The beginning of May 2014 and I had reached the Bridge pub at Shawford, near Victor’s Bridge, where grumpy sit com character Victor Meldrew met his end. Part of me wanted to stop for something to eat but there were masses of people milling about outside and I knew it would probably take ages to get served, never mind that I wasn’t really sure what food would be available. In the end I decided to give it a miss and carry on to the rustic bench at Otterbourne. In hindsight this may not have been one of my better decisions.
3 May 2014
Back on the footpath on the other side of Shawford Road the path is lined on one side by lovely little cottages. Several were sporting for sale or sold signs and I wondered if this had anything to do with the recent floods. It must be wonderful to live with the river running outside your front door but not so much when it gets higher every second.
This short path is one of my favourite stretches, especially the cottage with the gypsy caravan in the garden. It always intrigues me, where did it come from, what do they use it for? Whatever the answers to those questions it makes a beautiful and very unusual garden ornament.
At the end of the lane things get confusing. On more than one occasion I’ve taken a wrong turn and ended up having to back track and this is mainly down to conflicting signs. There are three trails, the Navigation, one running beside the railway track then back to the Navigation after a while, or on to a farm and, finally, one heading under a railway arch to another footpath I mean to explore one of these days. There are two footpath signs pointing in opposite directions, neither of which is the actual Navigation trail and another sign right next to the Navigation trail saying ‘Private land and drive.’ Confused? You bet I was.
Luckily, having made a mistake here before I knew which paths led to the Navigation. In the past I’ve always taken the middle path, along the railway line and back onto the Navigation behind the farm buildings. This is mainly because Peter, the smiley man I met on my first attempt at this section, told me the real Navigation path was difficult along there. This time, as I wanted to walk all of the Navigation as far as it still exists, I chose the difficult path, the one right next to the sign saying ‘Private land and drive.’ You literally have to walk past it and go through the gate and I have a feeling the farmer is doing his best to stop people walking there even though it is a public right of way. Let’s just say it was muddy and leave it at that…
Still, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be and I didn’t even fall over. At the other end, wondering what all the fuss was about, I emerged next to the second railway arch. Intriguingly, the gate to the next section has two child’s Wellington boots attached to it by chains. Any ideas on what that is all about gratefully received.
Through the gate the trail runs right behind the farm buildings. There is a cockerel on the farm and, every time I’ve passed, he seems to be crowing, this was no exception. He always sounds like he has a cold to me, it’s rather a croaky crow and I wish the farmer would give him some throat sweets. It isn’t the nicest, or most interesting path and it was slightly muddy but there were some nice trees and a few horses shading themselves under them so I wasn’t complaining.
Once I’d turned and passed through the gate half hidden by a spreading chestnut tree I knew I wasn’t far from Otterbourne and my lunch stop at the rustic bench. Once upon a time Malms House, owned by Winchester solicitor Alfred Bowker, overlooked the trail along here. Sadly, it has been demolished and replaced by a large apartment block. I passed this and, in contrast, a ramshackle old shed of some kind.
Once I saw the first huge electricity pylon I knew lunch was not far off. The fact it started to get rather muddy was also a clue. The Otterbourne stretch was where I almost lost my hiking boot in the mud last time I came this way. Soon I was crossing the bridge over the tail of College Mead lock. With a quick look at the little waterfall that is all that remains of the cill of the lock and another downstream towards Otterbourne water works I crossed.
Any thoughts I had of a nice peaceful lunch sitting on one of the rustic benches were dashed half way over the bridge. A group of people and some dogs had got there before me and they looked fairly settled. There was just room for me to squeeze in on the end of one bench beside all their bags and flasks. While I ate my snack and drank my chocolate milk they talked loudly about benefit scroungers and how they should all be made to sweep streets, clean rivers and such. I bit my tongue. After all it wasn’t so very long ago I was claiming benefits myself and it’s easy to judge from a safe distance with the comfort of a job or pension. Instead I took some photos of the bridge come lock tail and the mud around the bench.
I knew there’d be mud here but it was worse than I expected. The edges of the bank have eroded, probably a combination of the high water and rain plus dogs going for a swim here. I picked my way round the worst of it and squelched through what I couldn’t avoid. By the waterworks there’s a small weir where an intake pipe runs and, further down, a bridge disguising another pipe bringing water from bore holes on the other side of the Navigation. Mostly I was trying not to lose a hiking shoe in the mud or slip over.
After a while the mud seemed to get a little better, although I did have to stoop get get past a tree half fallen across the path. Finally I could relax again and enjoy the waterside plants, the views of the fields of Twyford Moor across the water and the blue sky above. A pair of cyclists came past and said good afternoon. I warned them about the mud and the tree ahead. They thanked me and we all went on our way.
Of course it was too good to last. A few minutes later I came to a wall of leaves and branches. Puzzled, I stopped in my tracks confused for a moment. I couldn’t see a way through but I didn’t want to turn back. In the end I shoved my way through the branches, clambering over the thicker ones until I reached the trunks of several largish trees. Somehow I managed to climb over them one by one, finally, dropping down onto a very muddy, twig strewn path on the other side. For a while I stood, catching my breath and wondering if this was a bad mistake. What if there were more trees down further along and I was stuck between them? How had the cyclists got themselves and their bikes over this? More to the point why didn’t they warn me?
Just after I’d passed Downs Bridge I met a lone walker coming the other way.
“There’s a tree down a little way ahead and lots of mud towards Otterbourne,” I told him, “but I managed to get through.”
“Thanks,” he replied. “I’ve come from Southampton and I’m heading for the pub at Shawford, do you think I’ll be able to get through?”
“Once you get past Otterbourne it isn’t too bad,” I said. “What was Allbrook like and are the trees still down near Withymead?”
“Allbrook was bad,” he shook his head sadly, “and I had to come off at Chickenhall Lane it was waist deep.”
This was not what I wanted to hear at all. The other week, when I left the Navigation at Chickenhall, it hadn’t looked too bad and I wondered what had happened since.
The path was much drier as I passed the hatches near Brambridge Lock and I took some photos of the workings but my mind was on the walk ahead. My waterproof hiking boots wouldn’t help me much with waist deep water and it looked like I was going to have to abandon my attempt on the whole Navigation. Disappointed didn’t even cover it.
On past the fish weir my mind was going round in circles. Allbrook, where the banks had been badly breached in January, was right ahead, it sounded as if Withymead and the stretch from Bishopstoke to Chickenhall were going to be out of the question. The thought of a long detour down Twyford Road to Eastleigh didn’t appeal at all.
There wasn’t much time to dwell though because the mud was back with a vengeance. The final part of the path was tough going, mud and a small breach with water to splash through, as I came to the little boardwalk leading to Kiln Lane.
Out in the road I pondered what to do next. If Bishopstoke was waist deep in water what would Allbrook be like? At the beginning I’d thought this next stretch would be the big challenge but, after talking to the lone walker I didn’t know what to think. I was in half a mind to cut my losses and bail at Kiln Lane, make my way to Highbridge Road and go back through Eastleigh. At least it would be dry and there would be coffee at the swan centre…
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