Testing the Test Boardwalk – first published 24 August 2014

After my 2014 visit to Eling Tide Mill I headed for the Boardwalk across the River Test. In truth I didn’t really know where I was going. When I saw the sign for the long distance Test Way walk I double checked on WalkJogRun just be be really sure I went the right way. Much as I’d like to try the forty four mile walk one day when I have time on my hands and I’m feeling strong it wasn’t something I wanted to tackle on a Sunday afternoon when I had loads to do at home. Once I left the sign, the bridge and the River Test behind me it wasn’t long before I came to the Test Boardwalk.

24 August 2014

From the satellite map I’d seen the Test Boardwalk quite clearly and it looked like it crossed the marshy land beside the river and would take me all the way back to Southampton. Of course it would have been quicker just to walk over the bridge to Redbridge but that would mean walking beside a busy road and I wasn’t sure about the footpath situation. Besides I wanted to check it out. Straight away I could see I wasn’t going to be walking alone, a young couple were a little way ahead of me with a small dog who kept dashing off into the grass. Not wanting to catch up I slowed my steps and looked at the views.

Before too long the couple and their dog had disappeared into the distance. Sadly the pylons and power lines hadn’t but I did my best to ignore them. The vegetation beside the path was mostly grass and sedges but I did stop to take a photo of a thistle seed head, the whorl pattern appealed to me. A ladybird was crawling on another seed head so I took a photo of that too for good measure.

The boardwalk twisted and turned and for a while I seemed to be following a long line of pylons. They stretched off into the distance like strange sculptures. Not long after this I spotted the dog walkers again, and at the same time sturdy boards gave way to large stepping stones. They weren’t hard to cross but I did have to watch my feet. Thankfully it was only a short while before I had boards under my feet again and I could look around.

Now there were taller sedges and a few tree skeletons beside the trail and soon I came to a small stream and a bridge. A mass of loosestrife made a bright splash of colour in an otherwise green landscape. The dog walkers passed me going the other way. The bridge must have been their turning point. I carried on across wondering if they’d turned back for a reason, maybe the path didn’t go as far as I thought.

On the other side of the bridge it was back to swaying grass again and there were cows in the distance grazing. One looked up at me but, thankfully, they stayed where they were. Maybe this was why the dog walkers had turned back. Behind the cows I could see the cranes of Southampton docks. I was getting closer to home.

The boardwalk came to an end soon after this and turning sharply right I came to a gravelly path with trees and shrubby growth blocking the view of the docks. There were wildflowers here too, orange balsam, willowherb and even a tiny clump of forget me nots half hidden in the grass. After the open expanse of grass they were a welcome diversion.

After a while I came to another bridge over a wider stream. A red admiral butterfly was flitting about on the milkweed and I stopped for a while trying to get a picture. For once I managed to get one decent shot and, looking closely at it, I’m guessing it was an old one by the tattered wings. Maybe that’s why it was slow enough for my camera.

It wasn’t long after this that I came to my final obstacle and the one I’d been dreading all along. This was the point where I found out if I would actually be able to get across the railway line onto Test Road. If I could I’d be back in Southampton, if not I was going to have to turn back and take the road bridge. From the satellite it looked like there was some kind of crossing, maybe a tunnel or a bridge. Either would have been better than the level crossing I found in front of me. I didn’t really need the warning sign to tell me how dangerous it was.

Level crossings always worry me. Even when the gates are open I’m half afraid a train will come. This level crossing didn’t have traffic lights or any kind of warning that a train might be on the way. The sign said stop, look and listen for trains and that was it. Gingerly I opened the gate and stood at the side of the track. I looked one way and then the other. I listened for the singing of the rail that would tell me a train was on the track nearby. Then I ran like hell for the other side with my eyes half shut.

Scarily, I hadn’t gone far along Test Lane, maybe a minute or two. When not one, but two trains came past. That was certainly food for thought. The level crossing won’t put me off doing this walk again but, when I do, I might be tempted to walk along the railway track for another third of a mile as the crossing there looks very much like a tunnel to me. Of course this will take me even further away from home but I think I’m willing to live with that.

So now I was back on home territory. There were the familiar landmarks, the Redbridge flyover, the Holy Trinity Church at Millbrook and the cranes of the docks. Much as I’d enjoyed my foray into the wilds of Ealing and Totton there really is no place like home.

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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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