In early March 2014, Commando went off on a twenty mile Sunday morning run, the penultimate long training run before his marathon. It seemed the ideal opportunity for me to go out on another nice long walk. After lots of poring over maps I decided on a route that would take in the Itchen Valley Country Park. The park runs beside the Itchen and touches on the edges of the Navigation. There are trails through woodland, pasture and water meadows. There is also a visitor centre with a coffee shop, what more could I want?
9 March 2014
Although it’s only about three miles from my home, the Itchen Valley Country Park isn’t somewhere I’ve been very often. In fact the last time I went it was with my Mother In Law when the boys were little. I seem to remember we took a picnic. Since then it’s been spruced up and modernised with an activity centre called Go Ape amongst other things. I’d worked out a nice route avoiding as many roads as possible and taking in another untried footpath. It was even sunny, what could possibly go wrong?
Me getting lost was what went wrong. The footpath was exactly where I thought it would be, it even led me out where I expected it to. At the end of the path I turned left when I should have turned right. My only excuse, I was working from memory (never a good thing with a memory as bad as mine) and I was distracted by my first ladybird of the year and a brimstone butterfly that wouldn’t stay still to have it’s picture taken. By the time I’d realised my mistake I was closer to River Walk than the path I should have taken. I’d added just over a mile to my walk but what was done was done.
Sometimes things going wrong turn out to be a good thing. Today was one of those days. As I started off along River Walk I came across a lady walking a little dog. She looked to be in her sixties, maybe older, with a shock of unruly white hair. She was very chatty and, as we walked, she told me how she keeps a diary of her walks and a log of the weather. We talked about all the fallen trees. I said I was surprised no one had taken the wood for their fires.
“Ah but it’s the wrong sort of wood,” she said. “Too much resin, it builds up creosote deposits in the chimney and can cause a chimney fire. Now if they were birch instead of pines I’d have had some for my wood burner.”
You learn something new every day. Although I like to walk alone. It was lovely to have a walking companion for a while. Twice I’ve walked this path and twice I’ve met interesting people. Maybe there’s some kind of magic going on there?
Before too long I’d reached the Itchen Valley Country Park. The visitor centre, High Wood Barn, is built in the style of a seventeenth century barn, using timber recovered from the great storm of 1987. I could have gone inside and got a coffee but there were so many people around I decided against it. Instead I found an empty picnic table in an out of the way area and sat for a moment to look at my map and have a few sips of my chocolate milk.
There are lots of different trails to choose from but the one I was really interested in was the Meadow Nature Walk. This is the trail that runs alongside the Navigation, I’ve often seen people walking it as I made my way towards Chickenhall Lane. Wetness was going to be a problem and I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be able to walk it but I wanted to have a look anyway.
Even before I got to the little bridge mud was a problem but I carried on and was rewarded with a lovely view down the Itchen, complete with a swan. Once I’d crossed the bridge things started to get muddy. Really muddy. Even choosing the highest bits of ground and avoiding the massive puddles I was squelching my way through tons of it. Some of the puddles were more like lakes. I did make it to the other side and I could see the navigation and the path behind the trees where I have walked so many times. At least I think that was what I was looking at. Then things got so muddy I had to turn back.
Another quick look at the map and I found the start of the Woodland Nature Trail. It was nice walking through the tall pines. It would have been even nicer if there weren’t quite so many other people doing it too. I suppose on the first sunny, warm Sunday of the year I should have expected it. Some of the older trees had wonderfully contorted roots and I had my eyes open all the time for fungi. Then I came to a fallen tree, shortly followed by a clearing with many more. Hampshire trees have been badly hit this winter. The National Trust say hundreds of ancient trees, some over three hundred years old, have fallen. It will take lifetimes for the forests and woodland to recover.
The trail led me to a large field with a play area on the other side swarming with children. Catkins were dangling from the branches I passed, hazel I think. The trail then led me across the bridle way, lined with primrose. On the other side I found myself on the Honeysuckle Trail, so called because the branches are twined with honeysuckle. This is somewhere I have to return to when it’s in flower. Imagine the smell!
Feeling in need of a boost I found a bench and sat for a while to drink the rest of my chocolate milk. The dappled sun coming through the pines and the blue sky through the canopy filled me with a sense of well being. It helped that the Honeysuckle Trail seemed to be fairly unpopular and, therefore, quiet. Refreshed I carried on along the trail.
When I came back to the bridle way I knew my walk was coming to an end, at least this part of it. Itchen Valley Country Park had one more gift to offer me, before I finally left though. All morning I’d been looking for fungi and seen none. As I turned onto the path out of the park I spotted some, velvet shank I think, crowded around the edges of a moss covered stump. The moss itself was pretty interesting, I think it’s cypress-leaved feather moss Thuidium tamariscinum, it certainly looked like the leaves of a cypress tree to me anyway.
I thought I’d walk back along the river and see if the White Swan was still flooded. At the bottom of Gaters Hill the river looked almost at its normal level so I decided to cross the road. If the pub was open I thought I’d go inside, get a diet coke and maybe have a chat with the bar staff. There were people peering through the windows as I approached. When I got there myself I followed suit. It was not a happy sight. There is a great deal of water damage and still some puddles by the door to the garden.
Outside a skip was piled high with pub furniture. Needless to say I didn’t get my drink. As I walked back towards the bridge I looked back at the pub one last time. The water does look to have receded but I think it will be a while before it reopens, if it does.
After that it was back along the familiar river route and there were signs that things are getting back to normal. There was no paddling to get along the path to Mansbridge. The water levels on the river have dropped enough for water to be tumbling over the little weir rather than running straight across it. The sluices are open again at Woodmill, although the river is still running through faster than normal. On the bend by the reed beds there are even mudflats once again.
By the time I reached Cobden Bridge I was feeling unaccountably tired. Yes, I’d walked a little further than intended due to my silly mistake at the beginning of my walk and quite a bit of meandering at Itchen Valley Country Park, but it was hardly what I’d normally call a long walk. Maybe it was the sunshine and extra heat when I’ve become used to chilly rain. A garden wall bursting with purple and white anemones cheered me up on the last mile though.
Commando had just got back from his twenty miles when I walked through the door. Quite how he ran twenty miles when I struggled to walk nine and a half is beyond me although he did say the unaccustomed warmth made things a little harder. Still, I have a feeling Manchester in early April won’t pose that kind of problem. When I told him the White Swan was still closed he was disappointed. He’d planned to take me there for lunch. In the end we went out for dinner instead. We chose one of our favourite haunts, The Old Waterfront at Shamrock Quay. If you live near Southampton it is well worth a visit. Better still, Bernie, the landlord was in so we got some good conversation along with our meal. A perfect end to a perfect day.
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