12 September 2019
With a longing look at the cafe where we’d sheltered from the rain last time we came this way, we crossed the road and got straight back onto the Navigation trail. The sky over the Shawford cottages was dark and brooding but, so far, there’d been no rain. At least if it fell now we’d be sheltered by the trees. Besides, we had our waterproof coats, even if they were currently tied around our waists.
We walked through a tunnel of green past Malms Farm. There were pigs under one of the trees beside us. We could hear them grubbing about and just about see them under the shady branches but I couldn’t get a decent photo.
Further on we came across the farmer, or at least his car. He was hidden behind it doing something to some brown cows in a pen. Quite how he got them into the pen is a mystery but we didn’t stay around to see what happened next in case he decided to let them out onto the path. Seeing the farmer’s water bottle plonked on a fence post, did remind me to get my own out of my bag though. It was coming up to mid day and, now the sky was clouding again, it was beginning to feel a touch muggy.
A little while later we passed the farmer’s back garden. With sun loungers set out, a lovely little summer house and a jetty, it looked a fabulous place to relax. If the price of this luxury was dealing with cows on a daily basis though, I think I’d rather do without.
The next field was full of sheep. Those I could probably cope with. Think of all the things I could knit! On the other side of the canal horses were grazing. On this small stretch of canal it seemed as if we’d seen more animals than the whole of the rest of our walk.
Soon enough we were in Otterbourne. We crossed College Mead Lock and, quite reluctantly, passed the rustic benches where I usually stop for lunch. There were swans on the water beside the waterworks there. When we got closer I realised the pen had two cygnets with her.
Apart from the farmer and the dog walkers at Compton, we’d barely seen a soul all morning. Not long after we passed the swans though, we came across an elderly man. He was shirtless and wet. It looked as if he’d just been for a swim. He was also very, very thin and frail looking. He said good morning as we passed and we said it back. Perhaps the man lives nearby and this is his daily ritual? He looked so very vulnerable though, the thought of him swimming in the river, all alone, was quite disturbing.
Not long after this strange encounter we crossed Kiln Lane. The sky seemed to be clearing again and it was beginning to get warmer. It was just after midday. We’d been walking for four hours, longer than many people take to run a whole marathon. We were coming up to mile fourteen and bang on target with our pace. Neither of us had blisters and my watch was still going strong. Things were looking good.
We smiled at the Hensting alpacas as we passed. Kim said she might take her granddaughters to visit them one day. We squinted at the sheep with horns hiding in the shade at Highbridge, then wondered if they were really fat goats? Home was getting closer and closer.
We had to stand aside to let a group of giggling women pass at Allbrook Lock. When we got to the pavement we saw something that looked a little like a birthday card next to the wall. Perhaps the women had dropped it? They were too far off now to call out to, so we left it where it was in case they realised and came back looking for it.
On the other side of the road there were more swans. Then we saw a red rosette tied to a tree. It seemed a very incongruous thing to find here. We walked on, wondering if it had some meaning or was just something someone had dropped and someone else had tied to the tree in case they came back looking for it?
After this we kept seeing odd things in trees. Between the rosette and Ham Farm we found a white sign with red writing saying ‘do not remove until full’ hanging from a branch by a yellow plastic loop, and something that looked like an advertising collar from a milk bottle. They all seemed to have been put there deliberately. It was very strange.
We set off towards Withymead puzzling over the odd litter, looking for more and wondering what was going on. We decided it must be some kind of bizarre treasure trail. Perhaps the birthday card was also part of it, along with the giggling women? There were no more odd things hanging from trees after Ham Farm, at least none we saw, so we contented ourselves with the usual house envy.
Once we’d crossed the bridge at Withymead we knew we were just over a mile from the Swan Centre at Eastleigh. A quick look at my watch told me we’d walked more than fifteen miles. This was a bit of a worry as I knew it was five miles from Eastleigh to home, maybe a little less if we went along Wessex Lane instead of through Mansbridge. Obviously my route planning wasn’t quite as good as I’d thought and our twenty miles was going to be longer than expected. I kept this snippet of information from Kim, just in case she decided to throw me in the river.
As we approached the field where we’d encountered the scary cow there was a strong smell of burning. Soon smoke was drifting across the trail. There were large bonfires in the field, burning all the trees that have been cut down. This seemed like a terrible waste of wood and a rather environmentally unfriendly thing to do. Once again, we were pleased to get to the next field with the horses. Then, all too soon, we came to Bishopstoke Road and our time on the Navigation trail was over.
Walking back towards the centre of Eastleigh the miles began to take their toll, at least on me. With no trees to shelter us it was clear the day was far warmer than we’d thought. The cars whizzing past felt intrusive after the peace of the trails. There was also a niggling worry about distance.
At the Swan Centre we made use of the facilities and waited rather longer than we’d have liked for our iced drinks to be made. This was not good news for our tired legs. When we left I looked at my watch and was dismayed to see we’d already walked seventeen miles. This was when planning the route based on prior knowledge of distances rather than actually mapping it looked like a bad plan. Our twenty mile walk was looking more like twenty two.
The hot, tired walk back towards Wessex Lane was brightened by the sight of a steam engine coming towards us near the old Ford factory. It’s not something you see every day.