Sunday runday, foothpaths and a church

8 September 2019

Once again Commando is pacing the Winchester Half Marathon. There have been lots of Sunday runs with the pacer team. Today though, they were doing a practice run on the course. Despite the early start I went along too. Any chance to wander around Winchester for a few hours is always welcome and this morning I had a plan.

We met the other pacers in the Colebrook Street car park just after eight o’clock. I left them chatting there and headed off to The Weirs to begin my walk. The morning light was perfect as I strolled down towards Wharf Mill. Everything seemed to have been touched with gold. It was still cool but with a promise of Indian Summer heat.

On Domum Road the light was green from morning sun shining through leaves that have not yet decided to change colour for the new season. Last time I walked this way it was pouring with rain and Kim and I had lots of wet miles ahead of us. Today I planned a nice circular walk, half a dozen miles or so.

The coffee shops in Winchester hadn’t been open when I left but I had half a hope the new cafe at the bottom of St Catherine’s Hill might be. When I got there it was closed though. The sign near the entrance said ‘opening soon’ and a quick peek told me it was going to be worth a visit. The whacky bike sculptures near the entrance were worth the walk all on their own. ​​

The Handlebar Cafe was an idea dreamt up by a group of local teenagers inspired by the new cycle route from the Hockley Viaduct through to Winchester. The wooden buildings are reminiscent of the train carriages that one passed along the line here and the cafe will offer drinks and snacks to walkers and cyclists along with bike accessories and repairs. Hopefully I will have the chance to come back when it’s actually open.

Walking beneath St Catherine’s Hill through the green tunnel of trees was certainly far more pleasant without rain falling on me. This early on a Sunday morning there was no one else about, not even the ubiquitous dog walkers. At some point the pacers would be running down this old road towards Winchester, but not for hours yet.

It took me a good ten minutes to get out of the trees and in sight of the hill. The sky was the colour of periwinkles, crisis crossed with con trails. A few hardy souls were already climbing the zig zag trail. The view from the top would be worth the climb I knew but, today, I had other trails to walk.

Under the old railway arch with its old red bricks being slowly covered with dark green ivy, and on to the traffic lights at Hockley, I followed the route Kim and I had taken in the rain at the end of July. Even now, just before nine o’clock on Sunday morning, the traffic was building up. This is the road that never sleeps. Eventually the lights turned red and I managed to cross.

This was where I left the normal route, down the Hockley Link Road and back onto the Navigation trail. In July I’d been half blinded by the heavy rain and glad to get away from the road and back to the trees. Today though I took a much older route, the one I used back in the Moonwalk training days, before I knew the Navigation existed.

This is the road that leads to Twyford. Once it followed the path I’d just taken, all the way to Winchester. Just past the Hockley Golf Course there’s a trail I’ve always wanted to explore but never had the time. It was tempting to take it now but there was another trail further on I was far more interested in.

Continuing along the road brought back so many memories of other walks. I remembered the men cleaning the pavements here on my epic twenty six mile walk. They’d stopped both times I’d passed them and let me past with a smile. When I came to the little row of cottages I knew I’d almost reached Church Lane. This pretty little lane, the church at the top of the hill and the bench overlooking the river stand out as highlights of all those long walks of the past. Today I planned to revisit them and to finally check out a trail I’d wondered about for more years than I can remember.

There were horses in the field, just as there always used to be, as I set off along the lane. Climbing slowly I passed White Lodge, where I suppose the owners of the horses live, and then the high red brick walls of Twyford Lodge. Behind those walls is an eighteenth century villa overlooking the river and surrounded by beautiful gardens. Although I’ve never actually seen the main house it always seem an enviable place to live.

Further along there is an intriguing green door in the wall, perhaps some kind of servants entrance? Next to this is a small farm where I often saw donkeys. Today there were no donkeys and I wondered if they were still alive? They’d looked quite old back in those Moonwalk training days and, despite the phrase ‘donkeys years’ I have no idea how long they live.

The trail I was interested in runs between the farm and the church down towards the river. Before I finally checked it out though, there was something else I wanted to see. It involved walking through the churchyard and reviving even more memories.

The church of St Mary’s, Twyford, was always a beacon for me on those long walks of old. Once, when I walked this way I heard music coming from the barn of Mildmay house beside it. It sounded like a rock group rehearsing. Another time I saw a white dove sitting above the door of the church so still it looked like a sculpture for a moment. In November 2015 CJ and I had even found the church door open and had a look inside.

This morning, under the beautiful blue sky, the church looked stunning. The golden light danced on the old walls, all stripes of red brick and flint, and the spire, with its checkerboard belfry and crenelated top was wonderfully set off by the blue sky background. Dragging my feet and taking far too many photographs, I walked through the churchyard, past the yew tree that’s rumoured to be a thousand years old, to the gate.

On the lane there are two footpaths. In the past they have been the cause of much confusion to me. When I first stumbled upon the church I’d been following a footpath that began with a steep slope off Twyford High Street. It seemed like a great way to get away from the traffic constantly whizzing through the village and I logged it in my memory for future use. Then, when I came at the path from the opposite end, I’d been surprised to find a bench had sprung up. After several more walks, puzzling over why there was sometimes a bench and sometimes not, I realised the people of Tywford didn’t keep adding and removing benches, there were actually two paths.

From the lane behind the church one path is very easy to spot. There’s a sign and fences so you really can’t miss it. This is the first path I found. The one without a bench. It leads down the slope onto the High Street.

The second path is much harder to spot from this end. There is a sign but the path behind it looks like nothing more than a small gap in the hedge. This though, is the path with the bench and it was where I was headed today.

There were a couple of cats watching me as I went through the gap in the hedge and onto the path. A little way along was the bench. This was where I sat to have a drink and a snack on the longest Moonwalk training walks. While I ate and drank I’d stretch out my tired legs and enjoy the beautiful views over the fields.

Back then I knew nothing of the Itchen Navigation but I often saw people walking beside the river below and wondered how they got there. Sometimes there’d even be swans swimming on the ribbon of water. It felt like the most beautiful place in all the world, an oasis of rest in the middle of a tough walk. Today though the bench wasn’t really my turning point and I wasn’t on a long walk. There were no snacks and drinks in my bag but I did pause briefly for old time’s sake. My real aim for the morning was checking out the footpath I’d just passed. It felt as if this was long overdue.

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