A footpath, a shrine and yet more disappointment

26 July 2019

The heatwave, complete with stupidly high humidity, is continuing and I have to admit it’s getting a bit wearing now. Every walk is a battle to defeat legs that feel like lead, a brain that feels like it’s filled with cotton wool and skin that seems to be leaking at an alarming rate. It’s not just me that’s suffering either, flowers and leaves everywhere are desiccated and sorry for themselves. More or less how I’ve been feeling.

Despite everything I’ve managed to keep on top of the Million Steps challenge though, almost hitting the 300k mark at the end of my third week. In fact I’m getting quite inventive to fit in extra steps, finding longer routes for trips to the shops and jumping on any chance for an extra walk I can get. This afternoon was a case in point. Commando had an appointment at the running school and, while he was being put through his paces, I went off for another look at the building work on the fields behind the church of St Nicholas.

The plan was to see exactly what had happened to the public footpath that used to run across the land. The builders were given planning permission on the proviso that they kept the footpath open but when I last walked this way I couldn’t find it. In anticipation of today’s walk I’d had a long look at the satellite maps and re read my blog about walking the footpath so I thought I knew where it should be.

On the walk from the church along the first part of the Lane I could almost pretend nothing had changed. Well, as long as I kept looking left towards the farmhouse anyway. This was once the stable block and coach house for Sir Thomas Fleming’s house, Stoneham Park House. There were even pretty growing through the fence when I reached the bend.

Until very recently this land had remained almost unchanged since was given to the inn Alfred by King Athelstan in AD932. The land changed hand several times, passing to the New Minster at Winchester, later Hyde Abbey, and used as a deer park. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries it passed the Henry Wriothesley, second Earl of Southampton. It was 1599, before Thomas Fleming, who was then MP for Hampshire, built anything on it. If he could see what’s become of it today he’d turn in his grave.

What was once beautiful parkland landscaped by Capability Brown, is now a noisy, dirty building site. Just past the bend I found the slightly incongruous looking gate and style I’d missed last time. Beyond it there used to be fields filled with grazing cows and a muddy track leading to a beautiful avenue of trees.

With great difficulty, I clambered over the style. It wobbled and moved most alarmingly, no longer having the benefit of a sturdy fence to anchor it. On the other side was a gravel path, rather than the muddy trail I slid along last time I walked here. The gravel is the only improvement. After a few yards the path isn’t bisected by an access road. Then there are the new houses.

Past the first few completed houses the path is hemmed in on either side by ugly metal fences. Where once there were cows and fields there is now a building site. The walk felt very claustrophobic with the crashing, hammering and beeping of the houses being built and clouds of dust wafting across. It seemed to go on and on.

At one stage there was a seemingly pointless red gate affair to pass through. Beyond it the horrible fenced in path and all the noise continued. To my right, through the fence there were fields of wildflowers and a small stream that looked to be man made rather than natural. What the point of the fencing on this side was is anyone’s guess but it certainly spoiled the view.

It was a relief to finally leave the fencing behind, even if the noise followed me. Now things began to look more familiar. Over a more normal wooden fence I could see the lake and a little way along a arrow trail I came to the kissing gate leading to Avenue Park. There was a sign telling me cow may be grazing in the field. I hoped I wouldn’t meet them.

Now, apart from the noise of the building going on behind me, things were much as they had been before. When I came to he place where the trail decided I knew I needed to take the right fork. It led me upwards and before very long I could see the shire at the top of the hill.

The hill I climbed is called Cricketer’s Hill and the shire is the Stoneham War Shrine, dedicated to the thirty six local me. Killed in World War I. It was built between 1917 and 1918 for John Willis Fleming and designed by Christopher Hatton Turnor. Wills Fleming’s own son, Richard, was one of those lost men. Apparently there is an identical shrine on the Isle of Wight, where the Fleming family originated.

The lovely little shrine, with its tiled roof and ornate gates, was restored in 2011. Once it was a peaceful spot for contemplation, in splendid isolation. Sadly, today, the noise of the building work disturbs the silence and the shrine on the hill is within sight of the new development.

The noise and the views of houses rapidly growing was so disappointing I didn’t stay long. Frankly, it made me want to cry. It felt like a desecration. The thought of walking back through the claustrophobic fencing didn’t appeal much either so I headed down the hill in the opposite direction, hoping to find a way onto the trails I walked last time I wandered here.

The trail I followed took me to a gate leading onto Chestnut Avenue though. With more time I might have been able to find a way back to the other trail but today I had no choice but to turn back.

The walk back through the building site was no nicer in the other direction. Even without the fencing and with the houses complete, I can’t see it being a very pleasant walk. The land on the Eastleigh side of the path looks as if it isn’t being landscaped, probably for the benefit of the rich people who buy the houses. They seem to be laying twisting gravel trails, perhaps to make it interesting. It all feels like a sanitised version of what was there before though and I can’t imagine wanting to walk there.

To avoid the rickety stile I took a detour along the service road where freshly planted wildflower verges were being watered by a big yellow hose. All the pretend nature in the world can’t replace the real nature that used to be here. It may look pretty enough when it’s finished but it will still be a Disney version of the real thing.

Passing the church, I headed back along the still unfinished pavement towards the Running School feeling incredibly sad. The pavement is an improvement but everything else feels like destruction. The history and the beauty is gone and it can never be replaced.

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