11 November 2014
While the soldiers stood in little knots talking I slipped quietly away from the World War I Memorial at Victoria Country Park. Had the weather been better I might have lingered and looked at the inscriptions on some of the graves. As it was I stopped once to look at the ranks of white headstones on the hill by the entrance then carried on along the causeway back to the park.
There’s a little cafe right in the corner beyond the chapel and, as I came towards it, I noticed there were lights on inside. Maybe it was open? When I tried the door I was surprised to find it was. The heat inside made my already wet glasses steam up completely so it took a while before I could see what was on offer. There were interesting looking cakes but I stuck with a latte. It was a struggle to get my purse out of my sodden rucksack but the barista was patient.
The coffee was good and I was reluctant to leave the pleasant little cafe but I knew I had to go back out into the rain. I couldn’t stay there indefinitely after all. Somehow I’d managed to find a small corner of t-shirt dry enough to clean my glasses but within seconds of going back out they were as wet as ever. Blindly, I stumbled my way through Netely village behind a gaggle of school children and their teachers. They’d obviously been on some kind of a school field trip.
Eventually I got past the children and to the row of pastel coloured cottages. For a moment I thought about turning back to the shore here but a gust of rainy wind soon put paid to that idea. Instead I walked up Abbey Hill, past Netley Abbey. The gates are shut again now but I did stop to peek through.
The road just past the Abbey was flooded and the spray from a couple of cars had me scuttling for the woods. This would mean walking along the shore but I figured, if I was going to get wetter, I was going to do it on my terms. As it was the wind seemed to have dropped a little and it was at least blowing at my back now helping me along. This was just as well because the almost leafless trees lining the shore gave little protection. The sea was a most peculiar shade of green and the sky a flat, dull grey. It wasn’t the weather for photographs.
Close to West Lodge the foreshore has been built up into a high bank as a flood defence. Here the trees are thicker and they’re underplanted with rhododendrons. One was still flowering, reminding me of the brave little rhododendron in the enchanted park that flowered all through last winter until the plant died just as my dream job came to an end. Maybe it’s a sign? Maybe I’m delusional.
Past the dead tree I like so much where the path ends and the open shore begins the waves crashed loudly onto the shingle. I hurried along keen to get around the bay as quickly as possible and to the protection of buildings. It was a relief to pass the sailing club and the ranks of ships with their masts singing and clattering as the wind whipped through them.
Soon I was walking through Woolston, tired, wet through to my skin and desperate to get the last three miles over with as quickly as possible. With a little respite from the wind I stopped and fished my chocolate milk from my sodden rucksack, sipping as I walked. An odd looking car outside the mostly empty shops caught my attention. It was the strangest little Citroen, half van half car. Goodness knows what it was doing there.
Up the hill past Peartree Church the rhythm of my steps sent me into a trance. The rain was falling harder again. Water dripped from my hood down into my eyes and ran, like tears, down my cheeks. One, two, three, four, my feet on the pavement, climbing to my village. One, two, three four, my breath in time with my feet. The thought of home and a warm cup of cocoa kept me going.
Despite the wind and rain and the difficult climb home it had been a fabulous experience but I have never been so pleased to walk through my own door. I left my clothes in puddle on the bathroom floor, changed into my pyjamas and put the kettle on.