Happy Birthday Southampton Parkrun

6 July 2019

This Saturday was Southampton Parkrun’s seventh birthday. As there was a music event going on on the flats where parkrun usually starts and finishes, the run was moved to the alternative course, beginning and ending close to the Cowherd’s Pub. Of course, this meant a bit of a longer walk for us to the start but, as that also meant more steps in the bag for me, I wasn’t complaining.

Commando and I parked in the Bellemoor car park, crossed the road and began to head across the Common, we hadn’t got very far before we met Rob. This morning he had his Event Directors hat on and he commandeered Commando to go off to Holly Lodge and help him with some equipment. This left me to walk to the start on my own.

Walking alone along the diagonal path from Bellemoor Corner to the crossroads wasn’t a hardship. It was a lovely morning, dappled morning light, no one else about, birds singing, just my kind of walk. So there I was strolling along swinging my arms and probably grinning like an idiot, when I heard a loud rustling in the undergrowth beside the path. The little bridge across Rollsbrook Stream was up ahead and I’d been looking forward to stopping and taking a photo of it. This rustling, almost crashing about, was too loud to be a bird or a squirrel though and it sounded quite disconcerting. There were no trails nearby and peering into the trees I couldn’t see anything but I was worried. Whatever it was, it was very large. As this is Southampton, not Canada, I told myself it was probably a large dog. This might be less scary than a bear but, in my opinion, only slightly.

Feeling quite nervous by now, I hurried on. The crashing and rustling continued and, just before I was spooked enough to break into a run, a man and a very large dog burst out of the bushes just ahead of me. What they’d been doing I couldn’t tell but I didn’t like the look of either of them so, keeping my eyes on the ground, I rushed on. Once I felt I’d put some distance between us I stopped and, on the pretext of taking a photo of the stream, looked back. Thankfully they were going the opposite way.

Just for the record, I’m not usually a scaredy-cat, but men and dogs clambering loudly through the undergrowth nowhere near a path seems like odd behaviour to me. Usually I like walking alone but this made me feel very vulnerable and I silently cursed Commando for leaving me. The Common always strikes me as one of those places you have to be on your guard. It’s very public, with lots of people coming and going but, because it’s so big, you can often find you’re self completely alone. Add to that lots of places where you could be dragged off into the trees and shrubs and it feels a little like a muggers paradise at times.

Still feeling very jumpy, I hurried on to the crossroads. There was still no one about so, on the pretext of taking a photograph of another part of the stream, I stopped again and checked the man and his big scary, leadless dog had not turned around and followed me. They hadn’t, which was something of a relief.

Now I was heading towards the parkrun start and, fairly soon, I could see the volunteers setting up the finish funnel. Because it was parkrun’s birthday almost everyone was in fancy dress. The main theme today was red and white, the Southampton football team colours.

Eventually Rob and Commando arrived, both in their Saints shirts. The RD’s today were Luis and Milz, giving the occasion an international flavour. More and more people were beginning to arrive so I hung around for a while taking photos. When Rob got up on the bench with the megaphone to give a speech thanking the volunteers who made everything possible, I sloped off for a walk. No offence to Rob but I really needed to get the steps in.

Being on the opposite side of the Common to normal meant I didn’t really have time a for a walk in the Old Cemetery. Instead, I decided to go and have a look at the Beyond Graffiti tunnel. Before the runners began streaming up the path I dashed off along the trail a little way up from the start. It would get me off the path, out of the way of the runners and, eventually, take me out near the tunnel.

It was pleasantly shady and I strode along thinking how lucky we are to have such a wonderful place to walk and explore in the centre of the city. There were huge white bindweed flowers twined through the undergrowth here. They get short shrift when they try to invade my garden but here, in the wildness of the Common, they’re quite beautiful.

The trail curves gently before crossing a stream, possibly part of the Rollsbrook Stream although I can’t be sure. There are some thick planks, like railway sleepers, forming a crossing point. Today I noticed one was was broken, making the crossing slightly more treacherous than normal.

On the other side of the stream the trail emerges opposite the Showground, where the Southampton show used to be held. When I was about nine or ten my mother entered a beret I’d crocheted into the show and I won a prize. I barely remember anything about the day but I remember the beret very well. It was bright yellow and I hated it, even though I’d made it.

As I walked towards the Beyond Graffiti tunnel I heard the unmistakeable thunder of feet behind me. The parkrunners were coming. I turned, thinking I might see Commando, but I was too far away so I took a photo and then carried on.

As always, there were a few new pieces of graffiti to make me smile. I wandered through, stopping every now and then to take photos. In one place there seemed to be a Star Wars theme going on. Further on there was a thought provoking monologue and, at the far end, some tag style pieces I couldn’t decide if I liked or not. By the steps leading up to the Avenue, I was pleased to see the little mushrooms I’ve been admiring for the best part of a year, maybe more, are still there.

There was still quite a bit of time before I needed to get back to the parkrun so I decided to take a loop of the far side of the Common. For some reason I’ve never actually walked the circular trail on this more or less triangular section of Common between the Avenue and Highfield Lane. Today was the day to do it.

By this time the sun was getting higher in the sky and the morning cool had turned to a hot mugginess. The trail, once I got a little way along it, was mostly shady. This suited me just fine. It was a pleasant walk, looking at the contorted shapes of the trees, the patterns of the shadows and the changing light.

The trail took me full circle, back to the tunnel. Now it was time to go back to parkrun. The runners were beginning to cross the finish line when I arrived and I was soon lost in cheering them in, watching all the while for Commando. Pretty soon Southampton parkrun’s seventh birthday was over and we were all heading off to the Bellemoor for some celebratory cake.

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Colour on the Common

27 April 2019

Because the fair has been on the Common for the last couple of weeks the parkrun start, finish and route has had to temporarily change. Last week, in an early Saturday morning haze, we totally forgot and ended up walking through the eerily deserted fairground.

Our mistake made for some interesting photographs of what would have normally been the finish funnel being set up. This week we remembered and took a more scenic walk to avoid disturbing the fairground workers sleep with our chatter.

This involved a longer walk than normal on the diagonal path from Bellemoor Corner towards the crossroads. It wasn’t what I’d call a hardship, especially crossing the little bridge and looking over the side at the Rollsbrook stream. Almost all the little streams hidden on the Common are tributaries of the Rollsbrook stream. It rises just south of Cuthorn Mound and runs under the Avenue then roughly south west across the Common to the southern side of the cemetery. One of these days I might try to follow its path to the Rollesbrook Valley Greenway and have another attempt at finding Conduit Head. Today was not that day though.

Today there were a thousand or so people gathered near the Cowherds Pub waiting for parkrun to start. Obviously my plans didn’t involve any running. Instead, as soon as the runners had set off I headed back towards the crossroads, keeping to the grass to avoid getting caught up in the run. About halfway between the finish funnel and the crossroads there’s a grassy trail running off into the trees. As soon as I reached it I turned away from the stream of runners.

Within moments the noise of the parkrun had faded away and I was alone. Birds were singing, the sky above was mostly blue and the bright spring green of the new leaves all around made me smile. I dawdled along the trail, stopping to watch a robin who didn’t want his picture taken, admiring the shapes of dead branches and enjoying the peace.

The trail crosses a makeshift wooden bridge and emerges from the trees just east of the artesian well. A little further west, at the crossroads, I could hear the marshal cheering the runners on. Turning west, I left the well and the runners behind and headed towards the faint hum of traffic on the Avenue.

When you’re in the middle of the Common it’s easy to forget you’re also in the middle of a city. With trees, trails, lakes and nature all around the hustle and bustle and busy roads seem like another world. The traffic is never too far away though. The Avenue cuts through the Common, dividing the west side, with the parkrun, Cowherds pub and Old Cemetery, from the smaller east side where Cutthorn Mound is hidden. It isn’t easy to cross the road here, it’s one of the main routes in and out of Southampton and almost always busy. There is an alternative though, the subway otherwise known as the Beyond Graffiti tunnel. This was where I was heading.

Beyond Graffiti began in the late 1980’s as a youth project run by youth workers Mike Banks and Jacquie Lee, to help and inspire young artists, musicians, poets, writers and the like get together, harness their talents and express themselves. The Beyond Graffiti tunnel grew out of this project when, in 2004, graphic designers Corbin Adler and Michael Flibb were asked to spruce up the old paddling pool kiosk and got local youngsters involved. The murals were so poplar the council agreed to set up a permanent art project in the underpass, somewhere young graffiti artists could paint and be creative without getting into trouble. Walking down the slope towards the tunnel always give me a little tingle of anticipation. The artwork is ever changing so you never quite know what you’re going to find.

Good graffiti in the right place is a joy to behold, at least in my opinion. I’m not talking about mindless tagging, names scribbled on street furniture and private walls. To me that is just territory marking, like so many dogs cocking their legs to say they were there, the signature without the actual artwork. There’s been a lot of that about lately, especially from a complete moron calling himself cams wasp, who thinks it’s clever to paint his name everywhere, even over the real artwork on the painted shops in Northam.

The artwork in the Beyond Graffiti Tunnel is constantly evolving though. Of course there are scribbled tags but they don’t last long and some of the real artwork is stunningly beautiful, thought provoking or amusing. There were a few that caught my eye today and I stopped to capture them before they disappeared.

So I slowly walked the length of the tunnel, taking a photo here and there. Then I turned round and walked back, thinking about other dull areas of the city that could benefit from this kind of sprucing up.

Soon enough it was time to leave the vibrant colours of the tunnel and head back through the bright spring greens of the Common to the equally colourful sea of Lycra at the parkrun finish. Most Saturday mornings I’m on the opposite side of the Common, wandering around the Old Cemetery looking at graves and wild flowers. Today, thanks to the fair, I had a far more colourful morning walk.

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West Side wanderings

18 February 2018

The River Itchen meanders through the centre of Southampton dividing it roughly into two halves, west and east of the river. Almost all my life I’ve lived on the east side, so much of the west side of town is something of a mystery to me. Today CJ and I thought we’d explore a small part of it. There was a plan, albeit a fairly vague one, centred around an unusual church we’d seen from a bus some time ago.

Continue reading West Side wanderings

Fifty miles

27 January 2018

On a normal Saturday morning I can usually be found hanging around on the Common while Commando runs parkrun. Sometimes I volunteer, sometimes I just go for a quiet wander. For three weeks in a row though I’ve been conspicuous in my absence and it’s all down to Commando’s friend Rob and a harebrained scheme to run fifty miles and raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK. Continue reading Fifty miles

Tales from the photo archive summer

For more than a month Commando had been sidelined by illness. It was June before he was finally allowed to put his trainers on and test his legs. He still was far from well but seeing him cross the finish line at Southampton parkrun on 10 June felt like a huge leap in the right direction. Continue reading Tales from the photo archive summer

Beyond Graffiti

19 August 2017

With all the decorating going on there have been no proper walks lately. Life has been one long round of cleaning, sanding, painting and organising things like new blinds for the windows and furniture renovations. Although all this has given me plenty of exercise I’ve missed being out with my camera walking so, today, while Commando was running round parkrun, I took a short wander on The Common.  Continue reading Beyond Graffiti

A small disaster on the Common and some graffiti – first published 5 September 2014

In early September 2014 I’d revisited my past and had a pleasant walk through the parks. Now I was on my way to the Common. As I was passing the old Mad House building a van passed me with its stereo blaring. I often wonder about the hearing of people who play their music so loudly in their vehicles but this time they were playing one of my favourite songs, Kevin Lyttle’s Turn Me On. This was one of those tunes we’d put on the CD player when the marketing team were in the penthouse at Dream Factory. Sometimes we’d even get up and dance around a bit. Hearing this reminded me I had my iPod in my pocket. Once upon a time I almost always had my iPod on when I was walking but lately I’ve hardly used it. I got it out, found the song and set it to shuffle. Continue reading A small disaster on the Common and some graffiti – first published 5 September 2014

Another Saturday, another Parkrun

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8 October 2016

Last week Commando made a park run comeback. This week it was the turn of another Spitfire, Sarah, to return to running, this time after major surgery had kept her on the sidelines for some time, marshalling, token collecting and generally cheering everyone else on. Of course Commando would be running again too so I went along to cheer them both on. Continue reading Another Saturday, another Parkrun

A very special parkrun

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27 August 2016

Parkrun is becoming a bit of a regular Saturday morning event for me these days, although, obviously, I don’t run. Sometimes I help out, doing things like marshalling, sometimes I just watch or have a wander on the Common, other times I walk it. What I’ve never, ever been asked to do before though, is blow up balloons. This was a very special parkrun though.  Continue reading A very special parkrun

Remembering the Somme at Hollybrook

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30 June 2016

One of the bloodiest battles in human history began on 1 July 1916. It raged, in mud and trenches on the banks of the River Somme, for one hundred and forty one days. To most people this is ancient history, too far in the past to connect with. The image of all those young soldiers resonates with me though. Pappy was one of them. It seemed fitting that my walk today should take me to a First World War memorial and I knew just the place to go. In fact I’d been meaning to visit Hollybrook Cemetery for some time and the eve of the hundredth anniversary of Battle of the Somme seemed like a good day. Of course CJ wanted to come along.  Continue reading Remembering the Somme at Hollybrook