9 March 2017
When we left the wilds of Testwood Lakes it was a bit of a culture shock to find ourselves in an industrial estate. Of course, I knew Calmore Industrial Estate was there but, after more than an hour of walking along rural lanes and tracks, to be thrust into the world of huge concrete and metal sheds and warehouses took some getting used to. Despite the map on my phone I lost my bearings a little and, for a moment, didn’t know which way to walk. At least there were pavements here, once I’d worked out which way to go, we were soon on the move again.
Calmore Industrial Estate was built on farmland reclaimed from the same gravel pits as Testwood Lakes. The first industry moved in in 1965 and it has since grown into a sprawl of low units occupied by a variety of businesses providing much needed employment to the edge of the New Forest. The hustle and bustle of lorries and cars coming and going was quite a contrast to the peace and quiet of the lakes hiding behind a screen of trees to our left as we made our way towards Totton.
It was a relief when we finally reached the end of Brunel Road, at least until I saw the sign on the closed gate ahead. We’d reached Nutsey Lake, owned by the Test Valley Angling Club, and the sign was very emphatic about members of the public staying out. The map told me there was a trail here, in fact several trails, but I couldn’t see any way into them without going through the gate. For a moment it looked as if we might have to turn back or find another route into Totton.
Our rescue came in the form of some dog walkers. While I was staring dejectedly at the gate trying to decide what to do a man and lady with two small dogs walked past us and disappeared into the trees. There was a trail. Where it led and wether it was the trail I’d plotted was a mystery but we followed anyway. Wherever it took us it had to be better than walking through the industrial estate.
The little dogs were very interested in CJ, who must give off some kind of animal loving pheromones. They ran in circles round us, almost tripping us as we tired to follow a very narrow and indistinct trail through the trees. When we stopped because the trail split in two and we didn’t know which path to choose they began jumping up at him, much to their owners embarrassment.
“I’m so sorry,” the lady said, “they’re rescue dogs and they’re a little excitable.”
“Perhaps they’ll rescue us when we get lost then,” I laughed.
“Where are you heading?”
“Totton, sort of. Actually we are trying to get to the causeway back to Redbridge and Millbrook.”
“That’s a long way.”
“I know. We came from Millbrook this morning and we’ve walked all the way through Nursling and across Testwood Lakes, now we’re on our way back. It’ll be about seven or eight miles when we finish, if we don’t get too lost that is.”
“Well, if you head this way across the fields,” she pointed to the trail on our left, “go through the gate in the far corner and turn right into the lane you’ll come out by the Salmon Leap Pub. If you want to walk along the river though, turn left and it will bring you round to the same place.”
With profuse thanks we left the lady and the dogs and headed across the field. I was thankful to see we seemed to be following the blue line on my map, more or less so we must be going the right way. Just as the lady had said there was a gate on the far side next to some allotments and, in the other side, was a lane.
As far as I can see this is a lane with no name but I now know it goes in a large circle from the Salmon Leap to Testwood Mill. If we’d turned left we would have passed through the mill and could have taken the Boardwalk back across the estuary to Test Lane. We’d had enough mud to be going on with though so, tempting as it was, we turned right. It was a short but peasant walk, if a little puddly in places, and soon enough we emerged right next to the Salmon Leap Pub.
The pub is a relatively modern building, named for the real salmon leap near the mill. It’s long, low and not particularly attractive apart from the large glass sign in the centre with salmon leaping from stained glass water. CJ stopped to take a photo, but I was eager to get going. By now we were both in need of a drink but not of the alcoholic kind.
This was not quite where I’d planned for us to be though. The route I’d plotted out at home left the lane with no name close to the allotments and took us around the edge of the marsh. It would have been a pretty walk and probably not too muddy. Somehow we’d missed the turn though and, although I thought we might be able to get onto the marsh through one or more of the side roads, I wasn’t sure. By now our energy reserves were low, we were hungry and thirsty, detours that might mean turning back or could add needless distance. In the end we chose the shortest, easiest route along Testwood Lane. It might not have been as pretty or as interesting but at least it wouldn’t be muddy. We even saw a little bit of wildlife as we walked beside all the houses. A very hairy caterpillar crawled across the pavement right in front of us and we stopped to watch him safely reach the grass verge.
We turned off when we reached the police station at the end of Testwood Lane.
“It seems like a really big police station for a quiet little place like a Totton,” I said. “I don’t imagine they have enough crime to warrant such a huge building.”
“Maybe they just have really big policemen, so they need a big building to fit them in,” CJ laughed.
It was something of a relief when we came to St Theresa’s Church on the corner of Commercial Road. It’s a pretty little church in white stucco with a terracotta roof reminiscent of Italy, France, or Malta but maybe a little out of place on the edge of the New Forest where old stonework is more usual. It was built in 1925 by architect Wilfred C Mangan and enlarged in the late 1950’s. It’s main claim to fame is that it was the first church in the country to be dedicated to St Theresa of Lisieux who was canonised in 1925, the year the church was built. Lovely as the little church was, our relief was more about reaching Commercial Road and having less than a mile left to walk than seeing it.
When we reached the wonderfully delapidated Totton Tyre Centre building that was, I’m sure, once a pub, we were almost at the causeway. This was where we’d have emerged if we’d walked across the marshes so I could not follow the blue line on my map again. Of course, now I didn’t need to. From this point on there was zero chance of getting lost.
As we walked up to the causeway there were signs of spring all around, buds waiting to burst on the trees at the edge of the marsh, gorse smothered in bright yellow flowers, furry catkins clinging to branches and a general feeling of things starting to burst into life.
Soon we could see the towers of Redbridge ahead and the cranes of Southampton Docks thrusting into the air. Tower blocks and dockside cranes may not seem like a pretty sight to most people but, to me, they are. All my life I’ve lived in this city and, whenever I’ve been away the towers and the cranes are my welcome home. Today a pink bike was propped against the fence as we came to the causeway, its poor wheels buckled and bent.
“It’s probably fallen off a roof rack and been run over,” CJ said.
“I hope so because, if someone was on it when it ended up like that, I should t think they walked away.”
So we hurried across the causeway thinking about buying drinks and food in the shops when we got to Millbrook. Old Redbridge was below us, along with the boundary stone we came to look at last July. The puddles at the foot of the bridge were huge today and I was glad we wouldn’t be heading that way.
We stood for a few moments looking across the marshes where the pylons march. An hour or two ago we were standing on the other side looking the opposite way. It didn’t seem very far but my feet told a different tale.
A man was walking across the bridge below with a fancy pants camera and a very long lens, looking out across the marshes. No doubt he was bird watching. There are lots of birds to be seen here.
He almost kept in step with us as we marched across the causeway but we overtook him before he got to the old bridge. Now we’d passed the boundary stone and were back in Southampton. Our adventures were behind us but a nice cool drink of chocolate milk was ahead.
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