17 July 2018
Today was my second session at the Running School. Part of me was slightly less nervous about the whole thing because I knew roughly what to expect. Another part of me was slightly more nervous for precisely the same reason. This time I only had to walk one way though, which was a bonus. As the session was slightly later Commando was going to pick me up afterwards. Another bonus was a relatively cloudy sky, something we haven’t had for weeks and weeks. The sun would not be beating down on me as I walked. Sadly, it was still more than a little humid so I was still going to get hot.
Heading towards Bitterne Park Triangle I tried my best to walk properly, heel, toe, stomach in, stand tall, swing arms. The grass looked more brown than green as I headed down the slope into Riverside Park. The last time it rained was in May and everything is parched and dry as dust. The clouds above looked a touch threatening and I had no coat but getting wet felt like it’d be another bonus if it happened.
Someone was flying a kite on the grass and, further on, people were on the jetty feeding the birds. Swans were gathered, gulls were wheeling, grabbing anything that was thrown before it could hit the water. The air was sticky and heavy, making every step more of an effort than it should be. A warm wind was blowing across the park, offering no coolness but suggesting the possibility of rain. The dry leaves rustled. Much longer without rain and they’ll be brown too. On I went, past the reedbeds, waiting for the rain to fall. It didn’t.
By the time I got to Woodmill the wind had stopped, or maybe the mill sheltered me from it as I walked through. Either way I’d given up on the rain. Last time I walked along Wessex Lane, afraid Monks Brook would be too overgrown. This time I headed for the green bridge, hoping the water would make me feel cooler.
This route took me past the old workhouse building, now part of the University campus, and St Mary’s Church. There was a hint of blue sky above the church. For once I didn’t want it to grow. The clouds might feel oppressive but they were keeping the burning sun away.
Through the green tree tunnel I went towards the bridge and the brook. The path was littered with fallen leaves, more autumn than summer. The poor trees, like everything else, are desperately in need of water. Even the brook seemed dry around the edges.
The trail through the trees, usually the muddiest of places, was bone dry apart from one spot where a dog had obviously recently been for a swim and shaken the water off himself. A little dip would have been quite welcome about then but I kept on walking, past the mushroom sculpture to the place where the mud is usually thickest.
Someone had left a tangle of green and yellow plastic cable across the path ahead. As I stepped over it, careful not to trip, I wondered where it had come from and why it had been dumped here? If it had been a small piece of litter I’d have picked it up and carried it to the next bin I came to, as I usually do. This was too big and unwieldy to pick up and carry though and I doubted I’d manage to stuff it into a small litter bin even if I could. The effort taken to carry the cable along this trail and dump it seemed so much greater than just putting it into the nearest bin, it defied logic.
A little further on the mud had dried out and cracked like crocodile skin. Fallen leaves, desiccated by the unrelenting sun, were scattered along its margins. This really has been the strangest, hottest, driest summer, almost as hot and dry as the long, hot summer of 1976.
Just ahead was the blue bridge, closely followed by the final stretch of trail before I’d have to rejoin the road briefly. The edges of the trail here appear to have been mown in a wide strip on either side, perhaps to stop the nettles from overhanging the path and stinging walkers. The stripes of brown straw and grey path look incongruous somehow, with the tall wildflowers swaying along the margins. This, I suppose, must be the most traveled part of the trail or the powers that be wouldn’t have bothered with their mowing.
This, normally boggy, field of wildflowers is where The Grange once stood. Built in the late seventeenth century, the large house belonged to St Denys Priory but became the The Manor House of Swaythling in the beginning of the eighteenth century. The Dummer family and their relatives lived there for almost a hundred years. In 1964 a fire all but destroyed the beautiful building and the ruins were demolished in 1974 when the road was widened.
As a child I must have come this way in the car on our regular trips to collect Nanny from her prefab in Basset but I don’t remember The Grange at all. An FGO Stuart postcard I found shows the road as it looked before it was widened, with the Grange and the left hand side and the Swaythling railway arch in the centre beside the Fleming Arms pub. Sadly, I was too busy trying to get across the road to think to take a photograph for comparison but the arch and the pub are the only recognisable things today. Perhaps next time I will remember?
There was no sun dapping the water of the brook as I walked the trail towards Monks Brook Meadows this week. Soon the double arch of the railway bridge was just ahead, half hidden by trees. Soon I was turning to head towards the bridge. Here the Himalayan Balsam was flowering. Pretty as these flowers are, they are invasive and crowd out the natural riverside plants. Ultimately, this leads to bank erosion as the balsam dies back in winter and, with no native species, the banks crumble.
Recently local residents did their best to clear the dratted balsam away but it is an almost impossible task. Introduced as a garden ornamental plant in 1839 at the same time as the equally invasive Giant Hogweed and Japanese’s Knotweed, the pretty flowers, beloved of bees, give way to seed pods that explode when ripe and shoot seeds far and wide. Each seed becomes a new plant and so the colony grows. If there is an easy answer to the problem, not requiring dangerous chemicals that would kill other plants and pollute the waterways, I’d love to hear it. Thankfully, the native wildflowers have not yet been completely overwhelmed here, but it’s only a matter of time.
Wondering why human beings are so good at meddling with the natural order of things, I walked on along the overgrown pathway towards the bridge. There was much to be admired on the far side. Drooping boughs of buddliea, commonly called the butterfly bush because butterflies and bees love them so, overhung the trail. These pretty flowers are not natives either but I can forgive them that because they happily coexist beside the English flora and fauna. They were introduced as a garden plant in the early 1700’s and have since escaped to colonise wasteland and meadow edges.
There were plenty of really native plants to see as I walked through the meadow, knapweed, fleabane and teasel were the predominant species, adding a little colour to the dry, brown grass. One plant I passed was enshrouded in gossamer fine webbing. Although I peered inside I couldn’t tell if this was a nest for spiders or caterpillars.
The trail beside Stoneham Way is filled with blackberries, many of which seem to be ripening earlier than usual. There were also ragwort here, one complete with a stripy caterpillar that will, one day, become a beautiful cinnabar moth.
All too soon I was crossing the Monks Brook playing fields and my walk was almost over. This time there were no motorbikes, which was something of a relief. The Running School was getting closer and, while the air conditioning inside would be welcome, I had the feeling I wasn’t going to feel cool for long.
This time the glute bridges seemed a little easier and I was slightly more coordinated with the mat exercises, perhaps because I’d been a good girl and had practised at home? Then again, Paul could have been lulling me into a false sense of security. He had other, more challenging, plans for me after all. The most difficult of these was walking backwards on the treadmill. This horrific piece of torture pushed my very limited coordination to the limit. At one point the end of the treadmill seemed to be getting closer and closer and I actually ended up running backwards in panic. The second time I was convinced I was slowly going sideways. Both times I ended up being spat off the end rather unceremoniously.
The session ended with some twisting stretches. These were, on the face of it, easy enough but, repetition made them harder, as did the sweat dripping off my hair and into my eyes. There was a brief stop to take off my glasses because they’d steamed up and left me blind. Commando was outside waiting when I came out, still dripping nicely. He couldn’t believe how hot I looked (and not in a good way). Even after a drive home I was still glowing quite profusely and my hair was clinging dimply to my head. At least my back didn’t hurt though.
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