10 July 2018
The back thing did not disappear as unexpectedly as it came. It dragged on and on… For the last three weeks the pain has been more or less incapacitating. It’s worse when I stand still or sit down, sleeping is also a bit of an issue, as is walking, bending, more or less everything really. So I’ve been hobbling around with a horrible pain in my right leg, hip and back and a trio of numb toes. Needless to say, there hasn’t been much real walking going on apart from the odd limp up to the village and back.
On Saturday Commando took me to the Running School (believe it or not they also deal with mere walkers) for a bio mechanical analysis. There was some limping on the treadmill and a few exercises. Paul, the bio mechanical analysis coach, didn’t think my high arches were the problem. He was certain my piriformis muscle was pressing against my sciatic nerve. He was also certain he could fix it with a little time and effort (on my part). So I was signed up for a six week therapy course. Today was the first session and, if I’m totally honest, I was more than a little nervous about the whole thing.
The Running School is in Old Stoneham Lane, quite close to the Church with the one handed clock. As I really couldn’t imagine driving with a numb right foot I decided I’d walk there. Not withstanding the pain in my leg, which was going to be there whether I walked or not, it would be a pleasant walk of around about three and a half miles. Easy peasy under normal circumstances but today I allowed myself an hour and a half as I was planning on walking very, very slowly, trying to put into practice a few of the things Paul and told me.
So I walked down towards the river mindful of the rhythm of my swinging arms and the roll of my feet from heel to toe. Some time ago Commando told me to stop swinging my arms so much. He said it made me look like a deranged soldier. In the first session Paul said I should be swinging them more, not bent like a runner, but straight like I always used to. It felt good, even if my foot still felt strange and my Achilles still burned.
The wisteria were out as I strolled along Monks Walk. There was time to stop and breath in the heady scent. For once, the path wasn’t filled with mud and puddles. There has been so little rain lately it was actually as dry as dust and even the grassy wild flower margins were looking a little brown.
Under Cobden Bridge a woman was rowing a small boat against the tide. It looked like hot, hard work but she kept pace with my slow, measured steps. The mute swans were swimming up stream too, heading for the jetty. I scanned the group eagerly, hoping to see cygnets but there were none.
Above the jetty there were more swans, black and white, but still no sign of cygnets, although Cj and I did see some black swan cygnets a while back. The deep blue sky had a handful of fluffy white clouds but they brought no shade and, despite my slow pace I was getting warm. The river looked cool and inviting, as dark as the night sky.
The cordoned off area I’d noticed at Woodmill on the way back from Winchester was filled with vans, containers and machinery but I still couldn’t work out what they were for or see any sign of work going on. A pile of cardboard boxes beside the mill door proved to be a red herring. When I got close enough to see the writing in the side I realised they were filled with canoeing equipment, not building supplies.
Rather than crossing the road carrying on towards Mansbridge, I walked through the mill towards Wessex Lane and the Swaythling railway arch. Much as I’d have liked to stay close to the river I was mindful of both time and distance. Briefly I thought about crossing the green bridge and walking beside Monks Brook but, after the overgrown Navigation, I wasn’t sure this would be wise.
Beside the Fleming Arms I picked up Monks Brook once again and, once I’d passed the flats on the corner of Wide Lane, there was some welcome shade. The brook burbled, the birds sang and, if I half closed my eyes, I could almost imagine I wasn’t just a few yards from back gardens and railway lines. Of course, the eye closed imaginings made me forget to be mindful of my walking for a while and I soon found my feet and arms slipping back into the old, destructive ways. Changing habits born from years of protecting injuries is not as easy as it first appears.
The railway arches appeared far faster than I’d expected. Beyond the green wire fence I heard a train rumbling past. A pile of broken branches in the brook looked like a beaver dam although there are no beavers in Eastleigh as far as I can tell. It was probably just the action of the water tangling them together and lodging them against the banks. My mind was wandering and, when I tripped on a root, I realised I’d been walking far too fast and far too sloppily. The swinging arms and flowing feet had gone by the wayside and it took quite some concentration to get them back.
A little way ahead the path divides. To the right is a gate leading to a fairly tricky railway crossing. There is no bridge, no barrier, just a place to scurry across the rails if you dare. On the other side a narrow cutway beside part of the old Ford factory leads to Wide Lane. This is not a crossing I’d like to make unless it was a real emergency. To the left is a bridge of sorts, a few old railway sleepers with no rails or sides over a dried out side stream. This path leads towards the meadows.
On the other side of the makeshift bridge a riot of long grass and wild flowers, including a few of the dreaded Himalayan balsam crowded the narrow trail. A little further and I crossed the concrete bridge over the brook, remembering a butterfly basking in the sun on my first visit here. Dappled sun illuminated the water, making it look as if the light was coming from within the brook rather than the sky.
Then it was a slow climb up the steep, rutted slope and into the meadow. Here acres of grass and flowers have, so far, resisted the march of progress. At one time this was going to be the site of the new Southampton Football Stadium. In the end the plans were rejected but I wonder how long it will be before this place is yet more fancy housing like the woods and meadows behind the church?
Butterflies danced along the trail ahead of me oblivious to the hum of traffic on Stoneham Way and the motorway. The grass of the meadow may have been more brown than green but it was alive with bees buzzing around the wild flowers, making a mockery of all the reports I’ve read about dwindling bee numbers.
There was precious little shade until I reached the far side of the meadow where the trees screen it from the road. The trail here was narrow and overhung with brambles but getting out of the burning sun more than made up for the need to duck and dance around the spiny tendrils.
Pretty soon I’d reached the end of the trail where an underpass leads to Monks Brook Playing Fields. All the bramble dodging had made me forget my feet again and my journey was almost over so I redoubled my efforts as I walked under the busy road.
A mass of knapweed pom poms greeted me as I emerged into the sunlight again and plodded slowly up the slope into the field. At the top of the slope a strange metal barrier daubed with orange paint had me worried for a moment. It stretched across the trail ahead and, at first, I thought the field may have been closed off for some reason. If it had I was in trouble because I didn’t have time now to turn back and take the longer route up Wide Lane and through Lakeside.
Although I’d half expected to see a no entry sign attached to the barrier there was none and, up close, it was not as high as I’d first thought. Even with my bad back and leg it was easy enough to climb over. On the other side one of the butterflies who’d been dancing ahead of me finally let me take its photo.
The walk across the field was an uneasy one. The barrier was obviously there for a reason and I could see more ahead on the other side of the field. All thoughts of walking properly were driven away by the worry that I might not be able to get out onto Stoneham Lane. The barrier might not be much of an obstacle but what if there was something more solid on the other side?
With great relief I discovered someone had torn down the strip of metal close to the gap in the hedge and I could see a clear path to the road ahead. Before I headed for the road I stood for a while looking at the twisted metal almost encircling the field and wondering who had put it there and why?
Now my journey was almost over and, as I walked along Stoneham Lane towards the entrance to the Running School, my head was filled with nerves about what lay ahead.
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