Easy as a walk in the park – first published 9 June 2014

June 2014, I’d seen the roadworks on the Itchen Bridge and along Platform Road, walked along the old walls and looked at the place the castle had once stood. Fortified by coffee I strolled along Portland Terrace in the sun with my latte in my hand feeling rather excited. The next part of my hastily cobbled plan was a walk through the parks. How I’d missed my lunchtime park walks and the chance to see the seasons change, especially in the Enchanted Park.

9 June 2014

As it turned out the Enchanted Park was slightly disappointing. Most of the flowers I’d hoped to see were either finished or yet to come. There were waxy looking red flowers on a shrub I can’t put a name to and the first hydrangeas but the alliums I’d expected were just big balls going to seed and the rhododendrons brown paper petals.

Across the road I moved on through East Park, dodging some cyclists who wanted all the path. Here I found what I was looking for. Dappled light as I walked through the wisteria arch made up for the lack of flowers, and the roses were blooming, blowsy and full of themselves, but the scent…

A while ago I mentioned how I missed the little flower beds on either side of the wisteria arch. Walking to Dream Factory I enjoyed watching the planting change and new flowers blooming. These days they’re gone but there is a wide bed along the brick wall behind it. At the moment it’s a riot of colour and texture, buzzing with bees. Of course I left the arch to have a closer look and I found some very imaginative planting by our wonderful park keepers. Tall artichoke flowers and lupins swaying above delicate astranthia and clumps of hosta just about to flower. The bees seemed to love the astranthia so I think I may need to plant some next year because you can never have too many bees in your garden. A little ladybird was sunning herself on a leaf as I strolled by, another thing you can’t have too many of in a garden.

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Further on acanthus flowers not quite out yet, reminded me of the ones Sirona and I saw on our Itchen Navigation walk last year. When I reached the cenotaph I stopped for a moment, thinking of the D-Day soldiers. In a thoughtful mood I carried on to the tinking water of the alpine garden.

Splashes of colour came from bright pink and white daisies spilling over the edges of the rocks. St John’s wort made a starry statement picking up the yellow of the daisy centres and carrying it along the path. When a dragonfly flew past I cursed myself for not having my phone at the ready but he settled on a leaf at my feet and sat patiently while I snapped away. What a gift!

When I passed the fountain I knew my time in the parks was almost over but there was one more surprise in store for me. Just before I made for the road I spotted a dog rose. A shiny hoverfly was having a rest on one of the flowers. The insects seem to be on my side for once and he stayed long enough to have his photo taken.

Considering the total lack of planning my walk was turning out to be better than expected. Now I had to decide on where to go next and I had a pretty good idea. I thought I’d make my way up to the Common, going from one oasis of green to another. First I had to pass the ugly Mad House building which churned up a few horrible memories and a little tingle of apprehension in my stomach. Still, at least I didn’t have to go inside.

After that it was up The Avenue, a pleasant, leafy walk despite being one of the main routes in and out of the city. Some kind of event was going on at St Edmund’s Church which meant my photos were limited to the lovely rose window because I didn’t feel comfortable taking pictures of the people outside. The church may not be as old as the medieval walls, dating from the 1880’s but it was built in 14th century gothic style and the window is one of the largest and most beautiful I’ve seen. It would be nice to see it from the inside with the light shining through the stained glass.

On Asylum Green, the strip of grass between the two sides of the Avenue, I stopped to admire the Haysom monument, presented to the town by J.D. Haysom, a stonemason of Garret and Haysom, monumental masons of East Street who made many of the gravestones and memorials in the city in the twentieth century. It once stood a little further south but was moved when the road was widened in the late 1960’s. With a little more time I would have crossed the road for a closer look. Maybe another day.

When the spire of St Andrew’s United Reformed Church came into view I knew I was almost at The Common. The church has quite an interesting history, having undergone several reincarnations since the original Above Bar Congregational Church was built in 1662. By 1772 the original building was bursting at the seams so a new, larger one was constructed on the site. By 1819 the whole process had to be repeated as even the new church was too small for the large congregation. When the building was destroyed by bombs during the terrible air raid of 30 November 1940 many people started to use St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church down the road in Brunswick Place. In the 1980’s both churches were combined in the restored Above Bar Church building. Hopefully that will be the last change.

There was a little meandering across The Common but everywhere I turned there were people, cyclists, runners, families having picnics, playing ball games. Even the Hawthorns Cafe was chockablock, not that I could really have justified another coffee anyway. I took a couple of photos of the magical gates, all wrought iron leaves, buds and flowers and decided to abandon the common. I like my walks a little more peaceful.

As I made my way back towards the road I stumbled upon a tree that had my imagination running wild. Ok, I confess, I’d nipped into the bushes to answer a call of nature and got frightened out of my wits when a stray dog caught me in the act. The tree though, was worth the fright. It looked for all the world as if a leprechaun or a fairy was living there behind a hidden wooden door. If one had popped out right then I’d have been less surprised than I’d been by the dog.

Out on the road again I kept walking along tree lined pavements, away from the city. When I passed the milestone telling me I was 73 miles from London, 2 miles from Southampton and 10 miles from Winton, I wondered, as I always do, where on earth Winton actually was. These are the things that go on in my head when I’m walking, musings on the things I see around me, imaginings, questions. This particular question is one I’ve pondered many times and this time I thought I’d actually try to find out. As it turns out, it was more or less as I thought, Winton is an archaic name for Winchester. Of course, this leads me to another question, just how old is that milestone?

By this time I’d completely lost track of my mileage, there had been so many little detours and changes of plan. When I reached Highfield Avuene I figured I’d start to make my way home. On I went, past the charming Highfield sign then past the church that features on said sign. Highfield church was built in 1846 and has a fairly sedate history when compared to others in Southampton. It survived the blitz, although church members kept watch with stirrup pumps at the ready and the windows were covered with a rubber solution to protect them.

Before long I’d reached Portswood and, in no time at all, I was crossing Cobden Bridge with just a mile to go. I was pretty confident I’d covered the ten miles I’d pledged right up to the moment I plotted it out on WalkJogRun whilst sipping my post walk coffee. That was when I discovered I’d actually only walked eight and a half. I could have just called it a day, after all who would know the difference? I didn’t though. I finished the coffee and went back out and walked down to Commando Senior’s and back making about ten and a half miles in total. The lesson in all this is I really need to plan properly before the next walk.

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Marie

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

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