This morning began with an early drive to the airport to drop Commando and Rob off. They were catching a train, not a plane, heading for Winchester and a summer social run with a small group of Hamwic Harriers. Kim and I would be conquering a few hills around Mansbridge while we waited for them to come back. It all sounded great, apart from the fact it was raining again.
One of the worrying things about the Clarendon Marathon, apart from having to walk twenty six point two miles in under eight hours, is the last five miles. By all accounts they are very hilly, including a trek up Farley Mount (the Mount part is a particular worry). With this in mind I thought our short walks should be hilly ones. On Sunday morning I scouted out part of today’s eight mile route and I was fairly sure Kim wouldn’t thank me for it, at least not today. Maybe on Marathon day though, she would.
My task for today was to get some pavement chalk. Commando and Rob were hosting a time trial on the Common and needed something eco friendly to mark the start and finish line. Pavement chalk seemed the obvious choice but it proved harder to find than you’d think. CJ was sure they’d have some in Hobbycraft. My feeling was he was angling for a river walk and a coffee but I had to admit it was worth a try. At least we’d get a nice walk.
It wasn’t the best of days weatherwise, but it wasn’t raining so we wrapped up and headed for Cutbush Lane. There were bluebells and celandine in the woods beside the trail to remind us spring had sprung, even if the temperature didn’t feel very springlike.
Most of the trees were still bare but there was a softening to the tips suggesting leaves soon to come. The edges of colourless winter had been brightened by patches of green here and there. Spring seems to be starting on the ground with the wildflowers and grasses but soon enough it will work it’s way up into the highest branches.
Cutbush Lane runs in a gully down through what was farmland before Townhill Park and Chartwell green were built. Although there are houses almost in touching distance, it’s easy to forget them and feel like you’re walking along a country lane. The gnarled old tree, clinging precariously to the bank here has probably been there longer than the modern houses and flats and, with a void large enough to sit in beneath its roots, it always surprises me when I see it still standing.
“I’d forgotten how long this lane is,” CJ said. “It seems to go on forever.”
“Don’t start with the ‘are we nearly there yet,’ too soon,” I laughed. “We’ve a way to go yet.”
Then I pointed out the cow feeder, high up on the bank and reminded him of how lost we got the day we went wandering in Chartwell Copse. We’d wound our way along so many lanes and cutaways we lost all sense of direction and when we looked down onto Cutbush Lane we thought we’d discovered a new footpath.
It’s been a long while since we last walked this way. So long in fact, that CJ almost missed the turn at the end of the downward stretch of the lane and began to walk the trail leading to Cutbush Hidden Pond. He was soon back on track though and it wasn’t long before we reached hobbycraft. We located the pavement chalk without too much trouble. Getting out of the place without spending a fortune was a little more difficult.
Next door, in the Swan Garden Centre, we got some takeaway coffees. The place was crowded and noisy so we decided against sitting inside to enjoy our drinks. Instead we headed down Gaters Hill towards the river. Since we last came this way a huge new building has sprung up all squares of concrete and glass. It isn’t the most attractive of things and not really in keeping with the old mill buildings below it. Those mill buildings are a little more visible now though so I guess you win some, you lose some.
My original plan had been to drink our coffee on a bench by the old Mansbridge Bridge but, when we got to the bottom of the hill, I spotted a picnic bench close to the boundary stone. Maybe it’s been there all along but I’ve never noticed it before and it seemed like a good place to sit. It took us a while to get across the road and the cars whizzing past made it less peaceful than I’d have liked but the views across the river to the watermeadows made up for it.
The trees here had a definite hint of green about them and the grass was sprinkled with daisies. Usually there are cows in the meadows and fishermen on the bank but today there were none. Once our coffee was finished we made our way towards the White Swan. A sign on a lamppost explained the lack of fishermen. Apparently it’s closed season for fishing.
So we walked on, past the Swan, wondering why we hadn’t thought to have our coffee there and deciding, maybe next time? As we headed for the bridge I kept on the lookout for signs of nesting swans. In the past I’ve seen the remains of nests along the bank here but, today, there were none. Last year we didn’t see a single mute swan cygnet on this stretch of the river although the black swans seem to be multiplying. Whether these two things are connected isn’t clear but the lack of cygnets is a worry.
The old Mansbridge Bridge acts as the halfway point of this circular walk. It may not be exactly half way in distance but it’s the point where we begin to head back towards home. Even on a dull, overcast day like today, there is something about seeing the arch of that old stone bridge that makes me smile.
This is also the point most likely to be flooded and, over the last year or so, there’s been a pump here continually working to pump excess water from the marshy land behind the trees. How successful this was I can’t say but the pump has now gone and the land is still waterlogged. When I was much younger I used to walk this way to the pub sometimes. Back then I don’t remember it ever being flooded, now it’s a veritable pond. Still, the willows seem to like it, if the bright, acid green of their new leaves is anything to go by.
We saw our first swans of the day just after we passed the bridge. A cob and pen were swimming up river, close to our bank so we stopped briefly to say hello. This produced a hiss from the cob and we walked on smiling. Whenever I see swans on this part of the river I wonder if they are the cygnets orphaned at a young age back in 2014?
Although there was no flooding on the path, the river was very high today. We stopped for a moment or two to watch it tumbling off towards the fish ponds of the Woodmill Activity Centre. A little further on a very large tree had fallen, thankfully away from the river. Its huge rootball stuck up from the bank exposing river mud and a tangle of branches and roots. Last summer was so dry I’m not surprised trees are falling.
Some trees seem to have coped better with the stress than others. There was blossom on the trees beside River Walk and bright forsythia flowers by the car park on Woodmill Lane. Soon enough everything will be green and winter will seem like a cold dream.
The greylags on the riverbank here are another sign that spring is coming. They’ve left their winter homes in warmer climes and come to the river to breed. Something about the area around Woodmill seems to appeal to them as they gather here in large numbers and are quite unafraid of people. Today there were just a handful, sitting on the bank looking haughty as we passed. They may be only spring and summer visitors but there’s no doubt they feel they own the place and we are the interlopers.
Once we passed the mill we’d left the freshwater behind. The river from here is tidal, the water salty like the sea. The sluices here control the river’s flow, although they are old and in a poor state of repair. There has been talk of removing them altogether because the cost of replacing or repairing them is high. What this would mean for the river as a whole is hard to say.
As we carried on it was disappointing to see a mass of litter strewn around one of the bins not far from the mill. Sadly, this is becoming more and more common of late. Picking up the rubbish wasn’t an option as the bin was so full there would have been nowhere to put it and we had not come equipped with bin bags or gloves. I’m beginning to think we should carry both on all our walks. The litter seemed to be the remains of some kind of picnic party, all empty food wrappers and plastic cups. This kind of thing makes me extremely angry. If someone can carry bags full of food and drink to the river for a party, why can’t they pick up their rubbish and carry it home again? I’m sure they wouldn’t just drop their rubbish on the carpet at home. There really is no excuse for such filthy, lazy behaviour.
Rounding the bend by the reedbeds always feels like the final leg of our journey. The old oak on the bend with its beautifully contorted branches, is a particular favourite of mine. It’s quite possible the tree is actually older than the park. Back in the 1930’s this was marshland, known locally as Cobden Meadows. Cows grazed on the land but it often flooded and water sometimes came up to the backs of the houses on Manor Farm Road. The council had grand plans for the area though and, over the next decade or so, land was reclaimed and a retaining wall built along the riverbank.
By 1949 work had begun to create a new park alongside the River Itchen, where people could enjoy the fresh air and walk beside the water all the way to Mansbridge if they wished. This walk along the river is one I often take advantage of. For all the grumbles there are about the council, creating this lovely park seems to me to be one of their better decisions.
Now we’d almost reached the jetty where the swans gather. Earlier I’d been thinking about the lack of mute swan cygnets last year and worrying a little that the prolific breeding of the black swans was responsible. Just before we reached the jetty though, we spotted a swan still sporting brownish grey feathers. Obviously this was a cygnet from last year. Further on there were several more. So much for my worrying. We may not have seen any cygnets but these birds were proof there were some. Maybe they’d been hiding from us or perhaps we just weren’t looking hard enough?
The swans put on quite a show for us in the last few yards of our walk. A loud flapping and splashing alerted us to two mute swans taking flight. Seeing these gigantic birds take to the air is a rare treat and these two seemed to be heading up towards the reedbeds. A few moments later two of the black swans tried to show off their flying skills. Their flight was much shorter but it did give us a great view of their white flight feathers.
We were now just yards from Cobden Bridge and, with just over a mile to walk home, our little adventure was almost over. Six or more miles might seem like a long way to walk to buy some chalk but there really is nothing quite as nice as a spring walk along the river.
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We left Chartwell Copse feeling rather excited to have discovered a new and interesting looking footpath. Walking towards the gate I was careful to keep my bearings so I’d know which way to turn to get to it. Hopefully it wouldn’t be too hard to find a way onto it and then we could explore and find out where it led. Continue reading A surprising discovery
This is the time of year the garden spiders start to stray indoors and the house spiders come out in search of a mate. Although I’m not a great fan of the eight legged critters, we seem to have attracted two to our decking. One keeps building his web between the house and the decking rail, right where everyone walks. You’d think she’d learn but every morning her web is back ready to be broken again. We’ve called her Doris, mostly because the other, more sensible, spider has been called Boris. He’s built his web between the decking rail and the garden and seems to be very successful at catching things. CJ has seen him twice now with a bee. In fact he’s getting rather fat. Continue reading Insects, cut ways and a new copse
We’d found the hidden pond with relative ease. Now it was time to turn for home.
“Shall we carry on to Riverside Park or turn back and walk along Cutbush Lane to Mansbridge,” I asked CJ. “The Park would be the quickest way home but Mansbridge is prettier.”
“Mansbridge,” CJ said with a cheeky grin that told me he was thinking of a coffee stop in the Swan Garden Centre rather than distance or pretty walks. Continue reading To the river
Sometimes the places you think you know really well have little surprises up their sleeves for you. Today’s walk, the first real walk for a while due to a major redecorating project which I’ll tell you all about another time, was a perfect example of this. Cutbush Lane has been a regular walking route for me since I was in my teens. It was one of the ways I used to walk to the White Swan pub back in the days when I quite liked a drink. In fact I often walked along there going to the pub and coming home again, slightly the worse for wear, in the dark because I knew it so well I didn’t really need to see where I was going. Continue reading The mystery of the hidden pond
Almost three years ago malicious code was working it’s evil on my old blog, sending thousands of spam emails from my email address. Perhaps if I’d been more tech savvy I’d have questioned the handful of strange non delivery notices in my inbox for emails I hadn’t sent. As it was I put them down to someone spamming me and deleted them unopened. The storm clouds were gathering but the storm was yet to break as I planned a little morning walk to make the most of the blue skies in the real world. This is the last walk I took before the tempest washed away two years of my work. The last lost walk. For three years the photos have sat on my computer waiting for me to put words to them. Now I have.
7 October 2014
For the second day running I woke to blue skies and sunshine. These two things are not to be wasted in early October. Every bright day could be the last of the year. Over breakfast I scanned Google Maps, trying to come up with a plan for a walk to make the most of it. Back in March I stumbled upon a trail behind Riverside Park called River Walk. Today I thought I’d try to walk it in reverse, starting in Cutbush Lane and heading for the river. As plans go it was fairly vague but it was the best I had.
The beginning of the walk was the route I used to take to the White Swan pub, back when Commando and I were just two friends in a large group who drank there. It’s odd how my feet have a memory of these long forgotten walks and follow the course without me telling them to. My head was filled with memories of those days, calling in for Ali along the way and walking together, the half forgotten faces of all those old friends still in their teens, like ghosts waiting at the pub for me.
It’s a wonder I didn’t carry on along Cutbush Lane all the way to the pub, where my feet wanted to take me. Of course none of them would be there and, even if they were, I wouldn’t recognise them a lifetime later. Somehow, half way along the bottom of the lane, I came to my senses and stopped by the playing field. On the other side was the beginning of the River Walk. Feeling confident I strode across the damp and empty field.
The strange thing about walking a trail backwards is that nothing looks the same. When I reached the far side of the field I couldn’t see any sign of the trail, just trees and rough grass. There was a fair bit of disappointed walking up and down and a few thoughts of giving up and walking down Gaters Hill to the river instead. Luckily there was no one on the field to see me.
In desperation I clambered across the wet grass towards the trees where I knew there was a trail hidden somewhere. If I didn’t find it in five minutes, I’d give up. My reward, after a yard or two, was a flattened track through the long grass. A little further this turned into a narrow trail through the bracken into the trees.
After the bright sunshine it seemed dark at first and I had to slow right down and watch my footing. Before long I came to the broken fence. If I went through I knew I’d be trespassing but, despite the man I met last time telling me there was another, longer way around, I couldn’t see anything trail like, just a steep drop. With a quick look around and a pounding heart, I walked through the gap in the fence and onto the Gregg School land. There was no guarantee the corresponding piece of fence on the other side hadn’t been mended. If it had, I’d have to turn back. A trespasser I may be but I’m not a vandal.
It was with some relief I passed through the second piece of broken fence and back onto a real trail. Now I could relax and look around me properly. There were fallen pine branches everywhere and one random maple leaf, a beautiful mixture of green and gold, amongst the pine needles. Many of the pine branches were large and quite a few were bearing huge cones. These I remembered from my last walk.
The next landmark was the giant tree stump near the fence. The top of the huge pine was snapped by the gales and someone had sawn it down, probably to stop it fallling on anyone or to protect the nearby houses. When I’d first seen it from the other side I’d thought I might not be able to get past. The cut edge of the trunk was almost as tall as me so there was no chance of climbing over. There was a gap big enough to walk through though and a chance to marvel at the beauty of the wood.
Today the end of the tree was no longer freshly sawn and a ring of white, possibly sap, encircled it. From the top edge large drips running down made it look as if someone had painted it. Perhaps they had, although, I’m not sure why? It reminded me a little of the pine we had cut down in our front garden. It had grown far bigger than I’d expected and its branches hanging over the pavement were causing an obstruction. The sap turned the stump white, just like this. As if the tree was bleeding.
There is something very sad about such a magestic old tree meeting its end this way. For a long time I stood looking at it thinking about the tiny seed it grew from and all the years it had stood before the gales and a chainsaw finished it off.
Feeling slightly melancholy now, I carried on along the trail. When I came this way before there were fallen trees everywhere, although none quite as large or impressive as that first pine. When I set out I’d hoped to see some interesting fungi amongst all the sawn logs and fallen branches. Although the log piles were still there along with a few of the fallen trees, there were none. Perhaps they needed more time to rot or maybe it was just too early in the season?
The trail was shorter than I remembered and soon I was nearing the end. The land here slopes steeply downwards into the trees on the edge of Riverside Park. The dip is boggy at the best of times but today it was filled with stagnant water covered with a thick film of bright green algae. This soupy swamp seemed such an unnatural colour and had such an eerie feel about it I stopped and took several photos. If a green and ghoulish swamp monster had suddenly risen from the depths I’d hardly have been surprised.
Now I’d reached the end of the trail and was back on the street. Last time I came this way the verge was filled with daffodils. Now it was all drifts of fallen leaves. As I crunched my way along more leaves tumbled from the trees and fluttered down around me although the canonpy above seemed disappointingly green when I’d been hoping for gold.
On the corner I stopped to admire the little drinking fountain. It was donated to the city by Sir Samuel Montagu and was originally near Woodmill as far as I can tell. It was moved to this out of the way spot in 1961 because it was in the way of traffic. It is generally unnoticed and forgotten as most people either drive past or are walking on the other side of the road where there are proper pavements. Sadly, the only people who seem to pay it any attention are the vandals. In 1964 the cupola and crown on the top of the copper roof were badly damaged. It was eventually restored in 1992 but has since been vanadalised again.
Because of the lack of pavements I crossed Woodmill Lane at this point and, as I headed towards the mill I wondered exactly why vandals do what they do? It all seems so senseless, destroying lovely things just for the sake of it. The trees along the edge of the park were beginning to show their autumn colours, unlike most I’d seen so far on my walk. The ground was littered with fallen leaves in various hues and I bent to take a photograph.
On I went towards the mill, wondering why autumn seemed so late in arriving this year and why some trees had realised the season had changed while others still thought it was summer? The mill was my turning point. The last part of my walk would be along the river through Riverside Park towards home. For once I didn’t take a picture of the mill, at least not from close up. Maybe I felt I had already taken more than enough or perhaps I got distracted by something?
The next photograph I took appears to be of hops. From the time stamp on the photo and it’s place between the trees on Woodmill Lane and the willows just past Woodmill, it must have been taken close to the mill, although I don’t remember taking it at all. It is certainly an odd place to see hops growing. Perhaps this explains the lack of pictures of the mill itself?
Now all I had to do was cross the park and walk the mile through the streets to home. For the first part of the walk the river was hidden behind the trees but, once I turned the corner by the reedbeds I had the clear water beside me reflecting the blue sky and fluffy clouds. The trees on the far bank had a hint of autumn about them, but not as much as I’d expected.
A single black swan was swimming amongst the mute swans near the jetty. There were a couple of cygnets too, almost full grown. As I stood, wondering where the other black swan was a woman came and stood beside me. She fished around in her bag and pulled out a bag of bread which she began to throw to the birds.
“I’ve never seen a black swan before,” she remarked. “Is it a mutation or a different breed?”
“Its a different breed,” I told her, “the black swans are originally from Australia. They were brought here as ornamental birds for rich people’s ponds but some escaped. There are three on the river here. I keep wondering if they will breed. I’d love to see a black swan cygnet.”
My walk was almost over but I lingered by the river, chatting to the woman and watching the gulls grab as much bread as they could before it made it to the water. When the bread ran out the woman bade farewell and I turned to walk the last mile home. Little did I know what was waiting for me there or that it would be almost three years before I wrote about this walk.
Since we got back from Vancouver there has been zero real walking. Ok, so there was the Itchen navigation and there have been ups and downs of the Big Hill to the shops, along with some outings in the car, parkruns and races. What there hasn’t been is proper walking, me, my camera, a plan and CJ along for the ride. Today we finally put that right with a meander along the river. Continue reading A proper walk at last
Back in 2014 Sunday was usually walking day. When the first Sunday in August rolled around though, what with funeral arrangements, I hadn’t really given it much though. To be honest, I was tempted to give it a miss. Of course, Commando told me to get off my bum and get out there so I did as I was told. One place sprang to mind just before I set off, Itchen Valley Country Park. Continue reading Meandering in Meadows – first published 4 August 2014