31 August 2016
Most of July and August has been taken up with zebra hunting but, this week, with almost all the zebras found, CJ and I decided it was time to revisit the boundary stone hunt. Since I stumbled upon the first of these curious stones, back in April 2013, I have managed to find eight out of the twelve there are supposed to be. Not all the stones have been where I expected to find them and there have been several fruitless hunts. When we set out today I had my fingers crossed this would not be another.
The majority of the information about the whereabouts of the stones is anecdotal and, as far as I can tell, there has been very little in the way of documentation about where they were laid. Going for an easy win, or so I thought, I decided to drive to the Sports Centre. There were two stones within easy walking distance, three if you count the one we’ve looked for twice without success along Golf Course Road. There was a plan of sorts and, as we strolled down the steep hill towards Golf Course Road, I explained it to CJ.
We’d begin with the nearest stone, purportedly in Lord’s Wood at the end of Coxford Road. Once we found it, if we had enough time, we’d try for the second. We passed the tennis courts and the football pitches and then turned off the path toward Coxford Road. The steep decent turned into a steep climb. This wasn’t the best of news on a boiling hot day but we had bottled water and we took it slowly, stopping now and then to look back at the ski slope and the Alpine Sports Centre building. Close to the top we relised we were passing a bike park so stopped to look at that too.
“I don’t think Dad would appreciate me borrowing his new bike for a go on that,” CJ said wistfully. “If only I still had my old BMX instead of a road bike.”
Once we’d passed the bike park the trees closed in on the path. It was a relief to be out of the sun. Pretty soon we were on Coxford Road. This is not an area I know at all and Coxford Road, as far as I could see from the map, was very long, continuing as a trail through Lord’s Wood. The scant information I had about the boundary stone was that it was at the end of the road in the woods so, with a quick look up and down, we headed in that direction.
“If it’s called Lord’s Wood, I suppose there must have been a lord once who owned it?” CJ said as we set off into the wood on a soft, wide dirt path, littered with leaves.
“There was a big Manor House here once,” I told him, having done a little research before we set out. “It was built in the early ninteenth century, by the Baker-Mill family who owned Mottisfont Abbey, as a hunting lodge. The wood is much older, probably dating from just after the last ice age. Doomsday book mentions a manor, but no one seems to know who the lord was. The wood was originally much larger and covered parts of Southampton, Nursling, Chilworth and Rownhams.”
“What happened to the house? Are there ruins?”
“It was turned into a hotel in the 1920’s, then a riding school. In 1972 it was pulled down and I don’t think there’s any trace of it left now.”
We’d been walking and talking but keeping a very close eye on the edges of the path on the lookout for the boundary stone, especially at the entrance to the wood where I thought it would be. So far our search had been fruitless and I was beginning to get a sinking feeling that this was going to be another wild goose chase. With all the careful scrutiny of the path edges our going was slow, but we hadn’t been walking for long when we came to a high metal fence on the left side of the path. Reading the signs plastered to it, it was some kind of gas facility. Beside it was a large pile of gravel protected by barriers. I looked at it suspiciously.
“You don’t think the boundary stone is under all that do you?” I asked CJ.
“I wouldn’t have thought so but, if it is, short of digging through it, we’re not going to see it today,” he replied.
Just beyond the gravel pile was a curious kind of gate or barrier. It was beside the path rather than across it but a weathered concrete bollard stood in the centre of the path, supposedly to block any traffic. This seemed to mark a change of some kind but the map didn’t indicate what it might be. Our path continued on ahead but there was a side path, marked on the map as Ethelbert Southampton. To the right was the Sports Centre golf course although we couldn’t see it through the trees. Whether the path ahead was still Coxford Road wasn’t clear, the map showed it as a track but didn’t name it. It felt very much like a boundary of some kind and we stopped for quite some time poking about in the undergrowth hoping to find the stone. It wasn’t there.
The trail became far narrower after this and less distinct. We stopped to look at a clump of scabious attracting lazy bees but there was still no sign of a stone. Dogs were barking in the distance, making a dreadful racket and I guessed we must be near the kennels and cattery I’d seen on the map.
“I’m not sure this is still Coxford Road,” I told CJ. “It might just be a trail in the woods at this point. We could turn back and give up on this stone but, if we do, we’ll never be sure it wasn’t just a bit further on. The map shows the road, or trail, or whatever it is, going right up to the motorway. What do you say?”
“I think we should keep going as far as the motorway. The stone near Chillworth Roundabout was right by the motorway after all so maybe this one is too. Perhaps the motorway is the boundary now.”
So we kept on walking and looking. There were interesting side trails I longed to explore but I knew there were no stones hidden along them. The barking dogs slowly receded into the distance and we came to another gate, a more conventional one this time. We passed through and, not long after, saw the first stone like thing we’d seen all morning.
In fact there were three stones and, from the outset, it was obvious they weren’t boundary stones. Two looked very much like something from the top of a church but it was the third that piqued our interest. It was new looking, oblong, almost gravestone like and it was engraved with the word Utopia. This Tarmac path running off to the side of our trail looked very much like a driveway but what could Utopia mean?
“We came in search of boundary stones and we found Utopia,” CJ laughed.
Although we knew there’d be no boundary stone along this track, being off the main straight one we’d been following, curiosity led us down it. I was fairly sure this was a private driveway but there were no signs to say so and, if we were stopped, I planned on claiming to be lost.
At the end of the lane we found large metal gates and, behind them, an imposing looking house. This must be Utopia, we supposed. Round about then my house envy kicked in, especially when I saw what looked very much like a well in the garden. Later Googling told me this is a relatively modern house, built early in the twenty first century as far as I can tell. With its secluded position and acres of grounds, it’s no wonder they called it Utopia.
Of course, none of this was finding us our boundary stone so, after taking a few serruptitious photos, we turned back to the main trail. Before too long we’d reached the end. We came out on Chilworth Drive, a proper road, with large houses to one side of us and a bridge over the motorway ahead. Very carefully we looked around for the stone. CJ even went as far as the motorway bridge just in case, but it wasn’t there. Disappointed, we turned back.
“We need to keep an eye out for the stone on the way back, just in case we missed it,” I said as we passed Utopia again in the opposite direction. “It must be here somewhere because other people have seen it.”
So we walked back very slowly, our eyes scanning the undergrowth. CJ even picked up a stick to prod with, in case it was covered over by brambles. We did find some fungi that I thought at first might have been puffballs but, when prodded with CJ’s stick, turned out not to be. We didn’t find a boundary stone.
At one point we took a slight detour onto a side trail leading into dark pine woodland. We knew the stone wasn’t likely to be there but we both needed a break from the constant peering at brambles and undergrowth. The ground was so thick with fallen pine needles it felt springy underfoot, like deep pile carpet. The wood looked interesting enough for a future visit but we didn’t stray too far in.
Soon we were back at the first barrier with no sign whatsoever of a stone. Feeling rather deflated we passed through. I eyed the pile of gravel suspiciously, feeling sure it had been dumped over the stone but powerless to do anything about it. Then, as I turned for one last, futile, look at the other side of the trail, I let out a squeak that made CJ jump.
“What is it?” he asked grabbing my arm obviously thinking rats or worse.
“It’s the boundary stone, look!” I pointed at the bramble covered mound.
CJ squinted but couldn’t spot it until I led him closer. Goodness only knows how I saw it myself as my eyesight is far worse than his. It was just off the path, amongst the leaf mould, green with moss and almost completely concealed by brambles. Only a small gap in the tangle of leaves had alerted me and then, by chance more than anything. From the opposite direction you couldn’t see it at all. No wonder we’d missed it.
Cj scraped the brambles away with his stick.
“At least other people will have an easier time finding it than us now,” he said. “Perhaps we should get some fluorescent stickers or flags made up so we can stick them beside the stones when we find them. That way they’ll be easier to spot.”
“Perhaps the council should have thought about that when they placed them,” I said. “They’re so well hidden, with so little information available it’s almost as if they didn’t want anyone to know about them.”
So, with far more Walking than was strictly necessary, we’d found stone number nine. Even knowing where it was it was hard to spot it as I looked back. As quests go, this boundary stone finding mission is turning out to be far harder than I’d expected but it’s led me to some interesting places I might otherwise not have visited. Lord’s Wood certainly deserves further exploration.
All in all the walk had been less than four miles by the time we got back to the car. With all the stopping to poke about in the undergrowth and walking slowly so we didn’t miss the stone, it had taken far longer than expected. In the end we dicided to leave stone number ten for another day. It would be the last one we had any real hope of finding after all.
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