6 October 2016
After my fifteen minutes of radio and video fame I’d hoped for some clues about the whereabouts of the final two boundary stones. What I actually got was people asking if I’d found any more stones and a lot of comments about stones I’d already found. There was one cryptic comment about Bassett Green and Stoneham Lane but neither was anywhere near where the last stones were meant to be and I couldn’t get any more information so, for now, I’ve discounted it. Even so, it seemed about time I went in search of the final stone I knew really was there.
The easy thing to do would have been to drive to Fernyhurst Lake where the stone was supposed to be. CJ and I both agreed that seemed a little like cheating though. Somehow, uncovering a stone feels like it should have some kind of a walk attached to it, some effort involved. Walking the whole way would have been a twelve mile round trip, not including wandering round and round looking for a hidden stone so we compromised, drove to the Sports Centre and set off towards the unknown wilds of Lordshill.
We walked down the hill towards Golf Course Road, the scene of two unsuccessful boundary stone hunts, wondering if this was going to be third time lucky.
“Wouldn’t it be funny if we found the Golf Course Road Stone when we weren’t even looking for it?” CJ said as we turned left instead of right at the bottom of the hill.
As this was the one tiny section of Golf Course Road we hadn’t already checked I had my fingers crossed even while I was laughing. It was a very short stretch of path following the line of the little stream we’d looked at last time we came this way. Since then I’ve discovered this is actually part of Holly Brook. If there was a stone there we didn’t see it, although we did poke about a bit in some undergrowth just in case.
Feeling slightly disappointed we turned up Dunkirk Road and climbed the hill along the perimeter of the Sports Centre. There was a slight detour when we came to a car park and a dead end and realised we should have turned off earlier but soon we were on Coxford Road. From there it should have been mostly plain sailing.
Lordshill is not an area I know well. In fact, it’s a fairly new part of the city. Along with Aldermoor, Lordswood and Coxford, it was once mostly farmland, part of the Manor of Millbrook. After World War II the city began to expand and more housing was needed to satisfy the growing population. In 1964 Lordhill became part of Southampton and planning permission was given to build the first two thousand homes there. From my route planning I knew we needed to follow Lordshill Way which is a long curving dual carriageway cutting through Lordswood, Aldermore and Lordshill, Luckily the map showed several sections of footpath running beside the road and it wasn’t long before we were on the first of these.
After a while the footpath, which had begun as a track on the grass verge, led into a ribbon of trees. The road was still there, just about visible and, on the other side of the trees, there were houses but, if we half closed our eyes, we had the feel of a woodland walk, at least in part. Every so often we came to an underpass, there no doubt to save the residents getting run over trying to cross Lordshill Way. Once we momentarily lost the trail when we came to a strange loop of road going under the main carriageway but we picked it up again fairly quickly.
All in all the woodland trail seemed to be a far better way of walking along a dual carriageway than a pavement beside the road, even if we couldn’t quite get our bearings and I had to keep checking Google Maps to see how far we’d come. When we came to a bridge over a culverted stream I realised we were crossing Tanners Brook. It seemed a shame the bridge wasn’t a little prettier or the culvert a little less industrial but the sky reflected prettily in the water and I made a mental note to add following Tanners Brook to my long list of future walks.
The houses to our right disappeared after that and the trail really did feel like a woodland walk with fallen leaves at our feet. Soon we were climbing a gentle hill. Before the new housing was built, there was just one road running through Lordshill between the Bedwell Arms pub and Aldermore Road. It was a steep road, nicknamed soap sud alley because the local washer women threw their soapy water onto it and this mingled with water from the network of local springs to turn it into a bubbly stream. As far as I can tell, this part of the trail was once that very road. Today there wasn’t a soap sud in sight.
When the path emerged from the trees again I checked the map. We were now very close to the giant Sainsburys, a landmark on my planned route. When we came to the next underpass we headed towards it, delighted when it turned out to be a slightly less colourful version of the Beyond Graffiti tunnel.
This was when I made the mistake of thinking I knew where I was and putting my phone in my pocket. What we should have done at this point was turn right. What we actually did was turn left towards the massive superstore. This led to us walking in a big circle around the perimeter of the store, peering at Google Maps and ending up back where we started. CJ wasn’t best pleased at this unecessary detour but we were soon back on track, if a little lost.
When I finally spotted water through the trees I was pretty sure we’d finally found Fernyhurst Lake. We had, but it wasn’t quite what I expected. For one it was far smaller than I’d thought, the opposite bank was crowded with modern houses and there were more houses behind us. Still, it should be an easy matter now to locate the stone. The sparse information I’d found said it would be on the edge of the lake on the south side of the footpath.
We were actually on the south side of the lake so we walked along very slowly, scanning the grass expecting to see the stone at any moment. It wasn’t there. The path wound round to the west and we followed it as it became a narrow trail bordered by trees. This seemed far more like the kind of place a stone would be so we doubled our scanning efforts, CJ looking along one side of the trail while I examined the other.
When we came to a place where the trail crossed a small stream, possibly feeding the lake, the trees on my side opened up a little. I could hardly believe my eyes when I spotted a young deer at the bottom of a shallow dip.
“Don’t make any sudden movements,” I whispered to CJ, “but look this way.”
The deer had seen us and frozen so, very carefully, I raised my phone to take a photo, cursing the fact that I hadn’t brought the fancy pants camera with me. It was a magical moment, even if the photos I took weren’t the best.
After a short staring contest CJ very slowly stepped off the path and down into the dip beside the stream. The deer wasn’t fooled for a second though and bounded off through the long grass, stopping a short distance away to resume his staring.
“Who’d have thought we’d see a deer in the middle of Lordshill,” CJ said as I took a couple more photos.
The deer was a pleasant surprise but we still hadn’t found the boundary stone. We followed the lakeside path around the northern edge of the lake, slowly losing hope. There was no stone there or anywhere along the edge of the lake. Soon we were back where we started and I was beginning to think this was going to be another fruitless search.
“Perhaps we missed the stone when we saw that deer,” CJ said as we stood forlornly on the bank where we’d started out.
Although I was fairly sure it hadn’t been there, we headed back towards the tree lined trail. We peered at every bush and shrub again, we even looked through the trees at the bank of the lake. There was nothing even vaguely resembling a stone. We walked right around the lake one more time, knowing as we did, it really wasn’t there but knowing, if we didn’t, we’d always think we’d missed it somehow.
Before we gave up completely I took one last look at the information I had and examined Google Maps again. What my notes actually said was ‘Fernyhurst Lake – a lake between Bakers Drove and Cromarty Road, stone to be put on south side of footpath next to the lake, running between the two roads.’ The map told me the trail we were on was actually part of Cromary Road and ahead, a little way from the lake, was Bakers Drove.
“I think we should walk to the end of the lane,” I said. “If we don’t find it by the time we reach Bakers Drove we’ll have to give up. We can’t just keep walking round and round the lake hoping it’s going to magically appear.”
The lane grew slowly more manicured as we walked away from the lake where the boundary stone was supposed to be. We passed the driveway to a house and soon Bakers Drove was in sight. There was nothing remotely stone like anywhere to be seen.
“Let’s go right to the end,” I said, with a sinking heart, “just in case it’s around the corner on Bakers Drove.”
“It must be here somewhere,” CJ said, sounding slightly desperate by now. “Didn’t people say they’d found it?”
“They did,” I agreed, “and I thought this was going to be an easy win.”
Seconds before we came to the end of the road something pale caught my eye in the hedge to my left. I stopped dead, staring between the laurel leaves. CJ had walked on a few steps before he realised I wasn’t with him.
“Look,” I said, pointing into the hedge.
There, completely hidden from the path, was the most perfect boundary stone we have found to date. It was pure chance that I saw it at all and we had to crouch down and half crawl into the hedge to get a proper look.
As I was about to try to clear the branches and empty beer cans away a little to expose it and get a better picture CJ called out a warning.
“There’s a wasps nest in the hedge Mum. Get away from it!”
He was right, there were wasps everywhere, although I didn’t see a nest. Maybe they were buzzing around the sticky beer residue in the empty beer cans? Nest or not though, there were an awful lot of wasps.
So that was that. With one last quick snap, beer cans and all, we walked away. We’d found the last stone, or at least the last one that seems to be findable. For now it will have to stay hidden because even I’m not willing to be stung by a thousand wasps to get a better picture.
“I wonder if that really is the last stone?” CJ said as we walked back along the lane towards the lake.
“It’s hard to say,” I replied. “The information about them seems to be pretty thin on the ground and was taken from a council planning meeting about where the stones should be put rather than where they actually were put. This one wasn’t where we expected it to be and it was only chance that we found it at all.”
“Maybe the last two were put somewhere completely different,” CJ suggested. “You’d think someone somewhere would have seen them if they were though.”
“You’d think but, if they’re both as overgrown and hidden as this, maybe not. They might not ever have been put out at all for all we know and could be sitting in a council warehouse somewhere forgotten about.”
We headed back towards the giant Sainsburys and the route I’d planned back along Aldermore Road still not really knowing if our quest was at an end or not.
“Maybe we need to visit the city archives and see if we can find any more information,” I said.
“Or perhaps a map. That would be really useful,” CJ added.
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