March 2013 and spring was in the air. This was short walk week on the Moonwalk training although, at this stage, the short walk was ten miles. Commando had gone out to run his usual Sunday two bridge challenge so I thought I’d go one better and try three bridges. Planning the route turned out to be more difficult than the walk and I messed around with maps so long I ended up starting later than planned. It wasn’t long before I ran into trouble…
4 March 2013
This morning I decided to try out a route that would take me over the three city bridges in a roundabout kind of way. The walk, when I finally worked out a route and got out, started off in the direction of the river but, instead of actually going along the river path, I turned and walked up towards the Castle. Possibly not one of my better plans because it’s all uphill, still, at least it was at the start of the walk when I was fresh.
At the castle, which feels like the top of the world, I stopped my Garmin to take a photo of the first blossom of spring in a garden then turned down Woodmill Lane towards the river. About a third of the way down I looked at the Garmin to check my speed and realised I’d not started it again! Doh. So that was about a third of a mile not counted. I’d like to say this is the first time I’ve ever done this but I have to be honest, I’ve done it loads of times. There is a facility that stops the Garmin whenever you stop moving and I probably should use it but it seems to stop and start a bit randomly, especially if the satellite signal is weak.
So it was onwards and downwards, past the Hop Inn, scene of quite a bit of underage drinking when I was in my mid teens, to the river. There were drifts of crocus under the trees lining the road and it looked as though a game of football was just about to start on the park. From there it was a short walk to Woodmill and the twisty narrow road that runs behind it. The seagulls were enjoying a Sunday morning paddle as I passed and two swans were flying up towards the White Swan but I wasn’t quick enough to catch them before they disappeared behind the trees.
Instead of taking the more familiar route towards Eastleigh, once I’d passed Woodmill, I crossed the railway bridge and headed towards the university and takeaway mile. Ok, so it’s not actually a mile, but that stretch of road seems to be nothing but fast food emporia, which says something about the diet of the average university student. Was I tempted? Not even a tiny bit, even the milkshakes held no interest because I knew I had a much nicer chocolate milkshake waiting for me at home when I finished my walk.
According to the Garmin, which was now about a third of a mile out thanks to my stupidity, I hit three miles as I walked past the campus. A few students were milling about but I was more interested in the buildings. What a variety of ages and styles there are. One, clad in strips of light coloured wood, reminded me of wooden IKEA storage boxes and seemed sadly lacking in windows. Further along the older, but still distinctly box like Nuffield Theatre, took me back to a school trip and a performance of The Tempest. Covered in verdigris it looks like a mouldy chunk of chocolate, maybe mint flavoured, or is that just me always thinking about chocolate? Finally I came to the old building, much more what I envision when I think university, old red brick, an impressive arched dorway, lots of windows and a beautiful old tree outside. There was even a sundial in the gardens.
With the university behind me it was down hill towards Portswood, passing Highfield Church. Built in the mid nineteenth century, it has the most wonderful gothic arched stained glass windows looking out onto the road. Before long I was passing the giant new Sainsbury’s in Portswood and heading towards Cobden Bridge, the first of my three bridges. There I looked down onto a mass of little boats moored at a hotch potch of jetties that seem to have been dropped there randomly. In the distance the blue line of the railway bridge echoed the blue of some of the boats but, sadly, not the sky.
On the other side of the bridge I took the oh so familiar road running alongside the river that would lead me home, if I didn’t have two more bridges to cross and five more miles to walk. When I reached the station. Rather than sticking to the road and joining the very bottom of the Big Hill, I took the footpath that leads up onto the railway bridge. It is a long time since I climbed that slope but, many years ago, when I worked for what was then British Rail (my first ever job in travel I guess), it was a daily event after my train journey home.
As I passed the Manor House I noticed the trees they’ve recently chopped down have been stripped of bark and are now arranged in the undergrowth like giant jack straws. There may be method to this madness but it escapes me at the moment. Beyond the gravel path I took a few walks back and the Manor House, just glimpsed at the end of the long curved driveway, I caught sight of my second bridge over the Itchen. The most wonderful smell of cooking food came from the burger stand on the corner. Right about then I quite fancied a bacon roll. Of course I didn’t stop for one.
On the Big Bridge I caught a flash of yellow out of the corner of my eye. It was Commando coming back over on his run. I stopped and waved, feeling sure he’d see me, but he didn’t so I carried on walking. The river was very green today, funny how it seems to change colour, sometimes grey looking, sometimes brilliant blue, I guess it must depend on the sky, which was a mass of clouds today.
So I continued, over the bridge and towards the city centre, almost my walk to work route, except I was on the other side of the road. Heading towards my seventh mile I reached the parks. Of course I had to pay a visit to my little rhododendron to see how it was doing. In a word, still flowering, with one open flower and two new buds. Ok, so it wouldn’t win any prizes for the most beautiful rhododendron in the park and it was completely overshadowed by the glorious pale pink display nearby, but it must be the most tenacious flower in the park.
By the time I got to Above Bar I was feeling a trifle hungry, mainly because I hadn’t bought any snacks, so I popped into Pret and picked up a small coffee. For the second time in a matter of days I was served a coffee that was rather more foam than coffee, only this time, because I was a little distracted I didn’t notice until I was outside the shop. By then I couldn’t be bothered to go back and complain so I just carried on walking. What is it with the coffee shops in Southampton lately? I’m going to have to be on my guard in future.
Outside West Quay, a living statue was plying his trade. Not a patch on the ones we saw in Barcelona but still, I suppose it’s good to have something different going on. Unfortunately there was also a busker playing the theme to Titanic on some kind of pan pipes. As if My Heart Will Go On wasn’t completely over played everywhere when it was in the charts it was in my head for the rest of the walk. That’ll teach me to forget my iPod.
Past the Bargate I turned right into Castle Way and carried on past the arches of Castle Gate in the general direction of the docks. At Simnel Street where the sail like roof of The Quays swimming pool peeked between the buildings, I turned again to pick up some more old walls. The sight of the Titanc Pub did not do anything to help the evil pan pipes still wailing in my head, at least I didn’t have Celine Dione wailing along with it. Behind Western Esplanade a row of modern houses run right behind the walls. On I went, marvelling at the idea of living with ancient walls as a view from the window, up Blue Anchor Lane and past the Tudor House Museum. The sign on the massive studded door told me the museum was open today but there was no time to stop for a look. One of these days I really must get round to visiting.
It’s certainly an impressive looking building, old oak beams between stripes of herringbone patterned red brick and, above those, the traditional black and white of oak, wattle and daub. The texture of the oak is wonderful, the wood grain scarred by centuries of weather and passing people. How many hands have brushed against that wood over the centuries I wonder? If walls could talk what tales it could tell. This fifteenth century house is reputedly one of the most haunted in the city. There were no ghosts about today though, as far as I could tell.
Leaving the old building behind, I carried on, past St Michaels church and on down Bugle Street. A little way along the road I came to the Duke of Wellington Pub, another old black and white building. This pub was actually built early in the thirteenth century and apparently has a resident ghost who goes around refilling glasses. Now that sounds like a very good pub to visit if you want a cheap night. The building itself is like the little crooked house with walls that would make you think you were drunk even if you hadn’t touched a drop.
Just around the corner in French street I passed the Medieval Merchants house, another museum I really should visit. Built in the late thirteenth century by a prosperous wine merchant it has been restored to its original gloy thanks the the Lottery Heritage fund. On I walked, past more old walls and ancient buildings, until I reached Canutes Palace. I thought I’d cut through the pretty gardens rather than walk long the main road and I’m glad I did. There is the most beautiful Eucalyptus tree with bark like camouflage. How did I miss that last time I walked this way? With a quick glance across the old stone walls of the palace I turned back to the road.
When I last came this way I totally ignored the oldest bowling green in the world so I thought I’d better have a quick look this time. To be honest it doesn’t look like much of anything, just an oldish building behind a light brick wall. The bowling green was founded at the Beginning of the thirteenth century during the reign of Richard the Lionheart to give the warden of the hospital of God’s House somewhere to play bowls. Apparently it’s still used today although I wonder how many people still know how to play?
As I passed the Ocean Terminal I had walked about eight and a half miles and was fast approaching my final bridge. The New Bridge over the Itchen is the highest and longest of the three. There was a lovely tree in blossom as I started my crossing and the tiniest hint of blue in the sky in the distance. That didn’t stop it being incredibly windy though and I had to pull the hood of my padded coat up over my pink hat to stop the wind whistling into my ears. When I reached the apex a small speed boat was whizzing towards me on the green water below.
On the other side of the bridge I decided to take the path running behind the green, not least because I really needed the loo after all that cold wind and I thought I could nip off into the undergrowth. At least the path was mainly dry today, it’s been stupidly muddy the last few times I’ve come this way. Anyhow, I found a suitably secluded spot and was quite amused to notice a battered sign laying amongst the ivy, “Gentlemen,” obviously I’d picked the wrong toilet!
From there it was a short walk back through the winding streets to home. All in all the Garmin said I’d walked ten point three nine miles but with the extra third of a mile from when I forgot to turn the blasted thing back on it was more like ten point seven. Not bad for a Sunday afternoon stroll.