Short and sweet

2 May 2019

May began with a short, sweet Wedding Anniversary walk around the Old Cemetery where the rhododendrons had painted the paths pink. The early evening light gave everything a slightly surreal feel and the fallen petals felt like a red carpet welcome.

The celebrations continued today with a short, sweet birthday walk. The brilliant blue sky was echoed by the ceanothus in the Millennium Garden where I met my walking companion, Rachel.

After our last adventure, getting lost in Westwood and walking much further than we’d planned, I had a much more straightforward walk in mind. A gentle stroll along the butterfly walk towards the shore seemed like the perfect way to spend the morning. Of course, nothing is ever quite as simple as it seems.

We set off along Portsmouth Road chatting away, putting the world to rights. When we reached the bottom of Wright’s Hill though, we found the gate locked. This put me in mind of a walk with CJ in the opposite direction a while back. That time we were trapped on the wrong side of the gate at the end of our walk. Luckily there’d been a gap in the fence so I managed to escape without any climbing. Today there was no gap.

We stood looking at the gate for a while, trying to decide what to do. Like last time, there were no signs to explain why the path was closed. We could climb the hill and take the high path through the park or we could risk climbing over the fence. After a bit of dithering we looked at each other, then at the fence, trying to decide if we could make it over without breaking either the fence or ourselves. Then, giggling like naughty schoolgirls, we climbed over.

The path was firm and dry. There were no fallen trees that we could see so it seemed very odd for the gate to be locked. We both knew we might find our way blocked further along but we kept on walking, enjoying the moment.

The path runs along the bottom of the valley. A stream runs beside it, mostly hidden by the trees. Its origins are somewhere in Bursledon but, as far as I know, it doesn’t have a name. In 1762, Walter Taylor built a wood working mill beside the stream here. Millers Pond, across the road, was built as a reservoir.

Walter and his father, confusingly also called Walter, had developed a revolutionary new method of mass producing wooden rigging blocks for the navy. When Walter senior died his son took out a patent on the machinery and built the sawmill at Mayfield. By 1781 the business had grown and Walter moved to Woodmill in Swaythling where the water supply was better and there was more room to power his steam engines and equipment. The mill at Mayfield was turned into a private house but, in World War II it suffered bomb damage and was abandoned. Today there’s nothing to show it was ever there.

1898 map showing the mill and Mayfield house

Of course, Rachel and I weren’t thinking about Walter or the mill. We were just enjoying the dappled sunlight and the fresh green leaves on the trees and maybe worrying a little about finding the reason for the locked gate. We passed the fallen tree CJ and I had found on our last ‘locked gate’ walk. It was now beside the path rather than across it and rotting away quite nicely. Then we crossed the steam to the part of the trail where mud is often a problem. This was, I suspected, going to be our undoing. Neither of us were wearing boots and I didn’t much fancy a swim if we slipped. Just after the bridge though, there is a side trail leading up into the Archery Grounds. This would be our get out clause, should we need it.

As it happened there was no mud. Not a bit. The powers that be have been busy laying down a new path of tightly packed gravel and dirt with wooden battens to keep it in place. CJ and I saw the work in progress last spring but whether the new path had survived a wet winter with water trickling down from the high ground remained to be seen. We needn’t have worried. Today Rachel and I discovered the whole of the trail had been completed and had survived the winter.

Not having to watch our feet meant we could appreciate our surroundings better, although chatting meant I didn’t take many pictures. There was one, taken in the general direction of the stream trying to capture the skunk cabbage we smelled rather than saw.

There was another of the fairy door. We almost missed it because the Ivy has become so lush and large it’s almost covered it over. The fairies that live in the tree are going to have trouble getting in and out if it gets much bigger.

We almost made it to the end of the trail on Archery Road before we found anything that could explain the locked gate. Right by the turning where the trail heads upwards some men were working laying down more gravel. They were happy to let us pass though and we made it back to the road without incident.

Our short but sweet stroll ended with a nice cup of coffee in Woolston, sitting outside what was once The Vosper Thorneycroft factory. It may not have been the longest walk in the world but, with good company and an air of adventure because of the locked gate, it was a very enjoyable birthday walk.

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Big changes on the butterfly walk

19 April 2018

After weeks and weeks of rain and cold, the surprisingly balmy evening running through Victoria Country Park seemed like it might have been a turning point, at least weather wise. This morning the sky was a beautiful shade of blue and cloudless. Spring seemed to have finally sprung and it felt like time for a walk at last.  Continue reading Big changes on the butterfly walk

The lost estates of Weston, Mayfield

17 January 2018

All my life I’ve lived near the sea. The lapping of the waves and the sound of fog horns is something I can’t imagine being without. Having said that, Southampton is hardly a seaside town. The little bit of seashore we have, less than a mile of shingle bordered by tall flats and a large council estate, could not be called a resort by any stretch of the imagination. Even so, it’s nice to walk along the shore and, today, the sea was calling me, despite the high winds I knew would make walking difficult. Continue reading The lost estates of Weston, Mayfield

The butterfly walk – first published 22 July 2016

With Mediterranean temperatures and high humidity in July 2014 I knew I’d have to come up with a good walking plan if I was going to get some miles in. Goodness knows I needed to as the hundred miles a month was looking more than a little short with just over a week to go. For once there was some forward planning. Ok so this only constituted a water bottle in the freezer (with the lid off otherwise they burst when the water expands) but still, it was a step in the right direction. Continue reading The butterfly walk – first published 22 July 2016

The butterfly trail

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20 April 2016

This morning I thought I’d get out early, well earlyish, and try to get some miles under my belt. Ever since my adventure in Tickleford Gully with CJ I’d been thinking about walking a circular route to the shore through the gully and back via the trails in Mayfield Park, or perhaps the other way around. Since we’d had a couple of days with no rain I thought today would be a good day to try it. If I was lucky there wouldn’t be too much mud. Continue reading The butterfly trail

The joy of six

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29 March 2016

The hiatus in the building work continued into Tuesday because a delivery of cement didn’t arrive. This was bad news for the progress of my potting shed come summer house but good news for walking. Given the last few rainy walks it seemed prudent not to go too far afield but, as usual, I had a plan up my sleeve. There was supposed to be another boundary stone in Tickleford Gully, about two and a half miles from home. Of course CJ wanted to come along. He may have caught the boundary stone bug. Continue reading The joy of six

an addition to the woodland route – first published 7 July 2013

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At the beginning of July 2013 I was on a mission to explore a route that would take me from the shore to Millers Pond without road walking. At least that was the theory. For once I’d planned it all with precision on WalkJogRun so I knew exactly where I was going. When I say exactly, I mean, more or less because there were woods involved and they’re quite difficult to plot as you can’t see the paths on the satellite map. Still, how lost could I get? Continue reading an addition to the woodland route – first published 7 July 2013

Butterfly walk and runners on the common

Mayfield Park
Mayfield Park

28 July 2015

The butterflies have been conspicuous in their absence this year for some reason. Although I’ve seen the odd one fluttering over the garden or when I’ve been out walking, there haven’t been nearly as many as usual. The bees have been buzzing around all the flowers in my garden since spring, but I’ve missed the colour of delicate wings drifting from plant to plant. On Tuesday, I thought I’d go and seek them out in their own habitat, the Butterfly Walk. Continue reading Butterfly walk and runners on the common

An exciting discovery in Mayfield Park

Millers Pond
Millers Pond

15 June 2015

As Sunday ended up bright enough for me to catch a little sun on my arms and chest I naievly expected more of the same on Monday. With this in mind I’d planned a nice walk along the shore towards Hamble. Looking out of the window when I got up threw those plans into disarray. If anything it looked like rain, all thick grey cloud, black around the edges. Obviously I would have to think again. Continue reading An exciting discovery in Mayfield Park

Appreciating the little things – first published 21 January 2013

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Right now the weather feels like there’s been a return to winter so my next post from the FGS archives feels quite fitting. Ok, so it’s not actually snowing now but there’s a definite winter chill to the air and a lot of grey skies, wind and rain. Back at the end of January 2013 though the snow had finally stopped falling but had hung around long enough for me to go out walking in it.

21 January 2013

Last night was a restless one. Maybe it was the cold but I didn’t sleep very well at all. Tired or not I decided I’d better have attempt number three at the Moonwalk training seven miler today or it was never going to happen. Not that I’d really attempted it properly so far but still, third time lucky? Given the cold (remembering my hands yesterday) and the added difficulty of walking on the snow (even with the wonderful Yak Trax) I was not entirely convinced I was going to make it but at least it wasn’t snowing. After a bit of a rethink on the route and another cup of warming cocoa (ok, I admit it had a dash of rum too and I was procrastinating like mad), I wrapped up as warmly as I could and set off into the cold.

I decided to try the route I planned out on Thursday night but backwards. Not walking backwards of course, just round the other way so the new bit was at the beginning and the little hill by Millers Pond was a downwards slope instead of upwards. Despite the fact that  the snow had turned to hard ice, it was warmer than yesterday which was a good start. The odd patch of blue sky and the sun trying hard to come out added to the feel good factor. Wearing my mittens over my iPod friendly gloves helped a bit in that department too. It was my hands that caused all the problems yesterday after all.

In the end I decided to risk the Little Hill, better going up it than down it for sure. The Yak Trax did their job and I reached the top safely. From there I went through the village, cutting through the churchyard and then down towards the college. It was about then that I noticed a second thing, I’d filled my water bottle up and grabbed some snacks but, somehow, I’d left them at home. Sometimes I’m my own worst enemy. It was too late to do anything but carry on so that’s exactly what I did, although there was a fair bit of under breath cursing going on. Good job no one was about or they have thought I was a nutter.

It didn’t seem to take long before I was apoproaching Millers Pond but a quick glance at the WalkJogRun told me my time was ridiculously slow. This was most definitely not going to be a record breaking walk, unless it was the record for the longest time ever taken to walk seven miles. At Millers Pond the going got even slower. For one there was an elderly lady walking her dog and, as the path is pretty narrow and I didn’t want to risk sending her flying, all I could do was go at her pace. There were a few boggy patches to skirt too but not too many as I was keeping mainly to the paved route. At first sight the pond looked completely frozen but, as I turned the first bend in the path, I could see that the middle looked clear in places. At least the ducks had somewhere to paddle.

Millers Pond
Millers Pond

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A little further and I spotted some ducks sitting on the ice. The unfrozen part of the pond was like glass, except for the odd ripple as chunks of snow fell off the overhanging branches into the water. It reflected the weak sun trying to break through the clouds. When I reached the first viewing platform it was all ice again littered with tiny snowballs fallen from the trees. Right in the centre an area of ice was actually covered with a snowy blanket.

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The path I’d taken through the trees was ice free, even if it was a bit muddy in parts, which is probably why the dog walker chose it. The other path, leading through more open ground, was a sheet of ice, I walked a little way to investigate, even though I was actually going in the other direction. When I came back past the pond the ducks all began to skitter across the ice towards me. Maybe they thought I had bread. I didn’t.

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A little further on I came to the entrance to Mayfield Park. I was tempted to explore the woodland paths I remember from my teens. They lead almost all the way down to the shore and actually come out close to the road I was heading for. In the end I decided to stick to my plan for fear the woodland paths would be too boggy after the recent rain and now the melting ice. Regretfully I left the park behind, promising myself I’d come back again in the drier weather.

Mayfield Park
Mayfield Park

The next part of the route was one I’ve never walked before so I spent a lot of time checking my screen shots and the map to make sure I was going in the right direction. Keeping the houses bordering the woods to my left I followed the road until it came to the point to turn off back to more familiar ground. For once I didn’t get lost and fairly soon all the map checking stopped and I could move a bit faster. Before long I had an unimpeded view of the woods and a welcome glimpse of blue sky, as long as I closed one eye and ignored all the grey anyway.

By now I was regretting the mug of cocoa because I needed the loo. There were dog walkers in the park so I thought I’d cut through and take one of the little woodland paths until I found somewhere a bit private. I can’t say I was looking forward to exposing my bum to the cold air but needs must. So I traipsed off down a horribly muddy trail until I was out of sight, did what had to be done as quickly as possible so I didn’t have to explain why I had a frost bitten arse then doubled back until I found the steps leading up to the road. Little did I know this little detour was going to cause me problems later on.

A problematic detour
A problematic detour

Soon I passed the place where the old seaweed hut used to stand. The hut used to be a landmark in the area when I was a small child although I’m not sure if I actually remember it or just think I do because I’ve seen so many photos. It was ancient, literally, and was mentioned in Admiralty charts as far back as 1783. A ramshackle structure of old timber with a roof of seaweed it was apparently used by local fishermen to store tackle and shelter from bad weather. Rumor has it, it was also connected with smuggling. In 1967 it was demolished but there used to be a pub close by called the Seaweed, I went there once with Commando. Even the pub is gone now, replaced by a new housing estate. It seems kind of sad that there’s nothing but a street name left and a little piece of history has been lost.

The seaweed hut
The seaweed hut

Now the shore was in sight but sadly not the sun. A lone gull sat in the little stream that runs down to the sea, almost lost amongst the snowy landscape. The snow on the foreshore was liberally sprinkled with footprints, the clumps of dry grasses standing out against the stark whiteness. I crunched across the frozen grass and snow topped pebbles, adding my Yak Trax prints to the already pock marked snow and trudged along the sea front towards Netley.

spot the gull
spot the gull

Walking on snow and ice is a bit like walking on sand, slow going and a great deal more effort than normal walking, especially when the ground under the snow consists of nothing but pebbles. It was hard work. Walking along the path of the promenade would probably have been easier but I wanted a closer look at the grasses and to see how far the snow encroached towards the salty sea.

On closer inspection the grasses and dried flower heads proved to be quite stunning. Normally they’re lost in the browns, greys and golds of the pebbles and the vivid greens of the living grass. Today, against the white backdrop, they took on a whole new beauty. One looked like a delicate starburst, another a spiny pompom. The snow stopped at the tide line where clumps of lace like melting ice mingled with tangles of colourful seaweed, pebbles, shells and driftwood.

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Sometimes in life we rush about never stopping to notice the details around us. Today I stopped for a while to marvel at them. I took a few pictures too so I could remember to appreciate the little things. I think it was Winnie The Pooh who said, “sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.” I think he was talking about Hunny but he was right. It’s the little things and the little moments that add together to create happiness.

A hovercraft zoomed past as I came to the end of the shore and started on my way towards home and warmth. As I approached Peartree Green I glanced at WalkJogRun to check on my progress. I’d walked just over five miles, quite a bit less than expected. Even with all the wandering about in the woods and on the shore apprieciating little things, a detour into the Co-op to pick up a newspaper for Commando (ok, I confess, I also picked up a bag of Maltesers to replace the snacks I’d left at home and a chocolate milkshake to drink when I got there but, in my defence, Maltesers was the best choice on offer) I was going to be way short of seven miles by the time I got back.

Stopping for a moment to examine the map and the red line showing my progress, I scratched my head and wondered how I could possibly be so far out on a route I’d so carefully planned. When I got as far back as the toilet stop all became obvious. The little meander through the trees had actually cut off quite a large corner. Oops, and there was me thinking I was probably adding distance.

There was nothing for it, tempting as it was just to march straight home, I wanted to nail the seven miles once and for all so I started looking around for ways to add some distance. First I took the road running behind the church but it was obvious it wasn’t going to be enough. I carried on for a bit along another road that I could see came out back on Peartree Avenue. Still not enough. I cut behind the common and down a little road I remembered from my driving lessons then looped back onto Spring Road. Better, but still not enough. In the end I had to walk all the way down towards the very beginning of the Big Hill and back up to make up the distance. Just as the cold was seeping into my bones, my legs hurt with the effort of stomping over the ice and I was whining to myself that I should have been content to come straight home and who would have known if I’d done six or seven miles, I saw a trio of jolly snowmen peering over a wall at me. It put the smile back on my face as I marched the final stretch and just made it past the seven mile mark. Phew, that was close!

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This was possibly the slowest seven miles I’ve ever done but I’m pleased I finally managed to get it out of the way. Hopefully, next weekend the snow and ice will be gone and I can get back to some kind of normality for the fourteen miles, if not I could be some time!