30 June 2015
Once I’d left the jetty behind it was back to the meandering trail Which led me through the dappled shade at the edge of Hamble Common to a sign that warned of erosion ahead. At first I was in two minds whether to risk the crumbling path but the bank seemed low, at least at first, and the alternative of walking on the shingle wasn’t very appealing. Ahead I could see the masts of boats and what I thought was Hamble Point. It didn’t look too far so I chose danger over slog.
There were a few hairy moments where I had to half step half jump over gaps but the further I went the easier the going got. The grass had grown on the edge of the bank helping to minimise the erosion and it wasn’t long before I could see the end of the path and what looked like the gun emplacement I’d come to see. Much as I wanted to press on, when I saw a bench set back a little from the path, I knew I should take the opportunity to stop and drink my second chocolate milk. The shingle had taken its toll and my energy levels were low. This might be the last chance for a proper sit down.
There were cows grazing in the field behind the bench but the fence looked sturdy enough so I sat down, opened the milk and relaxed as I sipped. The sea was lapping at the shingle in front of me and I watched the large ships and small boats going back and forth in front of Calshot on the opposite bank. To my left I could see Warsash on the other side of the Hamble River and the hazy coast of Cowes on the Isle of Wight on the horizon. As benches go I’ve had worse views.
It was a short rest, just long enough to finish my chocolate milk. Being so close to the thing I’d come to see made me eager to get going again so I was soon back on the trail heading for the big gun. It wasn’t a long walk. The gun emplacement is actually two Second World War antiaircraft gun platforms joined by a kind of bridge. The first platform I came to was topped by a huge World War II Bofors Gun facing out over Southampton Water. This is not the original, used to guard Southampton during the war but a replacement donated by the Ministry of Defence in 1988.
As I clambered up onto the platform for a better look a group of young people were heading for the other, empty platform. Of course I’d rather have been alone but you can’t always get what you want. Guns are really not my thing, just the idea of them gives me shivers, but I am into history which made this particular gun interesting. It was obvious I wasn’t going to have a great deal of time so I walked around the gun taking pictures of the gunners seats on either side.
The young people were fairly excited and noisy and, in no time at all, some of them had crowded onto the platform with me, posing and climbing over the gun. That was the end of my photo taking and, as the others were still climbing over the empty platform, I didn’t have the chance to explore further. It seemed a shame to have walked such a long way for such a short look but at least I’d found it. There will surely be other visits.
Apparently, at low tide, the remains of St Andrew’s Castle, built in 1543 by Henry VIII to defend against the French, can be seen on the shore. Unfortunately the tide was almost at its highest so that was another thing I didn’t get to see. Just beyond the gun was Hamble Point Marina. From the map I could see a path running all the way around the edge of the shore and I’d hoped to walk it. Those hopes were dashed when I came to a sign saying in no uncertain terms that this was a private site with access only if you contacted the Marina Office. It seemed a terrible shame to stop walkers using such a nice path but it is what it is so I turned away wondering what to do next.
Of course I could have just turned and walked back the way I’d come but that would have been a far longer walk than I’d planned. Luckily, as I started along School Lane I noticed a kissing gate. This was Hamble Common as far as I could tell and I was pretty sure one of the trails ahead would lead me to the square and, ultimately, a bus home. The problem was, which path?
There had been some looking at maps before I set out but it was hard to reconcile the satelite view with that on the ground. In the end I figured sticking as close to the edge as possible was the best plan, even if it did mean the walk would be longer. Going in another direction could easily mean walking away from the square rather than towards it. Admittedly, there were no guarantees with following the path nearest the sea but getting lost is hardly strange to me.
There were a few moments when I half wished I’d made a different choice. The trail, such as it was, ran between trees. A small, almost dry stream ran along the edge closest to the Marina and the ground was dried out mud churned up by cows and full of pot holes and lumps. Large, thankfully dried out, cow pats, the evidence of the cows, were liberally scattered about. After a while the trees on the marina side gave way to views over the water, the River Hamble now rather than Southampton Water, and the path turned back on itself. In the shade of a large oak, a bench made me wish I hadn’t already drunk my last chocolate milk back by the cow field. It would have been nice to sit in the shade looking at all the boats moored in the marina.
The thin trail led along the very edge of the estuary. Without the last days of sun it would probably have been too muddy to walk safely. Across the mud and water I could see buildings I recognised from the quayside below the square. They looked close enough to touch but the trail was leading me away from them and I had no choice but to follow. Hopefully it would eventually lead me where I wanted to go.
Walking through long grass shaded by the occasional tree with the water beside me and a cooling breeze wasn’t unpleasant but it seemed to be going on longer than I’d have liked with no sign of turning back towards the quay. The far bank looked to have a path similar to the one I was walking heading in the right direction. It was tantalisingly close, no more than a stone’s throw, but the river kept me from it. Looking ahead there seemed to be no end to the water, no sign of a turn. Then an insistent hissing made me spin around to face the water beside me. Straight away I knew this meant swans and sure enough a cob and a pen, were swimming towards me looking rather angry. The reason for their anger came in grey fluffy form. They had three young cygnets.
How many walks have I taken hunting for the first cygnets of the year? Each time I’ve been disappointed and left wondering if a single cygnet has hatched in Hampshire this year. Perhaps not looking for things is the best way to find them. After the initial warning hiss the cob, pen and three babies came towards the bank where I was madly trying to focus my phone. Knowing how protective swan parents are I was wary as mum and dad came right up to the bank.
The pen led the way, I could tell by the smaller black knob above her beak. She came right up into the reedy grass beside me and gave me the evil eye. For a moment I thought she was going to climb out and chase me. If she did I was going to make an exception to my no running rule. An angry swan is not to be trifled with. As it was she stopped short and peered through the grass at me while the cob held back a little watching. I took full advantage and snapped away while three cute little ugly ducklings vied for position to look at the weird human.
It would have been easy to stay there all day but I knew mum and dad would lose patience eventually and make a move to see me off. When I finally turned my eyes from the little family I saw a small wooden bridge up ahead leading to the opposite bank. It was just what I’d been hoping for and I crossed in the shade of another large oak.
On the opposite trail I stopped to take a final picture of the swans and was surprised to see them coming across the water towards me. Mum was in front again, then three little cygnets all in a row with dad bringing up the rear. From their size I’d guess these swan babies are probably a few weeks old, maybe a month, not quite as cute as fluffy day old hatchlings but cute enough to put a big grin on my face. After the first angry hiss the swans lived up to their name and were mute but it was obvious they weren’t all that happy to have me so close. The cob kept lifting his feet as if to climb the bank and the pen stayed close to the bank looking daggers at me. Both kept themselves between me and their precious babies.
It seemed wize not to outstay my welcome much as I’d have liked to stay. Besides it really was time to think about getting home. The walk along the far bank was as meandering as the first but far shorter. It wasn’t long before I found a trail leading in what I hoped was the direction of the quay. At first it led me through an arch of trees. Dappled green light soon gave way to views over the river and a forest of masts like winter trees in the distance.
After a while my route dipped back into the shade of fat trunked trees with contorted branches. There were glimpses of fields to my left. Perhaps the common again and, pretty soon I came out on Green Lane as it sloped steeply down to the water. The old houses and pretty gardens were lovely but I was more interested in the coffee I’d been thinking about for a while. The lane took me out onto the quay and the familiar jumble of interesting items stacked outside the Riverbank Studio, the jetty with the pink ferryboat and the obligatory masts and fisherman. With one last look at the Maritime Art Gallery I set off along Well Lane hoping to find coffee.
Unfortunately the coffee shop I found appeared to be devoid of staff. Maybe if I’d waited I’d have got my coffee but I didn’t want to do that only to find I’d missed my bus. There is only one every half hour after all. At the top of the lane I found the golden Olympic post box of Hamble Square, and the row of red brick houses called Copperhill Terrace after the coppers once used to boil the tar for preserving the ropes made in the village. The bus was due in fifteen minutes but there was nowhere in the square to buy coffee so I sat and sipped the rest of my water while I waited. Coffee would have to wait until I got home.