May 2014 and I’d reached Kiln Lane on my attempt to walk the whole Itchen Navigation from Winchester to Northam Wharf. After meeting a man on the path who told me it had been waist deep further along the trail I didn’t quite know what to do next. Should I attempt the Navigation or should I take the road along Kiln Lane? I stood for a while looking at the footpath sign and then along the road, dithering and uncertain.
As I stood there a young couple emerged from the Allbrook path. Surely, if they’d got through I could? I stopped them told them about the mud and the fallen tree ahead and asked what it was like the other way.
“It’s wet, we took our shoes and socks off, but it’s passable,” the woman said.
“What about Bishopstoke? Have you come that far? A man told me earlier it was waist deep.”
“I don’t know what he was talking about, we came from Woodmill and the worst bit was Allbrook.”
So we parted company at Brambridge Bridge, they headed off towards Otterbourne and I towards Allbrook.
The first part of the path was a little like a honeymoon period. There was a second half lock here, thought to have once retained water levels for Brambridge water mill back in the 1700’s. A little bridge crosses the site of the old hatches and there are trees, resplendent in their new green clothes, water burbling past and the sun, finally burning through the thin veil of cloud that had mostly turned the azure to pastel until now.
On the opposite bank is the farm where I saw a farmer with a gun not so long ago. There was no farmer today and the alpacas were nowhere to be seen but there were sheep in the field beyond and pigs wallowing in the mud, at least someone was enjoying it. One sheep was so weighed down with her wooly coat I felt a little sorry for her in the warm sun. My own coat was a bit of a burden but at least I had the option to take it off, although, if I did, I’d have to carry it.
The path here runs between the Itchen and the Navigation and, on the other side of the Itchen a little hut, half hidden in the trees, always intrigues me. I wonder what it’s for? At the next set of hatches surplus water runs from the navigation into the Itchen but they don’t seem man enough for the job at the moment. After this the path runs along the top of an embankment, the biggest earthwork along the whole Navigation and, at between five and six feet high, quite an engineering feat for the early eighteenth century.
Ironic then that the area with the highest banks is the area with the most breaches. Hardly had I crossed the sluice before I came to the first. Water was pouring across the path from the Navigation to the Itchen, which at this point is far lower. Thanks to my waterproof hiking boots I crossed with dry feet and no problems and I wondered if this was the place the young couple had taken off their shoes and socks. A train roared past, distracting me for a moment. Another irony is the train tracks that ultimately led to the demise of the Navigation canal running so close by. For a while after this the path was fairly dry.
The next breach was small, hardly more than a big puddle, and I stooped to snap a picture of the little minnows swimming in it. The one just after that was deeper but the boots held up to it…just. Another followed hot on its heels. So far so good though and I began to wonder what all the fuss had been about. Perhaps this wouldn’t be as bad as I thought.
The next breach was the point I discovered waterproof boots cease to be useful when the water is on the inside. It didn’t look too deep but, when I stepped across, it was and the water poured over the tops of my boots and wet the bottoms of my leggings. This was not good with another nine miles to walk and no spare socks in my bag. Why didn’t I think of that?
Another train shot by and another breach followed shortly after, even deeper than the last. By this time I was beyond caring. I waded through, surprised at how cold the water was. From then on the path was really no more than an extension of the river, water rushing down the bank like a mini waterfall. I splashed through thinking of the blisters I was likely to get later down the line. Wet feet and long walks are not a good combination.
So I splashed my way on through roaring water streaming across the path. It crossed my mind that it might be worth taking my socks off altogether if I ever got to the other side but there was nowhere to sit except the wet ground and, with wet boots, it could just make things worse. A swan watched me from the water, it looked a bit smug to me. There seemed to be no end to the water, even when I passed the farm at Highbridge, with chickens clucking right beside me, and goats bleating. I’m sure they were the same goats I saw in the trees back on a very rainy Moonwalking training walk. Back then it thought I was hallucinating, it was so much like Morocco except for the rain and I’d never seen them again until now.
They seem to be digging some kind of trench on the farm beside the path, maybe to stop flooding. I’m sure they must have suffered badly with the recent rain. The farm told me I was almost at the road and sure enough the little hut by the weir soon came into view. I was surprised to see a large crack in the wall of the bridge, big enough to fit my hand through. Perhaps the flooding has caused subsidence?
Across the road there was another test of my resolve. A sign told me the path was closed due to water damage making it unsafe. Was this an old sign or was the path still impassable? Should I take a risk and carry on or climb Allbrook Hill to Twyford Road and make my way down to Eastleigh. I could get back on the Navigation further on by Ham Farm, if I dared, but it would mean abandoning my quest to walk the Navigation from start to finish. What to do?
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