By the time I’d left Netley Abbey on midsummer Sunday in 2014 I was very hot and sorely tempted just to walk back home along the shore. The lure of the cool sea breeze was strong and, beside it, the prospect of the Hamble Rail Trail, away from the water and an unknown quantity, was not exactly appealing. The sun was strong and the heat oppressive. There was some bargaining with myself and the result was I carried on towards Netley and Victoria Country Park still unsure exactly what I was going to do.
21 June 2014
A little way up the hill I came to a gate that has always intrigued me. It leads into the woods and I’ve half a mind it would take be onto the West Wood trails. Then again it might not and, for all I know, it could be private land. The cool of the woods was enticing from where I stood on the baking road but I passed by telling myself I’d get to the Victoria Country Park and turn back along the shore there if I was too tired. This may also have had something to do with the ice cream shop in the village a little further along.
The thought of cooling ice cream kept me going. It lived up to its promise and more. By the time I reached the country park I felt a little better, aided by the salty breeze blowing from the water. Taking the rail trail would mean leaving that behind but, with a longing look, I did just that.
The park was fairly busy and I marched past the chapel trying to make up lost time as best I could and hoping the rail trail would be easy to find. Luckily it was. Right next to the little cafe, where I took the chance to use the facilities but bypassed the coffee, was a nice clear sign. It had arrows and everything. Maybe this wouldn’t be quite as difficult as I expected.
Up a nice packed dirt path another sign told me where to go and I found myself on a long, sun dappled trail through the trees. There was nothing remotely railway about it at this point but the signs told me I was in the right place so I strode on, stopping only to snap a picture of some oxalis flowers beside the path. Not long after this I came to a gate, all beams of sun striating the slats. The signs told me where to go though and I climbed railway sleeper steps, the first real sign this was a rail trail.
From other signs I knew I was close to the police training ground, the place I’d stumbled upon the trail originally, but nothing looked familiar. The sign on the gate post said Strawberry Trail, a path to follow on another day perhaps, but the Hamble Rail Trail was carved in the top bar of the gate so I went through. On the other side of the gate the ubiquitous blackberry flowers greeted me, along with more of those black beetles. What are they I wonder?
In case I was in any doubt a railway sleeper post told me I was 2 1/2 km from Hamble. Miles would have been more useful, I haven’t quite got my head round kilometres yet. On I went, trying to do the conversion in my head. Anyone who knows me will tell you what a pointless exercise that was, although I got as far as ‘5k is just over three miles so does that mean one and a half?’ before Hamble came into view which is pretty good for me.
The narrow trail took me out of the trees and into a sunny orchard. Oppressive heat had me sipping from my water bottle. The little trees were laden with small, unripe fruits and the long grass bright with hawkweed. Amongst all the grass and hawkweed I found white clover to get the bees excited. I suppose that could explain the excellent crop of apples.
On the other side of the orchard more sleeper signs told me I was going towards Hamble and coming from Netley but it was hardly news to me so I passed by. Now a chain link fence bounded the path and, looking through I got my first glimpse of rails. Amongst the ferns and ivy I saw a strange concrete cube. Not being a proper rail enthusiast, I’m not sure what it actually was but I’m pretty sure it was railway related. At least I was out of the sun again, walking through a tunnel of trees and underbrush through puddles of light.
For a while I walked with the tracks to my left, happy to know I was on the right track, excuse the pun. Then something very odd happened, a train went past. Yes, I know I was walking on a rail trail but the Hamble Rail Trail is supposed to be disused. It was built during World War I to carry aircraft from Manchester to a siding at the flying boat factory in Hamble. Ironically the war ended before it was ever used and the Hamble BP Oil Terminal took it over to transport crude oil from Wych Farm in Dorset. The last train ran in 1986 when a new 56 mile pipeline was completed. The train that flew past was a normal passenger one. What on earth was going on?
Feeling more than slightly puzzled I walked on. Before very long I could see a station and it looked rather too clean and tidy to be disused. There were lamp posts and a road bridge. Where in earth was I and what had happened to the rail trail? Stopping for a moment to smell a wild rose I looked down and saw more tracks half buried in the dirt of the path. Maybe I was still going the right way after all. A few more signs would have been a good idea.
When I actually reached the station I knew exactly where I was. There was a sign. It was not one I really wanted to see because it said Hamble Station. This is a real, modern day, station. What happened to the rail trail? There was nothing for it but to carry on in the hope of seeing more signs. Maybe the rail trail carried on further along, I couldn’t be too far from it could I? After all I’d only just passed old buried tracks.
It was interesting to get a rather unorthodox view under the platform at the rails and, as the trees opened out, I saw a field with horses. Nice but not a rail trail. When I saw the road ahead I knew it was Hamble Lane and I’d either left the trail somehow or it had ended rather unceremoniously. From the maps I’d found I knew the trail was supposed to be a circular route leading back to the shore and then Netley. I’d been looking forward to the shore part and maybe dipping my hot feet into the sea. Thinking there might be some kind of rail trail sign at the station itself I went onto the platform. All I learned though was the time of the next train to my village.
The plan had been for a thirteen mile walk. So far I’d walked about six, give or take the odd abbey. Should I just take this as a sign it was time to catch a train home or maybe turn back and see if I’d missed a sign somewhere? If I couldn’t find one I could always retrace my steps back to Victoria Country Park. Why do all my walks end up with me lost, undecided or both?
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