17 March 2016
The sun was shining and it felt as if Spring was in the air so I thought a walk along the river was in order. The bank leading to the park was a mass of bright daffodils dancing in the gentle breeze. It felt like a great welcome to the river side. The tide was very low. White swans stood on the exposed mud and black swans swam in the shallow water. There’d be no point struggling down the steep jetty slope. There was no water underneath it.
On a bench near the bend in the river a Buddhist monk sat quietly contemplating the water. He seemed to be meditating. There’s a retreat close by so I guess he came from there. Not long after I passed I turned to look back and he was on his way, striding along the river path, his robes flowing behind him.
The dark red robes reminded me of a photograph I was sent by Charlie, the wonderful landscape photographer I once worked with. It was taken somewhere exotic, Tibet maybe, or Nepal, a snapshot of a line of monks like a winding river of red ants streaming past a temple. Of course, even Charlie’s snapshots are works of art. Smiling to myself I carried on. The image of that photograph, bright in my mind, was superimposed over the golden reedbeds in front of my eyes. Perhaps we were both doing the same thing in our own way, the Buddhist monk and I.
Trees block the view of the river on the final stretch between the reedbeds and Woodmill but shining celandine brightened the ground beneath them. At the mill I stopped to watch the water tumbling through the sluice and, on a whim, decided to turn off towards St Mary’s Church at South Stoneham rather than carry on to the White Swan. It’s been a while since I last walked that way.
On the way to the churchyard I stopped to look at Connaught Hall, one of the University’s original halls of residence. The lovely neo-Georgian building was purpose built in 1931 and was originally called the Hartley Institution. Blocks of spacious rooms are arranged in squares around a beautiful garden. Of course, I didn’t go to university so I’ve never seen it but I could glimpse it through the arch. It seems to me students have a rather classy place to live and I almost wish I’d been one of them. Sadly, not all the Southampton student halls are as attractive but we’ll gloss over that.
Last spring I was invited on a walk that included a tour inside St Mary’s church and I was half hoping for another look. When I reached the door though, it was closed so I had to content myself with a wander amongst the graves. Luckily I find old gravestones interesting so it was no real hardship.
Before I set off amongst the graves I had a quick peek at the chaplain’s lodge. It’s an interesting looking building but I didn’t linger. It is, after all, someone’s house and it felt a little rude to stare.
Beside the church, under the sundial, is a small enclosed garden with a bench. The day was so nice I was tempted to sit for a while in the dappled shade but the gravestones were calling me so I didn’t.
The graves here are all very old, many leaning at higgledy piggledy angles, their inscriptions worn away or covered with moss and lichen. Unlike my own church there are no flowers placed lovingly on graves. It seems sad but I suppose there is no one left to remember or to visit except strangers like me.
Some stones have cracked and fallen. Other graves have sunken, leaving gaping holes beneath the broken marble slabs. These make me feel uneasy, as if the resting dead are exposed. If ever a place felt haunted it is here, although I’ve found no reports of ghosts and never seen one.
Despite the thought of icy hands gripping my shoulder I wandered on looking for readable inscriptions and the stories behind them. There were some, although they were often hard to make out. The grave of Mary Rogers was one. She was buried in 1831 by her husband, Charles, and shares her grave with Victoria who died at just twenty three, thirty years later. It seemed a strange pairing, two women who could have never met, connected by one man. Did Charles remarry, choosing a much younger wife, or was Victoria a grandchild?
On the edge of the graveyard is a row of large tombs. One had a sunken and cracked base. The pillars and slabs leaned at crazy angles and it looked about to fall apart. The tomb belongs to Elizabeth Fullerton, daughter of G A Fullerton who owned Westwood House, a large estate that once spanned the land between The Avenue and Westwood Road in Portswood. The house was used for Horticultural Society shows. Sadly, it was sold to Mr Winn in 1872 and he demolished the house and sold the land to developers.
Nearby another name caught my eye, Major General Gubbins who died in April 1832. The name intrigued me so I did some searching. Major General Joseph Gubbins had seven children and invented a system to aid the movement of machinery. One of his sons, Martin Richard Gubbins, went on to be administrator in India and his daughter, Elizabeth Catherine, married William Aubrey de Vere Beaucler, the ninth duke of St Albans and a Hampshire cricketer.
It was time to leave the quiet graveyard with its sprinkling of daffodils and crocuses and head for Monks Brook. I’d thought there might be mud but the path was dry and the brook low. The bare branches reflected in the still water will soon be clothed with bright new leaves, but not just yet.
Although I’d bypassed Mansbridge at the beginning of my walk I was heading for it now. The trees were still bare in the fields between the brook and Mansbridge too. With so many flowers blooming early this year I’d half expected the trees to follow suit but it seems they’re not as easily fooled. Soon I was walking down the path towards the bridge.
A mallard was swimming near the bridge as I crossed. He seemed to be all alone and I wondered if he was the same drake I’d seen defeated in a courtship battle a while ago. He was last seen swimming in that general direction. Seeing him all alone when all the other birds seem to be pairing up made me a little sad.
On the same walk I’d seen my first greylag geese of the year. This time they were wandering about on the grass looking for worms. One seemed very pleased with himself, stretching out his wings in an impressive display. With one leg half raised he looked like he was posing for a fashion magazine.
Near Woodmill someone had spread grain on the path and the greylags were gathered making the most of it. Of all the birds on the river these seem to be the least concerned by humans and therefore the easiest to photograph. What a pity CJ wasn’t with me, he’d have loved it.
Pretry soon I was passing geese of another kind, Sarah Filmer’s lovely snow geese glittering in the tree near the park entrance. It hadn’t been the longest of walks but I’d taken advantage of the beautiful weather. Besides I was saving myself for a rather special and busy weekend.
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