8 March 2016
Another chilly Tuesday morning and an errand in town took me over the Big Bridge where the sun looked as if it was hiding at the bottom of the river. With a curious look at the Council van parked outside the Bargate I set off for the top end of town. Work doesn’t seem to have begun yet on the repairs but the Council van could be a good sign.
When there’s a choice in the matter I walk through the parks and today there was, so I did. In the enchanted park I met with two hefty looking seagulls and a crow sitting in the cork tree watching me. So far there aren’t quite as many spring flowers as I’d hoped but a few daffodils were sprinkled about and the magnolia was a magnificent mass of dark pink blooms.
On the winding path a second magnolia was also blooming, these flowers paler but lovely nonetheless. As if saving the best for last, the bed by the road all but overflowed with heathers and daffodils while, in the background, a large camellia was laden with flowers. The whole roadside was lined with daffodils.
Across the road it felt as if I’d stepped back into winter. The trees were bare, the grass bereft of flowers. On the perimeter, behind the carcass of a broken tree, I could see white magnolia but, in the main, the only colour came from the mosaic garden. Further on Council workers were clearing away yet another fallen tree and part of the park was cordoned off. At this rate there’ll be none left.
Poor Richard Andrews didn’t look too happy, but then his statue never does as far as I can see. Maybe it was the lack of flowers or the fallen tree, although it could have been the fact the Peace Fountain had been turned off. All in all it was not quite the walk I’d hoped for.
With my errand complete I decided to walk back through Nicholstown, named after Jonas Nichols, the Councillor and builder. It seems a shame his lovely painted lamp stand and drinking fountain isn’t here rather than across the road in St Mary’s. This took me past the old Mad House building. While I was waiting to cross the road I discovered another example of the jamais remarqué phenomenon. The row of shops opposite were far more interesting than I remembered. Above the brightly coloured shop fronts was red brick and decorative stonework I’d never noticed in three years of walking up and down this road. Each had an arch above the window with the date it was built beginning with 1899 and ending with 1900. Back then I was obviously too concerned with getting to work.
Jonas Nichol’s lovely lamp stand might not be here but there was a decorative sign on the corner telling me I was entering Nicholstown. In truth, this is not the most salubrious of areas. In the past it was well known as Southampton’s red light district and crime rates were high. After local residents marched to the civic centre to demand action the Queen visited and money followed for regeneration but, in the main, not a great deal has changed.
The red lights have spread out a little into adjoining areas and a few pretty signs have gone up but it’s still not the best place to walk, at least not at night. Today it was daylight though and I was just passing through. Besides, there are always interesting things to see, especially in places untouched by developer’s meddling fingers. One particular corner caught my eye. On one side of the road was a large house that was once the Queensland Tavern. The remains of the sign are still there on the side of the building but the letters, apart from Q and E are long gone. Opposite was a food store with an interesting looking ghost sign above the door. Sadly it was too faded to make out what it once said.
Feeling quite glad the Mad House was behind me in all senses, I meandered my way through the maze of streets towards Mount Pleasant. There had been method in my madness. Close to the level crossing is a very interesting pub with a lot of the things I like in a pub. For one it’s old. Maps of 1560 show a farmhouse standing on this spot but, in 1611, it was rebuilt as a pub. Most of the building is worn and weathered red brick, but a course of rough stone along the bottom looked like it could have been part of the original farm building. Either way, it claims to be the oldest pub with a beer garden in the city. Inside there are oak beams and a real fire, I know because I visited once, many years ago.
There’s an interesting rumour that Oliver Cromwell stayed at the farmhouse more than once and another that, under the fireplace, there are smugglers tunnels running to the river. If there are they’d have come out somewhere near the Boardwalk. The final ingredient making this an interesting building is the ghost. There had to be a ghost in a pub this old and this one is supposedly the pregnant and unmarried daughter of an Irish family. Quite what happened to her is a mystery but a skull, said to be hers, was unearthed in the cellar and was, for some years, displayed behind the bar. Mostly, the ghost turns the jukebox on and plays strange music or changes the TV channel. Hopefully, she’s harmless.
Thinking I really should come back and go inside soon, I headed for the railway crossing. Of course, as soon as I reached the gates they closed so I had to climb the steps and cross the bridge. In the end this was no hardship because I got an interesting view of the pub. As I watched the train approaching I could just make out St Mary’s Stadium and the gasometer in this distance. When it passed I looked down the line after it and could see Horseshoe bridge.
Climbing down the other side of the steps I noticed a curious door under the bridge. It was open and there seemed to be things stacked inside. Sadly, there was no way to have a closer look without trespassing on railway property and risking being run over by a train so I shall just have to wonder about it.
Soon I was on Northam Bridge where I peered down at the site of the Old Television Studios. There were no workmen bustling about today and building work looks a long way off. Beyond the log pond I could see swans huddled by the big stones and the usual assortment of boats on the river. Close to the eastern bank I noticed a small blue rowing boat tied up. On my morning walks to work I sometimes saw a man climbing the bank at this spot, perhaps it belongs to him and he lives on one of the boats?
At Bitterne Manor I decided to take a quick detour thorough the gates and walk along the river. With no leaves on the trees I got a tantalising glimpse into the Manor House garden. Here there are remains of a wall and a bath house from the Roman site of Claustentum. Sadly, it’s now swanky private flats so there’s no chance of having a proper look.
The tide was high so the old iron boat was hidden today but I did wander behind the houses to see the jumble of boats moored further along the bank. Their bright colours always make me smile.
My final stop was on the corner where the odd little castle that’s really a house stands. Above the door a single rose was blooming and for once there were no cars parked outside. Once I thought it might have been something similar to the Martello Towers dotted along the south coast but it seems it’s just a ninteenth century folly. It would be fun to live there though.
Now all that was left to do was climb the hill towards home. Even with a haunted pub, some Roman remains and a pretend castle it may not have been the longest or most exciting of walks but a few more miles have been ticked off the two thousand mile challenge at least.
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