There’s something about the halfway point in a long walk that always makes me smile. After that I know there are more miles behind me than in front and I’m homeward bound. At the same time, these are some of the most difficult miles. Tiredness begins to set in, muscles begin to ache. This is when the mind is more important than the body and the little things to make me smile are the things that keep me going.
12 April 2013
At the six and a half mile mark, according to the newly restarted WalkJogRun, I turned around. By my calculations this should have been twelve miles into my walk as I’d walked five and a half (more or less) when I accidentally stopped the blasted thing instead of pausing it. Why can’t it have one of those ‘are you sure you want to do this?’ messages when you go to stop it? At this point I was standing on the second bridge on Five Bridges Road.
Five bridges road used to be an actual road, following on from Highbridge road towards St Cross and Winchester until the Winchester Bypass was built In the 1930’s. It’s hard to imagine all the traffic from Southampton to Winchester travelling along such a narrow road but I guess, in those days, there was a lot less of it. The original Winchester Bypass, the A33, was one of the first fully dual carriageway bypasses in the country but has now all but dissappeared thanks to the M3.
You may remember Twyford being in the news back in the early 1990’s when thousands of protestors gathered in an effort to stop a cutting being made in Twford Down to accommodate the M3 motorway. The famous Dongas Tribe, named after the tracks that criss cross the downs, camped out in an effort to stop the bulldozers and local people of all ages, faiths and social statuses joined them. Then came Yellow Wednesday when a private security firm in their flouorescent yellow jackets evicted them with a breathtaking excess of violence that shocked the country.
Walking back the other way along Five Bridges Road, just a little way from the second bridge with the view of the mill, I had a marvellous view of St Catherine’s Hill. Believe it or not I have never been there (since this post I have put that omission right more than once, most recently hunting for the plague pits). Commando certainly couldn’t believe it and has promised to take me soon. Hopefully when my poor calves have recovered because it is a pretty steep climb. It’s quite an historic spot though so I will look forward to it.
On the opposite side of the road I could just make out the Hockley Viaduct in the distance across the fields. This is another place to add to my list of walks I must do at some point (I finally got round to it early this year). Originally it was called the Shawford Viaduct and was used by the railway as a link over the River Itchen and the water meadows. It was built in the late 1880’s and was meant to continue down the east side of the Itchen to Southampton but, as with so many things, they ran out of funds so it stopped at Winchester. The railways actually stopped using it in the 1960’s and it was just allowed to fall into decay until very recently. In fact, back in the 1980’s army engineers were going to demolish it as a training exercise but Railway Ramblers protested and were quickly joined by other opposition. What is it about this quiet little part of Hampshire that brings out so many protestors?
Walking through sleepy Twyford you’d never guess such militant Eco activists live behind the pretty cottage doors. Still I’m glad they do. A team of industrial archeologists from Southampton University joined the fight to save it, taking core samples from the piers. They discovered the insides were filled with concrete, rather than the rubble usually used in those days. This was a real discovery believe it or not because it meant this was one of the earliest concrete viaducts in the UK and, therefore, worth preserving. A one million pound restoration project finished in February this year and the viaduct finally reopened on 26 February. Dani King, Olympic gold medal winning cyclist was the first to cross it and it completes the final section of National Cycle Network Route 23, stretching from Reading to the Isle of Wight. It is also used by walkers and I imagine the views are pretty spectacular. Sooner or later I’m going to sample them.
As I walked back along Five Bridges Road my phone rang. CJ was back from his course and wondering where I’d got to. When I told him I was just leaving Winchester he decided it wasn’t worth putting the kettle on for me just then but promised to remain on standby until I got in. The thought of that coffee waiting for me kept me going I can tell you. Pity I can’t have someone standing on the finish line of the actual Moonwalk with a latte really. I bet I’d finish faster if there was.
Near the gate at the start of Five Bridges Road I noticed a stone, like one of the old milestones (we actually have one along the main road here, I must get round to taking a photo of it before someone removes it). This was quite a grand stone, much bigger than the one across the road from my house, proclaiming ‘City of Winchester 1932′ with a crest carved into it. I may have reached Winchester but not the city centre, which is my aim for the next walk.
WalkJogRun buzzed seven miles not long after I’d crossed the road at the Hockley traffic lights, once notorious for snarl ups. So it was back along the long road towards Twyford, past the sheep, the farms and the handful of little cottages until I came to the long footpath that starts with Church Lane. A large, rather wet, black horse came up to the fence as I passed but soon lost interest in me when he realised I had no food for him. Poor thing didn’t even have a coat like most of the other horses I saw. Just after that an older couple passed going the other way and said good afternoon. Funny how people in the countryside say hello even though they don’t know you, that rarely happens in the city. If I forget myself and nod hello to someone in town they scuttle away as if they think I’m a lunatic.
The donkeys were out in the yard of the farm by this time, they’d not been there when I came the other way and I wondered if I’d imagined them last time. I did stop to take a photo but they were too far away to be very clear. Maybe they will come right up to the fence once of these days. It’s a kind of ramshackle old farm and I do wonder what the donkeys are for? Maybe they’re just pets but its quite unusual for country folk to have pets that aren’t useful in some way.
Just before I reached the church I spotted some forget me nots in the grass by the side of the path. Surely it’s quite early for them? I always think of them as May flowers, out around my birthday, and these are certainly the first I’ve seen this year. They are one of my favourites, covered in tiny, five petaled flowers with a bright yellow centre, and there is such a variation in colour, even on one plant, from palest pink to purplish blue and everything in between. The couple who’d passed me earlier walked behind me as I was crouching to look at them and carried on into the churchyard. They must have walked to the end of the lane and turned round. I wondered what they’d make of my epic journey.
I wasn’t far behind them and when I entered the churchyard I could see them standing quietly looking up at the front of the church. As I came closer I could see why they were standing so still. There was a white dove perched on the metal bracket of a lamp over the door, it almost looked like a sculpture. They were obviously trying not to disturb it. I stood a little way behind them and, carefully, raised my phone to take a photo. The dove just sat there looking at us, then, after a while, decided it had had enough rest and flew off. With all the rain it made me think of Noah and the Ark, especially as it was perched over the door of the church. Maybe it was a sign that the wet weather will soon be over, then again, maybe I should be thinking about building an ark.
Once I’d gone through the churchyard I was determined not to take the wrong path again because I wanted to sit on one of the benches and drink my second latte, or what was left of it after the spillage in my bag earlier. Coming the other way it seems so simple but somehow the path with the benches is quite hidden going back. I could only see one path and it didn’t look like the right one to me. The couple came to my rescue inadvertantly when they walked through what looked like a small gap in some bushes. This turned out to be the path I wanted and I followed.
While I drank my latte I watched a swan swimming slowly along the ribbon of river below me. The clouds were white in the main and there was blue sky overhead, hazel catkins dangled from the hedge behind me, heavenly little orange tassels. I lingered until the swan disappeared from view then stretched out and carried on. The white cows were out in the field right at the end of the footpath again. They hadn’t been there when I’d passed earlier and I wondered if there was a special time of day for turning the animals out into the fields. The white clouds were beginning to turn black by then and I was pretty sure I was going to get wet again at some point.
This time I managed to take the right route back to Queen Street, along School Road, past pretty little Honeysuckle Cottage with its blue door and a trellised arch covered in honeysuckle. When it’s in flower, it must smell delightful. Then it was past the quaint little school I saw last time and the row of cottages with lovely gardens. One garden had a wonderful display of pansies, another of my favourites. At the time I congratulated myself for finding the right path but I wasn’t looking at the bigger picture and the effect it was going to have on my overall mileage. More of that later though.
When I got back onto Highbridge Road there was a buzz to announce nine miles. This meant I was actually on mile fourteen and a half. By then I was counting down the miles left, nine and a half, goodness that seemed a long way. The rain held off until I’d passed East Lodge. A huge dustbin lorry was slowly pulling out of the little slip road as I entered it and I was thankful I didn’t meet that somewhere else on the road, it was so massive I couldn’t see how it could move over to avoid me. There were some variagated arum leaves under the laurel that I hadn’t noticed earlier. They will look lovely when the graceful white lily cups appear.
After that it rained fairly steadily but, thankfully, lightly. I pulled my hood up and concentrated on going as fast as I could and counting down the miles. Ten miles (or fifteen and a half) just before Kiln Lane, eleven miles (sixteen and a half) close to the weir by the railway bridge. The weir seemed to be tumbling and frothing faster than ever. At the top of Allbrook Hill I’d walked seventeen miles, just seven to go.
The rain got heavier. Halfway down Twyford Road it was seventeen and a half and now I was getting a little worried about the final distance. From the Swan Centre it’s about five miles, a little more using the blue bridge, green bridge route, The Swan Centre was only about a mile away. Hmm, it looked like there was going to be a shortfall. That was when the finding the correct way back through Queen Street suddenly didn’t seem so good but at least the rain was easing off.
At the Swan Centre I picked up a skinny latte to go and, as I left sipping my coffee, I wondered how I was going to make up the extra half mile. I didn’t wonder for long because, a little while later, the heavens opened again. This time it was a deluge. Within seconds my coat was soaked right through and I could feel the water running down inside. Every time I took a sip of my coffee I got a mouthful of rainwater that had gathered on the indentation in the lid before I got any coffee. With the airport so close I probably got a few molecules of jet fuel too.
As I came to the airport I reached nineteen and a half miles. Four and a half to make up the twenty four but only four miles from home. Not good. By the time I got to the blue bridge the rain had eased off a bit and by the time I reached the White Swan bridge it had stopped. When the WalkJogRun told me I’d walked sixteen miles, plus five and a half making twenty one and a half, I knew I had some making up to do because, by my calculations, I was around two miles from home. I began zigzagging along the path and making sure I took the longer outside edge of all the bends but it wasn’t enough.
There was a huge temptation just to go straight home and forget about the extra distance but I knew I would only be cheating myself if I did that. So I started off down the riverside road that winds towards the bottom of the Big Hill but, half way down, I cut through a side road and walked back up to the main road that runs past the park. Despite my protesting calves I went up the hill until I reached the top of a long, winding lane further along and walked down that, right past Monks Walk and almost to the Big Hill.
There was a voice in my head saying ‘go home, forget the distance,’ but I ignored it and walked along the cutway past the school then up through Hum Hole to the traffic lights half way up the steep part of the hill. When I finally got in the door I’d actually walked about a third of a mile over the twenty four but better that than a third of a mile less. I was tired and wet and I stank from all that getting wet, getting dry, getting hot stuff plus lots of peeing in bushes where they don’t have convenient facilities to wash your hands. Much as I wanted to sink into the nearest chair with a coffee and my post walk chocolate milkshake I didn’t. I jumped straight in the shower, then I sank into the chair with all of the above. I didn’t even have the energy to dry my hair.