12 September 2019
When I set out this morning to meet Kim it was perfect walking weather, dry, cool and slightly overcast. This was good news because we had a very long walk ahead of us. Marathon training plans suggest a longest run or walk of between twenty and twenty two miles, followed by a tapering period of around three weeks. As we have just over three weeks left before the big day, today woul be our last really long walk. The plan was to cover twenty miles.
When I saw a large group of swans flying over the river towards Cobden Bridge I took it as a good omen for the day. It’s rare to see swans flying at all, let alone huge groups of them. The cygnets Kim and I saw just after we met at Woodmill might also have been a good omen. All four were close to the bank and happy to pose for us. This is also pretty unusual.
With or without omens, I was quite excited about this walk. The route I’d planned felt like the best yet, with no possibility of getting lost and lots of beautiful scenery. My bag was filled with snacks and drinks and, thanks to Commando, I even had a brand new properly waterproof lightweight jacket, just in case it rained. This time, I’d even remembered to turn off everything on my watch except the GPS.
As we crossed Mansbridge I wondered whether we should risk walking through Monks Brook, past the not quite fallen tree, or take the far less pleasant road route. Kim plumped for risking the tree, after all, it might already have fallen and we could hardly avoid the brook forever. As it turned out the tree was still there, hanging by a thread, but our luck held and it didn’t fall on us.
The walk from Monks Brook to Eastleigh was uneventful. We stopped off at the Swan Centre to use the loo and then headed towards Twyford Road. One of the Twyford Road houses had the biggest sunflower either of us had ever seen. Its giant head was bowed down by the weight of all the seeds. We wondered whether they’d be saved and eaten or would end up food for the birds?
The slog towards Allbrook prompted a conversation about hills. There will be lots of them on the Clarendon route. It seemed to me that hills like this one, almost imperceptible to the eye but long and wearing on the legs, were worse that the short sharp kind that leave you breathless but are over quickly. The worst hills, we both agreed, are the steep long ones. I have a horrible feeling there will be lots of the latter on the Clarendon course.
At the bottom of Allbrook Hill we couldn’t decide if the animals we saw in the Highbridge field were sheep with horns or fat goats. The clouds were beginning to burn off by now, showing patches of blue. Hopefully it wasn’t going to get too hot later.
We passed the low bridge over the Itchen and the sign telling us we were now in a Colden Common. We passed another sign telling us Brambridge Antiques was open and wondered how much business they did out here on Twyford Moors, almost in the middle of nowhere. There would be little in the way of passing trade unless you count walkers like us who would hardly be making impulse purchases of tables, chairs and dressers and carrying them off on their backs.
Before long we’d passed Kiln Lane and in the fields of Brambridge House we saw black and white horses, or maybe cows, they were too far away to tell for sure. If it wasn’t for Kim’s keen eyes we’d have missed the horse in cow pyjamas hiding in the trees opposite Brambridge House. We stopped to look at him and he came to the fence, probably hoping to be fed. These black and white horses, properly called piebald, seem to be very popular on Twyford Moors for some reason.
Soon we’d passed our eighteen mile turning point. Now we were in new territory, or at least Kim was. Memories of old Moonwalk training walks were flooding back to me. By now we’d been walking in the road dodging cars for quite some time. So far none had actually driven at us and I was beginning to wonder if this was because I had Kim with me and if there was something about me on my own the drivers didn’t like? Even so, it was quite wearing having to be vigilant all the time.
When we reached East Lodge I knew we’d have a short respite from the traffic and led Kim across the road. From Highbridge Road, East Lodge is completely hidden by trees but, behind them, there is a loop of road, about a tenth of a mile long, used to access the driveway. In all the times I’ve walked there I’ve only once seen a vehicle, and that was a dustbin lorry. This little road gave us a few minutes rest from the cars and the chance of a very fancy house to envy.
By the time we got back to the real road I knew our time without pavements was almost over. At the junction of Lower Moors Road we found a bench I don’t remember seeing before. It was dedicated to Colden Common Women’s Institute and, bizarrely, someone had left a bike tyre on it.
Shortly after this we had the joy of real pavement. We passed a small group of houses, including the beautiful flint clad one I’d admired on so many other walks. Flint, found easily in the chalky soil, is a popular building material here and it makes for some rather lovely houses and walls.
When the pavement ran out again we were almost in sight of the junction with the road to Twyford. There was one more lovely flint clad house to admire, a busy road to cross, and then the relief of non stop pavements all the way to the village. Finally we could really relax.
The road to Twyford is always very busy. The pavement is very narrow and only on one side of the road but we were very glad of it. We passed the lonely little cottage just outside the village, both agreeing we wouldn’t like to live so close to so much traffic, then we passed the signs welcoming us to Twyford. We were now approaching the half way point of our walk.
Twyford is possibly one of the prettiest villages in Hampshire, if you can discount all the traffic. There were so many lovely houses to look at we were spoilt for house envy choice. First we admired the wood clad cottages of Manor Farm Green. Then there was the huge tithe barn with its curious bricked up thirteenth century doorway. Next to it, hidden behind a brick wall is Twyford Manor House and monastery. These days both are private houses but the doorway always sets off my imagination. If only walls could talk.
Further into the village we passed Minis R Us. Often I’ve seen some wonderful old cars on the forecourt but today there were just normal modern Minis. The place always looks a little run down and old worldly and I wonder how much trade they get in this remote place?
We were now right in the village where the houses sit right on the road. With cars and lorrys rattling past non stop it can’t be pleasant but I suppose, when these houses were built, this was just a quiet dirt road with just the odd horse and cart passing through.
It might have been fun to explore this quaint little village further but we had to cross the road here and head away from the centre. With so much traffic, crossing wasn’t easy but we made it in the end and, with one last look back along the High Street, we set off along Queen Street.
This was the one place on our walk where I was slightly worried about getting lost. It’s been a long time since I last walked this way and, although I knew we had to turn off to the right, I wasn’t quite sure where. Luckily I spotted the sign for School Lane before we’d gone too far. It jogged my memory. There had definitely been a school on the route I used to take.
In fact there were children in the playground of the pretty little flint clad primary school when we passed. Quite bizarrely, there was also a chicken wandering around in the road outside. Of course this prompted a few, ‘why did the chicken cross the road’ type jokes. The chicken didn’t seem at all nervousness of the two humans marching along School Lane and, when we got closer, we saw another chicken sitting on the wall of a house. In Twyford I suppose this kind of thing is quite normal.
Leaving both chickens behind we went down the hill. All the pretty little cottages set off our house envy and we talked about what it must be like to live in such a lovely little village. With the city of Winchester just three miles or so away and a wealth of local shops and pubs, it seemed like the best of the rural and city worlds combined.
On Churchfields the houses were more modern but no less enviable, if only for the wonderful views across the fields. We had now been walking for around three hours and were at the halfway point of our twenty miles. It was time to stop for a drink and a snack and stretch out our muscles. Whether we will find somewhere to do this on the Clarendon course is debatable but, in my experience, a few minutes sitting and stretching is really beneficial on such a long walk. On this walk I knew the perfect place.