Heading for home

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.

The twenty miles ticked over as we came though Woodmill. At this stage the thought of the lonely walk home wasn’t very appealing. As luck would have it, Rob was waiting for Kim in the Woodmill Car Park and offered to drop me off too. Maybe those cygnets really were a good omen after all.

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The rule of threes

29 August 2019

As we went through the kissing gate onto the unknown trail I couldn’t help thinking about the rule of threes. So far today there had been two, luckily fairly minor, disasters. Theses things come in threes though, and I was breaking my own rule never to take an untried path in the middle of a long walk. It felt like a recipe for disaster but, as mother would have said, rules are like pie crusts, made to be broken.

Continue reading The rule of threes

Alpacas, ostriches and surprisingly easy walking

13 June 2018

We’d made it to Kiln Lane without getting stung, which felt a little like a miracle. We’d got across three bank breaches, one that had left me with wet feet, and had climbed over one fallen tree. According to Commando, there was at least one more fallen tree and, possibly, one more bad bank breach somewhere along the eight and a half miles between Kiln Lane and home. If I was a betting woman, I’d have put my money on it being on the next stretch of towpath.  Continue reading Alpacas, ostriches and surprisingly easy walking

Once more into the breach

13 June 2018

Shortly after we got going again we passed the first houses of Shawford, with their huge green gardens sloping down towards the river. These were closely followed by a triangular Navigation marker telling us it was nine miles to Northam Wharf, and the bridge over Shawford Road. Those nine miles are a moot point. Mapping the walk, it’s nine and a quarter miles, give or take, to Cobden Bridge. Northam Wharf is ten and a half miles. Perhaps these measurements are by barge? Continue reading Once more into the breach

Winchester to Woolston the tough miles

11 June 2017

At Kiln Lane we left the towpath briefly to cross both the road and Brambridge Bridge. There was a second half lock here in the 1700’s, probably built to retain water levels for the Brambridge water mill. A little bridge crosses the site But you have to look very closely to see the remains of the lock. Today, with everything so overgrown and the runners hot on our heels there was no time for exploring the history of the canal. Continue reading Winchester to Woolston the tough miles

The Summer Challenge, Winchester to Woolston

11 June 2017

So far there have been no proper walks this month. The most I’ve done is trot up and down to the village or walk around town. Today was going to be all about walking though. Some time ago John mentioned he was thinking about a Summer  Challenge, a run from Winchester to Woolston. The Itchen Navigation would make up the majority of the route and he knew I had walked it many times. He asked if I’d lead a walking group for those who were recovering from injury or felt fifteen miles or more was a run too far. When I agreed it seemed like an easy distance. Now, with my fitness compromised by laziness, I wasn’t so sure.  Continue reading The Summer Challenge, Winchester to Woolston

Allbrook and wet feet -first published 3 May 2014

May 2014 and I’d reached Kiln Lane on my attempt to walk the whole Itchen Navigation from Winchester to Northam Wharf. After meeting a man on the path who told me it had been waist deep further along the trail I didn’t quite know what to do next. Should I attempt the Navigation or should I take the road along Kiln Lane? I stood for a while looking at the footpath sign and then along the road, dithering and uncertain. Continue reading Allbrook and wet feet -first published 3 May 2014

Otterbourne to Allbrook, when the going gets tough… – first published 3 May 2014

The beginning of May 2014 and I had reached the Bridge pub at Shawford, near Victor’s Bridge, where grumpy sit com character Victor Meldrew met his end. Part of me wanted to stop for something to eat but there were masses of people milling about outside and I knew it would probably take ages to get served, never mind that I wasn’t really sure what food would be available. In the end I decided to give it a miss and carry on to the rustic bench at Otterbourne. In hindsight this may not have been one of my better decisions. Continue reading Otterbourne to Allbrook, when the going gets tough… – first published 3 May 2014

Twyford to Allbrook – first published 29 December 2013

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The last Sunday of 2013 and I was on the Itchen Navigation attempting an ambitious walk from Winchester to Eastleigh. I’d made it to the frozen path across the Twyford water meadows. The sun was shining which is always good but I was slightly worried it was going to melt the ice beneath my feet and make to path too muddy to walk on. It wasn’t long before I could see Compton Lock in the distance, my next landmark. So far so good. Continue reading Twyford to Allbrook – first published 29 December 2013

water, dog dips and an interloper on the trail

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24 May 2016

With one last look at the alpacas In the field, we crossed the road at Kiln Lane and I showed CJ the half hidden entrance to the next section of the canal.
“If I hadn’t met Peter, the smiley man, that first time I might never have found it,” I told him. “It’s one of the few places you can get lost on the Navigation.”
Then we carried on, hunger driving us to pick up the pace and get to the rustic benches as soon as possible. There aren’t that many dry places to sit on the Navigation, even in the middle of summer and this is one of the muddiest stretches. Continue reading water, dog dips and an interloper on the trail