With less than two months to go until the Moonwalk I had hit the long miles with a vengeance. Even the short walk weeks were ten miles plus and, in mid March, I had a twenty mile walk ahead of me. The last thing I needed was bad weather…
15 March 2013
The drizzle outside didn’t look promising, or the weather forecast of showers all day. There was a huge temptation to shelve the twenty miler but the forecast for the rest of the weekend was even worse so it was today or not at all. Thankfully, by the time I was ready to leave the drizzle had stopped.
Just after eight thirty, I set off, wrapped up well against the cold, with my waterproof trousers in my walking rucksack. I felt set for whatever the weather threw at me. There was a minor problem. Last night I accidentally left my bifocals in the case on my desk. I still had my walking around glasses so I could see, but I couldn’t read anything.
All was going quite well until I passed Woodmill and it started to pour down. As soon as I could I found a sheltered seat, put my waterproof trousers on then carried on to the footpath through Monks Brook. The first part of the path was fine but, when I reached the fork by the green bridge, the track to Wide Lane was flooded. There was nothing for it but to cross the green bridge and find out where it took me. How bad could it be?
The trail came out behind St Mary’s Church South Stoneham. It’s a pretty little church with a crenelated tower instead of a spire. In actual fact it’s a hotchpotch of pieces all built at different times. The chancel, is twelfth century, the tower was built in the late fifteenth century and the final part, the south transept, was reconstructed in 1854. The graveyard is filled with interesting headstones but there was no time to look around. Maybe I’ll come back another day and have a wander, graveyards always seem to hold interesting stories.
Now it was decision time. Did I carry on along Wessex Lane, or try to find the path leading to the blue bridge and have a prettier walk? In the end I decided on the latter, mainly because That little bridge makes me smile. I took what I thought was the right road, only to find a dead end, so I had to retrace my steps. Luckily it was only a few yards. If the next road wasn’t the right one I’d give up and go back to plan A. Of course I could have checked on WalkJogRun, but without my bifocals, I couldn’t see it all that well.
Within a few minutes I could see blue railings through the undergrowth. Across the bridge I walked along the nice gravel path up to the roundabout. At least the rain had stopped and the sun was trying to come out. Things were looking up. Past the airport and on towards Eastleigh I trotted, feeling much better about things now there was an ‘almost sun’ in the sky. Actually I was getting quite hot with the waterproof trousers on. Without the rain I could look around a bit more and I noticed a mass of teasels by the side of the road standing out against the cloudy sky. Pretty soon I was at the Swan Centre and I stopped to pick up a milkshake and some sweets. If I was going to walk twenty damp miles I was going to need all the help I could get.
When I went to the loo it was time to make another decision. Did I keep the waterproof trousers on and stay hot or did I take them off and risk getting wet legs if it started raining again? They were making me so hot my legs felt damp and sweaty anyway so I took them off and stashed them in my rucksack. If it rained I’d either get wet or I’d have to find somewhere to sit and put them on again.
Setting off again I opened the milkshake and sipped as I walked. Unfortunately, because it came in a wide necked bottle, it wasn’t easy to walk and sip but it was nice and the milk gave me a bit of extra energy. Walking through the park just bfore the Rapunzel church there were a group of preschool children in fancy dress being led round by parents and teachers. Maybe it was a Red Nose Day thing, I’m not sure, but I was glad the sun had come out for them. The sun and the children put a smile on my face.
On Twyford Road I stopped to snap a photo of some red houseleeks growing on top of a wall then carried on towards Allbrook Hill. Just as the thatched roof of Ham Farm came into view the heavens opened again. Hopefully the children got wherever they were going before that happened. There was nowhere dry to sit and put on my waterproofs so I carried on. My trousers were soaking and the cold dampness seemed to make my quads ache, not a good sign at less then seven miles into twenty.
It was a trudge to Allbrook Hill with the rain getting harder and harder. So much for showers, this was a downpour. By the time I reached the weir at the bottom of the hill the rain had stopped. In the next field a group of horses were eating grass. Two of them looked up with intrest as I passed by. Perhaps I should carry carrots or peppermints. Commando’s martial arts teacher, a real life ex Royal Marine Commando, had a horse called Misty who loved peppermints.
There were no swans on the river today which was disappointing. I wonder where they went? Further along I stopped to take a picture of a pretty little black and White House. It’s an old house and I’m sure it has some history but I have no idea what. I liked that it was slightly crooked and I especially loved the leaded windows.
Soon I’d reached the section with no footpath, my least favourite part of the walk. It wasn’t helped by a darkening sky that held the promise of more rain. Before long that promise was fulfilled. Keeping a careful watch for oncoming cars and getting ready to jump onto the verge when I could, I continued. This is a fifty mile an hour road, so cars are generally doing at least sixty. Most people do slow a little and give walkers plenty of room, but sadly not all. Where the verge was so overgrown I couldn’t get onto it a woman in a red four by four came past so fast and so close I actually thought she was going to hit me. She was looking right at me as she sped by. It frightened me to death. Before I reached the junction with Main Road another woman did the exact same thing.
The rain had stopped again by the time I crossed Main Road and got back to a nice safe footpath. Things were looking up again. From there it’s less than a third of a mile to Twyford Village and, as the village signs came into view, I could see black clouds giving way to brighter skies. It wasn’t blue but it wasn’t grey which was good enough for me.
Twyford is a pretty little place, just the kind you imagine when you think quaint English village. The houses are mostly old cottages, each surely with a story to tell, and I love walking past looking at them and wondering what that story might be. If walls could only talk. The first house past the village sign at least told me how old it was. Under the teal painted gable is the date, 1898 in brick tiles. Next to it is a long brick barn, converted into a house. In a side road between the two is a small terrace of stunning cottages with dormer windows and dark timber cladding.
Twyford seems to have more than its fair share of pubs for such a small village. The prettiest of the bunch has to be The Bugle. Another red brick building, it has windows with lots of small square panes and a wooden porch over the door. If only I had time to go inside. A little further along the road is The Phoenix, it made me wonder how both survive so close together? There was no time to dwell on this because I had a walk to be getting on with.
On past the village post office I went, feeling quite good now I’d dried out, on up the gentle slope of Searles Hill. I knew this route well from training for my first Moonwalk. Before long I’d be coming up to the ten mile mark, just by a house called Tripps End. The first time I passed it, on my first ever twenty mile walk, it was my turning point to go back and the sign had made me laugh out loud, not quite the trip’s end but the end of part one and my cue to turn around.
Today, I decided to go a little further to a footpath on Old Rectory Lane. You know how much I love a footpath and this was one I knew wouldn’t lead me astray. I also needed the loo again and I knew there was likely to be a quiet spot I could take care of that. The first time I’d taken the footpath it was for the same reason but it was very nearly a disaster, about ten seconds after I pulled my trousers back up a woman and small child came round the corner. This time I planned to be much more careful.
Right on the corner of the footpath is Twford House Cottage. It’s a pretty cottage with an arched pattern in the red brickwork. Just below the arch is a round window surrounded with decorative bricks and below this is the arched front door. Today there was a wicker star hanging on the door, a bit Christmassy for March but still. The perfect symmetry would appeal to Commando, pity the lane is too narrow to get a decent photo of it all.
The lane was awash with snowdrops but I also noticed some pretty pink helebores hiding amongst them. A man and woman were feeding a horse just before I turned the corner past the church. The views here are spectacular, you can see for miles over fields and woods with the ribbon of the Itchen flowing through the middle.
A bench has sprung up since I last walked this path. It’s inscribed 2012 and commemorates the Jubilee. I stopped and sat on it for a moment to enjoy the view and eat some of my chocolate. Jason Mraz, I’m Yours came on the iPod just then. That song is so upbeat it always makes me smile and gets my feet tapping. It was a perfect moment which was a good job because the second half of my walk was a long way from perfect. In fact it was a nightmare.
Coming back through the village the wind was in my face and the clouds were gathering. By the time I got back to Higbridge Road the rain had started, like needles in my face. It was a struggle to walk against it and the effort made my quads scream, worse still, my glasses were so wet I could hardly see. This was not good when I still had more than eight miles to walk. To cap it all a third woman in a car cut close to me and didn’t slow down. I saw her, despite the glasses problem and I got as close to the verge as I could but it really frightened me.
Rant alert. If you’re driving along a country road with no footpaths and you see someone walking you’re supposed to give them room and slow down. This is not an optional act of kindness it is the law! If you don’t and you hit that person you are going to be in deep shit! If you hit me and I survive I’m going to come and find you. I always have my phone ready to take photos so don’t think you can just hit and run because you can be sure I will get your number plate even if its the last photo I take. Rant over.
The rain and the wind continued all along Highbridge Road and I struggled against it, feeling more and more tired. There was a brief respite, from the rain at least, just after I passed the first weir. This was the point I saw something that had me wondering if I’d lost my marbles or been transported to Morocco, except with wind and rain. There was an animal across the road climbing a tree, it could only be a goat. Even though I was tired and my legs ached, I had to cross to investigate.
There really were goats. As I walked towards the gate they all came dashing over, poking their heads through to see if I was something edible or had something edible. Once they realised I wasn’t and didn’t, they went back to their tree climbing. Not quite as agile as the Moroccan goats, they weren’t high in the branches but, for some reason, they seemed to be eating the tree bark. How strange.
Then the rain started again. The wind was blowing it straight into my face. My hood kept blowing off. The gusting wind made it hard to control my breathing. My legs were soaked and cold. I struggled up Allbrook Hill telling myself the wind wouldn’t be in my face when I turned at the top. I was wrong, either the wind changed direction or the twists and turns of the road had me facing into it again pretty soon. Somehow I made it to Eastleigh. My thighs were not aching, they were hurting, every step was a battle against the wind, every mile felt like two.
At the Swan Centre I made for Costa. At first I thought I’d get a coffee to drink in but, as I waited in the queue, I could feel my muscles stiffening, if I sat down I’d never get up again. There was no way I was giving up at fifteen miles so I got a take away coffee and carried on, back out into the wind and rain. Somehow I walked those last five miles. The milky coffee gave me a boost, for sure, and my legs felt a little less painful for a few miles. The one bright spot was some shelter just before I got to the little bridge by the White Swan. There was no wind and I even stopped for a moment to take a photo of some turkey tail fungus, all rings of blues, browns and greens, growing on a dead tree.
The wind was even worse along the river. Somehow I made it through the park and up the hellish slope to the road. Through sheer bloody mindedness I struggled the last mile home. Now I’m shattered, my legs ache and I feel like I’ve walked way more than a marathon. Next time it’s raining and windy I’m staying at home!