6 August 2019
One of the worrying things about the Clarendon Marathon, apart from having to walk twenty six point two miles in under eight hours, is the last five miles. By all accounts they are very hilly, including a trek up Farley Mount (the Mount part is a particular worry). With this in mind I thought our short walks should be hilly ones. On Sunday morning I scouted out part of today’s eight mile route and I was fairly sure Kim wouldn’t thank me for it, at least not today. Maybe on Marathon day though, she would.
The plan for the morning was to meet at Woodmill at nine. The sky was mostly blue with fluffy clouds when I set off. After our last very wet walk, I hoped this was a good omen. The tide was out and the swans were still asleep as I strode along the river. Despite the early hour, it was already quite humid. This summer there seems to be no middle ground, it’s either been stupidly hot and humid or pouring with rain.
As usual I’d allowed far more time than necessary for this first part of the walk and arrived quite early. When I reached Woodmill there was a long queue of traffic and a woman appeared to be trying to chase a mute swan out of the road. This was not the first time I’ve seen swans holding up the traffic and I doubt it will be the last. The lady in question was doing an admirable good job of getting him back to the water though.
In fact it was almost comical to see the swan marching across the path with the lady hot on his heels. I’m not sure I’d have had the courage to face down a swan myself. Pretty soon Mr swan was back in the water and the show was over.
While all this was going on a large black cloud had been sneakily gathering over the mill. While I was eyeing it suspiciously, thinking I really couldn’t stand getting soaked again Kim appeared. Maybe, if we were very lucky, we could out walk the big black cloud.
The first hill of the morning was Woodmill Lane. It’s more than half a mile long and one of the hills I usually avoid like the plague because it’s such a slog. On my Sunday practice walk I’d climbed it, just to prove I could do it without keeling over at the top and embarrassing myself. The following photos were taken then. Today we marched up without stopping, which is the best way to tackle it. If you do stop it’s very hard to get going again.
From the mill to the edge of the park is a gentle, almost imperceptible slope to lull you into a false sense of security. When you reach the roundabout at the far corner of the park it begins to get steeper. At this point it doesn’t seem so bad.
When you get to the first corner though, you see more hill stretching up ahead. This middle section is steeper, a real calf burner. It goes on and on…
Then, just when you think you’ve seen the worst of it, there is another bend and yet more hill, steeper still and stretching on interminably. At least now you can see the top.
This is the hill that keeps on giving though. The sight of the shops at the top of the hill is a kind of optical illusion come false dawn. The hill has one more nasty trick up its sleeve for you right at the very top. There is one final turn just before you reach the summit with your heart pounding and your calves screaming in protest. This last part is the steepest of all.
We made it to the top without our hearts exploding. Then we stopped for a moment and leant against the pub wall to let our heart rates get back to something approaching normal and catch our breath. At this point Kim wasn’t talking to me and I wasn’t sure if this was because she couldn’t breathe or because she’d decided she hated me.
We’d climbed at a fast pace from sea level to sixty four meters above sea level in just over half a mile but we didn’t stop for long. The next part of the walk was nice and flat. We paused again at the top of Dell Road to look at the spectacular view of the airport. This is another killer hill but we wouldn’t be tackling it today. I’m not that cruel.
There were more hills to come but, as we’d reached the highest point in this part of the city, we had to go down before we could climb back up again. The walk down Midanbury Lane was a pleasant change of pace and included a few talking points. Kim had never seen the legendary boat in the garden and I’d planned this route especially to show it to her.
She could hardly believe what she was seeing when I pointed out the giant, slightly crumbling, catamaran taking up almost the whole of one of the gardens we passed. As we walked down the hill I told her the story. The boat was built in the early 1960’s by a man who had a dream. He was a clever man, a college lecturer, but, despite this, after years of building this boat he found it was impossible to move. As I understand it, the cranes needed to move the boat out of the garden were too large to fit in the road. We both agreed his wife must have the patience of a saint.
Just before we reached Cobden Avenue, we turned off into Deep Dene. If I was going to make poor Kim spend all morning climbing up and down hills I thought the least I could do was share a few stories with her along the way. Before we walked into the park I pointed out the house next to it. Today the house is divided into flats and almost hidden from the road by trees. Once though, it was one of the large villas that were the only houses in the area. When the last owner died the large gardens were left to the council and turned into a park. This was where I played as a child.
Sadly, I don’t have much information about Deep Dene House but I remember being told to keep out of the woods by mother. Of course I didn’t, but her warnings always made them feel slightly sinister. Today they seem far smaller than they did back then but there are still traces of the old gardens to be found, including the remains of what must once have been the garden pond. Kim was quite enchanted when we found it.
After all the hot climbing walking through the cool woods made a pleasant interlude. There were some truly spectacular twisted branches to look at and I told Kim the story of the huge tree that fell and blocked the road a while ago, and even showed her the spot where it once stood. We even found the fallen tree that looks like the spine of a giant animal. What I didn’t tell her about was the next hill.
We left Deep Dene and turned right into Thorald Road. This is another steep climb, not as bad as Woodmill Lane, but bad enough. As we trudged ever upwards I told her about the days when I’d regularly pushed a pram up this hill to visit my friend Mandy. This was back when I lived in Portswood and Philo was the baby in the pram. Mandy had a little boy born on the same day and we met in hospital. To make Kim laugh I told her how Mandy had gone to the shops at Bitterne Triangle, just a few weeks after her baby was born and had got home with her shopping only to realise she’d left the pram and the baby outside the shops. Then I told her how Mother had once left me outside the pub in the village in my pram and my Dad had come past. He took me home without telling her and caused a huge row. Of course I don’t remember it but it is a family legend.
Half way up the hill Kim spotted a really old car half hidden in a garage. Not being a car buff, I couldn’t tell you what kind of car it was but it looked interesting. It also gave us a chance to stop for a moment and catch our breath.
When we got to the top of Thorald Road Kim was surprised to see we were right in front of the house with the giant boat again. We carried on along Avon Road, distracting ourselves from the upward climb by talking about what it must be like to live with a boat in the garden and how difficult it would be to sell said house.
Once we were back at the Castle, the hills were more or less behind us but there was still plenty of walking ahead. We were just under four miles into the eight and heading slowly back to the river. We took small roads and cut ways through Midanbury into Townhill Park and then the pleasant, leafy walk along Cutbush Lane. Here I showed Kim where you could just about see the boundary stone through the hedge and told her about late night, slightly drunken walks home from the White Swan in my misspent youth.
At the top of Gaters Hill we turned off into the Swan Garden Centre to use the loos. Planning in loos stops is one of my speciality skills. We walked through the garden centre looking at all the things we’d probably buy if we were rich and had gigantic gardens, then headed down the narrow corridor past the gents to the ladies. Unlike the loos at the Swan Centre in Eastleigh, there were no queues. In fact, apart from a woman and small child we were the only ones in there. We used the loo, washed our hands and headed back towards the exit. Just before we reached the doorway to the gents a man jumped out, waving his arms and shouting ‘raaahhh.’ Our heart rates, which had been back to normal for some time at this point, skyrocketed. We both jumped. The horror on our faces was matched exactly by the horror on the man’s face. He’d heard us coming and, thinking we were his wife and child, had jumped out for a joke. The poor man couldn’t apologise enough but no harm was done and we left the garden centre laughing about it. Walking with me is always an adventure.
Outside again and heading towards Gaters Hill and the river, we were back to worrying about the weather. So far it hadn’t rained and the sun was still shining but the clouds I’d seen gathering over Woodmill earlier were still there looking ominous above the old mill buildings
At least we were walking down Gaters Hill and not up it and the tunnel of trees sheltered us from the burning sun just as well as it would have from the pouring rain.
At the bottom of the hill we crossed the road and I showed Kim the boundary stone there. On previous walks I’d wittered on about my hunt for these stones but Kim had never actually seen one before. Whether she was impressed or not I couldn’t tell.
We walked on along the river, past the pub and the little bridge at Mansbridge. This was territory we both knew well. It was also nice and flat. We noticed that the grass had been mown along the edge of the old pitch and putt course but the middle had been left and was now a riot of wildflowers. Obviously pitch and putt has fallen out of favour. We also noticed the looming black cloud and quickened our steps.
We were almost back at the point where we had to part company now. We were both talking about how much harder the alone parts of these walks were than the together parts when we spotted an odd sight. A random sunflower was growing amongst the weeds on the edge of the riverbank. It was a thing of beauty but we were both puzzled how it got there?
The last part of our walk together was spent passing swans and greylags discussing the sunflower. Perhaps it came from a seed in a dropped snack or some seed thrown to feed the birds? Then again, someone could have purposely planted it just to puzzle people like us.