7 August 2018
My fourth Running School appointment fell on what felt like the hottest day yet. The temperature was in the thirties when I left home and the humidity level was off the scale. In my rucksack a big camelback water bottle was slowly defrosting. When I got up this morning I filled it and put it in the freezer. Somehow I didn’t think it was going to last the whole walk so I was desperately trying to ration my sips. Unlike my previous two sessions, which were both early afternoon, this one was at midday so I was going to have to walk home too.
All the way to the river I crossed roads to the shady side of the street and clung to every shadow I could find. When I reached the river though, there was nowhere to hide. The sun was beating down on my head and heat seemed to be radiating up from the path through my shoes. There were swans gathered between the bridge and the jetty and the two white ducks were sitting on the bank but I was far too hot to pay them much attention. All I could think about was getting to the shade of the trees as quickly as possible.
When I reached the tree by the reedbeds I stopped for a while and sat on the bench to have a drink. The camelback waterbottle had been completely frozen when I left home and I expected it to be mostly ice but, when I pulled it from my rucksack, I discovered it had completely melted in the mile and a bit I’d walked. Thankfully, the water was still cold but I knew it wasn’t going to stay that way for long.
Much as I’d have liked to, I couldn’t sit on the bench all morning and soon enough I had to get moving again. Instead of sticking to the path as I made my way towards Woodmill, I took the trail through the trees knowing it was shadier than the path. It was still very hot and muggy but, without the sun beating down on my head it was far more bearable.
There was a fallen tree just off the trail but it had been partly sawn up and I couldn’t tell how long it had been there. This heatwave has caused the demise of several trees and seeing this one made me question the wisdom of walking under so many but the alternative, walking in the hot sun, made it seem well worth the risk. Even so, I hurried along, listening for any tell tale creaking.
As I got closer to Woodmill I noticed vehicles parked on the grass of the junior parkrun field. There have been several illegal traveller encampments locally and, at first, I wondered if this was another. As I got closer though, I realised it was a fair setting up. The children may have to miss their parkrun on Sunday but, somehow, I don’t think they’ll mind too much.
When I reached Woodmill I had no choice but to leave the shade of the trees. As I approached the road I decided, on a whim, to keep following the river towards Mansbridge rather than walk through the mill. This was not one of my more sensible decisions.
The shade on the first part of the path had lured me, along with the thought that it would be cooler beside the water. What I hadn’t thought about was the added distance and the fact that most of the path is in full sun. Of course, by the time I’d realised my mistake, I’d already gone too far to turn back.
Much as I like this stretch of river, today it was unbearably hot and all I could think about was getting to the bridge and turning towards Monks Brook and the shady trees. Once I’d passed the open pitch and putt course, there was a little shade here and there but the bridge was a very welcome sight.
A group of teenagers were swimming and sunbathing on the far side of the bridge. I envied them the cool water and wished I had time to stop and at least dip my hot feet into the river. My detour had robbed me of the chance though and I had to keep pressing on over the bridge.
The sun was bright on the path between the fields and houses but the small playground was teeming with children. Wishing I’d chosen the route through the mill and saved myself both time and extra heat, I hurried on towards the brook.
Finally I made it back to the trees. Although I’d allowed myself extra time to take account of the heat, I’d now eaten most of it up so there was no time for dawdling. The walk to the green bridge seemed far longer than I remembered but, eventually, there it was, even if I knew I’d have been there so much sooner if I hadn’t decided to stay beside the river
Now I was back on track on the shady trail beside Monks Brook. On I strode, past the mushroom sculpture and the blue bridge, glancing at my watch as I did and worrying about being on time. All along I’d been planning a final stop for a snack and drink under the tree at Monks Brook Playing Fields, now I wasn’t sure I’d have the time.
Once I’d passed the blue bridge I was back in the sun again. Last time I came this way I discovered a fallen tree across the path. Now I could see it had been sawn up and it’s temains were beside the trail. At least I didn’t have to climb over it this time.
Once I’d reached the road and crossed beside the Fleming Arms pub, I was on the final leg of my journey. For a while, at least, I’d be under the trees and out of the sun. This meant I could move a bit faster, although I had to keep my eyes open for treacherous tree roots. The brook on this side of the road seemed lower than ever, with lots of mud on either side.
Without stopping I marched onwards hoping to regain enough time for a short break when I reached the far side of the meadows. A train rattling past startled me but it was gone before I could raise my phone to take a photo and all I got was an empty embankment and a speed sign.
Shortly after this I crossed the two bridges and clambered up the steep bank back into the sun of Monks Brook Meadows. Now it was far too hot to stop. Even going as fast as I could I could feel the sun burning my shoulders despite the liberal layer of sun cream I’d applied before I left home. When I reached the tunnel under Stoneham Lane I paused briefly to examine the damage. Sure enough there was a pink line along the edge of my t-shirt but, as I hadn’t brought a jacket with me, there wasn’t much I could do about it.
Climbing up the slope into the sunny field took my last ounce of effort. As I passed the place where the metal barriers had once blocked the path I glanced at my watch. It was a relief to see all my hurrying had gained me some of the time I’d lost by sticking to the river and I would be able to stop for a brief rest under the tree on the far side of the field.
The ground was dusty and there was nowhere to sit without getting dirty but I improvised by moving a loose piece of the metal barrier under the tree and using it as a seat. My water was now warm and the chocolate salty ball in my bag was squidgy and sticky but both were very welcome nonetheless. As I sipped and nibbled I looked at the field with it’s dried out grass and clumps of old trees. It isn’t the prettiest field in the world but very soon it will be a car park and sports pitches and another wild area will be lost forever.
The lovely old oak sheltering me may well be a casualty of all this progress. On the road just behind it the new entrance to the field is being created and I have the feeling this poor tree is going to be in the way. It would be nice to think the planners would take nature into account a little and route the road into the car park to avoid the tree but I’m guessing it will be easier just to cut it down.
Once I’d finished my snack it was time to get moving again. Luckily I didn’t have far left to go but the thought of walking the same route in reverse after my Running School session wasn’t very appealing. For most of the final stretch of my walk I’d been thinking about alternatives. If I walked through Lakeside to Eastleigh I could catch a train to Southampton but there is only one an hour and I’d still have to get a bus home from there. There is a bus from Eastleigh to Southampton and it stops quite close the the Running School just before the motorway bridge. As I walked past the stop I checked out the timetable. Maybe I’d get the bus home?
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