The last post – first published 1 October 2014

Little did I know this post about my walk on 1 October 2014 would be the last I ever wrote on my old blog. My original plan for the day had been a bus ride followed by an exploration of Hamble Marina and a nice walk along Southampton Water. The weather forecast was good, I’d checked out all the bus routes and times, job done. Unfortunately, when I got up it was raining, that horrible steady drizzle that soaks through everything. Unbeknownst to me the weather was the least of my worries. Within twenty four hours my blog would be hacked and everything I’d written would be lost, at least for a while. It has taken me almost three years to salvage what I could and this is the very last post.

1 October 2014

The rain had scuppered my morning plans and the weather forecast wasn’t much help because, according to the Met office, it wasn’t raining at all. Maybe they should spend more time looking out of the window and less looking at their computers. With no idea when, or if, it was going to stop raining there was a swift change of plan. As I had a parcel to pick up I thought I’d start with that and then make my way towards the river and Eastleigh. It’s a nice familiar route with the added twist of starting from a different place. There’d be a coffee stop at the Swan Centre half way and, if it got too wet, there were plenty of opportunities to turn back.

By the time I’d had breakfast the drizzle had more or less stopped, although it was still dark and foggy looking. The fog turned out to be the sun trying to burn off all the water. It was humid with a capital H as I plodded along the road to the parcel office. There was a long wait. All I could hope was the sun would have finished burning off the wetness by the time I got my parcel. It hadn’t.

The new plan was to walk across Horseshoe bridge and carry on towards Wessex Lane and the Green Bridge at Monks Brook by the shortest, straightest route. The road is not one I normally use and I’d forgotten there was a level crossing. Actually, I hadn’t forgotten but I had it in my head there was a footbridge. There wasn’t. The gates were down and a queue of cars and people were waiting as I approached. A train went past just as I got to the crossing but the gates still didn’t open.

We all waited. Two elderly men next to me were talking about their recent NHS experiences in rather more detail than I’d have liked. Finally another train came past and, after what seemed like hours, the gates opened. Nervously I walked across, cursing myself for my choice of route.

The next mile was a slog through streets of terraced houses in the main but, once I’d passed the Universtity halls, I came to St Mary’s, the pretty little Norman church at South Stoneham. There was a temptation to go and sit among the graves in the shade and rest for a while. The humidity was taking its toll by this time and I was feeling tired and sticky. In the end I didn’t. Instead I walked down to the Green Bridge and crossed.

As soon as I’d crossed Monks Brook the smell of damp earth and Himalayan Balsam was heavy in the air. The pretty pink flowers of the balsam seem to be everywhere and the smell was almost sickly sweet. If they weren’t so invasive I might be pleased to see them but they seem to be taking over the riverbanks here. As each plant can produce up to eight hundred seeds and the pods explode shooting seeds up to twenty two feet from the parent plant it’s no surprise. It seems they may also be allopathic, excreting toxins that damage neighbouring plants.

Usually, after a bit of rain, I wouldn’t walk this way because the trail through to the Blue Bridge is treacherous and muddy at the slightest hint of dampness. Last weekend I noticed a new path has been laid, raised slightly higher than the old one with concrete edges and a hard packed gravel and clay surface. I was interested to see how it would be after the morning’s rain. As it turned out it was fine, a real pleasure to walk on.

The only downside to the new path is the clearance of all the old tree stumps and logs that lined the old one. As anyone knows rotting logs and stumps are a haven for wildlife and, more interestingly, fungi. What a shame they didn’t leave them there. There was a rustling amongst the leaves and a squirrel dashed across the path and shimmied up a tree, a streak of grey fur. I knew better than to try to get a picture, I’ve been caught too many times like that before. A little further on though another squirrel was sitting at the base of a tree eating a nut. He didn’t move as I got closer to I risked a photo. As it turned out it wasn’t good. Unless you actually know there’s a squirrel there you wouldn’t spot it at all.

This year the leaves seem to be going straight from green to brown and falling so there have been none of the bright autumn colours I’d been looking forward to. One colourful leaf on the path amongst all the brown gave me hope that it may not be a colourless autumn after all. Close to the Blue Bridge the path narrows and a wall hides the brook from view. Hog weed seed heads, or maybe they’re cow parsley, tangle with the ivy on the top of the wall, all those seeds will be new plants in the spring. Once I’d passed the Blue Bridge another bright leaf, the first red one I’ve seen this year, stood out on the path.

The next bright spot came as I reached the airport roundabout. A stand of teasels gone to seed made an architectural statement. On the other side of the road a flash of colour from the red oak leaves in their autumn hues. The swaying trees were a patchwork of shades from green to red, backlit by the sky. I took a half hopeful shot up into them.

It was a slog up the long hot road to the Swan Centre. The only thing that kept me going was the thought of a coffee at the end of it. There was a point when, with sweat running into my eyes and nothing but wheelie bins for a view, I wondered why on earth I was doing this? Even though I hadn’t totalled up the September miles I was pretty sure I’d completed the hundred. Why hadn’t I just walked the other way along Monks Brook and back along the river? I could have had a coffee at Woodmill.

When I finally got there I found a loooong queue for the loos. A right out of the door queue. This was odd as I’ve never had to queue before, especially not on a quiet Tuesday morning when the shopping centre was almost empty. The answer came after about ten minutes of queuing when I actually got inside the main door to the ladies. The place has been refurbished since my last visit. New floor, new walls, fancy new sinks and mirrors and just six toilets instead of the twenty there were before. Most of the cubicles seemed to be filled with mothers changing babies because the baby changing room was closed while it was being refurbished. This, in my opinion, is a step in the wrong direction. I’d rather have more toilets and less fancy sinks myself but what do I know?

After what felt like about a year I was queuing again, this time for my coffee. Luckily there was only one person in front of me. For once I opted for a sit down coffee and, as it was close to lunch time, a small cake. Of course it was chocolate and the label told me it was over three hundred calories but I’d not had any walking snacks and I’d walked five miles already with another five to get home. Was it worth all the walking? Probably.

Walking back towards Monks Brook I felt a whole lot better, or I would have if it wasn’t for the high humidity. When I got to Woodmill I was tempted to stop for another coffee but I didn’t. Instead I carried on across Riverside Park, crunching my way through fallen leaves. There does seem to be a hint of a change in the colour of the leaves but not as much as I’d like given how many have already fallen. There are beech nuts and shiny brown conkers littering the grass now too.

Down by the jetty there was a swan and seagull feeding frenzy going on. The two black swans were there and lots of cygnets but they were all so crowded together I couldn’t work out who was with who. One black swan and a cygnet broke away from the group and followed me for a little way along the river. They probably thought I had bread too but I didn’t. I’m still not sure if the cygnet belongs to the black swans but I will be watching with interest.

I got home just after Commando had got up, so hot and sticky I had to jump straight into the shower to make myself feel human again. The moral of the tale is probably that less is more when it comes to walking on humid days. Will I learn this lesson? Probably not.

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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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