Finally I’d done it, I’d walked the whole Itchen Navigation, well as much of it as I could given stolen bridge, burst banks and bits I just couldn’t find. Now I was in Winchester and there were rhinos to hunt, well one anyway. First though, there was the little matter of working out exactly where in Winchester I was.
16 July 2016
It was the middle of the afternoon, still baking hot, and I knew I was on Domum Road. Looking at WalkJogrun it was fairly obvious which general direction I should take but the sun was so bright it was hard to see the little iPhone screen well. Maybe that’s something they should think about when they work on the next new version. Domum Road came out onto College Walk and there, right in front of me was a sign saying Wharf Mews, this was where all those barges used to be unloaded.
The first house I passed was the wharf manager’s house the one next to it the warehouse. Now they have been converted into some rather upmarket properties. Wonder what they’re like inside? The little bridge right beside the old warehouse was Black Bridge, built in 1796 to replace one built more than a hundred years earlier which, in turn, replaced the original wooden bridge. There was an odd little house right on the water’s edge, overgrown with ivy. It looked derelict and I wondered if it once belong to one of the wharf workers.
At the end of College Street I came to a triple arch, rather reminiscent of the Bargate, which is not surprising as it’s of a similar age. This was Kingsgate, one of two surviving medieval gates to the city. This fourteenth century gate replaced an early twelfth century Roman gate, also called Kingsgate. Originally they led to the royal palace, back when Winchester was the capital city, hence the name I guess. The building above the gate is actually a church, St Swithun-upon-Kingsgate. It seems slightly unnecessary given how close it is to the cathedral. It was actually made famous, under the assumed name St Cuthbert’s, in Anthony Trollope’s novel The Warden.
Almost at once I came to another gate, this one the entrance to the cathedral, called Priory Gate. I did say the church was a tad superfluous didn’t I? This fifteenth century arch has two gigantic oak gates which are still closed every night and it was once used as access to the medieval priory. Apparently there is a tiny room above which was once the organist’s house. Quite a fancy abode for an organist I should think.
Through the gate I was immediately met by two rather splendid buildings both obviously incredibly old. The closest, a creamy coloured timber framed structure dating back to Elazabethan times is Cheyney Court. The towering gables and leaded windows were once the Bishop of Winchester’s courthouse. The white building adjoining Cheyney Court is actually the old stable block. Looks a little nice to keep horses in but then again this is Winchester, everything is rather upmarket.
Then I was staring up at the cathedral. I’d come at it from a different direction this time so I was getting a different view, this time from the back. I’m not a cathedral officionado so I can’t really tell one part from another, even so it is very imposing and I dallied to take photos of the square topped tower and the beautiful leaded window there.
Passing through Curle’s Passage, Built by Bishop Curle’s in 1632 to save pedestrians walking through the cathedral, the view of arches within arches was pleasing and I stopped to take more photos. There were more photos still as I reached the West face which is the front of the building. More beautiful windows, spires and statues. I could probably write a whole book about the place and I could have stayed much longer but I had dinner to cook for Commando before he went to work and a rhino to find so I left, albeit rather reluctantly.
I knew the rhino was at the Holiday Inn, I even had a fair idea where that was and how far (about two miles) what I hadn’t known was where exactly the Navigation came out. Now I found myself in the middle of Winchester, a little unsure of which way to go. I hadn’t reckoned with the narrow twisting streets and pretty soon I was totally confused. Eventually I found the Ecipse Inn, where I’d had my photo taken on my final Moonwalk training walk by a kind stranger. There were no kind strangers today though, just lots of tourists and locals milling about. Away from the river it was hotter than ever. I’d walked fourteen miles already and apart from the cathedral, the pub and the museum, I didn’t recognise anything. To be honest I felt a little panicky and a lot cross.
Looking down the street I could see a Costa sign and thought I’d make for that, have a coffee or a frapachino and see if I could get my bearings or directions. It wasn’t far and it was downhill which was even better. On my way I passed the Buttercross a fifteenth century monument once used by countrymen to sell produce, now used as a lounging spot by local youths. Beside this was the famous nineteenth century clock, mounted on the former Guildhall, now a bank. The clock told me it was half past two, I was running out of time!
Before I reached Costa I came upon some policemen standing around chatting. Mother always told me, ‘if you’re lost ask a policeman,’ so I thought that might be a good plan. They were very helpful. It turned out the Holiday Inn was a lot further than I thought, mainly because I’d been walking in completely the wrong direction. Worse still, the train station, my final port of call was in the opposite direction too. Right then I wanted to sit down and cry. The heat, the fact I’d had nothing to eat since about seven o’clock (well I had had two milkshakes but I’d walked fourteen miles plus) made another six or seven miles seem like an impossible feat and that was without walking round trying to find the rhino. There was a decision to be made, try to find the rhino, be late home, probably starve to death or die of heat exhaustion or try to find the train station and go home.
Normally you know what I’d do, it would be the rhino every time. My feet didn’t even hurt, my legs weren’t tired, I could have walked the distance easily, what I couldn’t do was do it quickly In the heat without food. By my reckoning, even at a fast pace, I had about two hours walking to get there and back. With the heat make that four. My average walking pace is fourteen minute miles, according to WalkJogrun I’d averaged more than twenty two so far. I just couldn’t do it.
Even after I’d given up it wasn’t plan sailing. Winchester may be pretty, it may have lots of fascinating history, a wonderful cathedral and some lovely buildings but, as far as I could see, it sucked! The route to the train station was uphill, of course. There were lots of people and they got in my way. I struggled up the hill, I walked through another gate, I didn’t much care what it was called or what it looked like. I turned where they told me to turn, I even saw a signpost that said railway station, what I didn’t see was an actual railway station.
It isn’t as if I haven’t been to Winchester before, I’ve even caught a train from there. Goodness knows how because it was at night but I found the station just fine, in fact I seemed to remember it being just a straight walk. I began to wonder if those policemen were taking the piss. After a walk that seems way further than it should have I gave up and asked someone else. They told me I’d passed the station and pointed back where I’d come from. “It’s down there on the right.”
Down there on the right I still couldn’t see a station. Really this was getting silly. Had they never heard of proper signposts? Of course I did find it, after walking in circles for a while. It really wasn’t well signposted, especially for a city that attracts so many tourists. Ok, I was hot and tired and cross and that probably didn’t help but it was like they purposely hid the place. It was quarter to four when I found it, more than an hour of walking in circles.
Even then it wasn’t plan sailing. The man who was supposed to be selling me my ticket was way too busy chatting with the other man who was meant to be selling tickets to bother with something as unimportant as a paying customer. Eventually, after I’d said “excuse me,” about five times he looked at me. He wasn’t particularly garcious, he looked quite put out in fact. While he was taking my ten pound note and grudgingly counting out three pounds change he carried on talking to his friend. I asked which platform and when the train was due. He didn’t answer. I asked again, he looked very cross and said, “platform two, about ten minutes.” Service with a snarl.
On the platform there was a coffee shop. There was a sign outside with a list of coffee prices, one of the top ones was latte. Boy did I want a latte. I even had enough change from my ticket to buy one. The problem was the person who was supposed to be serving me was nowhere to be seen. There was a bell and I rang it. Eventually a man came to the little window. He looked about as pleased to see me as the ticket man had, maybe they were related.
“Could I have a latte please?” I asked, smiling, despite feeling very, very cross.
“We don’t sell coffee,” he said and just walked away. I didn’t even have chance to point out that his sign patently said they did sell coffee, in fact it seemed to be all they sold. Maybe I was speaking a foreign language and didn’t realise it.
So I stomped to a seat and sat sulking. Then an announcement came over the speaker system. The Weymouth train, calling at Southampton Parkway, Southampton Central…. Has been delayed due to an unknown problem.” Really could it get any worse? Actually it wasn’t as bad as the announcement made out because the train arrived about five minutes later. I was on my way home!
Of course, when I got to Southampton I had a killer hill to walk up to get to the bus stop. Still, my legs were rested by then and the air con on the train had cooled me a bit. Even so, when I got to the top of the hill I was hot all over again and the last of my water was gone. Why didn’t I take my Camelbak water bladder?
The bus arrived almost at once, they’re pretty regular going to my village thankfully. Yes, I could have walked the three miles home but come on, would, you? An elderly lady was in front of me getting on. She struggled a bit with the step. Behind her a rather large man got on. It was my turn next and I really wanted to get out of the sun onto the bus. Unfortunately it wasn’t as easy as that.
The elderly lady couldn’t walk down the bus. The front seat, reserved for elderly and infirm passengers was occupied by a girl of about seven. The elderly lady asked if she could have that seat. The little girl crossed her arms and said no. This little girl wasn’t on her own on the bus, her mother and grandmother were with her. Her mother said, “Chloe, let the lady have the seat.”
The little girl said, “No!”
This went on, and on, and on. Eventually the mother said, “the bus driver is going to get cross with you in a minute Chloe.”
Chloe looked at the bus driver, who was studiously ignoring the proceedings. She got off the seat and stormed to the other end of the bus, arms folded, face red and angry. The elderly lady sat down. I got on the bus. I sat down. There were lots of empty seats.
Chloe created a fuss for the whole of the rest of my journey. She stomped up and down, she picked up her bag and threw it on the floor. She kicked the seat, she moved from one seat to another with a sour, angry face. Her mother and grandmother occasionally said, “Chloe, sit down,” “Chloe, don’t do that,” and “bless her, she’s hot and tired.” I was hot and tired, maybe I should start throwing things around and kicking things, I bet her mother would have had something to say about that.
Chloe was just a horrible, spoilt little girl who would never have behaved that way if I was her mother. By the time I got off the bus I was having fantasies about slapping her. Anyone who says children should not be disciplined and smacking children is wrong should have to put up with Chloe for a day or two, see how fast they change their tune then. In fact, anyone who wants to have children should have her for a day or two, see how fast they change their minds. Then again, maybe I was just hot and tired.
So, after all that, the rhino hunt turned out to be fruitless. Well, almost fruitless. When I got to the top of that killer hill by Central Station there, right in front of me was a new rhino. I’m not going to say too much about it today because this one is number fourteen and I do really want to do them in order. If you want to see him I’m afraid you will have to wait.