4 February 2016
The boundary stone disappointment from my muddy Common walk was playing on my mind and, as it wasn’t actually raining this morning, I decided to look for the next on my list. Maybe I’d have more luck with this one. When I first read there was a stone on Netley Common I was expecting a walk along the shore. Imagine my surprise when I started my research and found Netley Common was actually in Thornhill, nowhere near Netley at all.
A look at the map told me Old Netley was nearby but, no matter how you look at it, Netley Common really is in Thornhill. This may be explained by a look at the history of Thornhill. It began as a small estate of private homes, mostly on the northern edge of the modern suburb bordering Bitterne Road. In 1954 the boundaries of the city were extended and Thornhill officially became part of Southampton. By the 1960’s, there was a massive expansion. A large council estate sprang up and Thornhill spread out as far as Bursledon Road, bordering old Netley and possibly swallowing some of it up. Regardless of where it actually was I was pleased to read the common had nice firm gravel paths. At least this would not be another muddy walk, probably…
If I’m perfectly honest, it isn’t my favourite place to walk. For a start, I would have three miles or so of walking along a busy and uninteresting road. This is the same road that leads to the Bursledon Windmill and it’s hilly, very hilly. With a mass of boring blocks of flats there’d be no history to wander past when I got there either. There would, however, be a Costa at the bottom of the last hill so it wasn’t all bad. CJ decided to join me, despite the hill and the flats. Maybe it was the promise of coffee or perhaps he’s really interested in the boundary stones.
The sun was out, although it was bitterly cold, and the road walking passed quickly with someone to chat to. We were soon in Costas having a coffee to fortify us for the final hill. Thankfully there wasn’t a lot of walking through the council estate either and we soon found ourselves behind a small school entering the woods. Almost at once we found an informative sign tell us about all the wildlife we might see and a little history too.
Right away it became obvious this was a much bigger area than I’d thought from looking at the map. My heart sank a little at the idea that we could end up wandering round and round and still not find the stone. Feeling a little dejected we walked around the side of the school fence and started off along what the map told us was an old Roman Road. This once ran from Clausentum, past my house, through Botley where it crossed the Hamble River, to Portchester where we visited the castle last year. Those Romans knew a thing or two about building roads.
The path was firm and mud free which was cheering. This was probably due to the tightly packed flint of the Roman road hidden under the layer of dead leaves. The side trails looked muddy though so I decided we’d start off by exploring the straight Roman road. It stood to reason that the boundary stone would be along there somewhere. My bet was at the far end near Kanes Hill and the border with Hedge End. Reason doesn’t seem to come into it with these stones though so, if needs must and we found nothing, we’d brave the mud. We set off, peering intently at every bramble and log.
We were moving at a snail’s pace, determined not to miss the stone and had hardly left the blue fence of the school behind when CJ said, “Isn’t that it?”
My son has keener eyes than I. Even after he’d said it and we’d stopped in our tracks I couldn’t see it.
“Over there by that tree.”
A lot of squinting ensued but eventually, with some pointing, I saw it. Even then I wasn’t sure. It was so covered with moss it could easily have been a fallen log.
We moved in for a closer look and, sure enough, CJ was right. We’d found boundary stone number five. At least CJ had. Without him I might have walked right past it. Perhaps that’s what I’d done on the Common, although I was pretty sure I’d looked as thoroughly as it was possible to. Maybe I’ll have to take CJ back there and see if his eagle eyes can find what I couldn’t.
We stopped for photos to prove we’d actually found the boundary stone. CJ posed proudly pointing at it to prove the point that he had been the one to do the finding. Of all the stones I’ve found so far this was in the worst condition. Not only was it half buried by fallen leaves and covered with moss, algae and lichen to such an extent that the markings were hardly visible but a large part of one edge had actually broken off. No wonder I didn’t spot it right away.
After all my fretting this stone had been almost disappointingly easy to find. We could have just turned around and gone back home at this point but the Roman road trail was firm and dry and there were other things to see. Besides, I had a plan for a nicer walk home than the one we’d had to get to Netley Common. We walked on, a little faster now we had no need to examine every pebble. There were side trails that looked enticing but mud put us off exploring off the dry trail we were on. They would have to wait for another day.
An elderly gent came down the path with two little dogs and wished us good morning. CJ made a fuss of the dogs, who were so old they could hardly keep up with their master who was bend over a cane himself. Soon after we came to a curious little cottage. Perhaps it was where the man came from? It seemed odd to find a house there in the middle of the woods with no road leading to it. The wheelie bin was outside and I wondered how the bin men with their huge lorry would ever get to it?
Almost at once we spotted some more dwelling through the trees. These were mobile homes and the car as of a mini beside one told me this is probably the home of gypsies. There have been gypsies in Hampshie for centuries, travelling seasonally and living off the land. In recent times dedicated camps were set up to stop the unauthorised use of green spaces throughout the city and the disruption it causes. Sholing has long been synonymous with gypsy camps and there are lots of permanent gypsy homes in Botany Bay, hence the horses grazing on the land at Millers Pond.
Apparently there’s been a permanent site at Kane’s Hill since the 1960’s although the this was the first I’d seen of it. Sadly, there were no horses, at least none that I saw. Perhaps they were grazing on the open fields we’d seen through the trees. The local residents seem quite happy to have them there and some go as far as to say they add something to the community. What a pity they don’t live in beautiful painted caravans theses days though.
We were obviously getting close to the end of the road and Kane’s Hill and the gypsy camp got me thinking about another camp that was once in this area. Between 1794 and 1800 Netley Common was used as a military training and transit camp. In fact, in 1796, soldiers from here were called upon by Southampton Magistrates to deal with a mob demonstrating against high bread prices.
In the run up to D-Day the area was used as a military camp once again. Canadian soldiers were based beside the Roman road and I’d read there were still some signs of their presence with concrete foundations. We looked around as we continued along the road but we didn’t see any. Obviously the area needs further exploration when it’s less muddy.
What I did see was a tree with a perfectly heart shaped hollow. It was so unusual I had to brave the brambles for a closer look. This resulted in CJ having to help me untangle my coast once I’d taken a picture but I thought it was worth it, especially with Valentine’s Day coming up.
Commando and I have never really done the cards and flowers thing on Valentine’s Day. Sometimes though a little token, something found, has been exchanged. At Tintagel, many years ago, I found a heart shaped stone on the beach that became a Valentine. A photo of this tree heart seemed like another.
With the tree heart captured, we carried on. The sign at the beginning of the trail had told of a Bronze Age round barrow, three and a half thousand years old towards the end of the trail. It was once used as a burial mound. We looked out for it as we walked but saw nothing before we came to the gate at Kanes Hill. This, it seems, is another of those things to come back for when the mid has gone because I’m pretty sure we’d have to leave the safe, firm trail to find it.
We may not have found the barrow or the remnant of the Canadian camp, we didn’t even see any gypsy horses or really explore off the Roman road but there was no complaining. We’d come to find a boundary stone and we’d found it. Walking through the woods had been pleasant and now all we had to do was walk home. As we left the woods and turned onto the road there was one last surprise. A pretty little blue house, possibly the Keepers Cottage from the sign on the gate, captivated us. It seemed a fitting end to a relatively successful walk.
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