Eighteen miles

29 August 2019

This morning I set off bright and early to meet Kim. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the walk along the river to our meeting point at Woodmill was lovely. The morning air was cool and I was singing a little song in my head as I walked. Heat might become an issue later in the day but I was fairly confident this was going to be a beautiful, if rather long, walk.

Eighteen miles is not an easy distance. It requires food, lots of water and, at the end, a grim determination to keep going. With this in mind I had a bag full of snacks, plenty of water and a route that promised to be both pretty and interesting enough to take our minds off our aching legs. Under my light jacket I was wearing a sleeveless top and was well covered in sun cream. It felt as if nothing could go wrong.

The first thing that did go wrong was my own fault. Because of all the problems I’d had with the battery on my Garmin running out on our last long walk I’d meant to change the settings before I left home, turn off the heart rate monitor and blue tooth and set the touch screen to lock in the hopes the battery would last. In my haste to get out of the house early though, I’d forgotten to do any of this. Luckily I arrived at Woodmill before Kim so I had time to put this right before we set off again. Unfortunately, this meant stopping and restarting my watch so, for the rest of the walk, the distance showing would be 1.8 miles out.

We left the mill behind and walked along Wessex Lane to the beginning of the Monks Brook Meadows trail I checked out last Friday. Chatting away we made short work of the trail along the brook, under the railway bridge, across the first meadow and under Stoneham Way.

We fought our way through the brambles of the trail along the edge of the second field. It wasn’t great but it wasn’t terrible either and we were soon on Stoneham Lane heading towards St Nicolas Church. Until recently this is not a route I’d have chosen but the new pavements make it quite a pleasant walk, at least until you get to the church and the path runs out. Originally I’d thought the path was going to continue right past the wall of the church. The workmen have gone now though and the path is finished but the section alongside the church remains unchanged.

As this is a fast road, with quite a bit of traffic, this short section with no footpath feels slightly dangerous. Walking towards Lakeside the cars are coming from behind but the bend in the road makes crossing to the opposite, also footpathless, side just as treacherous. Today we climbed, rather inelegantly on my part, over the wall of the church and walked through the graveyard, emerging on the road next to the new bus stop. The bit of the old road that is now disused and closed to traffic was right opposite.

It was disconcerting to find a sign on the fence of the ford warning dog walkers of contaminated water. Blue green algae sprang to mind but the brook looked fine as we crossed it. We walked on wondering what we’d find when we reached the Lakeside Country Park lakes.

As it turned out everything looked much as it always does. There was no sign of algae or any other contaminant that we could see. Of course, not being able to see it didn’t mean it wasn’t there. We stopped briefly to use the fancy new toilets then headed past the boating lake to the north east corner of the park.

The plan was to walk through the meadow, out of the park and through the streets of Eastleigh to Twyford Road. There were cows in the meadow, black ones with silky coats that looked as if someone had spent hours furiously combing them. Luckily they were behind a fence and ignored us completely.

The walk through Eastleigh was uneventful. We managed not to get lost and to take the right path behind the church this time. The walk up Twyford Road was a bit of a slog. It’s a gentleish incline but long and with no shade to speak of. The morning was getting hotter by the second. My jacket came off and was tied around my waist. We turned off onto Allbrook Hill and walked down. It didn’t seem nearly as steep as I remembered it from all the slogs back up in my Moonwalk training days. Of course nothing seems as steep going down.

We paused for a moment when we reached the Navigation trail. The water was tumbling down the stair like sluice of Allbrook Lock and there were geese in the yard of High Bridge Farm. We wondered what had happened to the ostriches we’d seen a while back and concluded they’d probably become someone’s dinner.

On we walked towards Colden Common. Once the footpath ran out there was a fair bit of hopping into the verges to avoid being run over but no cars actually drove at us. This felt like a result, given how often I’d almost been run over on previous walks. We passed the pretty little thatched cottage I’d admired so much on previous walks and discussed what it must be like to live here. Pretty as it was it seemed a bit too far from civilisation.

We crossed the Itchen and paused again to look at the water. I remembered another walk here when I’d seen a swan perilously close to the weir and been worried it would tumble over the edge until I remembered that swans can fly. There were no swans today.

We carried on past Kiln Lane and the footpath I’d planned to take on our last long walk, before I got us lost in the rain. Today I hoped we’d actually get to walk it but first we needed to add a bit more distance before we reached our turning point.

Just after Kiln Lane we passed Brambridge House, another landmark from my old Moonwalk walks. Brambridge was granted to Gilbert Welles by Charles I in 1636. The large house we could see across the fields was not built until the early eighteenth century but was home to the Smythe family, including Maria Fitzherbert, the secret wife of George VI. Sadly, the house was almost destroyed by fire in 1872 and had to be rebuilt by architect Matthew Digby Wyatt. It is now divided into flats and is a little too far from the road to be easily seen. Apparently the gardens are beautiful with bridges, waterfalls and cascades taking advantage of the Itchen as it meanders across the land and a large, walled kitchen garden, now used as a garden centre.

The one thing that can be seen from the road is the double lime avenue, reputed to date back to the days of Charles II and to have been pollarded for gunstock in Napoleonic times.The lime avenue and the land around it has been sold to a local farmer. On previous walks I’ve often seen black and white horses, the kind that look as if they’re wearing cow pyjamas, grazing here. There were none today when we passed but there were real cows in the field on the other side of the limes.

My plan for the walk had been to walk along Highbridge Road until we reached eight and a half miles then turn back and take the Kiln Lane trail. Unfortunately, my earlier mistake with my phone made this more difficult than it should have been. When we reached Spring Lane, I judged we’d probably reached the half way mark, but I couldn’t be entirely sure. By this time we were both fed up with walking on the road and dodging cars though so, halfway or not, we turned back.

Walking on a road with no pavements, the sensible thing to do is walk towards oncoming traffic so we crossed the road. This was where the second thing went wrong. The verges on this side were much more overgrown and harder to jump onto. We hadn’t gone very far before the first car came past. I stepped onto the overgrown verge. Unfortunately, the very spot I chose was the one place where the grass and nettles hid a large hole. My foot went into the hole and the rest of me followed, falling deep into a huge patch of nettles. To a bystander it probably looked quite comical. Because of all the nettles there was nowhere to put my hands to pull myself back up and poor Kim had to haul me out. Luckily she’s stronger than she looks. To her credit she didn’t laugh. In fact she seemed quite worried.

Luckily, apart from a few stings on my hands, the only thing hurt was my pride. We walked on, with me fishing in my bag for tea tree oil to dab on my stings. On we went in a haze of tea tree oil and a great deal more caution about stepping onto the verge. We passed the end of the lime avenue where we found one brown horse hiding.

Soon we were back at Kiln Lane and the trail I’d been so looking forward to trying out. Taking an unknown trail in the middle of a very long walk is not usually the best of ideas. We really didn’t want to add lots of unnecessary miles to our walk but, after looking very carefully at the maps, I was fairly sure I knew exactly where this trail would take us. What could possibly go wrong?

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