Eling Tide Mill – first published 24 August 2014

At the end of August 2014, I finally got round to the Eling Tide Mill walk. Even so, the walk started off in a grump. I’d intended to have a shortish walk, maybe five miles or so, and attempt the Eling Tide Mill on Tuesday. When I looked at the weather forecast it seemed Tuesday was going to be torrential downpours though. This rather put the cat among the pigeons. Then I realised I’d forgotten to charge my phone so I had to hang around drinking coffee while it charged. Not a happy bunny.

24 August 2014

When I left the house I still hadn’t really decided what to do. The tide mill plan involved taking the bus to Totton and walking back. Yes I know it’s cheating a bit but, frankly, with so much to do at home I didn’t to want to take the time to walk through the city. Besides, I wasn’t entirely sure of the pavement situation on the bridge over the River Test. Sunday bus services are not very frequent so Tuesday made much more sense. Then again, this could very well be the last decent walking day of the summer. In the end I decided to give it a go. What was the worst that could happen?

There was a quick pit stop in the Enchanted Park to snap some lilies that have flowered since my last visit and then it was on through the city centre. Town seemed to be full of very slow walking people holding hands. Yes, I know I’m not really one to talk but they were all huge so the detours to go round them felt like long walks all on their own. I wove my way through the crowds to the bus stop grabbed a Costa coffee from WestQuay and settled down to wait. Slowly the grumpiness dissipated.

The bus journey took about a quarter of an hour and, when I got off I immediately saw a sign for the tide mill. Interestingly it also told me the trail led to Beaulieu. Maybe that’s a walk for another day. Of course I’ve spent a few weeks plotting and planning this walk. So much so the satellite map was almost imprinted in my brain. Even so, on the ground my sense of direction failed me at first and I set off in completely the wrong direction. It wasn’t too long before I realised my mistake and, with a quick check on the WalkJogRun map, I turned around and started again.

The plan was to take a footpath I’d seen following Bartley Water and coming at the mill from the south side then crossing back towards Totton. Seeing what looks like a footpath from the satellite maps and actually finding and following it on the ground aren’t always the same thing though so I wasn’t exactly confident it was going to work out. In the top right corner of the field I was pleased to see the beginning of a trail even if there were no signs to be found.

I found myself on a pleasant gravelly trail with trees on one side and marsh plants on the other. Whether this was the trail I’d seen from above remained to be seen but I followed it. The trail curved round bounded by wildflowers. Butterflies flitted about but I knew better than to try to photograph them. When the trees opened out I got my first glimpse of Bartley water. This stream flows through the New Forest from Bartley to Ealing where it becomes tidal as it flows into Southampton Water. It also drives Eling Tide Mill. Apparently there are both brown and rainbow trout living in it but I didn’t see any.

Up ahead I could see a bridge. I hoped it was the one I’d seen on the map. Beside it a bench, positioned to look out over the water, was tempting but the wooden bridge was so pretty I just had to cross it, even if it led me astray. On the middle of the bridge I stopped and tried to get my bearings. To my left I could see a boardwalk winding through grassy meadows. To the right the river meandered, a path trodden into the grass beside it and I could see a pylon in the far distance.

In the end the boardwalk won. Apart from anything I was pretty sure this was the way the river was flowing so it made sense to go the same way. The boardwalk was covered with chicken wire to aid grip in wet or icy conditions I suppose. It writhed through the grass like a snake and creaked with every step. On either side Michaelmas daisies were growing so I stepped into the grass for a photo, nervous my feet would sink in. Thankfully the ground was firm but I imagine the land can get a bit boggy in winter.

For a short stretch the boardwalk gave way to gravelly soil and the path ran through a stand of trees. I came to a gate and hoped to see a sign I was on the right track. Sadly there were none but I went through anyway. Then it was back to boardwalk, now with a wire fence to keep me from straying from the path. Here the grasses were taller and I could just make out the roof of a house in the distance. Obviously I wasn’t too far from civilisation.

When I reached a cemetery it came as something of a relief. I’d seen this from the satellite map and I knew the tide mill must be close by. Just inside the gate I stopped to take a picture of some colourful roses attached to a tree. When I came closer I realised they were artificial but they were pretty nonetheless. Disappointingly the first part of the cemetery was filled with modern graves. Personally I find old ones far more interesting. Some obviously belonged to children and were filled with windmills and toys. One had little statues of Winnie the Pooh characters covering every inch. It felt wrong to take a photo though.

I believe this is the cemetery of St Mary’s Church and it seems to cover quite a large area. Eventually, after a fair bit of wandering back and forth, I found some older graves and stopped to look at inscriptions and lichen. Most of these were hidden beneath the trees, many headstones and monuments leaning at crazy angles. It took a while to find the path out the other side and, as I did, I saw some tempting steps, overgrown with ivy, leading up to even older graves. Maybe I will come back another time and explore properly but, right then, I was more interested in finding the tide mill.

Finding the mill ended up being far easier than I expected. As I emerged from the shade of the trees onto the road it was almost right in front of me. First I saw a long, low brick building, Grove Lodge according to the name over the door, and, to the left of that, there was the causeway. Until 1940 this causeway was prone to collapse but it was discovered the sluices were to blame and, once this was put right, the structure became stable. A good look at the modern sluices didn’t really tell me much but I took a photo anyway.

The pretty harbour was filled with boats and rather more bustling with people than I’d have liked. Some yachts were moored right up against the wall of Grove Lodge which made me wonder how the owners managed to get in and out. The view was marred slightly by the stacks of containers in the background. These are part of the inevitable businesses lining this part of the test but are dwarfed by the containers of Southampton docks just across the water.

For a while I stood on the causeway snapping pictures of the harbour and, for good measure, of the quiet river on the other side where I’d so recently been walking. When I looked back at Grove Lodge I noticed an arched gateway in the high wall which explained how the boat owners got in and out. I imagine the same people who own the lodge also own the boats. What a beautiful place to live.

Eventually I turned my attention to the mill itself. Eling Tide Mill is one of two remaining working tide mills in the UK. It was mentioned in the Doomsday Book of 1066 and was originally owned by Winchester College but the mill standing on this spot is only about two hundred and thirty five years old, having been rebuilt after storm damage. The college leased the mill out and included in the tenancy was the right to collect tolls for crossing the causeway.

There is still a toll booth beside the mill today and tolls are collected but only from motor vehicles as far as I can tell. A man stood in the little wooden hut as I passed and, luckily for me, didn’t ask me for any money. The last tenant before the mill closed in 1946 was Tom Mackrell and he continued as toll collector until the late 1960’s.

In the late 1070’s the mill was restored and it reopened in 1980. When the mill is open you can go inside and have a tour. I’d have been interested in that but, from what I could see, it was closed. Apparently there are two waterwheels, one working and enclosed for safety, the other open to show visitors the workings. There’s also a little gift shop where you can buy flour ground by the mill and other souvenirs. I had a look through the window before I left.

Now it was time to make my way back home but I had a plan for that.

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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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