30 July 2019
It was still raining when we left the cafe but we both agreed to keep going. We really couldn’t get much wetter after all. We passed the pretty little cottages of Shawford and chose the road beside the railway viaduct rather than the overgrown trail. Barely able to see through the rain, I left the road a little too early and took the narrow muddy trail rather than going through the gate a little further on. It wasn’t a major problem and added zero distance but it showed how easy it is to become confused in bad weather.
We splashed through muddy puddles past Malms Farm, sandwiched now between the railway line, the Navigation and the river but with views of none of them. Rain was either falling from the sky or dripping from the vegetation the whole time. When we crossed the little bridge and finally left the farm behind I was sad to see the big old chestnut tree, a landmark on so many walks, had been cut down, or at last cut back severely. There are still a few leaves left so it may survive but the welcome shelter is gone, at least for now.
The next part of the trail is very open. With no trees for shelter we were battered by the rain. There were cows grazing in the field beside us now but they paid us no attention. Just ahead was Otterbourne, one of the muddiest parts of the trail in the past. This was where I almost lost my boot in the mud some years ago. With so much rain I was a little worried we might not be able to get through but I kept my worries to myself.
Soon we were back in sight of the river at the spot where the Itchen and the Navigation join. On the bridge at College Meads I stopped and showed Kim the lock head, just visible through the trees. It looks for all the world like a tiny waterfall. As we walked on I told Kim about Peter, the smiley man I met on a previous walk here and how I’d never have seen the lock head without him pointing it out.
Luckily the next part of the trail was not nearly as muddy as I’d envisioned. No boots were lost, or nearly lost and, apart from a little slipping and some delicate manoeuvres around the worst of the mud we got through. Shortly after we’d passed the disguised waterworks pipe masquerading as a bridge across the river, we saw a swan and two cygnets through the trees. Getting a photo was almost impossible but they brightened the morning, even if it was still raining.
When we passed the remains of Brambridge lock I knew we were almost at Kiln Lane. Unbelievably, just after this the rain stopped. Things seemed to be looking up, although we still had the breach ridden trail through Allbrook to get through.
Just before we got to Kiln Lane we came across a badly breached piece of path. Someone had put up some orange plastic fencing to alert people to the danger but we got past fairly easily. Hopefully there wouldn’t be any more breaches ahead.
Without the rain everything seemed much nicer. We crossed Kiln Lane and set off towards Allbrook in good spirits. There were swans on the river and alpacas in the fields. Best off all there were no breaches in the bank so our feet stayed dry and our sodden clothes and hair began to dry out with the heat from our bodies.
Of course it was too good to last. The rain began again a little while before we reached Highbridge Farm. Even the trees along the trail didn’t keep it off us and we were soon wetter than ever. There were goats, or maybe sheep in the field, without my glasses and with the rain teeming down it was hard to tell.
We paused for a moment at Highbridge Road to look at the watery stairs of the old lock there. Kim, who has passed this way in a car many times, had never seen it before and, despite the water running down our faces, was enchanted.
Wetter than ever we carried on along the trail. At least there was some shelter here from the trees and the railway bridges. The gardens of Allbrook Hill and Twyford Road with their river views provoked another bout of house envy. We imagined sitting watching the river flow past and watching swans on a drier day.
We passed the back of Ham Farm and soon we were crossing Withymead Bridge with torrents of water tumbling below and yet more falling from the sky.
The stretch of trail between Withymead and Bishopstoke is normally especially pretty, so it was disappointing to see the trees screening the railway yard are being cut down. The big yellow structures in the railway yard spoil the view of the fields somewhat and even with all the rain we could hear the noise of the yard carrying across the path. Cutting down the trees seems an odd thing to do and of dubious benefit to anyone but the cows in the field didn’t seem too concerned.
The cows grazing in the fields on the opposite bank seemed to have a much nicer home with longer, lusher grass to eat and no railway noise to disturb them. I know which field I’d prefer to live in.
A little further along we reached the field of horses. Today they were a long way from the fence, although I’m sure, if CJ was with us, he’d have tempted them over.
Just beyond the horse field the path was littered with branches and leaves. It looked as if someone had been cutting back the overgrown brambles and trees. There was a rucksack abandoned on the path and, a little further on, we found men with hedge trimmers working away. This explained all the debris and probably the rucksack too. The men looked a little surprised to see anyone walking the trail on such a horrible day but stood aside to let us pass.
We might not have been enjoying the rain but the jelly ear fungus we found on the trail here certainly was. I’ve never seen so much of it in one place. Kim, who’d never seen any before, couldn’t believe how much it looked as if the trees were growing human ears. Further on another tree was a mass of little turkey tails. It really was a great day for fungi, if not for walking.
When we reached Bishopstoke Road we had a decision to make. Did we carry on along the Navigation or turn towards Eastleigh? Even with rain clouded vision we could both see the trail ahead was badly overgrown and likely to be pretty unpleasant in the rain. It seemed silly to risk it, especially when there was a chance of coffee and a proper toilet down the road in Eastleigh so we abandoned the trail and set off along the road.
If anything the rain was getting harder again. The half mile or so between Bishopstoke Road and the Swan Centre was particularly horrible. The rain poured down and the traffic zoomed past sending splashes up to make us even wetter. We must have looked like drowned rats as we waited in a long queue to use the loos. Of course we stopped off at Costa for a takeaway coffee. To be honest, I don’t think either of us wanted to go back outside again but we somehow forced ourselves.