30 December 2015
If summer 2015 had a lesson for me it seemed to be that I should take a closer look at the places I thought I knew well. There certainly turned out to be a few surprises in store when I did. I also learned that the best way to find something was to stop looking for it when my frustratingly unsuccessful cygnet hunt came to an unexpected end.
May began with wet stormy weather and my birthday. Rather generously, Commando gave me a car in anticipation of me passing my driving test. The first time I drove it I was a bag of nerves but Commando, the car and I made it home in one piece, which was a bonus. Bad weather limited my walks but things brightened up a little towards the end of the month, so I visited the newly refurbished Bursledon Windmill to see it with sails for the first time.
When Panda and I had a lunch date I finally got the chance to go inside the newly reopened Woolhouse. It had been taken over by a microbrewery so, after years of looking at it from the outside, it was wonderful to actually go through the doors and explore. Better still the food was good, as was the company.
The month ended with a wet and windy double race in Gosport. Commando competed in both the Golden Mile and the Gosport 5K while I wandered about getting wet and cold wondering what had happened to spring.
In early June it was back to medieval Southampton when CJ and I took a tour of the city vaults. For £5 each we got a guide with a key to all the locked doors I’d been wondering about for most of my life. Seeing the underbelly of the old city was worth every penny and I couldn’t help wondering why I waited so long to do it?
CJ and I also had coffee in Tudor House and a wander around the gardens. While we were there we accidentally stumbled on another vault. It had been used as an air raid shelter during the war and had been preserved as it would have been. There was a bit of a surprise when hidden speakers treated us to the sounds of an actual raid.
A work trip to Weymouth taught me that an hour on a bus is more than enough. We’d planned to go to Lyme Regis but ended up bailing out at Bridport. We had lunch with a noisy seagull at West Bay and then headed back to Dorchester and our train home. It was an interesting day that made me long to explore the Jurrassic Coast in more detail.
With the exception of one or two sunny days, Spring had been a washout but a short walk to Mayfield Park showed you don’t always have to go far to find something new. In fact you don’t even have to go somewhere new. When I deviated from my normal path I stumbled upon a pretty garden I’d never seen before and, close by, there was a small nursery selling a wide range of plants for next to nothing. Yet again I realised I am not as observant as I think I am.
All spring I’d been hunting unsuccessfully for cygnets on the Itchen. The last walk of June took me along the shore to the pillbox and Bofors Gun I’d been meaning to check out for some time. While I was there I decided to have a wander on Hamble Common and, would you believe it, I stumbled on a pair of swans with three little cygnets on the estuary.
July began with one of Commando’s magical mystery tours to Barton on Sea. While he went running I walked along the top of the crumbling cliffs. On the way back I discovered a smugglers trail at a Chewton Bunny and, at the risk of getting lost, I followed it. There were no smugglers to be seen but I did find my way back to the cliff path, proving I’m better at finding my way than I think I am.
Commando’s first race with the Itchen Spirfires Running Club was the Wyvern 10k. After a group photo the runners were off and I went to explore the Fair Oak Trails. Commando runs far too fast so I didn’t have as much time as I’d have liked but it gave me a taster of a place I really must return to soon.
Later in the month CJ and I took a train to Winchester. By chance we stumbled upon Wolvesey Castle. It wasn’t what we’d come to see but it was open and free so we had a look around. One thing I’ve learned the hard way is to make the most of such chances because they might not come around again.
What we’d really come to see was the Plague Pits Valley and a curious structure I’d seen on the satellite map that might be actual plague pits. We found the former easily enough but the trail to the latter was annoyingly blocked by a locked gate. Turning a negative into a positive I used the spare time we suddenly had to show CJ the Hockley Viaduct.
When Commando and the rest of the Itchen Spitfires volunteered to marshal the Southampton Skyride I went along to check it out in the spirit of making the most of opportunities. A trip to get supplies for the marshals meant I missed the man on the penny farthing but I did get back in time to see a cyclist dressed in full World War II uniform. You win some you lose some is the lesson here I guess.
With a few days off work, the end of the month was all about away days. CJ and I took a trip to London where we had coffee in a disused public toilet, visited the Chelsea Physic Garden and got told off for getting to close to the Battersea Power Station.
Our next trip took us to Salisbury. We saw Magna Carta in the cathedral and discovered there was a trail of barons we hadn’t known about. With no map or details we had to give the barons a miss but we did walk to the ruins of Old Sarum and got back just before the heavens opened.
In August I walked part of the Cobbett Trail in Botely and eventually found St Bartholomew’s Church. The walk home took me through Manor Farm Country Park and I told myself I really should come back when I had more time. That will be top of my list for 2016 I think.
The final walk of the month was along the Itchen and finally, after a whole spring and summer of looking, I saw the Itchen cygnets. They were worth the wait.