12 October 2017
We’d come to the end of the trail alongside Spear Pond. The footpath sign we saw by the first gate told me there must be a way through, just not where it would lead us. We could have taken the easy route and gone back through the gate and onto the Strawberry Trail. There’d be no chance of getting lost that way but it wouldn’t be as much of an adventure and I hate retracing my steps. Ahead I spotted two trails going off into the trees. Neither was marked.
“I say we go left,” I said to CJ.
”Any particular reason?” he asked.
“No, apart from the fact my driving instructor once told me ‘if in doubt, go left’ and that’s as close to a plan as I have right now.”
So we went left, regretting not being able to go right as well. That’s the trouble when there is more than one trail, whichever one you take you feel as if you might have missed out by not taking the other.
Left seemed to be a good choice, at least at first. We’d barely set off when I spotted masses of puffballs between the trees. There were so many it was hard to get close enough for photos without treading on them. Much to CJ’s disappointment, none of them were mature enough to pop but you can’t have everything.
It soon became clear we’d chosen a fungi filled trail. Almost everywhere we looked there were fungi of one kind or another. There were little brown ones at the bases of trees, white ones growing on rotten stumps and puffballs in their thousands. In the end there were so many I stopped even taking pictures.
It was mixed woodland interspersed with a lot of holly. The trail was soft but dry, made from generations of fallen leaves. It was not the most distinct trail I’ve ever walked and, from time to time I wasn’t sure if we were still on it or not but we kept going forward anyway.
When I saw something the size of a large orange at the base of a tree I thought at first it was a lost ball, maybe from a dog walker. A little squinting told me it might actually be a mushroom of some kind so I left the trail for a closer look. It was, in fact two giant puffballs, at least I think it was. They are fairly uncommon but the spores were once used by blacksmiths for burns and to staunch wounds. These were full of holes and I saw a woodlouse who appeared to be living in one.
Once I’d taken a photo, CJ had a look at them. To his delight, when he poked it with a stick, it puffed out spores. The giant puffball produces up to seven trillion spores, the most of any living thing. It’s a wonder they’re not a lot more common really. The spores can cause a lung disease if breathed in so I’m hoping CJ was breathing out when he prodded the thing.
The next unusual specimen we found was small and delicate looking. It was quite beautiful but I’m not sure what it was. My mushroom identifying skills are not very good. After this the trail got a little indistinct and I started to worry we’d wandered off it by accident. We pushed on though, hoping that sooner or later we’d end up somewhere other than completely lost.
We found another giant puffball. This one had already burst and looked a little sad and sorry for itself. A little while later we could heard distant voices. We headed towards them. More by luck than judgement we came out onto another trail, by the looks of it the one we’d decided not to take at the beginning.
This was a much wider, more distinct trail. The men we’d heard talking were standing beside a small truck they’d obviously driven up it. They wore high vis jackets and were discussing cutting down a tree. Hopefully it was a tree that needed cutting down for the sake of safety. We headed away from them towards what I hoped was Hound Road, or maybe Hound Way.
The trail was longer than I expected but there were wooden posts beside it now and I felt we must be getting nearer civilisation. This was both a blessing and a disappointment. The wood, with sunlight slanting through the trees, mushroom surprises and the smell of decaying leaves, was beautiful but we couldn’t wander in it forever.
After a while I saw a gate ahead and beyond it the roofs of houses. On the other side of the gate was a signpost telling us we’d been wandering in Priors Hill Copse. It would have been quite handy to have a similar sign at the other end of the path too.
We learned that the copse had been managed for hundreds of years. It had been coppiced to produce timber and was still being managed today by the Friends of Priors Hill Copse. Perhaps the men we saw were woodland managers. We also learned we’d missed a World War I memorial somewhere in the wood. Obviously we will have to come back another day and explore further. Today there was no time. We still had a whole lot of walking to do.
All the while we’d been walking I’d expected to come out on Hound Road or Hound Way but we actually emerged on a small side street called The Grove. This necessitated a stop to look at the map but we were soon on our way again, heading for Woolston Road, which would take us where we needed to be. We were now in the little village of Butlocks Heath with a little bit of road walking ahead of us. Luckily they were quiet roads with pretty little cottage style houses.
We came out on Hound Way and a little bit of map looking soon had us back on the walk I’d planned. There was supposed to be a footpath somewhere around but, at first I couldn’t see it. By a combination of looking at the satelite map and walking towards the blue line I’d drawn at home, we found the path, such as it was, right beside the sign telling us we were in Netley Abbey.
At first it seemed like a narrow, winding trail through the trees at the side of the road and, if it hadn’t been for the footpath sign, I’d have dismissed it. Soon though, it widened out and we found we were walking on tarmac covered by a thick coat of fallen leaves.
This, according to the map and the plan I’d made earlier, was St Mary’s Road, although it looked like a road in name only. At some time it may have come out onto Hound Way but now it was more trail than road. The name suggested a church somewhere nearby and I’d seen a church when I’d been researching the route. In fact it was an interesting thirteenth century church, called St Marys’s, with an even more interesting burial ground. It was where I planned to stop for snacks and a break.
The road that was really a trail curved gently. Walking through the dappled sun with the rustle of leaves above and the crunch of leaves below we breathed deeply, enjoying the sound of birdsong and not being lost. We paused to look at interesting stumps and large houses half hidden amongst the trees.
It was one of the most beautiful roads I’ve ever walked down. The branches of the trees formed an arch above us and it felt as if we were walking through a green cathedral with a hint of gold here and there. Now and then we paused to admire a particularly majestic tree or the way the light puddled on the ground.
When we began to make out kerbstones I knew we must be coming to the end of the road. Then there was a fence to our left and a gate. Through the gate the road became a real road again, narrow and empty, but obviously one that cars could drive down. For the second time today I felt sad that a trail was coming to an end.
Before long we were walking past houses. I was fairly sure we’d soon see the church. Hopefully there’d be a seat to sit on and eat our snacks.
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