February 2014 and the first day with no rain for what seemed like forever found me trying to walk to Lakeside. There were a few worries that it might be flooded when I got there. I made it as far as the airport without rain or flood stopping me, although there were a few damp patches where the river and the stream didn’t seem to know their place. Despite the grey skies there was a definite feel of spring in the air.
19 February 2014
When I came to the Spitfire Roundabout by the airport the sky even looked like it might have some blue behind all the bobbly cloud. Why is there a sculpture of a Spitfire in the middle of the airport roundabout? Back in 1936, when this was called Eastleigh Aerodrome and was barely more than a field, the prototype Supermarine Spitfire K5054 took its maiden flight here. The sculpture is of that very plane and was unveiled in 2004. Two years later at 4pm on 5 March, five real Spitfires took off from Southampton Airport seventy years exactly after that first flight, piloted by Captain J ‘Mutt’ Summers.
Southampton is one of the UK’s smallest international airports but throughout the late 1930’s and 1940’s it was one of the five largest outside London. There were four grass runways and international flights all over the world. Now there is just one hard runway. There is also some controversy over the name. You see Southampton Airport is actually half a mile outside the Southampton boundary in Eastleigh. The people of Eastleigh feel it should be called Eastleigh Airport. The problem is, very few people outside Hampshire have heard of the tiny railway town while everyone has heard of Southampton. There was even a newspaper campaign to find a new name. One suggestion was to name it after the designer of the Spitfire and R J Mitchell Airport does have a certain ring to it. Another was to call it Matt Le Tissier International Airport but Mr Le Tissier was not impressed, he didn’t feel he warranted such an honour.
By the time I actually reached the airport I was in dire need of coffee. There is a coffee shop half a mile up the road at Lakeside but I didn’t know if it would be open. There’s also a Costa in the Swan Centre in Eastleigh but that’s a mile further and, if Lakeside was open, I wouldn’t be going that far. Then I remembered the Costa at the airport so I traipsed up over the railway bridge at Southampton Parkway Station and, feeling as if I should have my passport with me, went into the airport. It was surprisingly quiet and I was soon on my way again with a skinny latte in my hand. I did stop for a quick look at one of the Flybe planes close to the fence.
There was blue sky before me as I walked towards Lakeside, it reflected in the standing water along the edge of the playing fields. Would Lakeside be open? If it was, would it be too wet and muddy to walk? I was about to find out. The trees lining the entrance were right ahead and then the signpost.
There were people waiting around by the steam railway station when I got there so at least that was open. Whether the trail further on would be passable was another matter. A little train was just about to leave so I stopped by the fence for a moment to watch. There seemed to be a lot of fiddling going on, then a few puffs of steam appeared. Soon the train was leaving the station with a hiss and a white cloud, a cue to leave myself.
Reluctantly I passed by the coffee shop. Another would not be a good idea when I’d only just put my empty Costa cup in a bin. When I’ve come to Lakeside in the past I’ve always had somewhere else to go or miles to gain so I’ve never walked around the lakes before, just passed straight through to the ford. Today I was hoping to put that right but the mud at the gate didn’t inspire me with confidence.
As it happened the paths around the lakes were mostly gravel, wet gravel, but walkable nonetheless. There was even a bonus lake on the field behind the little railway line. The tree in the middle told me this was usually just grass but, thanks to all the rain, it had been promoted. The moss was going wild in the boggy conditions and every branch seemed to be sprouting lichen. Some of the blue green stuff was lush enough to be mistaken for spring growth at first glance. Looking closer, a crustose lichen was trying to pretend to be just more bark. The pale grey patches were easily missed but the tell tale black spots gave the game away. It may have been amandinea punctata but I’m not sure.
Soon I could just make out the real lakes in the distance along with sails. For a moment I wondered just how big these lakes were if there were boats sailing on them? As I got closer I realised these were model boats, remote controlled by a group of very well wrapped men on the bank. The seagulls were not impressed by this invasion of their territory, they huddled in a grumpy group, sulking. I stopped for a moment to enjoy the spectacle.
Behind me, to the east, the sky looked rather threatening and I wondered if I’d make it home without a soaking. The rough grass between me and the tree line was barely keeping its head above water and, as I rounded the top of the lake, a stream bubbled its way over a judiciously placed railway sleeper, then over the path and into the lake. I’m getting used to wading so I took it in my stride.
A muddy strip of grass, infested with fishermen, separated one lake from the next. Fishermen must be hardy creatures because they didn’t seem to mind the mud at all. To the north of the gravel path another impromptu lake had formed beautifully framing a stand of young birch. I was certainly getting my money’s worth, especially as Lakeside is free.
Apart from a couple of lonely ducks and the fishermen lining the banks, the second lake was empty. The grey clouds had crept overhead while I wasn’t looking and the photos I took may as well have been monochrome. A little sun still broke through though, glinting on the crests of the ripples and it wasn’t raining which was all I’d really hoped for. Once I reached the far side I could just see the sails of the remote control boats moving about on the first lake.
The third lake sits on top of the other two, making a kind of lake triangle. As I rounded the curve separating it from lake number two I spotted some fat little ducks sitting on the edge of a viewing platform as if they were watching the fisherman on the opposite bank. They took no notice of me as I passed. Almost every other viewing platform had a man sitting on it fishing, so maybe they’re actually fishing platforms. It made me wonder just how many fish there were in the lake and whether they had to be replenished regularly. Then again, perhaps the men don’t really care if they catch fish or not, it could be that the sitting there holding a rod is what they enjoy.
At the next platform a fisherman, bundled up in wet weather gear, was just setting up. A trio of Greylag geese marched past unperturbed. I guess they’re used to people fishing. They didn’t even seemed bothered by me taking photos, although the one at the rear gave an irritated tail wiggle when I got too close. Perhaps he thought I should pay him in bread.
Two Canada geese were standing on the edge of the next podium. They weren’t quite so keen on me getting too close. As I crouched down to get a better shot, one plopped into the water creating circular ripples on the still lake. Soon I’d come to the end of the path round the lakes but not the end of my walk. There was still getting home and I had a half plan for that…
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