What, more walking? Aircraft, woods and memories – first published 30 November 2013

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My last walk of November 2013 turned out to be slightly longer than originally anticipated. This was mostly down to Commando. Having heard about my recent, slightly panicked, wanderings in West Wood, he decided he’d show me the path to Hamble I hadn’t been able to find. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

30 November 2013

My five mile walk on Saturday didn’t exactly end when I left the park. Instead of going home, I marched up the Big Hill where Commando was waiting to help me with the shopping. He’d kindly brought the car so we stocked up at the butchers and then loaded up the trolley in Sainsbury’s. Usually I have to cart everything down the hill myself, like a two legged donkey. Sometimes, when I have heavy stuff like potatoes, there is a fair bit of muttering going on as my shoulders feel like they’re being pulled out of their sockets. How do three people eat so much in one week?

Once we’d got home and I’d put the shopping away we sat down for a cup of coffee.
“Are you ready for lunch yet?” Commando asked.
“Well, I was going to get the chilli on first but, if you’re hungry, we can eat now,” I said.
“Actually I was thinking of taking you for a little walk.”
What? These are not words I expect to hear coming from Commando’s mouth. For a moment I thought I was hearing things. Turns out I wasn’t.

Ok, so I’d already been for a walk but, when Commando explained what he was planning, I got my boots on quick smart in case he changed his mind. Occasionally, he reads my blog. Mostly he just looks at the photos and skims to see if I’m saying anything about him. Lets face it, he doesn’t really need to read it because he knows what I’ve been up to from talking to me. Frankly he finds all the plant stuff and the weight stuff a bit boring too. Anyhow, when he read about my badly planned, getting lost in the woods walk it gave him an idea.

Commando knows some of the trails through the woods at Victoria Country park quite well because they lead to the aircraft factory where he works. Occasionally he runs or cycles to work and these are the paths he uses. He thought it might be useful to drive down to the country park and show them to me. I didn’t need asking twice, you know how I feel about a woodland trail, especially as Hamble is at the other end and I’ve wanted to explore it for a while now.

We parked up in the car park quite close to the chapel and set off. The first thing we came to was the D Day memorial and I stopped to show Commando how you can look through the two stones and, if you stand in exactly the right place, you can see the chapel. He didn’t seem all that impressed but it amuses me.

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From the chapel we walked down towards the woods and the path that leads to the Commonwealth Cemetery. So far I knew exactly where I was. Then Commando led me in the direction of a trail I took once before. It was back in January, it was muddy, I was trying to get back to the beach and I took a trail I thought would lead me there. Down a steep muddy slope, half slide half walk. At the bottom I came to a fence with a sign saying private property keep out, or something similar. I could see the shore but I couldn’t get to it. The path looked like it might go further but the sign worried me, I didn’t want to trespass and, besides, the path was leading in the wrong direction and I didn’t know how long it went on or where it went. There was nothing for it but to scramble back up the muddy slope.

This, Commando told me, was the path leading to Hamble and the aircraft factory. I let him go first in case it was still slippery. If he ended up on his bum I’d know to be careful. He didn’t. I followed. At the bottom there was the fence, although I didn’t see the sign, maybe it’s been taken down, maybe I imagined it.

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The path turned sharply left and there were some gate posts and a fence to our right. There were still no signs but it looked like we were about to walk down someone’s drive way.
“Are you sure this is the right path?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, you will start to recognise things soon enough.”
I took his word for it and walked between the gate posts.

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On the other side the path continued but, just to our left, there were some more gate posts and some rather ornate wrought iron gates. This was once a fancy house, coach house and stables, built in the early 1800’s, now a very up market set of apartments called Hamble Cliff House. Of course I stopped to have a peek through the gates at this rather elegant stone building with tall chimneys and a kind of square tower at one end.

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The house was built by Sir Arthur Paget, a diplomat who seems to have been perpetually surrounded by a hint of scandal. By all accounts he was a bit of a ladies’ man with a string of diplomatic failures behind him. Despite his lack of success in his career, his outspokenness and several very public amorous escapades, he was made Privy Councillor and Knight of the Bath. He was a silver tongued devil by all accounts. The final scandal ended his diplomatic career. In 1808 he eloped with a married woman, Lady Augusta Fane. The following year, once her divorce from Lord Borrington came through, he married her and built the House. The site was chosen because of his love of sailing and agriculture and, back then it had extensive walled gardens.

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By 1934 the place was derelict and British Marine, with an eye on the access to Southampton Water, bought the lot. They built an aircraft factory and a slipway across the shore. The very same factory Commando now works in. The buildings were sold off as private housing but the old walled gardens are now inside the factory gates. Known as the secret gardens, the walls, greenhouses and out buildings have been maintained by the apprentice aircraft engineers. Now if only I could somehow sneak into the factory… Unfortunately that is not going to happen because the whole place is a fortress with guards protecting the security of all those aircraft parts. Still, I may know a man who can take some photos.

Commando was right, it wasn’t long before I started to recognise things. There were breaks in the woodland path leading onto the shore. The views slightly marred by Fawley Refinery just across the water but I still think it looks like a futuristic city scape all tall thin sky scrapers.

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The tide was out, you could easily walk along the shingle back to Weston but it would be tough going and you’d be racing against the incoming sea. It’s not a risk I’m willing to take, especially not on my own. Before long we came to the slipway.
“Do you remember this?” Commando asked.
“Of Course,” I replied, immediately transported back in time to a summer’s day many years ago.

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When Commando first started work at the aircraft factory they used to have open days. There’d be a tour of the factory followed by a fly past of some of the planes they’d built, things like Harrier Jump Jets. Commando used to work on the Harriers, now it’s all fancy private jets and bits of Airbus. In my memory we sat, Commando and I, on the slipway with Philo and Bard, still little boys, running up and down excitedly waiting for the planes. There was a slight breeze ruffling my hair and the sun on my face. I was wearing a white blouse with a yellow pattern and a black skirt, both of which I’d made myself for the occasion.

Back in the real world, we walked across the slipway and carried on along the woodland path with the walls of the factory to our left, little glimpses inside every now and then. Commando kept up a commentary, that’s the chapel…that’s the smokers hut… Funny to think he has a life in there at night that I know nothing about.

We came out on a street of normal looking houses I didn’t recognise but Commando turned left so I followed. Soon I knew where I was again, the little row of shops beside the factory’s main gate, the Harrier pub opposite. Commando fancied some chips after his walk and I hadn’t had any lunch, so we popped into the chip shop and came out with bags of hot, fragrant food. Not the best walking snack or the best lunch come to that but still.

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Outside the factory gate, on the corner of a large field, once an airfield, there’s a plane. It’s a bit of a landmark in Hamble. It is a Folland Gnat, built in the factory in 1960 and once used by the Red Arrows. I believe the apprentices keep it looking nice but these days it has no engine. This part of the field is now used by Folland FC, the factory football team. Of course I stopped to take a photograph of the plane but I think Commando was getting slightly irritated by my photo taking because he walked on.

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Past the football field and the corner of the factory Commando pointed out another footpath. There was even a sign, although I might not have noticed it if he hadn’t pointed it out. The path was wide and leaf strewn with the fence of the factory to our left. It seemed to go on for quite a way but, when we got to the end, I suddenly realised where we were.

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We were on the causeway to the cemetery. Suddlenly I was the one who knew something Commando didn’t. Although he’d run or cycled this way many times he didn’t know the cemetery was there. We took a quick detour and I showed him the first graves. We didn’t go as far as the flaming trees because time was getting on and we both had things to do.

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So we walked back along the causeway, looking down at the fallen tree where some children were climbing among the branches, and back to the car. So now I know a little more about the woodland trails and how to get to Hamble. Maybe my next long walk will take me that way and perhaps I will wander down to the marina to look at the boats. Only if there’s blue sky though, there has to be blue sky for boats.

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Marie

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

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