30 July 2019
Today was the first chance Kim and I had for a proper long walk since our soggy attempt at twelve miles on the Thunder Run course. Of course we’d both been squeezing in shorter walks as and when we could but, if we were going to get through the Clarendon Marathon in under eight hours, we really needed to get going with the long miles. The plan for today was to catch a train to Winchester and walk back home. All in all it should be about fourteen miles, give or take.
Given the horrible humidity of the last few days I was rather hoping for a dull, overcast day, or at least a cooler one. Maybe I hoped too hard because, when I set out for the train station it was raining. At this point I wasn’t too concerned. My weather app said there would be light showers and I had my light mac, not completely waterproof but good enough, or so I thought.
As usual I was early but this gave me the chance to wander slowly through the little park near Central Station and have a look at the recent improvements. When I was in my teens I worked above the station and often sat in this park at lunch time. My job at Dream Factory brought me back to the area and, once again, it was a lunchtime favourite. Back then the park was fairly overgrown and slightly desolate and I often wondered about the ruined building surrounding it.
More recently I discovered that the ruins were once the Emperia Buildings, a warehouse built in 1905 and destroyed in 1940 during the Blitz of Southampton. Along with the ruins of Holyrood Church, this is one of the few remaining bomb sites still undeveloped in the city. Today I didn’t have time to properly explore but I could see right away that things have changed for the better.
When the newly planted shrubs fill out a bit it looks like it will be a lovely place to sit. When I get the chance I will come back and do the story justice but, today, I took a few slightly damp photos and headed for the station.
Thankfully I didn’t have to wait in the drizzle too long. Kim arrived a few minutes after I did and we soon had our tickets and were boarding the train to Winchester. We both hoped the weather would have brightened up a little by the time we got there.
When we left Winchester station though, the drizzle had turned to heavy rain. This wasn’t turning out to be the walk I’d envisioned at all but walk we must. We strode, heads down, towards the city centre. Traffic splashed us, glasses were so rain speckled it was hard to see and, by the time we reached the High Street, water was beginning to seep through my not very waterproof jacket.
After a quick pit stop for supplies and another loo stop in Abbey Gardens we headed towards The Weirs. The street was running with water as we headed towards King Alfred. My main worry, other than being able to see where I was going, was wet feet, slipping and blisters. My new Brooks trainers have, so far, been very comfortable but they were proving quite slippery on the wet pavements. This was a concern. They were also not at all waterproof and past experience told me wet feet equals blisters. So far nothing was rubbing but I wasn’t sure how long that would last. Fourteen miles with blisters is not good.
The rain had eased a little by the time we reached The Weirs. Perhaps the worst of it was over? This is one of the prettiest areas and we walked beside the river looking at the houses with doors opening onto the river. Perhaps they’d be damp and, like the Cathedral, subject to flooding, but what views they had!
Further down towards Wharf Mill, there is a house with a wooden bridge at the bottom of the garden. This little bridge, entwined with wisteria, with a gate opening onto The Weirs, was the subject of some world class house envy. We walked on towards Domum Road talking about what it would be like to live in such a house and sit in a garden overlooking the river.
The rain was getting heavier again by the time we got to Domum Road. We stopped for a moment to take a photograph of the Itchen Navigation sign, this would be our trail for the next twelve or more miles. At least the next stretch was sheltered by trees.
Those trees did help a little but the rain still got through. By now my glasses were in my pocket. They were no use to me. The world was a wet and slightly fuzzy place. My jacket had long since stopped being any use at all and I could feel the water running down my skin under my sopping clothes and my hair, flat to my head, was dripping wet.
When we reached the St Catherine’s Hill car park it was teeming down. It was tempting to stand under the bridge and hope it would ease off but the water was running beneath our feet like a river. My feet were now swimming in water but, surprisingly, there was still no sign of rubbing or pain. Perhaps my new walking socks were doing their job or maybe it was the mesh uppers of the trainers? How long this relative comfort would last I couldn’t tell.
New buildings are being put up in the car park. As far as I can tell they will soon be a cafe and a bike repair place. From what we could see through the rain they looked quite nice wood clad structures, a little reminiscent of trains, sitting on what would once have been the tracks of the old railway line. Coffee is always good but whether this is the right place for it I’m not sure. Time will tell.
We walked on, past St Catherine’s Hill, barely registering our surroundings. The rain kept pouring down and we kept putting one foot in front of the other. So much for the weather forecast of light showers. At least it wasn’t cold.
“These are the walks you’ll look back on and laugh about,” I told Kim, remembering several wet, miserable Moonwalk training walks.
When we crossed the road at Hockley it was still raining heavily. With no glasses and so much rain it was hard to get my bearings but I managed to find the path and we were soon back on the Navigation trail. We walked past the Twyford water meadows, across Tumbling Bay towards Compton lock with the rain ebbing and flowing, much like the river.
As we reached the lock I told Kim how it’s often filled with local teens swimming in the summer. “Not today of course,” I laughed. Right then we passed some bags and towels under a tree by the lock head. Unbelievably, someone was swimming!
A little further on we found two women emerging from the water. We stopped for a moment and said “good morning.” Swimming in the lock on a wet July morning seemed a little odd but I imagine walking in the pouring rain seemed pretty strange too. At least none of us could get any wetter.
Now we were getting closer to Shawford and the rain was getting heavier again. We both agreed that we’d stop for a break in the pub, have a coffee, get dry and hope the rain would have stopped by the time we’d finished. We saw our first swans of the day here but it was raining too hard to appreciate them and my hands were so wet it was difficult to operate the touchscreen on my phone.
It was a real relief to reach the pub. We walked towards it eagerly, talking about Victor Meldrew, the grumpy old man character in the TV show One Foot in the Grave. The final episode was filmed in Shawford and the loveable misanthrope, Victor, was mown down by a car under the bridge by the pub. It was a sad end to a very funny and long lived series. People were so upset they actually left flowers at the spot and the bridge is known locally as Victor’s Bridge to this day.
Unfortunately, when we got to the door of the pub, it was shut. Disappointing didn’t cover it. There was a great temptation to say “I don’t believe it,” Victor’s catch phrase. The pub may have been shut but, for once, our luck was in. Across the road we spied a pretty little cafe and it was open. Gratefully, we went inside.
It really was the loveliest place, if a little small. The tables had floral cloths and each one had an arrangement of fresh flowers. We took off our wet coats, feeling a little bad about dripping all over the floor, ordered coffee and cake and settled down to enjoy a rest in the dry.