatures. All was not lost though because there was one final chance to see every single zebra before they were auctioned off. Today was that day. Continue reading A fond farewell to the zebras
After a busy week searching for boundary stones, today brought a chance for a little sit down. Commando, CJ and I were off to the football. For once, the match wasn’t really the main attraction.
On 2 October Francis Benali, one of my favourite ex Saints players and a familiar face at running events, began the monumental task of visiting every Premier League and Championship ground in just two weeks. It might have been a simple task, except he was running and cycling the whole thousand mile route! This amounted to running a marathon and cycling around seventy five miles every single day. His aim was to raise money for Cancer Research UK.
This isn’t the first long run Franics Benali has undertaken. He can often be spotted at events like the Wivern 10k and the Southampton Half Marathon, or just running on the Common. In 2014 he ran to all twenty Premier League Grounds to raise money for the same charity. This though, was his toughest challenge yet. Franny, set off from Bournemouth feeling, in his own words, “nervous and apprehensive”. He was due to arrive at St Mary’s the final ground on his massive tour, shortly before kick off. Of course, we wanted to be there to cheer him on. As it happened the crowds were so big and I am so stupidly short that I barely saw the top of his head and completely failed to capture him in a photo but I’m pretty sure he must have heard me shouting his name.
Inside the ground we found Franny masks under our seats. Of course Commando couldn’t resist trying his on. For a brief moment I felt like a very badly dressed WAG. Then it was down to the business of football. While Burnley and Southampton thrashed it out on the pitch Mr Benali must have been having a little rest somewhere in the bowels of the stadium. Hopefully someone was rubbing his tired muscles and making him a nice cup of coffee.
At half time a slightly tired looking Franny ran onto the pitch to a rapturous and very loud reception. After a short interview with his daughter, who is the announcer at the stadium, he finished his amazing feat with a run around the pitch. Of course, we were high up at the very back so only saw him as a tiny red dot circumnavigating the grass but we stood and cheered anyway.
Despite an unfortunately timed rain shower he ran the whole distance and was met at the far side by the unmistakable figure of Lawrie Macmenemy. When Franny went off for a well earned rest Lawrie Macmeneny, with his now white hair and trademark long black coat, walked around the outside of the pitch right below our seats. The ex Saints manager, who led the team to their one and only FA Cup victory in 1976, got almost as loud a cheer as Mr Benali.
The football may not have been the main attraction at this match but it was the icing on the cake when we won 3-1. Winning always makes the walk home more pleasant and, this time, we even got the beginnings of a pretty sunset over the river as we crossed the bridge. Hopefully Franny was having a sleep by then. He certainly deserved it. What a hero!
We’d walked four miles or so and now, right in front of us, was exactly what we’d been hoping. Or was it? With our hearts in our mouths we walked slowly forwards, hardly daring to hope. It all seemed a little bit too easy though. If this really was a boundary stone, right there in full view, why had no one found it before? Continue reading The mystery of Bassett Woods