18 March 2018
Today I was supposed to be tailwalking the Eastleigh 10k. With the bitter cold and unending rain of the last few days it wasn’t a prospect I was relishing. Tailwalking is usually a slow business and the current weather demands a fast pace to keep warm. As it was, the weather decided to intervene. A few flakes of snow began to fall as we left parkrun yesterday morning. While we were enjoying our post parkrun coffee in the Bellemoor a message came through to say the race was cancelled. It was something of a relief. By the time we left the pub it was snowing in earnest and, by this morning, it was clear cancelling the race had been a smart move.
Staying indoors was not an option. As soon as we’d finished breakfast, CJ and I were wrapped up in our warm clothes and out. We’d missed out on walking along the river in the last snowfall and there was no way we were missing it twice. How far we’d get was a mystery. The Sunday streets were quiet apart from the crunching of our feet but, with the mad driving I’d seen last time, I got us off the main road and onto the back streets as quickly as possible.
The snow settled on the cars and roofs like icing on a cake and turned the streets into sparkling Christmas scenes. It may have been mid March but the bare tree branches, highlighted with white, made it seem like mid winter.
On Monastery Road two seasons collided. The branches of the ornamental cherry trees were weighed down by pink blossom and white snow. The combination was so unusual and so pretty I stopped for a while to try to capture it.
Monks Walk, the footpath at the top of the road, was a treacherous mixture of snow, ice and pot hole puddles. Wet feet at this stage of our walk would have been a disaster so we picked our way through, jumping from one patch of firmish ground to the next. All the while little eddies in the air caused gentle showers of snow to fall on us from the branches above.
Once we’d exhausted all the available back streets we had no choice but to return to the larger roads. Luckily, being early on a Sunday morning, there wasn’t much traffic to worry us. There wasn’t much snow either. These roads had been gritted and were mainly clear of snow and ice. The Bitterne Park Triangle Clock stood on an island of slightly murky white with snow clinging to it here and there. Beyond it, the entrance to Riverside Park seemed strangely crowded.
Once we got across the road we could see why. The grassy bank beside the steep path into the park had become an impromptu toboggan run. A row of parents were leaning on the railing watching as their children slid down into the park then slowly climbed back up the bank. The grass below was criss crossed with their trails. The wide grassy area near the park entrance was also a hive of industrious snowman production.
The snow on the river path was churned up by hundreds of feet but was still icy enough to make us take very careful steps. Even with my yak trax on I was taking no chances. Slipping into the icy water with the gulls and ducks didn’t bear thinking about.
Even when the joyful screams of the children had faded into the distance it was clear this was never going to be a quiet walk. The snow had brought out a mass of Sunday walkers and our slow progress was made even slower by many ‘good morning’s’ and slippery passing dances. Thankfully, the effort of keeping upright in the slippery path kept us warm.
The swans, who are never short of food here, were enjoying an extra Sunday bounty as families chanced the icy path edge to feed them. It took some time to coax CJ away, slowing our forward progress even further. It seemed possible this was going to be the longest short walk in the history of our river walking.
Predictably, the jetty was empty. Even the hardiest of swan feeders wouldn’t chance dicing with the slippery steps or the snowy platform. The benches along the edge of the grass were empty too. Each had a thick coating of snow and would have guaranteed a wet bottom to anyone who’d sat on one.
The further we went the emptier the park became. By the river bend the trees dusted us with second hand flakes as we passed beneath them. My favourite oak tree looked particularly stunning with its twisted branches laden with snow. Now it was CJ waiting for me as I stopped to take photos of it.
On we walked, the reedbeds ahead adding a splash of colour to an otherwise monochrome world. As we turned the corner and left the river briefly behind, a mother and toboggan dragging child passed us. Perhaps the snow on the bank had finally been melted away by all those toboggans and children’s feet, or maybe the child was just exhausted from all the climbing?
For once we stuck to the path, not trusting ourselves to remember where all the fox holes were on the snow covered trail behind the reedbeds. Putting a foot down onto snow only to find a deep hole beneath was a recipe for disaster. It would have been easy to break an ankle, or worse.
Sticking to the path had its advantages. CJ spotted a little robin sitting on a branch right beside us. Usually they fly away at the merest suggestion of a camera but this one stayed put long enough for a photo, even if it was too distant to be as sharp as I’d have liked.
The robin flew off and we carried on, past more empty, snow covered benches towards Woodmill. The closer we got to the mill and the road, the busier the park became. Usually the sports fields beside Woodmill Lane are filled with children running Junior Parkrun on a Sunday morning. Like the Eastleigh 10k Junior Parkrun had been cancelled but the area was filled with people walking dogs or just walking in the snow like us.
One lonely swan watched us from the river in front of the mill as we passed. Even the gulls who usually sit on the roof of the mill had abandoned the place and, for once, the humans far outnumbered the birds.
The road was lined with daffodils who’d expected spring sunshine and now bowed their golden heads into the snow instead. We had a descision to make. Did we keep going forward and head towards Manasbridge, walk up Woodmill Lane towards Midanbury and head home through the back streets, or go back the way we’d come?
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