Ten miles, cygnets and coffee

7 July 2019

The route for our ten mile Clarendon Marathon training walk was an obvious one, at least to me. The midpoint between my house and Kim’s is Woodmill so we arranged to meet there at eight o’clock this morning. Eight might seem a little early on a Sunday morning for most people but, given the heatwave we’ve been experiencing, starting early, before it got too hot, seemed the sensible thing to do. Besides, Rob and Commando had gone out at silly o’clock for a run so we were both awake anyway.

As I headed down towards the river it was certainly much cooler. Whether this was because it was still so early, or because the heatwave was over, I couldn’t tell. Just in case I’d worn my light mac anyway. Although I’d left in plenty of time I marched along, not wanting to be late. Just before I got to the reed beds though, I stopped in my tracks. The mute swans and their fluffy grey cygnets were there on the mud of the low tide. The cygnets were sound asleep, watched over by their parents. It was such a beautiful sight I forgot all about time and the miles ahead.

Smiling to myself I carried on towards Woodmill. As I rounded the last bend Kim was there, walking towards me. Together now, we carried on towards Mansbridge, talking about the sleeping cygnets. Last time we came this way we’d taken the road route through Mansbridge to Wide Lane because there’d been lots of rain and we were worried the trail through Monks Brook would be muddy. Now, after a few days of heat and sun, we decided to risk the trail.

Walking with someone else made the trail seem far shorter than it does when I’m alone. We zipped through, finding barely a trace of mud. Kim was enchanted by the mushroom chainsaw sculpture made from a fallen tree but we were chatting so much I didn’t take any pictures at all. In fact the next time I took my phone out of my pocket was by the airport roundabout. The grass verge was a mass of poppies and I couldn’t resist them.

We marched up Wide Lane, past the entrance to Lakeside where we’d turned off last week, looking forward to a toilet and coffee stop in the Swan Centre. The thought of a takeaway coffee from the Swan Centre has kept me going on many a long walk in the past. When we got there though, the doors were closed. We hadn’t factored in the fact it was Sunday and our very early start meant it hadn’t opened yet. This was quite a blow.

For a moment or two we stood looking at each other wondering what to do. We both wanted coffee but, more importantly, we both needed the loo before we headed back towards Southampton. We walked up towards MacDonalds, not really relishing the idea of their coffee but thinking we might use their toilets. Then I remembered there was a Costa up one of the side streets.

For the uninitiated, Eastleigh is a maze of grid like streets that can all tend to look much the same if you’re not paying attention. We turned up what I thought was the street with a Costa about half way along. It wasn’t there though and we reached the end feeling more than a little disappointed. We were now right by the Railwayman statue on the edge of Eastleigh Park. Nothing was open and there was no one about. It felt like a ghost town.

Fairly aimlessly we turned right, in the general direction of the main road and the train station. Just as I remembered there was a Costa in the airport that was bound to be open, Kim spotted a little coffee shop on the corner of the next street. It was called Cooffe #1 and it was open. Gratefully we went inside, ordered takeaway coffee and made use of the facilities.

As we walked back towards the still closed Swan Centre sipping our delicious coffee, I spotted Costa to our right. Suddenly I realised what had happened. When we left the Swan Centre we were further up the road than we’d thought because we’d walked along to MacDonalds. Instead of walking up Market Street, which was where the Costa was, we’d walked up the next street along, High Street.

The little detour had added about half a mile to our walk but at least we’d got our coffee and found a toilet. The whole thing reminded me of the last long walk of my very first Moonwalk training. The plans had been to walk the whole twenty six miles, just to prove to myself I could do it. Walking back along Twyford Road towards Eastleigh all I could think about was the toilets in the Swan Centre, when I got there though they were closed for refurbishment or some such thing. Feeling rather desperate I’d walked up and down the streets looking for somewhere else to go. Eventually I’d ended up in MacDonalds but I’d added another mile to my already stupidly long walk in the process. At that stage the five miles home seemed an impossible task but, somehow, I made it.

Of course, our walk today was only ten miles, give or take. Both Kim and I have walked longer distances in the past so adding a little extra wasn’t really an issue. We retraced our steps back towards Mansbridge, sipping and talking the miles away. It was almost a surprise to find ourselves back at the little stone bridge over the Itchen again so soon.

The swan family were on the river near the bend and we paused for a little whale to watch them. The babies seem to have grown in the short time since our last walk this way. It won’t be long before they’re as big as their parents.

Kim and I parted company at Woodmill. Being suddenly alone, the last couple of miles really seemed to drag. It was a relief when Cobden Bridge finally came into view, along with some black swans. The steep climb out of the park was not such a welcome sight. As I trudged up the hill to my house I wondered how on Earth I’d managed to get through all those long lonely training walks of the past?

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A short long walk, then some running

30 June 2019

Kim and I are loosely following a marathon walking training plan to get ready for Clarendon. Loosely being the operative word because Kim works shifts and we live on opposite sides of the city. During the week we walk separately, each trying to fit in miles as and when we can. The plan is to have one long walk together a week. Much like I did for my last Moonwalk training, the long walks alternate between one long walk week and the next half the previous week’s distance. Each long walk week is two miles longer than the last. It sounds complicated but it really isn’t.

Last week our long walk was eight miles, give or take, so this week was meant to be around four miles. Apparently, Clarendon is very hilly at the end, so the plan is to make the short walks hilly ones wherever possible. Kim’s shifts meant Sunday was long walk day this week, but it was the same day as the Lordshill 10k. Commando suggested dropping me off at Kim’s house on his way to cheer on the Hamwic Harriers who were running. We could then walk to the finish at the Ordnance Survey Offices, which would be around four miles. Luckily, Kim knew the way.

There was a bit of a change of plan at the last minute because Commando accidentally double booked himself and agreed to take Massi to the race. This meant, instead of dropping me off at Kim’s house, he actually dropped me off half way up Bassett Avenue. Being slightly lost wasn’t the best of starts but soon enough Kim and I were walking together towards the Sports Centre.

In fact we were very close to the place where CJ and I had spent so much time hunting for Boundary Stones. As we walked, I couldn’t help keeping an eye out just in case. CJ would have been livid if I’d found a stone without him but, as I didn’t, it wasn’t a problem. In fact I’m pretty sure there isn’t a stone there anyway.

Walking and talking meant I didn’t take many photos but we did stop briefly at Warrior’s grave. Warrior was a war horse, serving with the British Expeditionary Force, The Old Contemptibles, during World War I. He was quite a hero. Even after he was wounded by shrapnel, the grey charger returned to duty. After the war he became a police horse in Southampton. He was so popular with the people of the city that, when he died, just after the Sports Centre opened, he was given a civic burial complete with an inscribed headstone. Bizarrely, one of his hooves was preserved and turned into an inkwell, which the Chief Constable used.

With Kim leading the way we turned off Golf Course Road near the little fun fair and took a steep trail up to Coxford Road and then on to Lordshill Way. At this stage I’d have been completely lost as I don’t know this area at all well. Kim knew exactly where she was going though and we wound our way through a series of cutaways and little paths under her expert guidance. Just before we came out onto Lordshill Way again we crossed a bridge over a little stream. This was probably Tanners Brook, although I can’t be completely sure of that. Looking down into the water we noticed a very new looking bike. It looked very much as if someone had stolen it and dumped it there.

Apparently, it’s possible to follow Tanners Brook all the way to the Docks, close to the place it empties into the River Test. Although it looks as if much of the walk would be urban, it is an interesting exercise I might get round to trying one day.

Next we followed the trail beside Lordshill Way. When CJ and I walked this leafy trail I was struck by how much nicer it was than a pavement right beside the road. The cars may have been zooming past behind the trees but we couldn’t really hear them and the walk had the feeling of being somewhere rural rather than in the middle of Lordshill. If only all roads were like this.

Today’s walk was supposed to be about hills and it certainly didn’t disappoint. We were walking up what was once the only road running through Lordshill. Before all the modern houses were built it ran between the Bedwell Arms pub and Aldermore Road. It was, and still is, a steep climb. Locals called it soap sud alley because the local washer women threw their soapy water onto it and this mingled with water from the network of local springs to turn the road into a bubbly stream. It was a warm morning, even though it was still quite early, so the climb felt like hard work.

Without Kim there is no way I’d have found my way through the maze of streets and lanes to the Ordnance Survey offices. As it was, she made it seem easy and the miles flew by. There were just two more photos, one of what might have been a milestone, somewhere on Romsey Road and some evening primrose that caught my eye as we turned the last corner before the Ordnance Survey.

We arrived in good time to find a spot on the finish line and I even managed a few photos of Harriers crossing the line. As marathon training walks go I’d say it was a success. Next week’s long walk will be ten miles. The date has yet to be confirmed but I think I have a plan for the route.

Just to prove it was hilly
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Two challenges

21 June 2019

A little while ago I saw a Facebook post about a challenge to walk one million steps between July and September this year. Thirteen weeks walking around 11,000 steps a day seemed doable and the money raised would go to Diabetes UK. As my wonderful Mother in Law, April, suffered with type II Diabetes, it was a charity close to my heart so, on a whim, I signed up.

A few days later a Twitter post from my lovely friend Kim said she’d signed up to walk the Clarendon Marathon in early October. It wasn’t really a surprise, she’d been talking about it for a while and had even asked me about my two Moonwalk marathons. What was a surprise though, was the reply from Commando saying he’d signed me up to do it with her! Luckily both things worked together rather well but it meant I really was going to have to up my game and get some miles in.

Commando, possibly feeling a little guilty, bought me a brand new Garmin so I could track my miles and steps better. Armed with this and a training plan, the walking began in earnest this week. It started on Monday when I added a bit of extra distance to my normal daily walk up the hill to the shops by taking a longer route. On Tuesday I walked to the big supermarket in Portswood to get my daily milk and newspaper rather than just up the hill. This more than doubled the mileage but there was a bit of an issue.

Not long after I left home the rain began to fall. This wouldn’t normally have been a problem as I was wearing a light mac, but I was also wearing leather sandals. By the time I was half way across Cobden Bridge my feet were soaked and I could feel the burn of a blister starting on my left foot. As a start to a walking marathon training programme it wasn’t great.

A packet of blister plasters was swiftly added to my shopping list. I sat on the steps just inside the door of the supermarket to put one on. Then I went back out into the rain and walked home again with my four pint carton of milk and my newspaper.

On Wednesday I added miles to my normal up the hill shopping walk by going through the local woodland called Hum Hole. All the rain we’ve had meant it was extra green but the normally slippery path has been resurfaced since I last walked this way. Rather than being slightly slimy and slippery in the wet it is now grippy and beautifully spongy underfoot. Commando thinks they may have used recycled tyres, which seems like a brilliant plan on many fronts.

At the very top of the steep climb I paused to get my breath and looked up into the dripping trees. When I saw a woodpecker I could hardly believe my eyes. Often I’ve heard them pecking away in the woods but this was the first time I’d ever actually seen one. Of course, by the time I’d raised my phone to take a photo it had flown away so all I got was leaves and a moody looking sky. On the way home I spotted a new commemorative bench at the top of the hill. It’s really rather beautiful with its red poppies and it must be very new because I’ve not noticed it before.

Thursday saw me back on my Monday big loop up the Hill. There were different gardens to look at and one, filled with poppies caught my eye so I stopped to take a picture. It wasn’t until I got home and looked at it properly that I noticed the tortoise hiding amongst the flowers!

To add a little more distance I stopped off at the Village church and visited Pappy’s grave. Walking back through the precinct the clouds ahead looked threatening so I upped my speed on the way home. Luckily it’s all down hill. Unluckily, I didn’t beat the rain and got quite wet.

Kim and I had come to the marathon training game a little late to fit in a full training schedule but, luckily, we both walk, or in Kim’s case, run, a fair few miles every day anyway. The plan was to walk alone as much as possible but to have one long walk together each week. As Kim works shifts, it wouldn’t be the same day each week but today was our first.

The plan was to start from my house and walk to Southampton Common by way of Eastleigh, a distance of around eight miles. Commando and Rob would meet us in the Bellemoor for lunch and a Hamwic Harriers brainstorming meeting. It was a beautifully sunny morning, far warmer than it has been of late, and it looked as if we might even get there without getting wet.

Walking across Riverside Park towards Woodmill, I hoped I’d see the mute swan cygnets again. Today they were on the far bank though, just grey specks in the distance. There were a couple of black swans a little closer and they, and the good weather tempered my disappointment a little.

This walk reminded me of all the long walks I did to train for the two Moonwalks. Both times I’d taken a route along the river, adding a little more distance each week until I finally ended up walking to Winchester then turning around and walking back. The memory of all those lonely miles reminded me of the enormity of the task ahead. A few doubts began to creep in. Now I’m much older and probably not as fit. Will I really be able to do it all again?

Of course this time I wouldn’t be doing it alone. As I didn’t want Kim to start having doubts too, I painted a confident smile in my face, put an extra spring in my step and pretended I wasn’t worried. We walked together along the riverbank towards Mansbridge chatting away as if this was just any old walk. We laughed at the haughty looking greylag geese and reminisced about the day of the kayaks.

About half way to the bridge we came upon a family of mute swans with four beautiful grey cygnets. Seeing them certainly made up for my earlier disappointment. As we walked on I told Kim about the orphaned cygnets at this exact spot a few years back. We both wondered if either of the parents was one of those same cygnets? It was such a lovely idea we hoped we were right.

In no time at all we’d reached Mansbridge. From here I’d normally take the trail along Monks Brook towards Eastleigh but, with so much recent rain, this didn’t seem like a good idea. It’s muddy along there at the best of times and neither of us fancied a swim in the brook. Instead we walked along Mansbridge Road, just as I used to do when I was Moonwalk training. In fact, I probably haven’t taken the road route since then so it added to the deja vu feeling I’d been having on and off since Cobden Bridge.

Before I knew it we were passing the airport, stopping briefly for a picture of all the poppies on the verge by the Spitfire sculpture. The miles really seemed to be going far quicker with a little company and some chat.

We finally departed from my old Moonwalk route at Lakeside. Rather than carrying on up the road to Eastleigh we headed across the park towards North Stoneham. There was a quick stop for a toilet break in the fancy new building and a brief sit down on a bench for a snack. Snacks are an important part of long walks. Not only do they give you energy, but they also give you something to look forward to to break up the miles. Today I’d brought some of the chocolate salty ball running snacks I make for Commando. They’re basically dates, peanut butter, coconut oil, cocoa powder and oats with a few extras thrown in. Kim loves them so she was delighted I’d brought them.

We stopped for barely five minutes and then we were off again. The next part of the route had been worrying me a little all morning. In the past I’ve often walked across Lakeside, taken the bridge across the Monks Brook ford and crossed the road to Stoneham Lane. Now though the whole road layout has changed and I wasn’t sure if we could still get through. If we could it might not be as easy as it had been.

In the end my worrying was all for nothing. There is a new pedestrian crossing, albeit temporary, just the other side of the bridge. It took us to the beginning of Stoneham Lane, at least what used to be the beginning before the new part of the road was built. This part of the lane was always the most difficult to walk because it bends sharply and there aren’t even any verges to jump on if a car comes. Now though, there are no cars so it has basically become a very wide footpath. Today it was lined by big orange barriers and cones. What purpose they served we never did work out.

Once we’d passed St Nicolas Church it was fairly easy going. There’d been no more progress on the pavement since I last came this way but almost all of the lane did have a pavement and, in no time at all we’d reached Burgess Road and the Common felt very nearby. Of course it is all uphill but, with someone to talk to it didn’t seem too bad.

By the time we got to the Common there were a few worrying looking clouds on the horizon but we didn’t have far to go by this time so we just kept walking. We made it to the Bellemoor before the rain fell and discovered we’d also beaten Commando and Rob. Not bad going at all for our first marathon training walk.

Annoyingly I accidentally stopped my Garmin atLakeside so the walk is in two parts
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