16 August 2015
On Sunday I decided it was time to revisit Botley. Back in January when I walked out there to visit the mills I promised myself I’d go back to explore further and it seemed about time I got on with it. It was a pleasant morning, not too hot, not too cold, a touch of blue in the sky and Commando was out on a long run training for Toronto. There’d been some preparation the night before and I had a good idea where I’d find what I was looking for. I’d even planned a circular route so I didn’t have to walk back the same way I’d come. All in all it seemed like I had a plan. Now what is it they say about plans?
The first part of the walk was boring road walking with traffic whizzing past. There was no way round it so I gritted my teeth and got on with it. When I got to Kanes Hill and on to the footpath things improved. There were yellow fleabane, complete with a big fly, and thistles. As I made my way towards the underpass I heard jingling behind me and turned round, wondering what on earth it could be. A little way back was a man in a high vis jacket and a blue cap I took for a hard hat at first. He was walking a guide dog who seemed to have a bell of some kind on its harness that jingle jangled with every step. It looked like a young dog and I’m pretty sure it was in training.
Man and dog were moving at quite a lick and I wanted to stop and take photos of the fields where I saw horses back in January so I moved to the edge of the pavement and slowed to let them pass. I’d have liked to speak to the man, ask about his dog, but I wasn’t sure of the etiquette of speaking to guide dog trainers. In fact I wasn’t even sure if he could see or not. As he passed I nodded, when he didn’t nod back I assumed he must be blind. There was a horse in the field, but right on the far side where I could hardly make it out. On I went, past Holly Grove Farm and further to the underpass. Sadly, since Janaury, someone has scrawled over the paintings of ships, trains and planes with silly graffiti tags. Back then I didn’t take a photo, now it is too late.
Before too long I was in Hedge End and taking advantage of possibly the prettiest public convenience in the world. The little brick building with its tiled roof is nothing too special but the garden beside it was positively bursting with colour. There can’t be many public loos with their own garden. The petunias crowding alongside the wall with their deeply crinkled and veined trumpets were worth the walk all on their own and the smell was heavenly.
The sun had come out by this time and my jacket had been tied around my waist. Feeling a little more comfortable I carried on to Broad Oak. Deep red hawthorn berries reminded me summer is coming to a close. It seems hawthorn is both the presage of spring with its fresh white flowers and of the end of summer when the berries turn red. Here house envy reigns supreme. It would have been easy to fill my camera with pictures of beautiful houses I’d like to live in but I limited myself to just the one, Springtime Cottage. This beautiful white painted thatch with a field at the back filled with horses is quintessentially English.
Soon I passed the welcome to Botley sign and shortly after that the first houses in the village. Stepping into Botley feels like going back to a gentler, more peaceful time when the pace of life was slower and community spirit was the norm not the exception. The houses on the outskirts of the village are modern but these quickly give way to older, more interesting buildings each different to its neighbour. Then there was the Victorian school house, built in 1855, with a tall chimney, red and cream brickwork and beautifully carved fascia around the eaves. These days the school is housed in a modern building next door and the orgiginal school house has been turned into apartments, called Lecole Walk, as a nod to the previous occupants. Thankfully the wonderful shell of the place has been kept intact.
Opposite the schools All Saints, the parish church, dominates the High Street. Botley church was the main reason for my visit but it was an older church I came to see. The Roman road from Clausentum, my village, crossed the Hamble about a mile south of the modern day village. The first settlement, Bottaleah, grew up around it. As sea levels rose travellers began to ford the river further north and this became the centre of the expanding village. When a poplar tree fell on the old church almost destroying it, villagers petitioned to the Bishop of Winchester for a new church. All Saints is the result of this petition and a great deal of fundraising.
Last time I visited I had a good look at this modern church, so I took a few pictures from a distance and moved on. A look at the clock face on the tower told me it was eleven thirty five, time to get a move on. The diamond shaped, gilded clock came from the stables of William Cobbett, the radical farmer and writer who lived in the village.
Leaving both church and clock behind I made for the village square, the heart of Botley, past old red brick houses and quirky shops. One shop had a penny farthing in the window and interesting old signs. What it sold was anyone’s guess as it had no sign above the door. Across the road I was almost tempted to go inside another signless shop. On my last visit it had been closed and I’d wished I could wander round and look at all the knickknacks within, now it was open I didn’t have the time.
Botley has been a market town since 1267 and the Market Hall was built in 1848. Now it’s the centrepiece of the village with its Portland stone portico and columns. Next to it is The Dolphin public house, a place it’s been my pleasure to visit a few times in the past. It was open and I peeked inside the door but thought it a little too early for a drink, even if I was a fan of alcohol. In the eighteenth century there were fourteen inns in the village, probably because travellers were often stranded, awaiting the low tide. Today just three remain, The Dolphin and Bugle in the square and the Brewery Bar just around the corner.
Not a lot has changed in Botley Square since those heady days of coaching inns and highway men, at least as far as the architecture goes. Of course the horses have been replaced by cars and the modern shop signs advertise foreign restaurants, bridal shops and hair dressers but the feel is still there of a time gone by and a village where everyone knows everyone else. Now it was time to leave the new village behind and go in search of the old one, or at least the ancient church. The obvious turning point was Church Lane and my late night perusal of maps told me this would lead me there eventually…