18 August 2019
This morning began with an early drive to the airport to drop Commando and Rob off. They were catching a train, not a plane, heading for Winchester and a summer social run with a small group of Hamwic Harriers. Kim and I would be conquering a few hills around Mansbridge while we waited for them to come back. It all sounded great, apart from the fact it was raining again.
The weather forecast was for early showers followed by a beautiful sunny day, not that I believed the weatherman after our last walk. We drove back to the White Swan through the torrential rain wondering whether walking was such a good idea. My jacket was no more waterproof than it had been last week and wet hills didn’t sound like much fun. If we didn’t walk though, we’d have a couple of hours to kill. Perhaps, if pub had been open, we might have killed them there.
After a great deal of sitting looking out of the car window at the rain we agreed we might as well just get on with it. At least the route I’d planned was mostly sheltered by trees. How wet could we get? So, we zipped up our jackets, pulled up our hoods and set off towards Gaters Hill. The first hill of our walk.
At this stage keeping vaguely dry was my main concern and my phone stayed in my pocket. With an elevation of sixty six feet, Gaters Hill doesn’t sound too bad until you realise almost all this altitude is gained in the space of around a tenth of a mile. Climbing it is hot work and the top is always a welcome sight.
At the summit, we passed the Swan Garden Centre, another place we could have killed time if it had been open. Instead, we turned off into Cutbush Lane which did at least give our legs and lungs a little rest and is closed to cars for the most part. The trees kept the rain off us more or less but the water was running down the tarmac like a river so our feet were wet.
This first section of Cutbush Lane is actually a gentle slope, the pinnacle of which is fifty five feet higher than the top of Gaters Hill. It then drops back down some twenty nine feet but you’d hardly notice the up or the down they’re both so gradual. At this point the lane turns sharply left and rises steeply. This was our second proper hill.
For the next three quarters of a mile we would be slowly climbing one hundred and thirty eight feet. Luckily, it’s quite a pretty little Lane, overhung with trees. Today they were dripping on us. As we climbed it was hard to believe we were walking through the middle of Townhill Park with houses and flats all around us. The trees hid them from view and it almost had the feel of a country walk. To take Kim’s mind off her legs, I told her about the time CJ and I had got so confused on all the little cut ways in the area we’d come out onto Cutbush Lane and thought we’d found a brand new trail.
Almost halfway up the steep part of the lane we came to the tree that had told me where we were that day. It clings to the steep banks at the side of the trail somehow, although so much soil has been washed away by rain there is a cave like space beneath it big enough to sit in. CJ did sit in in once, just to prove how big it is.
Eventually we reached the top of the lane and Kim was surprised to find we were on West End Road. From our start at the river at Mansbridge, we’d been climbing steadily now it was time to go back downhill. All I had to do was find the next footpath. Of course, this was easier said than done.
The footpath in question is actually another narrow cut way between the houses on the edges of Townhill Park and West End. It dances back and forth across the border between Southampton and West End but is well hidden from the road. It’s been a long while since I walked this path and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to find the way onto it. In fact, much like the first time I explored it, there was a fair bit of walking along the streets, peering between houses looking for a way through. Eventually we found one, although I’m sure it was further down than the one I found before.
All this time it had been raining and, once we left Cutbush Lane, there’d been precious little shelter. This path was more hedges than trees and the water dripping from large leaves added to our wetness rather than sheltering us. It was just over an hour since we’d left Commando and Rob at the train station. By now they should be in Winchester. We wondered if it was raining there too?
When we reached the end of the path it was a relief to see West End Copse across the road. Getting wet was becoming quite wearing by now and the trees would give us shelter here. The only problem I had now was deciding which of the maze of paths to take.
In the end I decided on the high path, mostly because I wanted to show Kim the giant table and chair. This stroll through the woods was probably the nicest part of our walk. We marched through the damp leaf mould looking down onto the stream below barely touched by the rain. Memories of other walks here danced through my mind; seeing a group of young men from the Military Preparation College doing some kind of boot camp; finding a nest of ground bees and a million different autumn fungi.
The giant table and chair were easy enough to find but, either the rain was getting harder or the little clearing was making it more noticeable. It was very wet. Kim tried the chair our for size while I stood under the table trying to stay dry. As we were both already soaked this seemed fairly pointless,
With so many trails meandering through this little copse it is easy to get lost. Today I wasn’t much concerned about finding my way because I knew, if we kept walking, we’d eventually come out on the road again and I’d know where we were. There was another up and down as we went from the high path to the bottom of the gully and back up again. Then we were almost back where we began.
As we were about to leave the woods I saw a large orange fungus on the ground. I’d like to say I knew exactly what it was but I didn’t. All I could really say was it was large, very bright and seemed to be growing on the ground.
We wound our way back along Duddon Close and Old Ivy Lane towards the top of Gaters Hill again. There was a quick toilet stop in the garden centre. No one jumped out on us this time. By the time we came back out the rain had finally stopped.
We walked back down Gaters Hill with sunlight dappling there the leaves rather than dripping rain. Now the sky was blue and the sun was shining. Hopefully the sun would be out in Winchester too as the runners would now be well on their way and Kim and I both knew how miserable the Navigation trail could be in pouring rain.
On the riverbank outside the pub we stopped our watches and stood for a while looking at the weeds wafting in the clear water. A little family of ducks were basking in the bank behind the pub fence. Apart from our wet clothes and the damp pavement you’d never know it had been raining.
We still had time to kill before the first of the runners were likely to arrive but, now the pub was open, we could sit in comfort with a coffee and dry out a bit. After the last few days, with our long wet walk, our early morning drive to Romsey and this morning’s early start, it felt as if we’d barely stopped for breath. It was lovely just to sit for a while, with the sun streaming through the window, sipping coffee and chatting.
We thought the first runners would most likely arrive just after midday. They were supposed to be running at a leisurely pace but, there were a couple of fast boys in the group and we had an idea they’d find slow running too much of a chore. Just after half past eleven we left the pub and took a slow stroll across Mansbridge towards the Navigation. What a contrast to our earlier walk! The sun was quite hot now and everything looked fresh and sparkling after the rain.
We had a leisurely walk across the meadow, past the reservoir and over the Mansbridge Lock Bridge onto the Navigation. I was sad to see someone has graffitied the triangular stone maker there. It seems such a shame to deface something so nice.
We were a little early for runners but it was no real hardship waiting in the sun with a riot of wildflowers all around us. We walked along the trail a little way but then decided to turn back. it Was just possible the runners might take the scenic route across the meadows, especially if the path was badly overgrown, and we didn’t want to miss them.
After a few minutes an elderly lady came past with her little dog. She’d taken a tumble on the path. We chatted to her for a while a little worried to see she had scraped her knee and ripped her leggings. She seemed more concerned about making a fool of herself for falling though.
At around then to twelve we saw a red shirt some way along the trail. It looked remarkably like the first of the runners. In actual fact it was Tony, Allen his own and very early. He stopped for a moment to chat. Just as we suspected, he’d found slow running impossible and run on ahead. Tony has one speed, super fast and just doesn’t know how to run any other way.
The other runners, were some distance behind and, despite having run twelve or thirteen miles, Tony wasn’t ready to stop just yet. With a little wave he dashed off along the trail towards the pub.
A few minutes later he reappeared and, with a quick wave, disappeared again back onto the Navigation trail to find the others. Where he gets all his energy from is a mystery but I wish he’d let me into his secret. Just watching him wears me out.
It was almost half an hour before the next runners appeared but we managed to amuse ourselves.
When we finally saw another red shirt in the distance we though it was just Tony looping back again. It was actually Commando, leading the group. One by one the rest of the runners came past, including Tony again.
It was a really surprise to see Rob and Ian, the latter being one of our prime suspects for breaking away and arriving first, bringing up the rear.
Once we were sure everyone had come past we tagged along behind and followed them back to the pub.