26 October 2017
Once upon a time the Boardwalk and the river path were part of my daily walk to work. Often I’d look through the wire fence into the old television studio site and wonder when someone would build something there, what it would be and how it would impact on the path. Now the new houses and apartments are finally being built. As I go back and forth across the bridge I often look over and remark on the progress but I still wonder what will become of the path. As it’s a public footpath the builders shouldn’t, in theory, encroach upon it but you never can tell.
A few weeks ago I walked the old path on my way back from a shopping trip to Portswood. It was a beautiful sunny day with blue sky and swans on the riverbank. Heavy bags of shopping meant I didn’t dawdle but I did take a couple of pictures and peek through the fence at the new buildings and the diggers. There was still no clue what would become of the path though and it remained much as it had always been.
Today I decided to have a better look. From the signs on the bridge it seemed as if some of the apartments were already up for sale so I hoped the builders might have made some positive changes to the path. After all, if I was buying a riverside apartment, I’d want to be able to get to the river easily and have a nice path to walk on. Much as I loved my walks along there, the path could hardly have been called nice. Even when I last walked it, it was riddled with potholes and puddles, and overgrown.
In contrast to my last walk, today was overcast with a hint of drizzle in the air. This time I had CJ with me too, mostly because he got wind of my plan to visit the Costa in Portswood before it finally closed for good. We stopped on the bridge to look at all the little boats on the river. There seem to be new ones popping up all the time lately. A lone mute swan was powering towards the bridge, looking very majestic and the river had a blue green tinge. The ever changing river is one of the things I love about this route. Some days it is sky blue with clouds reflected, others tinged with the sunrise, or deep green with white horse waves, occasionally it seems almost black, others it has the look of beaten lead.
On the far side of the bridge we went down the steps to the rowing club slipway. There were no rowers today, just a single seagull flying low over the water then dipping down, maybe for a fish, before flying off leaving a trail of ripples. The underside of the bridge is an unofficial graffiti tunnel. The work may not be as good as the Beyond Graffiti tunnel but it is always changing. Today it looked as if someone had found a job lot of silver paint.
The first thing we noticed when we emerged from under the bridge was a wall of blue. Almost all the wire fence has been replaced with a wooden hoarding. The smell of fresh paint made us wary of getting too close until I gingerly touched it and found the paint was dry. There was just one little piece of wire fence left for us to look through at the building work but it was so overgrown we couldn’t see much of anything.
Disappointingly, the path was still as potholed and puddle ridden as before but something else seemed different. For a while I couldn’t quite place what. Then I realised all the trees that used to grow along the fence had been cut down. Frankly, I’m not quite sure how I feel about this. Cutting down a perfectly sound tree never seems like a good thing but it has opened up the path and made it easier to walk. Until I find out what the final plans are I guess I will reserve judgement. Sometimes change for the better involves sacrifice.
We’d got just beyond the log pond, where hardwood trees were seasoned back in the day, when our swan friend overtook us. The blue hoardings ran out at about the same time, replaced by brand new metal fencing. It had the look of prison bars, not in the least inviting, and I hoped this was not the plan for the rest of the path as it certainly wouldn’t be much of an improvement.
Behind the fence was a portacabin being used as an office for viewing the showhomes. How you get inside to have a look around is a mystery. Maybe you have to have an appointment, or perhaps there is a way in from the road? With a little more time I might have been tempted to find out and see if I could get a look around. Maybe another day?
For all the change on the path alongside the old TV Studios, the boardwalk itself remains much the same. The hippie ship is still slowly decaying on the corner near the big stones. There are still a few swans gathered, the area is pervaded, as it always was, with the smell of freshly cut pine from the timber yard on the edge of the industrial estate and the trains still go rattling past.
Where the river on the other side of the bridge seems to be gaining vessels, the familiar ones here have disappeared. Suki II, the pretty white boat I once passed each morning is long gone and her replacement, the little red beauty called Dutch Courage, has now disappeared too. Where they came from and where they went is a mystery I suppose I’ll never solve. The river looks a little empty without them though.
Near the end of the Boardwalk CJ and I paused to look back at the path we’d just walked. We’d come this way hoping for some answers about the future of the path but we were none the wiser. It would be nice to think the builders will create a nice firm path for the new residents to walk along, maybe with an entrance or two directly from the new streets, rather than through the industrial estate or under the bridge. Time will tell I suppose.
Still wondering, we carried on. Most of the wildflowers that brightened my morning walks have finished now but there were still a few spikes of toadflax here and there in a choice of colours. The maple self seeded beside the railway line is a glorious mixture of green, yellow and gold. The fallen leaves fluttered along the boards as we passed.
As the boards come to an end the trees become larger and more densely packed, although nowhere near as bright as the maple. CJ was excited to spot a black swan and a white swan together on the bank below but they were too far away for decent photos. He wondered if the mute swans and the black swans might ever mate. Such things are not completely unheard of. We walked on talking about what a mixture of the two would look like if it happened.
We were still talking about it as we crossed Horseshoe Bridge, although we stopped for a moment to look through the bars at the railway lines. On a whim I decided to turn off the bridge onto the service road leading to the station car park. My plan was to cut through the station an avoid the need to cross Thomas Lewis Way, a fast busy road that cut through this part of town in 1989. The new road was billed as the Portswood Bypass and was intended to be a spur of the M27 Motorway. In the end it was built as a dual carriageway rather than a three lane motorway and was named for Thomas Lewis, a trade unionist, local Labour councillor and MP, born in St Mary’s in 1873.
Many years ago I lived overlooking the station and my morning walk consisted of a dash down the cutway beside my flat to catch a train to work. Thomas Lewis Way hadn’t been built then and things have changed to the point I can barely overlay the map in my head with the current layout of roads. In contrast, the station has barely changed at all.
Walking along the platform took me right back to all those mornings and evenings getting on and off crowded trains. St Denys Station is the point where the Portsmouth Line splits from the London Line going towards Eastleigh. It used to be a busy station with a real live station master. Of course those days are long gone and it’s now unmanned with a ticket machine and fancy electronic signs to tell you when the next train is due. Personally I preferred the station master but, without him, we could walk through the station unchallenged, without the need to buy a platform ticket.
The bridge from the station to the Portswood side of the road has changed considerably. These days it crosses the busy new road but somehow still seems to emerge at more or less the same point as the old station exit, beside the Dolphin Hotel. To be honest, I struggle to remember exactly what the outside of the station was like all those years ago possible because I was usually running late and in a hurry to catch my train.
The pub hasn’t changed a great deal as far as I can see and the cutway I used to run down every morning and trudge up every night is exactly the same as it always was. CJ and I climbed the steep path and carried on towards the High Street and our final change of the morning.
It’s no secret that I like a coffee or two, or that my favourite of the big chain coffee places is Costa. Quite a few of my walks include a quick Costa stop and I even have a loyalty card so, once in a while, I get a free coffee. Unusually, at a time when coffee shops seem to be springing up all over the place (not that I’m complaining of course), the Costa in Portswood is closing for good. It felt like a sad occasion as we sat down with our last coffee and cake but I was pleased to learn the staff were all moving to other Costas in the area so no one had actually lost their jobs.
Change is inevitable. Without it the world would stagnate and there’d be no progress. Even so, it seems to be the thing people resist and grumble about most. When I’m looking for information on the history of a place I often come across sites where the main aim seems to be to glorify the old days and moan endlessly about anything new. When some new building or project is planned, people protest even before they really know what is proposed. Loving history shouldn’t mean hating change and, while I agree, not all change is good and it’s right to fight to save some things from the march of progress, I believe the majority of the changes happening in our lovely city are a good thing and I try my best to welcome them with open arms or, at least, reserve judgement. In the end nothing much remains the same for long anyway.
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