Show me the way to go home

12 October 2017

We’d left to Road that thought it was a trail and were back on a real road again, with houses and even a sign for a railway station off to our left. One of the houses had an interesting gateway, a little like a lych gate. For a second I thought it might be the church where I was planning to stop and have a break. It wasn’t but the gate wasn’t so interesting I was about to take a photo when my phone rang. It was Commando, calling on his lunch break for a chat. If we’d walked a little quicker we could have made a detour and gone to see him. Once he’d gone I took my photograph of the gate. It was worth the wait, especially the sign that said Beware of the Gnomes. That really made me smile. 

When I planned the route I hadn’t noticed the railway station but I thought it might be Hamble Station. Curious, we took a short detour to have a look. To my surprise I discovered it was Netley Station.  We were further on than I thought. Had we somehow missed the church?

Puzzled, we stood on the platform while I checked the map. It didn’t take long to realise what had happened. When I’d been planning the route most of the off road sections were not actually marked on the map and I’d had to plot them using a combination of what I could see from the satelite photo and guesswork. Mostly this had worked quite well, apart from the detour through Priors Hill Copse. If we’d followed the straight path instead of turning off by Spears Pond, we would have come out on Hound Road and more or less passed the church on our way to the beginning of St Mary’s Road. Our little wander through Butlocks Heath meant we’d missed it.

It was disappointing but there was nothing to be done but keep going forward. It was far too late to turn back at this stage. We crossed the railway bridge and pretty soon we were on Station Road passing the pretty little library. Now I knew exactly where we were and there was no more need for looking at the map.

By this time we were both sorely in need of a snack and a rest but I knew just the place and it wasn’t very far away. At the end of Station Road we turned towards Netley village and, before long, we could see the sea. Today it seemed to have a beautiful turquoise tinge to it, almost like the Mediterranean but without the heat. We strolled across the grass of the Recreation Ground with a quick stop to take photographs of the sweet row of painted cottages looking out over the shore.

My alternative plan for a seat to eat our snack had been one of the benches along the edge of the path here but, as we walked towards them I saw the jubilee bench just behind the Armada Beacon. It looked like a better place to sit so we headed for it. Of course this is not an ancient beacon, like the one I was trying to find in Telegraph Woods not long ago. It is one of four hundred modern day beacons built to commemorate the sighting of the Spanish Armada back in July 1588.

The first of the ancient beacons was lit in Cornwall, when Spanish ships were spotted off the Lizard. The alarm was raised across the country as the beacon fires flared from hill to hill and, ultimately, the Armada was defeated. Those beacons were built with whatever was to hand. Some were nothing more than large bonfires, or barrels of pitch on hills, or mounds of earth, others were more elaborate, stone platforms or metal baskets mounted on poles. The modern beacons are all the same and all were lit on 19 July 1988 to celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of the sighting of the Spanish Armada.

We sat at the jubilee bench with our backs to the beacon looking out to sea. Across the water, near Hythe, there were lots of small sailing boats, their meats catching the sun and seeming to sparkle. We ate our snacks and talked about the plans to turn the big Fawley chimney into a revolving restaurant. The views might not be as spectacular as the ones from the CN Tower in Toronto but I would still like to see them.

With our snacks finished we got moving again, past the place where the crumbling path has been repaired and behind the sea wall in front of Netley Castle. As always, I couldn’t pass the castle without remembering my visits to Mother when she was convalescing there. At the time I was pregnant with CJ and Mother died when he was just two months old. It seems impossible it was so long ago, a whole lifetime, and it’s hard at times to remember that CJ has no memory of her at all except the things I’ve told him.

At the sailing club, where the wall is still broken from the storms that ruined the path, we paused to look at the cannons. CJ wanted to take a photo so I walked on a little way and admired the old dead tree standing guard over the shore. Like the one that fell a little further along, it has been standing there as long as I can remember and I wondered how long it will before this one falls too?

Eventually CJ caught up with me and we walked on, past West Lodge, talking about the trees along the shore here. The tide comes right up to the tree line and the spring and autumn tides often flood the paths. The poor trees must regularly have their roots soaked with sea water but, despite this, most of them seem to survive and even thrive. It seemed to us there should really be more dead trees standing than there are but we were glad there weren’t.

At the boundary stone we paused again, just to make sure it was still there and hadn’t been vandalised like the one near the Chilworth roundabout. It was there and all in good order, if rather mossy and overgrown. Of all the stones this one is the most weathered but it’s no surprise. The sea often washes over it in the same way it soaks the tree roots.

Once we’d crossed the little stream we knew we were officially back in Southampton again. Some jolly Michaelmas daisies welecomed us home and I began fishing around in my pocket to see if I had enough change for an ice cream.

There was just enough money rattling around in my coat pocket for a small ice cream cone each. We ate them looking out at the sea and the rotting remains of the dead tree. There were still three miles to go to get home but our adventure was more or less over. Things may not have gone quite to plan but we’d had a lovely day and found a new route I’m sure we’ll walk again.

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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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