30 June 2015
Away from the shore breeze the heat made walking a chore as I made my way through Netley to Victoria Country Park. The coffee shop was tempting but the detour to get to it proved an obstacle too far so I hurried across the open field towards the trail through the woods where there would at least be shade. Hot and sticky I may have been but I couldn’t resist a stop to look at a beautiful poppy sculpture that has appeared in front of the chapel since my last visit. The small flower bed beneath it was planted with real poppies, fat buds not quite ready to open. It will look stunning when they do.
The galvanised steel sculpture, made by Colin Philips from Ashurst was unveiled on 27 July 2014 to mark the centenary eve of the Great War. There was a wreath laying ceremony and exhibitions in the chapel. Somehow I missed it all. I’m sure I’ve been to the park since then and I can’t believe I haven’t noticed it until now. It’s a lovely symbol.
It was far too hot to stand around for long though so I headed for the tree line, sipping my water as I went. The cool shade of the steep slope that would eventually lead me back to the shore was bliss after the hot sun. Soon I was passing the old stables, now converted into a luxury house behind an elegant wrought iron gate. It’s an out of the way place to live, sandwiched between the country park and the aircraft factory with access only from the park, the beach or a narrow road that is really more a footpath.
Now I was in Hamble and heading into unchartered territory. Some time ago I walked the road come footpath with Commando but this time I’d be taking an even narrower trail between it and the shore. What obstacles I’d find were a mystery. It wasn’t long before I came to the aircraft factory slipway. Commando said I should go down it and walk along the shingle until I found the trail but the tide was in and I was nervous about being cut off so I decided to carry on along the tarmac path for a while and look for a way onto it as I went.
Luckily I managed to pick up the trail a little further along as it meandered between the trees and the shore on a low bank. Here I had the best of both worlds with shade from the trees and a breeze from the shore. After the heat of the streets and the open park it was bliss. For a while I could clearly see the futuristic looking spires and buildings of Fawley Power Station across the water and little boats going back and forth. There was even a short stretch when I trudged through the loose shingle, then the trail jinked away from the shore again and the view was hidden by trees and scrub.
A little while later I emerged in a small car park and, on the other side, an open grassy area. In front of me was an old World War II pill box covered in graffiti, much like those I’d stumbled upon in the woods around L’Anse Du Brick and Fermanville in Normandy. I walked all around, thinking there might be a way inside but, disappointingly, all I found was a small, letter box sized hole. It was too dark to see much of anything inside.
Apparently this was an extended officers post pill box, which was linked to mines in the Solent. The mines were attached to cables which ran through the groves in the lower walls. Above was a lookout post where I suppose solders waited to pull the cables and explode the mines if an enemy ship approached Southampton or the power station. The entrance was bricked up and the gun positions blocked and rendered over in the late 1970’s (I think) to stop kids getting up to mischief inside. This seems a shame as, although the French versions are undoubtedly used by local youths, going on the number of discarded wine and beer bottles in them, they’re interesting to explore.
Feeling rather nostalgic for my Norman wanderings, I left the pill box behind and carried on along the grassy cliff top until the path sloped down onto the shore. As the grass of the foreshore was now fenced off I had no alternative but to struggle through the shingle. It was tough going with my feet sinking into the loose stones making every step an effort, although it was probably only a few hundred yards it felt like miles and I was pleased when I finally came to a small trail in the edge of the grass. It was still mostly shingle but harder packed and easier underfoot.
With less effort involved in moving forward I was free to look around a little more and, as I glanced across at the long grass edged by brambles and wildflowers looking for a better path I could hardly believe my eyes, I was face to face with a young deer. I’m not sure who was more surprised, me or the faun. He, or it may have been a she, looked up from whatever he was munching right into my eyes. Slowly I raised my phone, sure he would dash off before I’d taken a picture but he stood stock still.
Very slowly I crept closer with my phone still raised and my head turned slightly away trying to appear as if I was looking at something else altogether. It worked for a while, although he never took his eyes from me. Eventually I took a step too far and it was over. He dashed off into the grass and, within moments, was completely hidden. It felt like a magic spell had been broken.
Just after this the vague trail became clearer and rose up a small hillock as a narrow, gravelly trail bordered by grasses and wildflowers. Although I wasn’t sure where it would lead I took it rather than go back to the shingle, hoping it wasn’t a false trail away from the shore. When I reached the top I looked back and the deer was nowhere to be seen. Ahead the trail got thinner and thinner and nettles and brambles almost blocked my way. I had to resort to walking with my hands above my head to avoid getting my bare arms stung.
It wasn’t long before the trail dipped down towards the sea again and I was back on the shore. A couple were sunbathing on the shingle and a fisherman sat at the water’s edge shading his eyes from the bright sun. My next obstacle loomed ahead. I’d seen it growing ever larger since I left the pill box and I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to get past it or not. Commanndo’s friend seemed to think I would but I wasn’t convinced.
Ahead I could see the oil terminal, a huge sign saying prohibited admission and a tall wire fence. It didn’t look promising and I stopped to look back for an alternative route just in case. That didn’t look promising either. There were clumps of vipers bugloss and mallow dotted along the shore and, across the water, the clearest view yet of Fawley. Going forward seemed the best option.
The jetty is almost a third of a mile long and runs from the huge BP terminal out into Southampton Water where ships come and go day and night to be loaded with oil. From the satelite maps I could see it clearly but whether there was really a way over or under remained to be seen. There is a pipeline under the sea running from Fawley Refinery to the terminal and the jetty itself carrys huge pipes. Towards the end of World War II the jetty was extended so more ships could be loaded at once and the fuel terminal was used to supply PLUTO, the pipeline under the ocean, during the invasion of Europe. From this distance I could see daylight under the piers and a narrow, raised path but whether it would be navigable or not with the tide so far in was still debatable.
At least it was easier than walking on the shingle and there were wildflowers, swaying grasses and sparkling sea. After a while I could see that the path did run under the jetty which was a relief. There were steps leading down and then up again but before I decended I stopped to look along the line of the jetty at pipes and cranes that seemed out of place somehow with the sea lapping at the shore and the wildflowers and shells.
Now there was nothing between me and my final goal of the day…