The last walk of summer at Itchen Valley Country Park

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20 September 2016

Today was officially the last day of summer and I had plans to fit in one last summer walk. Since the RR10 at Itchen Valley at the beginning of August, I’ve been meaning to go back and explore the trails and today seemed like as good a day as any. When I happened to mention where I was going and that there was an old brick kiln somewhere in the area I was going to try to find, CJ decided to come along too. He loves a bit of history and a treasure hunt with his walking.

Disappointingly, it was a dreary, overcast day, not at all what I’d hoped for the final day of summer, but it wasn’t raining and it was warm enough when we set out. Rather than walk along the river, we headed up the hill to Cutbush Lane where fallen leaves are already beginning to gather at the edges of the path. We were soon on Allington Lane and, from there, it was a short walk to the entrance to the country park.

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When CJ first saw High Wood Barn he got quite excited, thinking it must be an ancient building. Sadly, I had to burst his bubble by telling him it was actually built in 1990 as a visitor centre for the park.
“They did a great job of making it look old to fit in with the surroundings,” he said.
He was right. The barn was built in the style of a seventeenth century Hampshire Aisle Barn using traditional methods. The wood came from trees that fell on the Beaulieu estate during the terrible storms of 1987 and it really is a thing of beauty in a stunning setting.

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At this stage we’d walked a little over two miles but when CJ spotted the coffee shop he suddenly decided he was very thirsty so we stopped for a coffe. We sat at a picnic bench to drink overlooking the barn and the lush green fields. CJ was curious about the wind turbine in the field beside us. Luckily, I knew all about it from previous visits. Sustainability is a big thing at the park and the turbine harvests the power of the wind blowing across the fields to provide electricity to the visitor centre. It isn’t the only piece of clever technology about either. The roof of the toilet block beside the barn has huge solar panels on the roof and the toilets themselves are flushed by collected rainwater. There is also a Ground Source Heat Pump which uses a massive coil buried underground to heat parts of the barn and a biomass boiler using locally sourced wood pellets. The building is also insulated using sheep’s wool.

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Once we’d finished our coffe and talking about sustainable energy and how good it would be to have in our little house, we set off for the woodland trail. There are ninety acres of woodland in the country park and several different trails to walk but today I wanted to walk the Woodland Nature Trail because I hoped it would lead me to the brick kiln. We had a map of sorts, photographed from the Country Park website and saved on my phone. What on earth did we do before the Internet and smartphones?

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From the map I could see we would need to start off along the gentle and child friendly Forest Trail. Here we found a selection of mysterious creatures made from felled trees designed for small children to climb on. A little further on was Go Ape, a climbing adventure for bigger children and adults. Some teenagers seemed to be having a whale of a time clambering over the tree top obstacle  course. In fact I think CJ would have liked a go himself.

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We strolled through the trees listening to the whoops of the excited children. Occasionally we could hear the woosh of the zip wire as someone came to the end of the trail. One of the zip wires comes out onto High Hill Field where we’d stood to watch the RR10 and I’m sure a few of the Spitfires, Commando included, would have quite liked a go on it.

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After a while Go Ape was behind us and the woods became a little quieter. I was fairly sure we were now walking through Vocus Copse on the trails the Spitfires had run back in August. The trails were mostly flat and dry, carpeted with dead leaves and I could understand why they’d enjoyed their run, even if I prefer a more sedate pace myself.

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When we came upon a tree with gnarled and tangled roots that had formed a miniature tunnel, CJ had to crouch down and take a photo. With his hood up, he looked so much like a little wood gnome I had to take a picture of him taking a picture.

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As far as I can tell these are the remnants of ancient woodland and the broadleaved trees we walked through somehow came into the ownership of Eastleigh Borough Council. Between 1950 and 1987 the majority of the wood was owned by the Forestry Commission and, for some strange reason, they decided to fell the broadleaved trees on their land in the early 1960’s. They replanted with Scots pine, Corsican pine, Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock and Western Red Cedar. Soon we were amongst them. The area was filled with little teepee structures similar to the ones I stumbled upon in Matley Wood. These shelters were rather small, too small for me to get inside, so I’m guessing they were built by children.

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Further on we came upon a fallen tree. Its shallow rootball seemed like a sculpture to me. Vaguely animalistic with a touch of horns or antlers, perhaps a dinosaur. CJ thought I’d gone mad when I said it out loud though. Maybe its only me who sees these things and anthropomorphises everything.

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There were squirrels nearby and CJ tried hard to get close to them and take a photo but I’m sure they were toying with him, letting him think they were going to stay still then dashing off at the last moment. I contented myself with photographing an easier target, one that wasn’t going to move, and took pictures of some fungi I found on a rotting log.

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Not long after this we emerged on High Hill field. Luckily there was a fairly clear trail across the grass and we followed it, hoping it would lead us to the next part of the trail. This was where I hoped to find the brick kiln.

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We were now on the Woodland Nature Trail and the difference was immediately obvious. Firstly there was a wire fence and a gate to go through. A sign told us this was to keep the deer out because they eat the young saplings. It took us some time to work out how to get inside. The trails here were wider and very muddy. Huge ruts made by large vehicles were filled with water. It was tough going for a while. Too tough to take many photos although I did stop for a bright yellow fleabane.

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While trying to negotiate the mud we were also on the lookout for the brick kiln. To be honest, we weren’t really sure what it would look like but we kept our eyes peeled anyway. Disappointingly, when we came to the gate at the end of the trail we hadn’t seen anything at all kiln like.
“Never mind,” I told CJ, “we can come back again another day and look again. Maybe a bit more research is needed first.”

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Marie

Writer, walker, coffee drinker, chocolate eater, lover of nature, history and the little things that make me smile

2 thoughts on “The last walk of summer at Itchen Valley Country Park”

  1. I work at a place much like that one, with zip lines, the shelters, everything. I haven’t been able to figure out what the shelters are all about either!
    A building insulated with wool must be very warm, and must have been very expensive to build.
    It looks like a great place for a walk!

    1. It must be a fun place to work. I’m not sure about the cost of the building but I know they used fallen trees for the timber and ancient building methods. Maybe the wool was from local sheep?

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