When I planned the first walk of March 2014 I’d hoped there would be sun, or at least no rain for once. When I checked the forecast that morning it didn’t look like I was going to get home dry though. The route was around thirteen miles, give or take and it looked as if they were going to be mostly wet ones
2 March 2014
Walking towards Cobden Bridge on the first walk of March the sky looked a little worrying and I asked myself why I had to pick such a long distance route? There was a hint of sun as I came to Cobden Bridge but the clouds all around were dark and threatening. For a while I stopped and dithered, looking over each side of the bridge and wondering if I should revise my walking plans. In the end I decided to carry on across Riveride Park and see what happened.
In the park I was greeted by a pair of ducks eating some breadcrumbs someone had kindly left for them. The river looked high but at least it was contained within its banks. Just before the first bend a group of rowers passed me, probably from Coal Porters Rowing Club by the Big Bridge. The grass was sprinkled with crocus, purple and yellow. Spring may be in the air but no one seems to have told the sun that. Now there wasn’t a sign of it.
A little further on I was sad to see yet another fallen tree. We have lost so many this year with all the rain and wind, I do hope there is going to be some replanting to replace them.
Past Woodmill and across the road people were climbing on the climbing wall on the other side of the river in Woodmill Activity Centre. In all the times I’ve walked this way I’ve never seen anyone doing that. Soon I was rounding the last bend before Mansbridge. The path here is often flooded but at least today I could see the edge. Someone has put up signs to warn of the danger. As the signs are actually in the middle of the flooded area I’m pretty sure anyone close enough to read them already knows what to expect.
The river was flowing fast under the bridge and, today, my route took me across rather than past. Whenever I cross Mansbridge I can’t help but marvel at the fact that this was once the main road. It seems so narrow. When I was a child we used to drive across on the way to Nannie’s house. There has been a bridge on this spot since at least 932AD, although the one standing today was built in 1816, and it was once the lowest crossing over the Itchen. When the new road bridge was built in 1975 it was closed to cars but it’s still a popular crossing with walkers and cyclists.
Walking down towards Monk’s Brook I couldn’t help but stop to take a closer look at the colourful lichen on one of the concrete posts beside the path. It’s easy to ignore lichen but when you look closely it seems like an alien forest. A little further along the branches were dripping with the stuff. All the little discs I could see are fruiting bodies ready to release spores and start new lichen growing.
Just before I got to the Green Bridge the path was flooded. Luckily the board someone kindly placed there last winter to help people cross the mud was still in place. I crossed. When the bridge came into view though there was more water. Monk’s Brook has burst its banks. There was a lot of stream between me and the bridge, maybe all the work they did to lower the level of the Itchen at Winchester has put a strain on little tributaries like Monk’s Brook. I stood and dithered for a while, wondering just how deep it was.
In the end I braved it, it was either that or take the track between here and the Blue Bridge but this gets very muddy, especially in winter. My boots were just about up to the job although it was touch and go for a moment in the middle. Standing on the bridge I looked across to see the whole track completely under water. I’ve seen it muddy but never this bad. It looked to be flooded for almost its whole length.
My plan was to cross the brook again further along using the Blue Bridge. Standing on the other side of the Green Bridge it occurred to me this might not be such a good idea. At least there was an alternative, I could walk along Wessex Lane if I had to without adding too much distance.
As it turned out the path on the other side of the Blue bridge was fine. Walking towards the airport now, I began to get quite warm. It wasn’t raining so I unzipped my waterproof coat and fished around in my rucksack for my water bottle. This was when I realised I’d left it on the table at home. Doh! From the airport to the Swan Centre is about a mile and I spent almost all of it thinking about Costa Coffee and water. Just as I turned past the Swan Centre car park who should I bump into coming the other way but Commando out on his eighteen mile run. He stopped for a second to tell me he had about another eight miles to run. By my calculations I had about the same distance to walk. He would be home long before me for sure.
The coffee and the water were very welcome as was the quick toilet stop. Proper toilets beat bushes hands down. It didn’t take me long to get through Eastleigh. It’s a tiny little town, gown up around the railway. At the top of Market Street there is a statue to the railway workers. This was where I turned back onto Southampton Road and soon I was crossing the railway bridge on Bishopstoke Road.
When I passed the Itchen Navigation I was surprised to see the Southampton side looking quite dry. I doubt it will be like that further along. On the Bishopstoke side the river was running very fast under the road bridge but the river levels, although higher than normal, didn’t look too bad. I wondered what it was like at Albrook. Just after Christmas the bank was breached all along there and there’s been a lot of rain since then.
Further along I stopped for a moment to look at the little glass fronted building containing the turbine from Shears Mill. The Mill was demolished in 1932 but the council has recently restored the turbine housing and had this little house built. Unfortunately, the windows were steamed up from all the rain so I couldn’t see very much. Still it’s somewhere to come back and visit another day.
Along the road I spotted white doves sitting on the roof of a old cottage. It isn’t every day you see white doves, but the dove cote in the garden next to the old barn might explain what they were doing there. Then it started to rain. To be honest I was counting myself lucky it held off as long as it did. There was a quick stop to turn the multipurpose nylon tube Commando got in his goody bag at last week’s Muddy Beach Run from a scarf into a hat. My glasses were wet and steamed up so I put my head down and walked, not really looking at anything except where I was putting my feet.
The rain got worse. I did stop to peer at the Bishopstoke Golden Jubilee Clock through my wet glasses and the deluge around me. When I reached another clock, The New Clock Inn, I knew I was in Fair Oak. A few rowdy hours were spent in there in my youth, back then it was just called The Clock Inn. There was quite a temptation to go inside right then and wait out the rain. With no guarantees it would stop at all though I didn’t.
The rain didn’t let up at all. The next six miles would probably have been quite pretty had I been able to see any of it. As it was, it was mostly about one foot in front of the other, avoiding the cars on Burnetts Lane where there are no footpaths and telling myself once every ten seconds that I was homeward bound. I think I may have even burst into song once or twice. Luckily there was no one else mad enough to be out walking to hear me.
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