21 June 2016
For a while now I’ve been meaning to take a wander to South Stoneham Cemetery to look for R J Mitchell’s grave and today seemed like a good day for it. The weather forecast was for rain and the brooding sky backed it up so it seemed best to stick fairly close to home. It also seemed a good idea to bring the iPhone out of retirement. It’s one thing getting myself and my phone in its protective case soaked but I didn’t want to risk the new, and very expensive, camera.
When CJ heard what my mission was there was no stopping him. At this rate I shall have to rename this blog, I walk with CJ, as I hardly seem to get out on my own at all these days. In between walking, writing and all the other things I pack into my days, I’ve been decluttering my wardrobe and selling a few of my old clothes on eBay and I had to post some parcels so we started by going up the Big Hill to the village. This was actually in the opposite direction to the cemetery but I’d planned out a nice circular walk with lots of quick return routes if the weather took a turn for the worse.
From the village we headed up to Chalk Hill with lots of worried looks at the gathering clouds as we did. The muggy, humid air made for slow going and it seemed to take forever.
“I think we’ll have thunder before the day is out,” I said.
“Hopefully not until we get home,” CJ replied.
We stopped at the bottom of the hill and the phone came out of my bum bag for the first time in the walk to take a picture of the pretty little thatched cottage on the corner. Even the dark clouds above couldn’t detract from its quaint beauty and CJ’s phone came out too.
With our pictures taken we turned towards Gaters Hill and Mansbridge. There was a quick stop for flower photos on the way down the hill and, before long, we were walking beside the Itchen towards the White Swan. From across the road we could see a group of greylags in the long grass lining the river bank. CJ wanted a closer look so we crossed.
The geese obviously thought we had some food for them. As soon as they spotted us on the bank, they took to the water and began swimming across to us. As they got closer we could see they were a little family, a mother, father and an almost full sized gosling with a pale beak and a few fluffy duck down feathers still visible. For a while now we’ve been wondering if all the greylags we see are ever going to breed. Obviously they’ve been nesting in secret because this is the first gosling we’ve seen.
CJ crouched to take photos and I took a couple of my own.
“I wish I’d seen this little chap when he was still small and fluffy,” CJ said.
“Me too,” I agreed.
The geese came right up to us but, as soon as they realised we had nothing for them, they turned and swam back to the far bank.
“I guess their nest is over there somewhere,” I said. “I wonder of there are any others?”
The fields across the river were pretty as a picture as we made our way towards the pub. Wildflowers lined the bank and, despite the dark sky, the river looked clear and green. The hanging baskets outside the pub were a real delight and I couldn’t resist a quick photo as we passed.
A fisherman was sitting on a folding chair on the bank just down river of the pub. He looked very relaxed with his net and his rod rested on the railings. Under the road bridge I glanced up at the oak that was cut down after the storm earlier this year to check the progress on the new leaves. What I saw posed a bit of a puzzle. The oak leaves I’d seen Sprouting from the top of the trunk were still there but, along with them, a sprig of what looked very much like willow.
“I’m sure this was an oak,” I said to CJ, “so how did it start growing willow leaves?”
“Maybe a willow seed landed on the trunk and somehow managed to germinate,” he suggested.
“It will be interesting to see what happens. Maybe it will end up being half oak half willow. How strange would that be?”
As we crossed the bridge and looked down river another willow caught our attention. This one was laying in the water causing quite an obstruction. The leaves were still green so it must have fallen recently.
“I wonder if someone will remove it?” CJ said. “If not it’s going to be an issue for canoeists.”
“It’ll probably start trapping debris too so I expect someone will deal with it before it starts to block the river and cause flooding.”
Usually, once I’ve crossed Mansbridge, I head off through Monks Brook rather than walk along Mansbridge Road. The entrance to Stoneham Cemetary is on Mansbridge Road though so today we kept going forward.
“The last time I walked this way was probably when I was training for the Moonwalk, before I knew about the Monks Brook trail,” I told CJ as we walked the narrow path beside the houses. “This brings back memories.”
The first part of the path is screened from the road by trees. Almost as soon as we came out the other side I spotted the entrance to the cemetery. It was a pleasant surprise because my memory told me it was much further on. Our road walking had ended almost before it began.
“This is a massive cemetery. We might not be able to find Mitchell’s grave,” I tried to manage CJ’s expectations as we walked down the lane towards the entrance. “Dad’s grandad is buried here and we came once to look for the grave but never found it.”
Inside, the scale of the problem was immediately obvious. There were several paths running off in different directions and so many graves it would take months to look at each one. Even if we didn’t find what we were looking for it was a great place for a stroll. The shaggy grass between the graves was peppered with dandelions and it had an otherworldly feel to it.
Sensibly I’d done some Googling before we left home and I’d taken a screen shot of a picture of the grave so we had a good idea what we were looking for if not where to look. We set off along the path in front of us with a plan to make a full circuit of each section until we found the grave. Of course there was still no guarantee we would find it. The picture showed two black granite graves together, Mitchell’s had a white cross on it. There was a grouping of pine trees in the background. We concentrated on black granite graves.
We walked to the end of the path and turned left, scanning the stones as we did. Every so often we stopped to look at an interesting grave and I half hoped we might stumble of Commando’s grandad’s by chance although we had no idea what it looked like so it was unlikely. At the end of the next path we turned left again, walking around one rectangle of the huge graveyard.
The cemetery was opened in 1905 and extended in 1927. There was once a crematorium, opened in 1932, but it was demolished in 1973 to make way for the M27 motorway, we were walking roughly towards it. At the next corner we came to the chapel. Sadly, the pale green doors were closed because I’d have liked to see the stained glass windows from the inside. Behind it was the superintendent’s lodge, a sweet little, mock Tudor house. One stone cross, right opposite the chapel, caught my eye. It leaned at an alarming angle but the inscription told me this was the grave of Frederick Ray of Woodmill. Perhaps he was the miller?
Turning left again to complete the square, we kept scanning the graves. Then I noticed some trees in the distance that looked like they might be the ones in the photograph. Seconds later CJ pointed and said “look!” There it was RJ Mitchell’s grave.
For such a great man it was a pretty unassuming grave, plain black marble with a white cross. It was heartening to see poppy wreaths and crosses placed there. The people of this city have not forgotten the man who designed the Spitfire and rightly so. We all have a great deal to thank him for.
We stopped for a moment to pay our respects then carried on along the path towards the crossroads. On the corner an ornate water tap was not so much dripping as running. Thinking someone had forgotten to turn it off properly I tried to shut it off. This was a big mistake, a gush of water spluttered out of it and no matter what I did I couldn’t stop it. CJ looked on in disgust while I turned and twisted the tap in desperation. Eventually I managed to get it back to the steady dripping and we carried on.
Rather than leave by the gate we’d come in, we carried on to the other end of the cemetery, half heartedly looking for Commando’s grandad’s grave as we went. We didn’t find it. We did find a stunning rhododendron bursting with bloom in a shady corner and another gate that led us back to Mansbridge Road.
The old gates were slightly wonky and beautifully delapidated so I stopped to take a photo. When I turned around CJ was clambering about in the undergrowth with his iPhone to his eye. Some large cement blocks had captured his attention.
“I think this might have been another barrage balloon tether,” he said excitedly.
He may well have been right, the airport runway was just the other side of the motorway after all so there probably were barrage balloons in the area. The chances are there are blocks like this all over the city, we just haven’t noticed them.
As we’d come out of the cemetery further down the road we couldn’t take the secluded path behind the trees without backtracking so we stayed on the side of the road we were on and turned off on the back entrance to Mansbridge Resevoir. Of course CJ had no idea where the trail led but I did, mainly because I’ve been lost in these parts on many occasions and discovered all sorts of short cuts and trails I might otherwise not have known about. When he saw the water, still filled with lilies, he realised where we were.
There were no coots to make us smile as we walked around the resevoir today and soon we were back on Mansbridge heading through the park. We stopped for a moment for a closer look at the fallen willow as we passed. The ducks seemed to be enjoying it as a perch.
Further on some more ducks were resting amongst the weeds. Near Woodmill Lane, there seemed to be some kind of greylag convention going on. A whole convoy of them were swimming up river along the tree line.
There were two more stops on the final part of our journey. One was for a dog rose near Woodmill, just to prove the iPhone can do flower shots pretty well. Then a swan decided to try to climb the slippery steps near the jetty. It lumbered up, painfully slowly, looking very ungainly. We didn’t hang around to see what would happen if and when it made it to the path.
In the end the rain held off until we got home. It was a good job too because, when it came, it was torrential. Obviously, if I’m going to take the fancy pants camera out with me, a camera bag is a must.
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