A week of surprises – first published 17 May 2014

Some weeks pass in unremarkable mediocrity, others seem to be one surprise after another. The second week of May 2014 was full of surprises. For once, it wasn’t only the weather, I found a new path in a familiar place, there were scary things afoot in Bitterne Park and there was a little brush with Google Maps fame. 

17 May 2014

Walking to work over Cobden Bridge on Tuesday morning there were black clouds behind me and blue sky in front. Looking down on the little boats moored at the water’s edge with one eye closed against the black clouds behind, it looked quite bright. The big houseboat by the shipyard was positively glorious with tubs of bright flowers on the prow. Not for the first time I wondered what it would be like to live on the water.

The road leading to Horseshoe Bridge follows the river with tantalising glimpses of water every so often. There are even a few places you can walk down to the water’s edge and stroll along for a few yards but those walks are short, ending where the gardens of some houses run right to the water. It has always seemed a shame to me that a little footpath wasn’t left. Perhaps if one of those gardens was mine I’d feel differently but it would be nice to be able to follow the barge man’s path all the way to the wharf here.

On the corner of the road just before Horseshoe Bridge there’s a big apartment block, built at the turn of the century, all bright new brick and shiny metal. Around it blue railings and a huge gate with a lock. There’s even a sign saying it’s private property just in case the railings, gate and lock don’t give you a clue. There’s a path leading down to the water’s edge right before you reach it and I’ve often looked along there longingly. On Tuesday morning I saw someone emerging from a gate in the blue railings there. Being both curious and early I decided to investigate.

What a surprise, the gate was open, no locks, no signs, and beyond was a path behind the railings of the apartments. Of course I took it gaining yet another perspective on the river. Looking back towards the Triangle at the stormy skies I wondered if I’d be able to get out at the other end. Round the corner a swan was basking in almost sun and I looked enviously at the apartment balconies. Further still I was getting a different view of the Boardwalk and the morning train bound for town. When I came to the end there were steps and, thankfully, another open gate. So I have another footpath to add to my walking repertoire.

Another nice surprise came on the way home by way of a bright patch of wild mustard growing on the wasteland behind the bridge. Some people would call them weeds but there’s something about wild flowers that always makes me smile.

On Wednesday morning I tried the path again, this time with sun. The path down to the river is actually a slipway and I stood for a moment looking back at the tangle of gardens and jetties, sheds, washing lines and boats all clumped together behind the houses. Below the apartments the sun sparkled on the water where swish looking boats were moored. I’m thinking those apartments cost a pretty penny. The swan was in the same place but he was still snoozing when I walked by.

A non weather related surprise came later in the day. Reports came in of a bomb scare in the city. Before long we knew something serious was going on down by the river near Riverside but no one was quite sure what. Speculation abounded and the most likely theory was an unexploded World War II bomb. It wouldn’t be the first. Whatever it was the road behind Riverside Park from the Triangle to Woodmill Lane was closed and buses were diverted.

On the way home all seemed as quiet as ever at the Triangle, if anything quieter with a decided lack of traffic. Rather than turn straight for the Main Road I took a detour along Monks Path for a change and was rewarded with the scent of wisteria and a wall tumbling with pale purple flowers each a miniature work of art. There were mallow flowers hiding here too, petals like butterfly wings, shimmering in the evening sun. It’s nice to have so many different choices of route for my walk to and from work and this often throws up unexpected gifts.

At home I found out more about the bomb scare from my friend Jill, who lives along there, and the Echo. This was the most surprising news of all. It turns out this was no military shell that had lain hidden for seventy years. Unbelievably, the sleepy little suburb of Bitterne Park, behind my beloved Riverside, had been the scene of a real drama. Not long after I’d passed on my way to work a suspicious device was found. The whole area was cordoned off all day and Naval Bomb Disposal units were called in with a remote control robot. There was a controlled explosion followed by a siege in a nearby street where a man and woman were arrested.

Apparently the man is a well know local odd ball. What his agenda was is anyone’s guess. The strangest thing of all is that this is not the first bomb to be found in Bitterne Park. Back in December a similar thing happened at the bakers shop at The Triangle although with less furore. All in the space of a few months this sleepy area has had two bombs and two different men arrested. Is there something in the water there I wonder?

Thursday’s surprise was of a technical nature. There I was strolling along in my own little world on the way to the boardwalk when what should come round the corner from the industrial estate but the Google Street Map car! Of course my first thought was to wonder if I’d end up on the next version of Street View? Fame at last but I can’t help wishing it hadn’t been when I was wandering along looking gormless with a dress that clashed with my hi vis jacket, no makeup and my hair sticking up all over the show. Still, I’m told they blur peoples faces so I’m going to deny it’s me if anyone asks.

After all the excitement of being captured for prosperity, the calm of the river was welcome. It wasn’t calm for long though as my dog walking friend was on the board walk. His dog seems to have taken a real shine to me and he came dashing towards me at a rate of knots wagging his little tail and running rings around me. What a pity Google Street View doesn’t go along all these little footpaths and walkways, they’d meet some really interesting characters if they did. Maybe I should offer my services, they could strap a camera to my head and pay me to walk all the footpaths in Britain. Now wouldn’t that be a fabulous job?

On the way home I took yet another detour to walk past the library I spent many happy childhood hours choosing books in. They have a lovely little garden at the front and I snapped a few pictures of irises, lavender, foxgloves and Convolvulus Cneorum or bush morning glory. The flowers were not the main reason for going past the library though, I wanted to share a quirky bronze sculpture with you. The figure of a lady putting a book back on an invisible shelf in the brick wall appeared in 1991 and is modelled on long time library patron Dorothy Winteridge. Now that seems much better than being captured on the way to work by the Google camera to me.

Friday’s surprises were all vegetative. Overnight the campanula have appeared in my front garden, although it could be that I haven’t been paying attention. It seems the slugs have though because they have been eating them already. On the corner by the main road I noticed red keys on the maple, or is that a sycamore I can never tell? Until a few weeks ago I’d never seen red keys on a tree and now they seem to be everywhere. The central flowers have opened on the guelder rose I noticed last week, hopefully we will have some bright berries later.

Today was the last day in my working week and as I walked down the steps towards the water it was no surprise to see the rowers already out on the water. They’re a dedicated bunch for sure. Along the river path beside the demolished TV studio I stopped to take a picture of the white beam flowers and stumbled across my next surprise and answered a question at the same time. The wire fence along there is constantly being broken down and repaired and I’ve often wondered why anyone would want to get inside, just beyond the white beam I saw the reason. Someone has set up camp there using an assortment of dumped rubbish. They even have a little open air kitchen of sorts. I wonder if it’s any of the odd characters I see along there?

The final surprise of the week was a cheery hello from Dennis The Menace as he passed me on the path walking Gnasher, his dog.

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Writer, walker, coffee drinker, chocolate eater, lover of nature, history and the little things that make me smile

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