February 2013 was coming to an end, leaving me just over two months before the Moonwalk. Now the long walks were getting tougher and the cold weather wasn’t helping. To avoid getting lost on a long cold walk I went back to basics and a route I knew inside out and back to front. Familiar doesn’t necessarily mean uneventful though…
22 February 2013
Today’s Moonwalk training was eighteen miles. That is one long walk and with freezing weather I wasn’t looking forward to it when I dragged myself out of bed. The plan was to follow my 2011 Moonwalk training route, the one I took every week, adding a mile each time. With such long walks I prefer a route I know, it’s nice to spot the landmarks and think, just this bit to do, somehow it seems to go quicker too, not in time but in my head, plus I knew I wouldn’t get lost, not even a little bit.
Even with my new padded coat the cold took my breath away. The only warm bit of me was my back covered by my plastic mac filled rucksack. Despite gloves and a pair of mittens over the top my hands were hurting within minutes. Not the best of starts but I pressed on, hoping it would get warmer. At Riverside two swans were trying to take off. They look so elegant on the water but getting into the air they’re ungainly, almost comical. When they finally got their feet out of the river they flew just above it and round the bend where I couldn’t see them any more.
Once I’d crossed Mansbridge I remembered the half explored cut way I’d only tried from the other end. Then I was distracted by the pretty bridge with blue railings and ended up in the wrong place. This time, having looked very closely at the satellite maps, I thought I knew how to get through. What could possibly go wrong? The gravel path led behind some houses and was easy going. Then I came to a fork. One way led over a bridge with green railings, the other alongside the banks of a stream. Decision time. Because of the distance I was using my Garmin watch to track myself and, although it does have a map facility, it’s way too small to be useful, so I switched on WalkJogRun to work out which path to take. It was the stream path, where the nice gravel stopped abruptly in a huge churned up quagmire. Luckily, because it was so cold, the mud was frozen so I picked my way carefully across all the big ruts with the minimum of trouble. Before long I was at the blue bridge and another firm gravel path, completely flooded on either side.
Then it was plain sailing, up past the airport towards Eastleigh. As I approached Lakeside, something small and white floated past my face. At first I thought it was a feather or something falling off a tree. Then it happened again, and again. It was snowing! This was not what the weather forecast predicted and it wasn’t good news. I didn’t fancy being caught on the long, unpaved, twisting road towards Twyford, in the middle of nowhere with only a bramble filled grass verge to hop onto when a car came if it started snowing in earnest.
The powdery flakes fell all the way to the Swan Centre. It was definitley snow and it seemed to be getting worse. After five miles I really didn’t want to turn back without completing my mission but I’m not stupid, I knew it could get dangerous, so instead of buying a takeaway latte at Costa, I paused the Garmin and got a proper, sit down, one. I’d give it the time it took to drink it and go to the loo. If it was still getting worse after that, I’d turn back.
Ten minutes later, full of coffee and with an empty bladder, I stepped back outside. Nothing, not even one flake, so I set off towards Twyford Road. The thatched, Ham Farm was minus scaffolding and newly painted. It looked lovely. After I’d passed it the fluttery little snow flakes began to fall again but I pressed on. If it was getting worse by the time I got to Allbrook Hill, I told myself, I’d turn back.
The snow had all but stopped when I got it the top of the hill so I carried on. The first time I came this way I remember thinking, “I’ve got to walk back up this on the way back.” It felt quite daunting. It’s not a really steep hill but it just goes on and on, not what you want at ten miles plus but still. Under the railway bridge at the bottom it’s all fields and the odd farm. Now I was crossing the bridge over the Itchen Navigation, looking down onto Allbrook Lock and weir, built in the late 1830’s when the railway line was constructed. After I’d stopped for a moment to watch the tumbling water I pressed on towards Highbridge Farm.
There were horses at the farm and even they had coats on against the freezing weather. It seemed to be slightly warmer, perhaps because I’d been walking, my hands were definitely not as cold. After I’d passed the farm I came across a mass of snowdrops on the verge, outside the gates to a big house. A little further on there were a group of houses, one a quaint thatched cottage.
Half a mile from the lock and just after the thatched cottage, I crossed the River Itchen proper and yet another weir, not quite as spectacular this time. On the other side of the river there was a street of small terraced houses going off to the right. I imagine they were built as farm workers cottages or something to do with the gravel and clay pits and brick works that used to be there, many years ago. Just past these there are fields and yet more horses, sadly way off in the distance. In the very next field there were cows. I imagine the cows and horses outnumber the people on this stretch of road.
Not long after this the pavement peters off to nothing right before a sharp bend. The first time I came this way I half hoped it would start up again, now I know better. At least there are verges, mostly, although in a few places they are overgrown with brambles and trees. As usual, I stayed on the right side of the road, walking towards oncoming traffic, so I could jump on the verge if I saw a car. Luckily there aren’t that many but, when they appear, they’re usually travelling at speed so it was time to be vigilant.
Round about here there is also the rather grand looking Brambridge House set a long way back from the road in the centre of a long, tree lined avenue. What a wonderful place that would be to live, unless you wanted to pop to the shops or the takeaway of course, goodness knows where the nearest ones would be, although there is a pub nearby I seem to remember, The Rising Sun, I went there once when I was in my teens.
At around about eight miles I passed the Colden Common mobile home park, just one more mile before I had to turn back. On I stomped, hopping onto the verge every so often to avoid cars, knowing my speed was slow, and looking forward to turning. After half way everything seems easier. With every step you have less to do than you’ve already done. In the middle of the two mile pavementless road a path randomly starts for no particular reason and ends just after The Moors Coach House, a pretty cottage of brick and flint, fairly traditional in the south of England in the nineteenth century. The ‘bones’ of the building are red brick and there are panels of flint insets, in this case a series of oblongs.
On one of my forays onto the verge which always involve trying not to get punctured by brambles, I came upon some blackthorn, just bursting into flower slightly earlier than expected. Blackthorn, with their pretty white, five petaled flowers, usually bloom in early March. They grow wild in many southern hedgerows, the wood is often used for walking sticks and for Irish shillelaghs. If you like sloe gin you have the blackthorn to thank, the sloe is its fruit. This particular blackthorn was fairly small with few flowers, if I hadn’t had to jump on the verge I’d have missed them.
Nine miles took me my turning point, at the junction with the road into Twyford Village, and I crossed the road so I was walking towards oncoming traffic. Shortly after I turned I came to a more impressive blackthorn tree with masses of flowers, towering between a holly and what looked like a yew. Close by a beautiful dead tree, still standing but with most of its bark long gone, had three large holes that looked to have been used by something as a home or a nest, bird, insect or reptile I couldn’t begin to guess. I was so enthralled I very nearly tripped over a dead pheasant right by the edge of the verge. There wasn’t a mark on it, although I imagine it had been hit by a car, they fly so low across the roads they often are. The fabulously patterned brown and golden feathers were fanned out around it, it’s eye, surrounded by a large circle of red, was closed as if it was sleeping. Someone will probably pick that up and have it for dinner.
The other side of the road meant a change of scenery. Through a gap in the hedgerow I caught a glimpse of a ribbon of water running through the fields. Someone had a made a lovely little seat from a fallen tree not far from my vantage point. What a wonderful place to sit and admire the view. Just after that a woman in a Mini pulled up and asked me directions. She was miles off course and going completely the wrong way. All she had was a scrap of paper with a map of the town centre she was heading for. What was the use of that? if she hadn’t stopped me I might have missed a tiny flash of yellow amongst the brambles and dead leaves, a single lesser celandine flower amid a bed of heart shaped leaves. This is a certain sign of spring and a very welcome sight.
A little detour down the lane in front of East Lodge was a welcome break from verge hopping. It’s only about an eighth of a mile but it gave me some respite from watching for cars and a chance to admire another very grand house with a black wrought iron fence and a drive flanked by two huge pampas grasses, slightly spoiled by the green wheelie bin. Then it was onwards towards Allbrook Hill and back to watching for cars. Past Colden Common and the mobile home park, I marched, lost in my thoughts when suddenly a horse poked his head over the hedge right beside me and made me jump out of my skin. There were three horses in the field but this one must have thought I had carrots or sugar lumps. It stood there looking at me with doleful eyes.
The very next field, by Brambridge House, was filled with horses in cow pyjamas, just like the ones I saw on the nine mile walk that ended up being eleven. There were loads of them but one was quite close, drinking from a water trough. Soon I was crossing the Itchen again, there were swans on the other side of the road, I crossed to get a better look at them, wondering as I did, if they were the same ones I’d seen taking off from Riverside Park. Probably not.
From there it was back under the railway bridge, up Allbrook Hill, a slog made bearable by the thought of a second latte when I reached Eastleigh. Today I had just one pack of yogurt coated fruit for snacks so I was depending on the two lattes to give me the energy to get home. With such cold weather I think they were a better plan, something to warm my hands at least. As I passed Ham Farm the snow started to fall again, almost as if it was waiting for me to come back.
Soon I was passing the statue of the railway worker in Eastleigh and I could almost taste the coffee. This time I went for a takeaway and drank as I walked. Just five short miles left and the coffee was a real pick me up so I increased my speed. This was going quite well until I got back to the muddy part of the cut going back to Mansbridge. The ice had thawed since the morning so it was now squelchy, slippery mud. There were a couple of moments when I almost ended up on my bum but I made it with nothing other than muddy trainers to show for it.
Once that was out of the way I really pushed my pace for the last two and a half miles. The temptation was to slow down but I could see I might just make it back under the five hours so I really went for it. In the end I didn’t quite do it, due to a couple of stops to cross roads and the last uphill stretch from the very bottom of the Big Hill. Even so, it took five hours six minutes which, considering the mud and the lack of pavements, not to mention the bitter cold, wasn’t half bad. Eight more miles and it will be the full marathon.