Some days I just don’t feel like going out but, at the beginning of January 2013, my Moonwalk training diary told me I needed to walk ten miles. The walk I’d planned started on a familiar route and then led me into the unknown. Of course, for me, this is a recipe for getting lost. Still, if I wanted to be able to finish twenty-six-point-two Moonwalk miles by May I had to get out there and walk whether I wanted to or not.
4 January 2013
This morning I was planning a little lie in before the long walk but I woke up when Commando came to bed. Normally I can sleep through anything and I don’t even hear him come in but I guess he’s not the only one who has to get used to going back to the night shift. Anyhow, I was desperate for the loo and it seemed a bit stupid to go back to bed for half an hour once I was actually up. Even so, I hardly sprang into action. Like one of the living dead I sat on the sofa in the gym and stared blankly at the TV for a while before I actually did anything. I’d been having a strange dream about trying to cut up a giant quince to make jam when Commando got into bed. After all the Christmas overeating even my dreams seem to be about food at the moment. What is wrong with me?
Eventually I peeled myself off the sofa for today’s ten mile Moonwalk training walk. Last night I plotted out a route along the shore to Netley that looked quite good on the WalkJogRun route planner, although the second half was new territory for me and you never can be quite sure what you’re going to get until you walk it. So, after breakfast, I set off shorewards. The weather was pretty dull but at least it was dry and not too cold. It was a bit windy on the promenade and, when I got to the end, I left the shore path to get some shelter from the trees, following the road towards Netley. The path was a tad on the rustic side with lots of pot holes and I cursed myself for putting on my sketchers boots rather than my trainers. My only excuse being I wasn’t properly awake when I left home and I just grabbed the first footwear that came to hand without thinking.
It’s been a long time since I went to Victoria Country Park. Normally I’d walk along the shore path but, with the wind and the tide looking a little high, I decided to be safe rather than sorry. After all this was really just the beginning of my walk, I had a lot further to go and wet feet and a wind induced headache is never a good plan. There aren’t many houses along that stretch of road but I passed one with a strange bright green alge filled pond and a pretty little stone cottage that must have beautiful views over the water.
Before long I came to Netley Abbey. Sadly you can’t go inside at this time of year but I did snap a photo through the railings. I also caught a glimpse of the turrets of the castle which made me smile. Years ago it used to be a convalescent home and I remember visiting Mother after her second cancer operation. We had some lovely strolls along the shore. I’m sure she never thought she’d end up living in a castle, even if it wasn’t in the best of circumstances.
Just before I reached Netley village I saw a funny set of steps leading to a lych gate. I was tempted to walk up them to see where they led but I wasn’t sure if it was a footpath or private land so I didn’t. Besides it would probably have messed up my mileage. Instead I trotted onwards through the village until I was back in view of the water again and all the yachts lined up at the sailing club.
Almost at the gates to the country park there’s a little pond with a covered platform to feed the geese, it’s called Sophie’s pond. There were several children with their parents throwing bread which the geese gobbled up greedily. From the pond to the gates of Victoria Park is a matter of just a few steps and I was soon inside. From the satellite maps I’d planned a walk around the park to make up the mileage but, after a bit of a muddy start, I came to some locked gates enclosing a row of houses so I had to turn back and think again. In the end I found a path of sorts through the woods and came out more or less where I’d been planning although I’d walked a bit further than expected. The path down past the chapel was so muddy and puddle filled I ended up walking on the grass and the going was pretty slow. This was not going to be a record breaking walk.
Victoria Country Park is the site of a military hospital built by Queen Victoria after she’d witnessed the horrific conditions in military hospitals during the Crimean War. Florence Nightingale was involved in the project and, in fact, her ghost is said to roam the grounds and the nearby abbey. It was designed as a hospital to serve an empire and, as well as healing the sick and wounded soldiers, it was a training ground for nurses and a research centre. Amongst other things the vaccine for typhoid was discovered there. These days the hospital is long gone and it’s a very popular park. It’s also large and easy to get lost in which is exactly what I did.
Once I’d passed the chapel, I missed my turn and ended up on what the satellite showed as a path but turned out to be just a woodland trail. In the end I couldn’t find a way back to the beach so I had to turn back, adding a bit more to my journey. This ten miles was rapidly growing and, by the time I left the park, I was one mile further on than I was supposed to be.
So it was back through the village but this time I turned away from the shore just before I came to the abbey. Now I was in unchartered territory, walking mainly past fields. Things were going quite well until the footpath ran out on one side of the road so I had to cross. Just before I reached the little railway bridge the path ran out altogether and I had to do the best I could on the narrow muddy grass verges. Crossing the bridge itself was a leap of faith, I made sure I stayed on the left, with the oncoming traffic behind me because I figured at least they could see me and weren’t coming across the narrow bridge at me over the hump. After that it was goodbye to footpaths completely and the road stretched on and on with me trudging through the squelchy grass crossing every so often when the verge on my side narrowed too much.
The views were quite nice but I was so intent on where I was putting my feet, how narrow the verge was and whether it was running out I didn’t pay as much attention to them as I’d have liked. I’d passed the seven mile mark and my energy levels were flagging so I fished my yogurt coated fruit flakes out of my bum bag. When Commando runs he uses jelly beans but I find them so sickly sweet I can’t stomach them. Fruit flakes are my favourite walking snack right now, about the same size as a jelly bean and full of energy but nowhere near as sweet. I know they’re still high carb, high sugar snacks but, in the middle of a long walk that is exactly what I need plus they have no additives and real, concentrated fruit which can only be a bonus. I did see a field with some horses in, most of them tied up. Later on I saw what I thought at first were cows, big black and white things between the trees. When I got nearer, they were actually horses, munching on some hay but they appeared to be wearing cow suits. Maybe I’m just too used to the ponies in the forest.
After what seemed like about fifteen miles of walking on verges I came to a crossroads that left me in a bit of a quandary. For a start the alternative road wasn’t on my planned route even if it did lead me back where I needed to be. There were no footpaths on either road and I knew if I took the turning I would be cutting distance off my walk. What I didn’t know was how much but I was pretty sure it would be more than the mile I’d already gained. There was no way I was going all that way and ending up short on miles so I carried on on the original road, even though it was pretty tempting to take the short cut. About three quarters of a mile further on I passed a fruit farm with rows and rows of bare raspberry canes (at least I think they were raspberries) and fruit trees of some kind. Just after that I came to my turning point.
Finally there was a footpath, although I had to cross the road to get to it, and I was almost back on familiar ground again. Within half a mile I’d passed the sign saying ‘Welcome to Southampton, International Maritime City,’ Half a mile more and I was close to Millers Pond. I followed the winding path through the woods and scrub land until I rounded the final bend and the pond was in front of me. Last time I came this way the whole pond was frozen solid and the poor ducks were sitting on the ice looking confused. Today it was calm and clear, if a little muddy round the edges. By now I’d walked nine and a quarter miles, the route I planned took me home via the long and winding Spring Road. If I went that way I’d be walking more like twelve miles than ten. In the end I walked round the pond and took a straighter route home.
Today’s walk was really not the best I’ve had to be honest. Almost a mile from home I lost the satellite signal and had to restart the WalkJogRun so I don’t even have the whole walk saved. With the wrong footwear, the getting lost, the mud, the lack of footpaths and the extra mileage (I ended up walking eleven miles in all) it felt a bit like a catalogue of disasters. It took far longer than I’d expected because the conditions slowed me down, even so, I’ve done it and I know not every walk is going to be perfect or fun. Better luck next time.