29 August 2019
As we went through the kissing gate onto the unknown trail I couldn’t help thinking about the rule of threes. So far today there had been two, luckily fairly minor, disasters. Theses things come in threes though, and I was breaking my own rule never to take an untried path in the middle of a long walk. It felt like a recipe for disaster but, as mother would have said, rules are like pie crusts, made to be broken.
In fairness, I’d checked out the trail as thoroughly as I could on Google Maps. There actually seemed to be two marked footpaths, one going diagonally across the fields and the other hugging Kiln Lane. Using Google Street View, I thought I’d found the gates where both paths began and ended too, but seeing things on a map, even a satellite map, and finding your way on the ground are two different things.
The path was nice firm gravel and ran behind the hedgerow in a relatively straight line. The field to our left, where the other path was supposed to be, was fenced off. It looked like grazing land but there were no animals as far as we could see. Our path, on the other hand, was perfectly maintained gravel, hard packed and firm under foot. We ate a dried fruit snack as we walked. After a while we could see a pretty little cottage ahead. Of course, this set off our house envy and we walked towards it talking about what it would be like to live in such splendid isolation.
Right next to the cottage was a gate leading to the footpath across the large field. From here it was clear the path was well used by the track of flattened grass running right across the middle of the field. Our own path veered off towards the right here and led us to another gate, beyond which was Kiln Lane. Our off road adventure had come to an end, at least for the moment, and, despite my misgivings, had passed with no further disasters.
Of course it wasn’t quite plain sailing once we got back onto the road. Kiln Lane is narrow, winding and has no footpaths. It’s beautiful to look at but the very worst kind of road for walking. Although the Navigation Trail had not looked far on the map I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to get to in real life. We stuck close to the fence of the little cottage and pressed on. Cars came past and, as there were no real verges, we flattened ourselves against the fence.
We passed the entrance to the garden centre that was once the kitchen garden of Brambridge House. Shortly after this there was a sharp bend and a bridge. For a split second I thought we’d reached the Navigation trail. Then I realised this was actually the bridge I’d glimpsed so many times through the trees as I approached Kiln Lane on my Navigation walks. The river and canal meet a little south of Kiln Lane and the water under this bridge is actually the River Itchen.
Despite the threat of cars, we paused for a moment on the bridge and looked along the river. We could clearly see the bridge where the river and canal converge. It looked close enough to touch. In actual fact the Navigation trail was a lot further along the road than I’d expected. The narrow road curves along the line of the river for some distance before it reaches the Navigation and, with no footpaths or verges, it makes for slightly scary walking. It was a huge relief to see the white railings of the second bridge ahead.
Getting off the road and onto the trail felt like coming home. Now I knew exactly where we were and where we were going. From now on the walking would be easy, or as easy as it can be on the second half of an eighteen mile walk. We strode off along the familiar trail smiling and feeling surprising fresh despite the heat. Kim had some little flapjack squares in her bag and we each ate one to give us energy for the miles ahead.
When we reached the crossing we’d seen from the first bridge we stopped and peered through the trees trying to see the spot where we’d been standing earlier. Then we carried on, back towards Allbrook.
Soon we were passing the alpaca farm and I pointed out the bridge where I’d seen the farmer with a gun so many years ago. Today the alpaca were tiny dots on the far side of the field. We walked on talking about alpaca wool and cosy winter jumpers.
This, we both agreed, was the most pleasant part of the walk so far. Although this trail is prone to flooding and bank breeches, we didn’t have to worry about such things in the middle of summer. The path was firm with lots of shady trees and the Navigation running beside us gave the illusion of coolness even though the day was sweltering.
It seemed like no time at all before we were passing the other side of the fields where we’d seen the geese earlier. A terrible wailing alerted us to a peacock strutting up and down the fence beside us. We waited for a while, hoping to see him spread out his beautiful feathers, but he wasn’t in an obliging mood.
Now we knew we weren’t far from Allbrook Lock, even though we couldn’t quite see it yet. There were hay bales in the next field and a distant glimpse of the road. Then we heard the tumbling of water and knew we’d reached the lock and the funny little green roofed house I believe is something to do with measuring water levels.
We could have slogged our way back up Allbrook Hill and retraced our steps but I had a far more pleasant plan. Instead, we crossed the road and carried on along the next part of the Navigation trail. Lined with trees and railway bridges, it would be a far shadier, and therefore cooler, walk than the road.
There were houses to envy by the score here too. Something to distract us from the heat and our poor tired feet. There was even a swan, the first I’d seen since Riverside Park right at the beginning of the walk. Somewhere along this stretch I began to notice a slightly sore spot on my arm where it had been rubbing against my vest top for so long. It was an irritation rather than a problem but it reminded me why I usually prefer long sleeves. It’s surprising how, even the softest fabric, can chafe on a very long walk.
On we went, along the path strewn with debris from the men we’d seen cutting back the vegetation last time we came this way. We passed Ham Farm and Withymead Lock, heading towards Bishopstoke. There were no scary cows this time, just the river and the shade of the trees.
Since we’d left the road at Kiln Lane I’d been expecting the rule of threes to kick in and some disaster to befall us. It hadn’t and the walk from Bishopstoke Road to Eastleigh was boiling hot but uneventful. We stopped at the Swan Centre to use the loos and grab a lovely ice cold drink to fortify us for the last five miles.
It would be nice to say they were easy miles but, if I did, I’d be lying. Without the trees to shade us and cars whizzing past, it was the least pleasant part of the walk. We sipped our drinks and chatted our way back to Woodmill getting hotter by the second.