7 July 2016
Dental appointments always seem to come round far faster than I’d like. Don’t get me wrong, my dentist is very nice. I’ve been going to the same one for more than twenty five years and, apart from the poking around in my mouth part, its a bit like visiting old friends. As a treat to reward myself for submitting to all that prodding, poking, scraping and cleaning, I thought I’d have a wander around Hatch Grange afterwards. In fact I had a bit of a plan…sort of.
Considering how many years I’ve been walking up and down the road here to and from the dentist, Hatch Grange is a surprisingly new discovery and there’s still a lot of exploring to do. Unfortunately, almost as soon as I’d stepped onto the woodland trail, I found rather more mud than I’d hoped. This scuppered my plan to take the trail to Quob Lane and explore the cemetery I’d seen on the map there. Luckily, the grassy hill up to the armada beacon wasn’t muddy, well not much anyway, so I made a hasty change of plan and climbed it.
The clock on the West End Parish Centre chimed as I was climbing the hill. The sky behind it was a worrying combination of grey and white and I wondered if it was going to turn out to be another wet walk. The first time I visited Hatch Grange I got caught in a terrible downpour. There was a tiny patch of blue behind the beacon when I reached it, so I stared at it for a bit, willing it to grow.
With my original plan in tatters I was at a bit of a loss so I decided to go down the other side of the hill and wander along the avenue of limes planted by Mr Warnford Fletcher who owned the Hatch Grange House, the manor house that once stood at the end. Hopefully it wouldn’t be too muddy and inspiration would come. This turned out to be a brilliant idea. The limes were in flower and the sweet honey scent followed me along the avenue.
At the end a little robin sitting on a signpost drew me through the kissing gate into the meadow. The robin sat perfectly still right up until the moment I got within range for a decent photo, then he flew off. If only hadn’t decided to leave the fancy pants camera at home, feeling it might take too much explaining at the dentist.
A sign on the gate warned of cows grazing in the meadow but all I found were foxgloves, long grass and deep pink blackberry flowers, along with a photobombing pigeon. Looking at the length of the grass it seemed it could do with a little grazing.
To the side of the meadow is a fenced off pond that once belonged to Hatch Grange House. I had an idea the path around it might take me onto Barbe Baker Avenue and, from there, to Quob Lane, so I went though the gate. Hopefully any cows that might be hiding in the long grass would be locked out unless the were the like the cows on the Itchen Navigation and could get through kissing gates. Last time I walked this way I saw a sign telling me the pond had been cleared of a parrot feather weed infestation in 2008. Even so it was pretty weed filled. Now it’s almost completely engulfed with weed, just a tiny patch of water and a few lily pads visible. At first glance it didn’t even look as if there was a pond at all and I could imagine it would be easy to walk from the rough grass into the water without even realising until it was too late.
Skirting the pond carefully so as to not accidentally fall in, I came to a small gully. It was a touch muddy but I managed to jump across without falling in or ending up on my bum. Within seconds I wished I hadn’t bothered because I’d come to a dead end. The trail through to Barbe Baker Avenue must have been a figment of my imagination. Then I had to turn round and jump across the gully again, looking around to check there was no one about to see my stupidity.
Back in the meadow and still on the look out for cows I followed the roughly circular path through the the second meadow. There were no cows there either as far as I could see but there were plenty of signs they had been there. In fact I had to be careful not to tread in them as I made for the next kissing gate into the woods.
Thankfully the woodland trail here wasn’t as muddy as I’d feared and I wandered through enjoying the peaceful green light through the leaves. For a moment I toyed with the idea of crossing the little stream and heading towards Quob Lane but I knew mud lay that way so I carried on, past the area where the manor house once stood, making a loop back towards the lime avenue.
As I was about to walk back down the lime avenue to the gate I spotted a man walking a dog between the trees and realised there was a gravel path there’d I’d not noticed before. An unexplored path is always irresistible so I went to have a look, not really hoping for much. The path skirted the line of trees flanking the meadow with the pond and, at the end of it, I found a little wooden bridge. It led me across a stream, through a grove of gnarled and contorted trees and onto Barbe Baker Avenue. If only I’d known before I could have saved myself all that jumping over streams by the pond.
My plan to head for Quob Lane finally evaporated when I spotted some steps and a kissing gate across the road. Obviously there was something on the other side of the trees worth exploring or there wouldn’t have been a gate. Quob Lane and the cemetery would have to wait for another day.
At the top of the steps I found a grassy hill. Spotting a trodden path through the long grass I climbed it. At the top and slightly breathless, I found a spectacular view over meadows filled with long, waving grass. It felt as if I should be throwing my arms wide and singing, like Maria in the opening scene of The Sound of Music. Beyond the distant trees I could see the airport.
This, I later discovered, was Hatch Farm, or at least what’s left of it. West End began life as a small village surrounded by agricultural land. Hatch Farm was part of this. As the village grew the farm land was gradually eaten up. In the early 1920’s Hatch Farm and Quob Farm were purchased by Fred Wooley, a well known local character, Secretary of the Titanic Relief Fund, Alderman and twice the town Mayor. He was probably best known for Fred Wooley House, the Home of Recovery he founded in Chilworth but he made a huge impact on the West End area. The farm specialised in diary herds so there would once have been diary cattle grazing on this meadow.
During World War II some of the farm land was used as an anti aircraft gun site, barrage balloon and searchlight battery. If I’d known at the time I might have been on the look out of any sign of remains. Sadly, the farmhouse was badly damaged by bombing and, in 1950, after Fred’s death, his widow sold the farm. The farmhouse ws finally demolished in 1990.
From my perch on the top of the hill I could see several grassy trails around the meadow below and the trail I was walking across the hill branched in two directions. This left me with a dilemma, which should I choose? By this time it was close to midday and I was beginning to wish I’d thought to bring a drink or a snack with me so, using the airport as a reference point I chose the left path, thinking it might lead me back towards Mansbridge.
The sun had come out and butterflies fluttered around me as I strolled through the long meadow grass. Of course none stayed still long enough for me to photograph them although I did get a shot of the under side of a ladybird. It felt like a wonderful place to spend a morning and I was glad I’d stumbled upon it.
The trail I was following led me through a gap in hedge covered with pretty dog roses into another meadow where it eventually disappeared into the trees. Slightly reluctantly, I left the beautiful meadow behind.
Beyond the trees was a wooden gate and a footpath with houses half hidden to the right. Pinned to the fence beside the gate ws a council sign telling me this footpath was due to be closed and a new, shorter path created. There was a map but it didn’t seem to bear any relation to the map on my phone. It seemed to me that closing a footpath could never be a good thing, especially a footpath I’d only just discovered. Feeling rather cross I walked on.
Soon I met a dog walker coming the other way and, a little further on, another walker. It seemed this path was popular and I wondered why the council thought it should be closed. Later, with a little Googling, I found the answer and it wasn’t one I liked at all. The lovely meadow I’d just discovered is due to be turned into a housing estate. Admittedly some of the meadow is going to be left, notably the hill I’d climbed, but when I compared the map showing the plan wth the current map it looked as if more than a third of the land would be eaten up. Local residents are even less happy about the idea but it seems the council are going ahead anyway. The whole thing makes me fearful for all the other wonderful open spaces I love to explore.
The footpath took me out o pnto Swaything Road near the petrol station, much further along the road towards Mansbridge than I’d expected. Close by was another footpath I’ve recently noticed and not yet had a chance to explore. It runs to the east of Allington Lane and I was tempted to see where it led. Time was getting on though and my tummy was rumbling so I mentally marked it down as a walk for another day and headed towards Mansbridge Road and Cutbush Lane. It was time to head for home.
The city is criss crossed with these hidden footpaths, most of which aren’t marked on maps, and it always excites me to find a new one. Some turn out to be dead ends or not to lead anywhere interesting, but occasiinally I find missing pieces of a puzzle that allow me to join together walking routes without having to set foot on a road. As I made my way along Cutbush Lane, admiring the wild flowers and enjoying the sound of birds singing, I wondered how long it would be before all these wonderful paths disappeared.
I appreciate that people need houses to live in and, with a growing population, it’s inevitable that some greenfield sites will be eaten up. In an age where obesity is a real problem and children spend more time hunched over computers than they do playing outside, it seems to me we need to save as much as we can, especially the footpaths. Setting aside strips of land a few feet wide to get from A to B away from traffic doesn’t seem such a big ask, especially when Mother Nature fills them with flowers.
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