Bad Planning – first published 16 February 2014

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After days of storms and torrential rain 16 February 2014 was supposed to be a sunny break in the wet weather, at least according to the weatherman. Of course, I planned to take advantage and get out for a nice long walk. Commando was off on a sixteen miler, training for his marathon and, as he pulled on his running socks, I brushed my teeth, thinking about where I would go. Things didn’t go quite to plan.

16 February 2014

Today was one of those days when nothing works out the way you thought it would. There I was, all set to get out on a long walk and take advantage of a break in the horrible weather when I noticed I’d forgotten to put my phone on charge and the battery was almost dead. My phone is essential to my walks because I can’t take pictures without it. Also, if I get lost, I have the satellite maps to get me out of trouble and I can use it in an emergency. So, cursing under my breath, I put it on charge, had a cup of coffee and thought a bit more about where I was going to walk, aware that time was ticking by. When I went back to the phone, I discovered it still wasn’t any more charged. The plug wasn’t pushed in properly! Grrrr!

Eventually I managed to get out of the house, although much later than I’d have liked. Despite all the thinking about it, there wasn’t much of a plan on the route front either. A vague idea of walking up Midanbury Lane towards the Castle and then maybe along the river, if it was passable was about as far as it went. What I hadn’t really considered was hills. The Castle is the highest point on this side of Southampton so Midanbury Lane is steep, very steep.

When I started out I’d been quite cold. Soon I was boiling and probably pretty red in the face. About half way up I stopped to take a photo of Deep Dene House. When I walked through the woods at the end of January there were people outside so I’d kept my phone in my pocket. The original house was added to when it was converted to luxury flats but the beautiful front door complete with stained glass windows remains. After the devastating air raid of 26 September when the Spitfire factory in Woolston was destroyed Lord Beaverbrook had the accounts and personnel departments of the Ministry of Aircraft Production moved to Deep Dene House. Perhaps there should be a plaque. A little further up the hill I passed the boat in the garden from the same walk.

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Soon I was at the very top, panting a little with the effort of keeping a good pace up the hill. I stopped for a moment to take in the spectacular views over the rooftops with the huge buildings of the airport in the distance. It seems so close but, in fact, it is about two miles. Some impressive lichen on a tree caught my eye and I captured a picture before slowly making my way down the steep, steep hill. All the elevation I’d gained I was now losing on my way back down towards the river but speed was not an option if I wanted to stay on my feet.

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Right at the bottom on Woodmill Lane I stopped again to look at the drinking fountain. This was built in 1897 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Donated by Sir Samuel Montague MP, the fountain with its elaborate scrolling, shell designs and strangely tiered, fish tail covered, copper roof topped with a crown is now a grade two listed building.

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Behind the fountain a path leads onto the river path just up river from Woodmill. There was no guarantee I’d be able to get through either this path or the river path ahead. The woodland behind the fountain was completely flooded, looking more like a river than a wood. Thankfully the path was passable, if slightly muddy, and some delicately veined crocus were flowering despite all the water.

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When I reached the river I was relieved to see a dry path. Not quite so relieved by the number of people who appeared to be using it. I’d rather walk alone with my thoughts but walking on a Sunday usually means having to share. A group of what I think were Greylag Geese were swimming furiously upstream towards a small boy throwing bread. For once the seagulls had not got in on the act. They were quite close to the bank so I stopped to take a photo, one kindly opened his mouth in the goose equivalent of a smile. Then again he may just had been trying to catch bread.

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Further along I noticed a beer keg caught up amongst the fallen branches on the opposite bank. Had it somehow escaped from the cellar of the White Swan? As the cellar is almost certainly under water right now I wouldn’t be surprised. Around the bend the river is so high the weir is completely under water and the fields beyond are totally flooded.

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Soon after this I could see that the bank was breached. This time far further down stream than usual. People were walking through though so I carried on. The further I went the worse it looked. Water was flowing quite fast over the path but it was passable, so I passed.

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When I got in sight of the bridge things got far worse. Parts of the path were completely under water and, right up by the bridge, I couldn’t even tell where the river ended and the path began. At that point I might have chickened out but the scary woman on the mobility scooter came past right at that moment and went ploughing through. If she could do it so could I. Maybe I was foolish but I kept as close to the trees as I could and I waded through. At least if she was in front of me she couldn’t knock me in the river!

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Waves were crashing across wherever the path once was. The water came right to the limit of my boots and even then I had to walk on tiptoe. Still, it could have been worse, I could have been Commando who tells me he had to run through it, wet feet and all, and then run three miles home with slopping wet socks. The sensible thing would have been to keep going to the other side. What I actually did was find a place where I could stand without water ingress, crouched down and took a photo just to give you an idea of what it was like. Never let it be said that I let common sense stand in the way of information.

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I made it to the other side just in time. As I stood by the fence looking over the side at the swirling current the scary woman on the mobility scooter ploughed her way back through. Never have I seen the river so swollen. People were standing about on the bridge looking over the side uncertainly, probably thinking the same thing.

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Now the real test came, the walk under the big road bridge towards the White Swan. Last time I came this was it was flooded but I managed to wade through. This time the flooding started more or less at the beginning of the path. A brave, or maybe that should be foolish, fisherman stood in the water trying to catch a fish. He might as well have just stood in the car park, I’m sure there were fish swimming about there too.

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In the end I made it almost to the car park but had to run back when the water started lapping over the top of my boots. Wet feet were not part of my plan so I turned back, walked under the bridge again and took the road route. At least it was dry. The pub, I fear, was not. Right now it’s sitting in the middle of the river. There weren’t even any cars in the car park which is a first. Mind you, if there were, the water would be making its way in through their door seals.

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The road that runs the other side of the pub was the same, completely under water. The little car sales office, much further forward than the pub, was pumping out water as I passed. It was about then I began to wonder how the houses at Gaters Mill were faring.

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As I approached the mill houses some swans were rooting about in the weeds beside the road. Of course I stopped to take some photos, they were the first swans I’d seen all day after all. At Gaters Mill the water level is at the very top of the bridge. The people living there must be checking it every minute and waiting with bated breath. Much more rain and they will share the fate of the pub down the road. Much as I envy them their setting and beautiful views I don’t envy them the possibility of having to bail out the living room.

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From there it was back to walking up hill. Gaters Hill to be precise, another steep climb to make me red faced and breathless. At the top I foolishly decided to pop into the garden centre. That was never going to be a good plan. Five minutes later I came back out clutching two bags of hellebores. Heavyish bags. They had some lovely hydrangeas too but even I’m not that over ambitious!

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All the way up Cutbush Lane, up another hill to the Castle, I had to carry my impulse buys. Then I had to go into the Tesco Express that has taken over my old local and pick up a four pint carton of milk. Oh well, carrying stuff adds to the calorie burn I suppose, even if it did make my arms ache.

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My walking for the day wasn’t over when I got home and unloaded by bags but I’ll tell you all about that later.

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Marie

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

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