21 July 2016
Monks Brook Meadows is connected to Monks Brook Playing Fields via a tunnel under Stoneham Way. It was an oasis of shade on our hot walk. We were slightly reluctant to leave it. The playing field is bordered by more trees and meadow but we walked through without stopping this time. There are only so many pictures of flowers even I am willing to take. The next part of our journey was not one I was looking forward to.
On the other side of the playing field is Stoneham Lane, the old, winding road between Eastleigh and Swaythling. Beside the playing fields it is narrow, has no pavements and several twists and turns. Luckily there wasn’t much traffic so there was minimal jumping into the bushes and we soon reached St Nicolas’ Church, our next stopping point.
There has been a place of worship on this spot for a thousand years and this church is medieval, built in the late 1500’s on the site of a thirteenth century church which was, in turn, built on the site of a Saxon chapel. It’s a pretty little church, standing amid trees off the quiet little lane and surrounded by a low wall. Sadly, it wasn’t open so there would be none of the wandering around the cool interior I’d hoped for.
We passed through the lovely old lych gate, built in 1909 as a memorial to Emily MacArthur, the wife of the bishop of Southampton James MacArthur. The gate may be just over a hundred years old but the wood it’s made of is far older. Isle of Wight architect Percy Stone used oak timbers from HMS Thunderer, a ship present at the Battle of Trafalgar more than a hundred years before. When I told CJ this he said, “I wonder how many people have walked through the gate without realising so much history was above their heads?”
Inside the gate we found the usual assortment of crumbling tombs, some completely collapsed. Although it was disappointing not to be able to go inside the church the most interesting feature can only be seen from the outside. Most churches have a tower or spire but this one is unusual. Built in around 1600 of ashlar it has crennalated battlements and spiny pinacles more befitting a castle than a church.
The really remarkable feature is the clock. At a glance it looks like any other but a closer look reveals it has only one hand and the black face is inscribed in gold with the words One Hand Clock. Made in the seventeenth century by William Monk it is almost one of a kind with just two others I can find in the country. Why just a single hand you may be wondering? Apparently, when the clock was made, time was counted in hours not minutes. Maybe we could learn something from that.
Today we weren’t really counting time at all as we wandered slowly around the churchyard stopping occasionally to look at a grave. The engraved Celtic crosses were especial favourites of mine, I loved the intricate patterns and they seemed to have withstood the passage of time very well unlike some of the other stones which we so covered with lichen as to be unreadable.
To the north of the church we found another small walled graveyard and in it a bench and a white wrought iron garden chair. It was shadier here and we sat for a while to sip the drinks we’d bought with us.
“There’s a ghost that wanders around this churchyard,” I told CJ. “They call her the Grey Lady of Stoneham and she has often been seen kneeling at a grave, some say it’s the grave of her husband.”
“Maybe, if we sit here long enough, we’ll see her,” he said, looking about just in case she was already there.
“It would be nice to sit here in the shade all day,” I agreed, “but Dad might wonder what had happened to us, besides we’re almost at Lakeside and we might be able to get a coffee there.”
Last September I drove to Lakeside, one of my first solo drives, and was interested to see the work on the new visitor centre and cafe moving on apace. By now I imagined the work would be finished and I looked forward to stopping for a nice cup of coffee before the long walk home. Refreshed, we left our seat in the churchyard and walked the last curve of Stoneham Lane. Across the road we met up with Monks Brook again as it skirts the edge of Lakeside Country Park.
We crossed the bridge by the ford and, almost immediately, there were more flowers to photograph. Here purple and blue were the order of the day with clumps of scabious and drifts of cranesbill. This was not always such a pretty place though. The sixty acre park was once a gravel works and the lakes that give it its name were gravel pits.
Sadly, it wasn’t long before we discovered the new visitor centre wasn’t finished. It’s a shame because the curved building made from stone looks wonderful, even if it was still surrounded by metal fencing. When I came this way in September the word was the centre would be opening in early 2016 so it was a little disappointing but it didn’t completely rule out a coffee stop, the old visitor centre might still be open.
As the old visitor centre and cafe is on the way out of the park we went for a stroll around the lakes first. The purple theme continued with loosestrife along the lake edge and we came upon a seagul sunning himself on the little wooden bridge. He flew off as we approached and I felt a little guilty for disturbing him.
There are three interconnected lakes at Lakeside and on the north western one we made quite a find. Some young lads were fishing and right beside them a pair of swans and two cygnets. They weren’t quite as young and fluffy as I’d have liked but they and their parents followed us around the lake. Any walk with a swan in it is a good one in my book and a pair of grey fluffy cygnets made all the heat and walking worthwhile.
“I wonder why we haven’t seen any cygnets yet on the Itchen?” CJ asked as we took our final photos.
“We did see some at Chessel Bay,” I reminded him, and the black cygnets at Riverside Park.”
“I know, but the mute swans at Riverside don’t seem to have worked out it’s time to breed yet. I thought we’d have seen lots by now.”
“Perhaps they’re all hiding somewhere or maybe there just aren’t any this year. Maybe the black swans put them off?”
By this time we’d come to the giant chair between the lakes. I’m not sure what the deal is with these giant pieces of furniture but there seem to be lots of them hidden in parks here. On the opposite side of the path is a boggy area, filled with bulrushes and loosestrife today and not quite as pretty as it is when the iris are blooming.
Then it was on to the final lake of the day. Splashes of yellow ragwort in the meadow were echoed by big yellow marker balloons on the water. This lake is often used for sailing model boats, by canoeists and, as I’ve recently discovered, by people training for triathlons. Pretty as it is, I’m not sure I’d want to go swimming here. I’m sure the water is freezing even in summer. Today there were no boats, canoes or swimmers, just a trio of Canada geese and a few gulls perched on smaller, white markers.
With our walk around all three lakes complete we’d reached the opposite side of the new visitor centre. We stopped for a longing look at it through the wire fence. It seems tantalisingly near completion. Sadly, it was as near as we were going to get to a coffee. Down the lane, in the Lakeside Cafe, a notice told us the coffee machine was out of order. Bottled water really was no substitute but it was the best we could get so we bought some.
While I was paying for the water CJ had wandered off and discovered the trains. I found him kneeling on the platform of the little station grinning like a loon at the Thomas the Tank Engine train. He was obsessed with Thomas when he was little and it seems some things never change.
Lakeside has been home to a dual gauge light railway since 1992. The track runs right around the park and there are two little stations, Eastleigh Parkway and Monks Brook, and a tunnel. We were at Eastleigh Parkway, beside the cafe, we stopped for a while to watch the trains come and go. Perhaps we should have taken the opportunity to have a ride because, in a week or so, when the schools break up for the summer holiday these little trains will be packed with children.
It was difficult to drag CJ away from the trains but eventually we made our way back down the trail towards Wide Lane. There was one more stop for photos of the burdock and orange poppies along Doncaster Drove before I put the fancy camera away.
“Maybe next time the new visitor centre will be open,” CJ said as we started our long, hot walk home. “It looks like it’d be a nice place to stop for a coffee.”
“We could have done with one today for sure,” I said, sipping my bottled water.
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