Hunting down Airport Rhino – first published 28 July 2013


28 July 2013

Commando and I both set off at the same time this morning. He was off on a thirteen mile run and I was off to the Airport to look for a rhino, an eight mile journey there and back, give or take. He disappeared round the corner while I waited on the island in the middle of the main road to get across. Sometimes I wish I could run, these little jaunts would be so much faster. Still I’d probably miss loads of stuff if I did. 

Although it was still hot there was a cooling breeze. Ideal for running and walking. On a whim I’d decided to try out my water bladder for the first time. The sound of swishing water with every step was a tad distracting, I tried to tune it out, with varying degrees of success. I can see that making me need the loo, as if I don’t have enough problems with that already. The water tasted a bit plasticy too and it seems to stay cooler in a bottle. Warm plasticy water is not on my list of favourites but it was all I had so I had to sip and put up with it.


The riverside was crowded with people this morning and I found myself sharing the park with cyclists, dog walkers, parents with children and runners. The little train was going on a warm up round of the track as I passed preparing for an influx of excited children wanting train rides. That bought back memories of my boys excited faces all those years ago when we waited in line for a ride.


Taking the off path route by the reed beds I found what must be one of the few bits of green grass in the whole city. Maybe the ground stays damper right beside the Itchen. The butterbur leaves looked plump and happy too but I guess their roots stretch down into the river and a plentiful supply of water.



Across the road at Woodmill the river was no less crowded. A fisherman was setting up for the day making the ducks all rush towards him in hopes of bread. Turning around I snapped a shot of the mill from the other side of the road for a change, the ducks there seemd to have been alerted to a possible meal from the fisherman and were all swimming madly in his direction. Somehow I think they were disappointed.



On the edge of the bank a burdock had somehow found enough earth in a crack in the path to not only grow but flower. A bumble bee took advantage of the plant’s tenuous hold to gather some nectar and a hover fly flitted about looking interested in the flowers but wary of the bee. You can make a drink from burdock and dandelions but whether this is from the leaves or the flowers I’m not sure. The purple, thistle like flowers with crowns of white spikes are pretty though. Maybe I’ll come back in a few weeks and try to capture some seed for my garden, if someone hasn’t turned the whole lot into dandelion and burdock before then of course.



A little further along I spotted the swan family. When I got closer I could see they were snoozing on a mud bank. Obviously swans like a Sunday lie in just as much as I do. If only this blasted walking didn’t keep getting in the way. Plenty of other humans were up bright and early too though. There were canoeists paddling down towards the mill and lots of people wangering along the bank.




Over the little bridge I went. This route is so familiar I hardly have to think about it any more. Buddleia flowers were attracting bees and butterflies along the track to the green and blue bridges but none of them would stay still long enough for me to take their picture.


With the green bridge in sight I was fairly confident the path towards the blue bridge would be passable. It did rain yesterday evening while we were sitting in the gym chatting to Bard but nothing like the huge thunder storms we were promised. With the earth so parched from weeks of baking sun there couldn’t be mud could there? Wrong! Maybe this bit of the bank is always muddy. Maybe I attract mud. It was passable though so I carried on through.



Just before the blue bridge the path passes some flats. There was jasmine entwined in the railings and I stopped to inhale the wonderful aroma. The tiny white flowers were dancing in the cooling breeze so, try as I might, I couldn’t get a decent photo. Still, it’s not what they look like it’s what they smell like and, unfortunately, there is no way I can share that.


The blue bridge looked particularly lovely today, something to do with the majestic weeping willow towering behind it. Those cobalt blue railings against the green leaves is a winning combination for sure. Deep pink willowherb flowers lined the wide gravel path beyond the bridge and I stopped for a closer look at the pretty flowers.



Each heart shaped petal was etched with delicate veins making me think of dragonfly wings. Further along the contrasting pale lilac of milk vetch flowers had me reaching for my phone again. Bindweed was creeping along the dried grass close to the gate, the flowers candy striped with pink and white. The more I look at these wild flowers the more I wonder who decides what is a flower and what is a weed?




Above the trees the sky looked brooding and, as I left the river, I wondered if I’d get wet before I got home. The next part of my journey took me past the Ford factory. This used to always be such a hive of activity whenever I passed, workers coming and going, the car park always full. The factory is now closed, the last transit van long gone. There was a news item about it a day or so ago and now the gates are barricaded. Such a sad sight.


On I walked, thinking about the workers who no longer had jobs. When I passed under the motorway bridge the airport roundabout came into view. In the centre a sculpture of the prototype Spitfire is mounted as if banking in flight. This sculpture was erected in 2004 amid much controversy and a public outcry that a monument to this iconic plane was built by a German company. A bit of an irony granted but a very nice sculpture and a distinctive welcome to the airport.


Usually I pass the airport on the main road but today I needed to find a rhino and, as it wasn’t on the roundabout I guessed it would be at the airport itself. The first time I tried this walk I accidentally walked towards the airport down Mitchell Way, named after RJ Mitchell designer of the spitfire, rather than sticking to the road and crossing the railway bridge. This time I did it in purpose.


I’d half expected the rhino to be outside and easy to spot but that illusion was soon shattered. The only thing of interest as far as I could see was a giant Costa cup. I’d forgotten there was a Costa inside the airport, I’d also forgotten my walking snacks. The two lapses of memory happily cancelled each other out. Instead of a snack I’d have a frapachino, if they knew how to make one of course.


It felt a little odd to be going into the airport with no plane to catch. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before. I kept expecting someone to stop me and ask to see my passport. They didn’t. It took me a while to locate the rhino amongst all the people waiting for flights. In fact I had to go back outside and ask a security guard. To his credit, he didn’t even give me a funny look, just showed me where it was.


Thankfully the Costa staff knew exactly how to make a frapachino (for some reason the folk at Costa call it a coffee cooler), although I had quite a long wait because the girl managed to spill the first one. It was worth it though. Ice cold coffee slush is just the thing on a long hot walk I find. Maybe I should patent it as a sports drink.



Mission accomplished, although you will have to wait to see him, because he’s number thirty four. Suffice to say he’s a trendy little devil and worth the walk. So it was homeward bound. When I reached Mansbridge a young lad was on the river in an inflatable boat. Somehow he’d managed to leave one of his paddles on the bank with the two giggling girls he was trying to impress. I watched for a bit as he paddled round in circles and the girls laughed at him. Not quite the impression he wanted to create I think.



A little way along the river the swan family had woken up at last and were going for a swim. The gently rippled water reflecting the blue sky looked like beaten silver. I left the swans to it and carried on to Woodmill where more canoeists were getting ready to take to the water. I’ve taken far too many photos of the mill from the bank though so I left my phone in my pocket.


This final stretch of river is one I know like the back of my hand, I’ve walked it in all seasons over the years. The combination of river and sunshine makes my heart sing though. I suspect I was grinning like a loon today. Even the things we know well can sometimes surprise us and today I noticed a gap in the trees and shrubs that screen the bank by the mill. Maybe it wasn’t there before or maybe I’ve just never looked in the right place at the right time but through the gap there was a perfect view of the mill from the back. So much for enough photos of Woodmill then. I think it was worth just one more photo to see the waterwheel and the red brick of the mill reflected in the river.


The park was just as busy on my return journey. The little train had passengers and a queue of would be passengers too. In this age of computer games and other fancy techy toys it’s good to see children still like the simple pleasure of a ride on a miniature train. I’m sure the men who run the little railway would be very disappointed if no one came to ride. There were families cycling and a speed boat on the river, not to mention dog walkers and runners. Seeing the runners made me wonder how Commando had got on on his thirteen miles.



There was less than a mile to go as I left the park and I was eager to get home. At the top of the steep slope out of the park a butterfly fluttered in front of me and settled on a bright clump of ragwort. I almost didn’t bother stopping. Butterflies play this game with me. They settle, they wait until I get the phone out and focus, then they fly off before I have time to take a picture. Thank goodness I did stop though. Someone forgot to tell this little butterfly about the game and it stayed put long enough for me to take a photo, it was joined by an especially cooperative bee. Even when it had had enough of the flowers it didn’t fly off, just settled on the dry grass and opened its wings so I could get a better look. Perhaps it felt sorry for me.



I’m happy to report that Commando finished his run in just two hours and seven minutes. A sedate pace, or so he says. In my eyes that is no mean achievement. My eight miles took two hours forty three minutes, although I didn’t bother to stop WalkJogrun when I stopped. Now that really is a sedate pace!


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Writer, walker, coffee drinker, chocolate eater, lover of nature, history and the little things that make me smile

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