16 August 2019
Sixteen miles isn’t an easy distance to walk, at least not for most normal mortals. It’s the point when everything starts to feel tough and muscles start to protest. Knowing this, I’d spent some time planning an interesting route with some really pretty bits in the second half to take Kim’s mind off her aching legs and feet. In fact I was looking forward to it because I’d found an unexplored footpath that I was fairly sure would take us onto the Itchen Navigation at Kiln Lane. It was one I’d passed many times but had never actually walked.
The weather forecast, filled with sporadic light showers, wasn’t great, but we had to walk when we could and we both had showerproof jackets and rucksacks full of drinks and snacks to keep us going. It was dry when I set out but the sky told me it wasn’t going to stay that way. Still, there were swans to make me smile as I strolled along the river towards Woodmill to meet Kim.
There was evidence of the stormy weekend all around as I headed through the trees to the mill. Debris littered the ground but, thankfully, there were no fallen trees. The first spots of rain began to fall just before I got to Woodmill but I zipped up my jacket and told myself it was only a shower, nothing to worry about.
The swan who’d been holding up the traffic last week was out on the path again. He gave me a hard stare as I passed by but showed no sign of moving towards the road. As usual, I was a little early so I sat on the wall of the mill, watching the swan watching me and worrying a little about the gusty wind blowing the Active Nation flag about. A tail wind would be helpful but, if it was blowing in our faces, especially in the last miles, it could make everything seem harder.
The speckles of rain were less of a concern. It was warm and we’d soon dry off between the showers, or so I thought. Moments later Kim arrived and we were soon heading off towards Mansbridge. It was still drizzling but we were pleased to see the four cygnets and their parents close to the mill bridge.
Further on we were less pleased to see the damage to the beautiful liquid amber trees. In a few weeks they will be turning beautiful shades of red and gold but the stormy weather that caused havoc on the Common at the weekend has taken a toll on them.
On the path through Monks Brook we came across another fallen tree. This one had obviously come down some time ago but had become entangled in the branches of anther tree and never quite made the journey to the ground. It was rotten to the core but somehow hanging by a thread. We scooted past warily. It looked as if it could come down at any second and neither of us wanted to be under it when it did.
We walked on towards the airport talking about the half fallen tree. We agreed would avoid the Monks Brook path on the way home because it looked too dangerous. Our other topic of conversation was the rain. The forecast had been for sun and showers but, so far, all we’d had was one long shower. Now we were away from the shelter of the trees we could really do with a bit of sun to dry us out but the sky over the airport roundabout didn’t hold much promise.
It carried on raining all the way up Wide Lane to Eastleigh. The showerproof nature of my jacket was found wanting. I could feel the wetness seeping through. Kim’s jacket was faring better but at least it wasn’t cold. It was a relief to reach the Swan Centre and a little respite while we queued for the loos. It was a long queue.
When we got back outside the rain was getting harder. We walked up the High Street getting steadily wetter. By the time we reached the park on Leigh Road my useless glasses were in my pocket and I was soaked to the skin. This was when things began to go wrong. We used the underpass to get across Romsey Road and, to avoid being splashed by any more traffic than was strictly necessary, I decided to use the little cut way behind the church with the Rapunzel tower. This was a route I’d discovered back in my Moonwalk training days and I knew there was a gate behind the church leading out onto the road and a side road leading back to Twyford Road a little further on. What I meant to do was take the latter, avoiding as much traffic as possible.
Unfortunately, this was not what actually happened. The rain was now torrential. My glasses were in my pocket and I was chatting and not paying as much attention as I should have been. By the time I realised we’d missed the turn we’d already walked some distance. What I should have done was turn back, even if it meant adding a little distance.
Many years ago I made a similar mistake on one of my early Moonwalk Training walks. It was before I had a blog so it isn’t documented and the memory is fairly vague now, but I ended up completely lost in Chandlers Ford. Back then I didn’t have a smart phone with GPS and I’d had to keep walking until I reached my half way point then turn and retrace my steps. With Google Maps at my disposal today should have been simple. If it hadn’t been raining so hard and I’d had my glasses on, it might still have been.
My fingers were so wet it was hard to work the touch screen on my phone and, with no glasses, it was very hard to see it when I did. Eventually I saw there was a railway bridge ahead and I thought we could get back onto a Twyford Road and back on track. My Garmin told me we were approaching six miles as we stepped onto the bridge.
On the other side of the bridge we found ourselves on unknown streets, desperately trying to follow Google Maps to get back onto Twyford Road. I thought I could see a route that wouldn’t make much difference to our mileage but it was hard to translate the map to the real world, especially half blind and soaking wet. We started off in what I thought was the right direction but couldn’t find the road on the map. It was bucketing down now. There was some walking backwards and forwards peering myopically at my phone. Then I realised my Garmin had stopped. I restarted it, not knowing exactly how long it had been stopped or how much distance had been missed. We walked on, going completely the wrong way now but not realising it at the time. How Kim didn’t just bash me on the head and abandon me I’ll never know.
Eventually, after much map peering and fairly aimless walking, during which every road and cut way on the map that should have led us back on track didn’t seem to exist in the real world, we realised we were on Woodside Avenue.
It had been pouring with rain since we left the Swan Centre. We were both soaked through and now we were walking up a seemingly endless hill. At least we both knew where we were though. This was part of the Eastleigh 10k route, a race Kim has run and I’ve tailwalked. We passed a tree decorated with flowers commemorating a fatality back in March. We plodded ever upwards.
Eventually, about a mile and a half after I’d restarted my Garmin, we reached the top of Allbrook Hill. Our miserable detour had, by my calculations, cost too much distance to carry on to Kiln Lane. Kim’s Garmin agreed. We walked down Allbrook Hill towards the railway bridge. It was still pouring with rain.
At Highbridge Farm I realised my Garmin had stopped again and Kim’s was now on low battery. We thought we’d walked about eight miles and were therefore at the half way point but neither of us could be entirely sure. Whether we were at the halfway point or not, it was most definitely time to turn for home.
Despite the continuing rain, the next part of our walk was the nicest. We finally left all the roads behind and set off along the Itchen Navigation. There was shelter here from the railway bridges and trees. There were houses on the riverbank to envy and swans swimming. We were as wet as we were going to get and it felt as if the rain had eased off, although this might just have been because we were more sheltered. It’s surprising the difference walking beside the river with beautiful views can make, even in the rain.
When we reached the fields where all the trees have been cut down we saw a group of cows. They were on the far side of the field and there were two fences between us and them so they weren’t much of a worry. One cow, the only brown one in the group, looked up as we began to walk past. The black cows kept on grazing, ignoring us completely.
The brown cow left the group and came charging across the field towards us. We were both surprised at how fast it moved and very glad of the fences at this stage. The cow ran right up to the fence and stared at us. It didn’t look happy at all. We both wondered just how strong the fences were and whether they could stand up to a brute force attack from an angry cow?
We hurried on with the cow in hot pursuit on the other side of the fence. If it had managed to get through our only escape would have been to run or to jump in the river. We couldn’t have got much wetter though. Despite the fences, the cow felt quite threatening. It followed us all the way along the trail looking angry and mooing occasionally.
It was a real relief to get past the field and onto the next field where the horses were grazing peacefully. We carried on towards Bishopstoke Road wondering why the cow had been so angry and what it would have done it there had been no fences.
Back on the road with traffic splashing us and the rain falling harder than ever the thought of toilets and coffee at the Swan Centre kept us going. Somewhere near the railway bridge my Garmin switched itself off again.
We must have looked quite a sight as we waited for our coffee. We were both soaked to the skin and dripping gently on the floor. We walked towards the airport trying to drink coffee and getting mouthfuls of rain water. It reminded me of another very wet walk on the same road but at least this time I wasn’t alone. My showerproof jacket was, by now, so wet it was totally useless and I stopped even caring about keeping the hood up. My wet hair was plastered flat to my head and water was running down my body under my clothes.
We’d walked along Monks Brook as far as the blue bridge before we remembered the half fallen tree. Ahead of us some young lads came out of the estate and headed off down the trail towards it. We were just about to follow when we remembered and cut through the estate instead, feeling a little guilty that we didn’t shout a warning after the boys. When we parted company at Woodmill it was still pouring with rain.
The last mile and a half alone was horrible. Somehow I managed to trudge my way through the rain and make it home but it felt like a long, lonely walk. When I walked through the door CJ looked at me and said, “is it raining?”