21 July 2016
The medical bods can’t seem to decide whether Commando is suffering from a stress fracture or a ligament issue. Either way the advice is rest, ice, elevation and two weeks off work. While he was at home finally doing what he was told, CJ and I decided to go for a walk. It was another hot, muggy morning so sticking close to water and shade was the order of the day.
It was a day to delight all the senses. On Monks Walk my nose told me the wisteria had blossomed for a second time before my eyes spotted the flowers. There weren’t nearly as many blooms as there were in spring but the sweet scent was just as welcome. On the way to the river it was my ears that alerted me to the lazy bumble bee, dancing drunkenly around the centre of a lavatera flower.
We were held up for a while at Riverside Park when a stream of greylag geese decided to go for a wander on the grass. One by one, they jumped out of the river and crossed the path in front of us, like a party of school children on an outing. It felt as if I should have had one of those lollipop lady signs but with Stop Geese on it rather than Stop Children.
Eventually, when what felt like every goose in Hampshire had crossed in front of us, we were on our way again. We didn’t get far. CJ spotted the only goose who had stayed on the river and tried to tempt him with a seedhead. While he and the goose had a staring competition I looked at the wildflowers brightening the bank. A solitary burdock flower was so full of polen it was almost overrun with bees. There were willowherb too, along with hemp agrimony.
Near Mansbridge, the fallen willows we saw a few weeks ago seem to be still growing although their branches are stretched almost right across the river. They must cause a few issues for canoeists but I’m glad they’re not dead. On the other side of the bridge is another tree I’m glad is not dead. The oak that was cut down after the storms is turning into quite an oddity. The tiny sprig of oak leaves hardly seem to have grown at all but the willow seed that has landed and taken hold is getting bigger by the day. It will be interesting to see what becomes of the tree. Will it be half oak and half willow or will someone come along and chop off the interloper? Only time will tell I guess.
We crossed the bridge talking about the tree and what it might eventually look like as we headed for Monks Brook. Last time we came this way I mentioned there was no sign of the Himalayan balsam that had plagued the area last year. I spoke too soon. In a few short weeks the tall plants have sprung up out of nowhere and the path was crowded with pink and white flowers.
Pretty as they are they are an invasive plant, slowly choking up the riverbanks. The sweet scent is pleasant and the bees love them, I even managed to capture a butterfly sunning itself on a leaf, but they are so prolific the poor natives don’t stand a chance.
“The problem is the seed pods explode and send the seeds far and wide, as much as twenty feet, so they’re almost impossible to get rid of,” I told CJ. “Also, because they die right back in winter, they leave the riverbanks open to erosion and flooding.”
“There’s enough of that along here already,” CJ said.
Soon we were passing the mushroom sculpture we discovered on our last walk and then we came to the blue bridge. A pair of cabbage white butterflies were dancing along the bank and, after a few false starts I managed to capture one of them with the fancy camera.
The meadow beyond the blue bridge was once the grounds of The Grange, a Manor House dating back to the fifteenth century.
“Lord Swaythling once lived here,” I told CJ, “sadly the Manor House was destroyed by fire in 1964 and demolished ten years later.”
“If it hadn’t been we wouldn’t be able to walk through,” CJ pointed out.
He had a point. The small, boggy meadow was bursting with life, so much so it brushed at as as we walked along. There were a few poppies to slow us down, along with vetch and a pretty knapweed seedhead, at least I think it was knapweed. There were also nettles and both CJ and I managed to get stung on the hand. Such are the dangers of walking through meadows I guess.
Away from the shade of the trees the heat was oppressive and we were glad to cross the road and duck into the cool of the shady trail to Monks Brook Meadows. This is a fairly new trail for me, one I discovered on an organised walk I was invited on back in April 2015. The alternative is a shorter but far less interesting walk along Wide Lane towards the airport with heavy traffic and no shade. We were certainly glad of the trees today.
The path here is narrow, bordered by the brook on one side and fences on the other. Soon we came to the double arched railway bridge, one arch over the brook the other over the trail, like a mini viaduct. Not long after the bridge the trail turns to the west following the brook then crossing it. At the top of a steep gravelly bank is the meadow we’d come to see.
This sleepy little meadow has quite a controversial past. Back in the 1990’s there were plans to build the new Saints stadium here. The three councils involved couldn’t agree and residents protested so the plan was eventually scrapped. Ten years on those same residents probably wished they’d gone with the football stadium when the site became overrun by travellers and the council thought making it a permanent traveller camp was a great idea. After more years of wrangling and some talk of newts, orchids and protected slow worms, the plan came to nothing. Thank goodness for that, although it’s anyone’s guess what the council will come up with next.
In fact, on my first visit, I did see some of the slow worms and even a lizard. Slow worms are the largest reptile in Britain and can grow to six feet long, though the ones I saw were just babies. Without warmth they can’t move about and, in winter they hide underground or under rocks and logs. The friends of Monks Brook Meadows had laid pieces of roofing felt and old mats in the undergrowth off the main path for them and Bob, who was leading the walk I went on, knew exactly where they all were. Without him I had little chance of finding them again but I did tell CJ about them and he had his eyes to the ground looking for anything carpet like.
While CJ walked along staring at the ground my eyes were firmly on the flora. There was plenty to see. The teasels are in flower, the spiny heads ringed by purple petals. Nearby, a tangle of vetch, far darker than the plants we’d seen earlier. Tall clumps of Queen Anne’s lace, or one of the other umbelleferous plants that all look so similar, were dotted about the meadow. One flower seemed to be particularly attractive to red soldier beetles. I wish I could attract them to my garden because the larve eat snails and the adults are partial to an aphid or two.
Pretty as this meadow may be, it isn’t exactly the most peaceful place on earth. To the north is the motorway and slip road, just visible through the trees. Behind the trees to the east is Wide Lane and the now defunct Ford factory and the western edge is bounded by Stoneham Way, this was where we were heading. With a meadow filled with flowers to look at we weren’t heading there very fast.
There was a stop to look at some St John’s wort, fleabane and hawkweed making a splash of yellow beside the path. Further on a patch of purple turned out to be mallow, knapweed and more teasel, this one being harvested by a fat bumble bee.
Slowly we skirted the perimeter of the meadow, stopping every now and then to look at flowers. CJ never did find any of the pieces of carpet used as shelters for the slow worms and soon we’d reached the tunnel under Stoneham Way. It was time to say goodbye to this particular meadow and head for the next.
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