14 March 2017
With the Care For Walk hike in the New Forest at the weekend and the weather decidedly grim this morning a long walk didn’t seem like the best of plans. As it happened, I had a parcel to collect from the sorting office anyway so, bright and early, before CJ had even got out of bed, I set off for a little stroll. The most direct route is all main roads and not interesting in the slightest and I didn’t want to take the car for such a short journey so I ended up meandering along the river.
As I walked down the steps to Gigi’s cut it looked more like autumn than spring with oak leaves littering the grass, a grey sky and bare trees. It felt more like autumn too with the cold wind blowing off the water. Something orange in the undergrowth caught my eye as I passed. At first I thought it was litter and carried on walking, tutting to myself about there being a bin at the bottom of the steps.
When I saw even more orange stuff a little further on I stopped for a closer look though and it wasn’t litter at all but some kind of fungus. It looked a little like chicken of the woods but it seemed to be coming from the broken stems of the clematis vitalba rather than growing on a tree. The knobbly yellow and orange stuff was certainly strange looking and later Googling told me it is probably clematis slime flux, although I didn’t notice a foul smell which is usually associated with this bacterial disease. Maybe the wind blew the smell away or I am wrong about what it was. If it is slime flux it doesn’t look good for the poor clematis though. It’s likely it will die, which is a shame because I enjoy the flowers and seed heads when I pass by.
The illusion of autumn ended when I reached the path along the river. It was bursting with life, white blossom on the blackthorn, clumps of daffodils at the water’s edge and little celandine flowers in the undergrowth. This is what I love about spring, there are new flowers appearing everywhere all the time to brighten my walks.
Walking along this path on my own in the early morning reminded me of all my walks to work at Silver Helm. The beaten steel of the water was there behind the trees and blossom just as it had always been. Across the bay the little boats thrust their masts into the grey sky and it almost felt as if I was heading for my penthouse office with views of wonderful sunsets, grumbling entertainers and ship schedules. A huge part of me wished I was.
The tide was high but there were no swans in their usual place by the viewing platform. This was where the lone black swan used to hang out before he found a mate and had all those cygnets. Perhaps they’re all off nesting somewhere?
The river was choppier out on the open water and, with less shelter, it was windier here too. A couple of oyster catchers were sitting on the rotting remains of the old jetty along with the gulls. Behind it, near the embankment, the latest addition to the rotting hulks proliferating along this stretch of river was afloat. Once again I wondered who left it there and why?
The skeleton ship seems to be disappearing faster and faster and even the little white boat tied to it looks more dilapidated every time I pass this way. A lot of people probably see these abandoned vessels as so much rubbish dumped in the river but there’s something about watching them slowly disintegrate that makes me smile. Mother Nature and the sea seem to be reclaiming them.
Picking up my parcel didn’t take long and I was soon heading home. Rather than retrace my steps, which is something I don’t really like to do, I decided to go through the decorative metal gates into the grounds of Bitterne Manor. In the Stone Age there was a settlement on the banks of the river here and, when the Romans invaded in AD 43, they built a fortress settlement on the site. They called it Clausentum. It began with an earth wall and two ditches, then wooden huts and wharves. Eventually a stone wall encircled it and there were stone buildings, a bath house and an altar dedicated to the Celtic goddess Ancasta.
Of course, there’s nothing to see of Clausentum nowadays, unless you fancy a bit of trespassing in the grounds of the Manor House, now turned into private flats. The remains of the altar are still there somewhere but you can’t see them through the trees. There’s a little Park to walk through though. The gravel path leads to the riverbank. There aren’t too many places along here with natural shoreline you can walk along so this is a rare treat.
Even though it’s close to the road and fairly small, it’s a lovely place to walk but, being so close to home, I don’t visit as often as I should. There’s a fallen tree beside the gravel path with a stump that always reminds me of a throne with a seat made of shelf fungi. Every time I pass there seems to be less of it and I suppose it will soon have crumbled away altogether.
The river is the real draw though. Beneath the grassy bank there is a narrow shingle shore you can walk on when the tide is out. The water is salt, like the sea it dashes to meet at Weston Shore, so it feels and smells more sea than river and seaweed washes up onto the shingle. There are picnic benches and seats for those with time to sit and stare at the birds and the boats going up and down the river.
Near the edge of the park an old iron boat is rusting away in the shallows. What it once was and where it came from I’ve never been able to find out but it almost has the look of a submarine. Today it was submerged by the high tide but the turret was still peeking above the water.
From the Manor grounds I headed along the shore road towards my house. The walk took me past the house that thinks it’s a castle on the corner. Before I headed back to the Main Road I stopped for a moment to admire it. Something about living in a castle, even if it’s a short stubby one that isn’t really a castle at all, appeals to me and I’d love to see inside.
The windows, at least at the front, are small though and a train rattling past towards Bitterne Station reminded me how close it is to the railway line. It probably wouldn’t be the most peaceful place to live but the views across the river might be worth the noise.
By now I wasn’t too far from my own little house and I walked towards it enjoying the signs of spring in the front gardens I passed. Almost every one had something to make me smile, from pink cherry blossom to waving catkins. This really is the best time of year for a little city walking and even a trip to the sorting office doesn’t have to be dull.
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