12 October 2017
Today’s walk came with a proper plan for once. On the outskirts of the city there is a trail I’ve been meaning to explore for some time and, last night, I finally got around to mapping it out. In fact I even downloaded the route to my phone so I could follow it as I walked. Of course, not all of the trail was visible on the map so I filled in the missing bits as best I could and hoped there would actually be a way to get through. What could possibly go wrong?
We started with an uneventful walk through Sholing but I will begin when we got to the nomansland between Southampton and Eastleigh. This was where the walk got interesting. We were heading for Spear Pond Gully and something that looked like a footpath heading from Old Netley towards Hound and Hamble. Despite a great deal of Google searching, all I could really find out about Spear Pond was that it existed and water flowed from it into the Solent but, from the map, it looked as if it was worth exploring.
First we had to find the start of the footpath. Once CJ had got over his joy at being in a place that is neither Southampton or Eastleigh and I’d taken photographs of the two signs to keep him happy we set off along Portsmouth Road towards Bursledon. We passed Sholing FC’s football ground, looked across the fields at the tall flats in Thornhill and stopped for a photograph of The Plough, one of the few out of the way pubs that doesn’t seem to be closing down, at least not yet.
When we reached the sign that told us we were in Old Netley we’d already walked more than three miles. My map told me I needed to veer slightly to the right onto Pound Road and from there turn right again onto Priors Hill Lane. Falling leaves rained down on us as we walked and I had my fingers crossed that we’d be able to find a way onto the footpath and not have to turn back before we’d really begun.
Priors Hill Lane ended in a potholed gravel track, lined on one side with houses and, on the other, by trees. We hadn’t gone very far before we came to a gate leading off to the left. A quick look through it told us it led to a grassy field. The map told me crossing it would take us onto Hamble Lane. We kept going forwards, hoping to find a footpath of some kind.
A little further on we found another gate onto the field closely followed by the end of the gravel track. Ahead was a narrow trail winding off into the trees. It had no footpath sign and didn’t look particularly promising. It was the only way forward though and, as we went towards it, a lady with a dog came the other way and said “good morning.” This at least told us the trail led somewhere, even if it wasn’t where we wanted to go.
We set off with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. The trail was one of the bits of the walk that wasn’t marked on the map and, while it looked as if we’d find a way through, it wasn’t certain. We hadn’t gone very far when we spotted some interesting fungi. The common white puffball is, in my experience, not all that common at all. I’ve rarely ever seen them (obviously, now I’ve said that I’ll be tripping over them everywhere) and they’re quite beautiful to look at. They have small bumps all over them with larger spikes in between, almost like an inside out golf ball. When they’re mature they get darker and a hole opens in the top to release spores. These were young, at the stage where they are edible, or so I’m told. Personally I’d never risk eating fungi I found in the woods just in case.
After a while the trail got wider and more pronounced. soon trees to our left thinned out and, through them, we could see a field of rough grass and what looked liked farm buildings of some kind. Then we saw a very welcome sight, a post with a footpath sign. The name of the trail had broken or been removed but there was enough of it left for me to gather we were on part of the Strawberry Trail, a 15 mile circular route between Botley and Hamble. This was good news because it told me we would be able to get through, probably…
Feeling slightly relieved we kept going forwards. The narrow trail was pretty enough but, when I’d been planning this walk, I had expected to be in a Gully with a stream leading to a pond so I wasn’t sure we were actually on the trail I wanted to be on. When we came to an unmarked side trail iwondered if we should take it, perhaps it would lead to the stream? There was a certain amount of dithering that ended with me walking a little way along the side trail until I realised it curved back the way we’d come. Maybe it would have taken me somewhere interesting but I decided to go back to the original trail which was, at least, going in the right direction.
When the trees opened out again we were looking out onto a large green field with some horses on it. The trail got very narrow at this point and the field was bordered by not one, but two, barbed wire fences. This seemed a little excessive and created a strip of land that appeared to be no use to either the farmer or any walkers using the trail. In fact it made walking quite difficult because we had to watch we didn’t catch ourselves on the barbed wire.
Very carefully we kept going forwards. There were more horses further along the field and I wondered if the farmer had put the second fence up to stop people feeding them? If so, I wish he hadn’t used barbed wire. It spoiled what would otherwise have been a nice stretch of the trail.
While CJ was watching the horses I noticed the sparkle of water between the trees to our right. A quick look to check our position on the satellite map told me this was Spears Pond. Frustratingly, there didn’t seem to be a way to get to it though. We had no choice but to keep going forward but now I had one eye on the barbed wire and one eye on the opposite side of the trail looking for a side path.
When I saw a gate ahead I got quite excited thinking there might be another trail beside it leading to the pond. There was no side trail but I did see some late honeysuckle flowers. There was also another footpath sign on the gatepost.
The further we went the more glimpses of the pond we got. It seemed to be right on the other side of the trees and I couldn’t see any sign of a path around it. Perhaps this was the only trail after all and this was as near as we would be able to get to it?
Then, right when I’d given up hope of getting any closer to the pond, we came to a curious metal gateway. There were no signs on it but it had to lead to the pond. Until now we’d been walking roughly parallel to Hamble Lane, in fact we’d been able to see the odd car across the fields. If we kept going forward I was fairly sure we’d end up on Hound Road. If we took the side trail I had no idea where we’d end up but I couldn’t resist it.
Through the gate we found a leafy trail. A sign high up on a tree told us this was a footpath for walkers only. Moments later we were looking at the pond over a wooden fence. It was a long, thin pond surrounded on all but this one side by trees and the water was mirror smooth reflecting the blue sky above.
The path beside the fence was muddy and, despite the notice, there was a car parked at the far end. How it got there was a mystery. There was also a trail going around the pond but it wasn’t a trail we could walk. It was on the other side of a locked gate with a sign saying Private Castle A.C. Members Only. In case there was any doubt, there was another sign tacked to the bough of a tree saying Private Property No Right Of Way in big red letters.
The signs were a bit of a disappointment. It looked like such a beautiful tranquil path, but I gathered Castle A.C. was an angling club. Later Googling told me the club own the pond and the land around it. It also told me more about Spear Pond than I’d been able to find out previously. Despite the name, it is actually a resevoir dug in 1870, on land then called Hound Grove, to supply water for the laundry of the newly built Royal Victoria Hospital. Another look at the map armed with this information showed me the Gully runs all the way to Sophie’s Pond near the gates to the Royal Victoria Country Park. Of course, I didn’t know any of this while we were there.
We walked along the fence, stopping every now and then to admire the pond and wonder about the square structure we could see in it. We couldn’t get close enough for a decent look but it seemed to be made of brick with concrete slabs on the top. It looked old and we guessed it might be something military, possibly to do with the war. Now I wonder if it is to do with the resevoir, perhaps part of a conduit?
On the far side of the pond we found another locked gate, the twin of the first, and another path we couldn’t walk. As far as exploring the pond went we’d come to the end of the line. Now we had to decide whether to go back to the original trail or try to find a way forward.
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