The last few of days of January 2014 were a whirl of activity, most of it centred around trying to find a job. There was a meeting at Office Angels which turned out to be far shorter than I’d expected. The person I was supposed to see hadn’t turned up, never a good start, and the one I did see wanted me to completely change my CV. Frantically working away to make the changes, I got so involved I almost made myself late for my afternoon dentist appointment and had to march it out for the three miles or so to get there. Thankfully the old choppers were fine. Pete, my dentist told me, “you really need to eat more toffees and brush your teeth less often to give me something to do.”
31 January 2014
Today I wanted to get one last long walk in before February. All week I’ve been looking at the weather forecast and this was supposed to be the best of the week. When I looked out the gym window first thing it looked like there might even be sun. There was blue sky and pink edges to the clouds. By the time I’d had breakfast things had changed. A dark, purplish cloud had suddenly sprung up. A look at my weather app told me I’d better get a move on if I didn’t want to get wet. Grrr! Blasted weather.
There was a plan. I’d mapped out a great walk down through Victoria Country Park to Hamble marina, about fourteen miles. It’s a walk I’ve been wanting to do for a while and today was the day. Trying to beat the rain I marched out fast, up the Little Hill (ok, so that bit wasn’t fast), down a very windy Peartree Avenue to Woolston. The wind was against me, cold and blowing in my face, but I pressed on. By the time I got to the old Vosper Thorneycroft site cold wind had turned to freezing wind thanks to being so close to the water. There was a brief stop to take a picture of the metal seagulls on the side of the new houses then I pulled my hat down and marched on.
On the shore, with no shelter, it was even more blustery and a huge black cloud on the horizon told me I might not make it home before the rain. On I marched along the promenade, past the beach shelters with one eye on the choppy green sea. The tide was higher than I’d expected, making me wonder if the path ahead would be flooded. What is going on this winter? If water isn’t falling from the sky the rivers and the sea are spreading it on the land.
The entrance to Westwood looked to be more pond than path as I passed. The shore path was dry but the sea seemed to be doing its best to change that. The wind was whipping the waves into a frenzy, desperately trying to climb over the bank of shingle it created earlier. I sat for a while and watched the battle of sea and shore.
It was too cold to sit for long so I soon said goodbye to my bench and carried on towards the stream that runs from Westwood, under the road and along the shore. Today there wasn’t much shore for it to run down, just a narrow shingle bank between sea and stream. At least the road wasn’t flooded today, or the path, and soon I reached the bridge.
Now the trees lining the shore gave some welcome shelter from the biting wind. West Lodge, the old lodge house to Netley Castle, nestles in the shelter here. It’s a pretty little Gothic style cottage designed by John Dando Sedding and built in about 1885, the year before Pappy was born, now a listed building. It’s hard to believe that just three years ago this lovely little house was derelict, the windows all smashed. It was sold at auction and these days it looks like someone got a bargain although, with all the recent flooding along this stretch, they might not think so at the moment.
When I reached the sailing club the shelter of the trees ran out so it was back to the cold wind again. Even my thick hat didn’t seem to be keeping it out and my ears were beginning to hurt. In an effort to take my mind off my ears I stopped for a closer look at the cannons that stand outside the sailing club. When I first noticed them I wondered what they were for. Commando tells me they use them to start races. They may be quite small but I’m not sure I’d want to be around when they fire them. A little brass plate on one cannon told me they had been restored in memory of a past member. Quite how I walked this way so many times without noticing them is a mystery.
The next stretch is wide open to the elements and I soon discovered the wind was going to be the least of my problems. The gravel path runs behind a low stone wall, presumably to protect it against the tide. The thing is, no one told the tide this. As I hurried along the waves were crashing against the wall, spray and foam flying over the top. I stopped for a moment to take photos but I didn’t stay long for fear of getting a soaking.
Further on I spotted some marble sized galls on a hedge, possibly blackthorn. A whole cluster of them together. Those gall wasps have been busy. Ahead a big red sign told me the path was closed. Luckily there’s a muddy trail behind the trees so I took that instead. I couldn’t help wondering why the path was closed though. When I came out the other side of the trees my question was answered. A whole section of path has collapsed, revealing a deep hole. It made me wonder just how strong the path beneath my feet was. It had looked so solid too.
The thought of the ground opening up beneath my feet had me scuttling along like a frightened rabbit towards Beach Lane and safety. Now I was in Netley, greeted by rows of prettily painted terraces with doors opening onto the street. Walking with houses on either side gave me some much needed shelter from the wind and for the first time since I set out I was almost warm.
Shortly after I passed the Prince Consort pub I was out in the wind again. Past yet another sailing club then Sopnie’s pond was the entrance to Victoria Country Park all I could think about was getting to the shelter of the trees along Lovers Lane towards Hamble. The shore path through the country park seemed longer than I remembered, my footsteps punctuated by the sound of crashing waves.
At least when I turned to walk towards the chapel the wind wasn’t blowing in my face any more even if it was trying hard to send me off course. Still, the woods were in sight now. I could see a van and some workmen in the distance but I didn’t think much of it. Some interesting looking lichen caught my attention and I stopped to take a picture of the grey green mass of frills and flounces.
I should have paid more attention to the workmen. When I came to the top of Lovers Lane the steeply sloping trail, muddy and slippery at the best of times, had a stream running along it. The workmen seemed to be there to try to stop the flow. For a moment I thought about taking the other path Commando showed me on our Sunday walk at the beginning of December. This was the walk that triggered today’s plan. When I turned towards my alternative though I saw the stream seemed to be running along this as well almost as if Hamble was completely under water.
There was nothing for it. I had to turn back. Past the chapel, along the shore path with the crashing waves beside me, a quick stop to examine a hollow tree in the hope of seeing some fungi, at least the wind was behind me now, pushing me along. Now I realised what a struggle it had been to push against it.
Soon I was back in Netley village passing the Victoria pub. Queen Victoria looked down on me from the wall. She didn’t look happy, perhaps because she was separated from Prince Albert, hanging above the door of the Prince Consort further down the road.
The shingle behind the stone sea wall by the sailing club was now dotted with a row of little round puddles where the sea had crashed over the top and spurted through the drainage holes at the bottom. The tide seemed to still be rising so I hurried along in case I ended up getting cut off further down.
As it was I made it just in time. The path by my bench was beginning to flood. The waves pounded the shingle bank and every so often an extra large one, the seventh maybe, crashed over the top and spilled onto the path. I paddled through, back towards the promenade, hoping I’d timed it right. The car park, when I passed was awash.
After that it was one foot in front of the other, back past the shore, through Woolston and Peartree. At times the wind pushed so hard my feet could hardly keep up but I was glad of the assistance after the struggle against it on the outbound journey. The wind can be a cruel mistress but sometimes it can be a help. Of course the rain started just as I reached the village so the last part of my walk was spent head down getting wet.
So my last January walk turned out to be just under eleven miles rather than the fourteen I’d hoped and I never did make it to Hamble. As for the hundred miles a month in 2014, the weather was against me from the start but I made it, just, today’s total took me to just short of one hundred and four miles. Hopefully February will be better.