As I finally cleared away the debris of my old blog I came across two walks from that last October weekend. Walks taken when I was blissfully unaware of what lay ahead. There were no words, I never got as far as writing about them, just photographs and hazy memories. My hand was paused over the delete button but, the more I looked at those photographs, the more I remembered of those lost walks. It seemed a terrible shame for them to stay lost so I am going to do my best to recreate them now. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of what follows, it was almost three years ago after all and sometimes I struggle to remember what happened last week. Still, with a little poetic licence, here goes. This is the first of the lost walks…
5 October 2014
The day was sunny, if not warm. Perhaps one of the last good days of the year. The working week had been fraught to say the least and the weather had been mostly wet. Staying indoors was not an option so I headed for the shore. Maybe I was walking to see if any progress had been made on repairing the collapsed path near Netley? Then again I may have just needed to walk by the sea to blow away the cobwebs. What is certain is that I walked down through Woolston and along the shore without taking a single photograph. When I came to West Lodge though, the dappled sunlight on the path made me get my phone out of my pocket.
There was a strange quality to the light as I walked behind the sailing club. Backlit clouds hung in a sky that couldn’t quite manage to be blue. The sun managed to sparkle on the water and I stopped to look across at the spires and towers of Fawley on the far bank.
The broken path was just ahead but I lingered for a while taking pictures of the cannons on either side of the sailing club lookout building. Commando says they are used to start sailing races and I know I had walked past many times before I noticed them at all. Where they came from is a mystery. You’d think someone would know but it seems no one does.
Looking at the broken sea wall, I marvelled at the power of the sea. This was a wall that had stood firm for longer than I have been alive, centuries perhaps. When the storm came though, it was so violent the poor wall couldn’t withstand it. The old stones crashed down on the path I would normally walk along so I had no choice but to walk along the shingle or balance on the thin strip of concrete below the fallen wall. It was hard going. Walking on shingle always is.
As soon as I could, I clambered back over the ruined wall onto the path. By this time I was close to Netley Castle. Before I carried on I stopped for a rest. The shingle and more than four miles of walking to get to this point had tired me a little. I think I sat on a pile of rubble and took photographs of the stones and the sea beyond. It looked so calm and innocent now, lapping gently against the shore, it was hard to believe it had caused so much damage. Harder still to believe more than six months had passed and the stones were still exactly where they had fallen. A yellow toadflax was growing amongst the rubble. Amid the debris there was life springing up.
The fallen wall and the fact no one seemed to care enough to rebuild it gave the walk a feeling of sadness. The castle a little further on magnified this. I can never walk past without thinking of Mother who spent some of her last days living behind those thick stone walls. Back then, in 1989, when I was pregnant with CJ and she was close to death, the castle was a convalescent home. Our walks along the shore here were some of the last we took together.
Further on there was driftwood on the shore to distract me and soon I came to the fenced off area with all the danger signs that signified the beginning of the collapsed path. Until this point I’d expected to see the at least the path repaired. There was a way through, skirting behind the trees and, from the other side of the barrier, things didn’t look too bad at first. Just a few cracks in the tarmac, nothing more.
A few feet later though and the full extent of the damage was obvious. A long stretch of the path was missing altogether, nothing but a few pieces of crumbled tarmac to show it had ever been there. If I wanted to go forward towards Netley and the country park I could. Beyond the barrier the path was still firm but, seeing how flimsy it had been, I wasn’t sure I trusted it, so this was the point I turned back.
Walking back past the castle I remember smelling flowers and tracking the scent down to some tiny white blooms growing through the fence. Osmanthius I think. It amazed me that something so small could make such a strong smell.
Then it was back, past the driftwood and the remains of the wall. The bottom of the wall has small square holes, I think to let the sea through and afford some protection to the wall. Some time before I’d walked along here when the sea was raging and seen the water pouring through as well as crashing over the top of the wall. That day it had stood firm. Now I stopped to look through one of the holes at the sea beyond. The bottom was littered with pebbles from the beach, evidence that the tide picks them up and forces them through.
A little more crunching along the shingle took me back to the sailing club lookout. Even this had an air of desolation about it. The boards were scarred and peeling, the metail of the steps and railings rusting. Ironically, the cannons, the oldest things there, were the best preserved. Do they really still fire them? If so, what happens to all those cannon balls, or do they use something else, something less dangerous?
Behind the lookout is an old oak tree with a wonderfully gnarled and contorted trunk. Like many of the trees growing on the shoreline it leans away from the sea, testament to the strong winds that blow towards the land here. At times, when the tide is especially high and storms buffet the foreshore, its roots must be soaked by salt water. Somehow it survives.
A little above my head height is a hollow. It’s edges are wavy, like a clay pot thrown by a novice and collapsed on the wheel. From it grows a tangle of witches broom twigs and, on them, a mass of galls. Why this particular tree has attracted so many galls I don’t know but they were too high up for me to get any close up shots.
The gall wasps had been busy though and some young oak saplings that have become entangled in the hawthorn hedge here and now form part of it, have galls aplenty too. These were easier to photograph and I even managed to find one with the hole where the gall wasp larva ate its way out of its nest.
Carrying on beside the stream that flows under the road from West Wood I stopped for a photograph of clouds reflected in the water. The oak tree here has no galls at all and I could t help wondering what made one tree so attractive to the wasps while another escaped their notice? In the distance I could see huge tankers in the docks and cranes where the building work on the new flats was underway on the Vosper Thorneycroft site.
Almost at the promenade again, I stopped to take of photograph of the dead tree standing. The fact it managed to grow at all on the shingle with the sea lapping at its roots every high tide seems like a miracle. Somehow it grew strong and tall before it finally succumbed to the salt water. Something about it always makes me think about triumph over adversity. Of course it has now finally fallen, so adversity won in the end.
At the water’s edge a swan was preening. There are often a small group of swans on the shore here. This time there was only one and I wondered where the others had gone? An unusual stone on the shingle caught my eye. It was greenish grey with circles of darker grey and sparkling pinkish cream. Maybe it was a fossil stone? I took a photograph, went to pick it up then thought of Commando, grumbling about all the jars of pebbles already at home and walked on.
A few yards further along the shore I changed my mind. When I turned and walked back though I couldn’t see it. For a long time I stood scanning all the pebbles, cursing myself for not picking it up at once. Eventually I found it again, cleared away the seaweed clinging to it and put it in my pocket. It’s in a jar in the kitchen now, nestled amongst dozens of other stones and shells that have caught my eye on other walks. A geological record of where I’ve been.
My phone went back into my pocket too. Clouds were gathering and I knew I should stop dilly dallying and get home before the rain came. By the time I reached Peartree Avenue, the sun had come out though and the sky was blue. The phone came back out to snap a passionflower tumbling over a wall, the tiny green fruit just beginning to form at its centre. Nearby a jolly sunflower made me smile. Maybe it wouldn’t rain after all?
As it was I did get home without getting wet. The walking wasn’t quite over for the day though. Commando had booked a table at the pub where Bard is a chef. It’s only a couple of miles from our house and walking there and back meant we could all have a drink. Not having to cook was a bonus. Bard cooking for me was even better. He even managed to find a moment to come out and speak to us. After such a bad week this was just what I needed.
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