Once again Commando is pacing the Winchester Half Marathon. There have been lots of Sunday runs with the pacer team. Today though, they were doing a practice run on the course. Despite the early start I went along too. Any chance to wander around Winchester for a few hours is always welcome and this morning I had a plan.
One of the great joys in my life is walking in the quiet places. I am a connoisseur of secluded little cut ways, hidden footpaths, trails and walkways. Finding a way to get from a to b that doesn’t involve walking along a road makes me smile, especially when it is beside a river. On my walks I’m always on the lookout for these hidden gems and the ones I know I use regularly, even if they add miles to my walks. Today I chose a route bursting at the seams with away from the road delights for my early morning walk. Unfortunately some of them are not as accessible as they should be though.
When I’d seen all I could of the Bargate Quarter progress I crossed the road and headed towards some more building work. This has been going on for a lot longer, although things are moving on apace right now. There was a time when I thought I’d be looking down on this project daily and watching things unfold, but a lot has changed since then.
In 2013 I was working on the top floor of an office block overlooking the old East Street Shopping Centre. The views, especially the sunsets, were spectacular. The shopping centre, built in the 1970’s, was the first in the city but it was never completely successful because it was too far removed from the centre of town. In 2012 the last retail unit closed but the building remained open as a car park and for the public to walk through from St Mary’s.
In the summer of 2013, the doors were closed for good and, shortly afterwards, we watched from our office window as the demolition work began. Often I’d take a photo from the window of our little kitchen while I was making coffee. It felt like watching history in progress. Soon we learned that a supermarket was going to be built on the site and a new walkway joining St Mary’s to East Street. We watched the old shopping centre disappear with interest and anticipated watching the new building go up and then popping into the supermarket at lunchtime to buy our groceries.
None of these things were meant to be though. Not long after the work began we learned our office was closing. We were all being made redundant. Watching the building slowly disappear became a metaphor for our jobs. Then the supermarket owners pulled out and, for a long time, work stopped.
No longer working in the city centre meant I lost touch with what was happening at the bottom end of East Street, although I occasionally walked past and looked through the site gates. Driving past recently I noticed some new apartments have been built and Commando told me about a pedestrian walkway that has now opened. Today I thought I’d take a closer look.
Since I last came this way the row of shops opposite Debenhams has also been demolished. Often in my lunch hour I’d walk past them and occasionally go into the little bric-à-brac store, Scoops, to look around. This row of shops was where an IRA bomb exploded in the late 1970’s. In those days there were bomb scares all the time but this was the only actual bomb I remember exploding. Luckily, no one was hurt although the carpet shop where the bomb was planted and the surrounding area, including Debenhams, was damaged by the blast.
The bomber was caught some years later and jailed for seventeen years. Now the shops have gone. They weren’t especially attractive or busy. In fact, the whole area always felt a little down at heel. Soon there will be new commercial units, car parking and apartments. From the plans they look much nicer that anything there before and the whole thing will complement the Bargate Quarter.
A little further on a few shops still remain. These are older buildings with character. Hopefully they won’t be torn down but time will tell.
What I really wanted to see was the new walkway and buildings. The first thing I came to was the tall office block where I was offered a job before I accepted the one at Silver Helm. For a while I thought it was going to be pulled down like the shopping centre and pub beneath it but it’s now had a revamp and is looking very swish.
Just past the office block are the first of the new flats. As they are student accommodation I imagine the moaners hate them and are complaining bitterly but I quite like them. They’re made of light coloured brick and have the look of old fashioned warehouses to me.
The walkway is wide and paved in light coloured stone. It feels a safe and pleasant place. Between the buildings there are little areas of greenery. This is something else I like and will like even better if some seating appears at some point. My only frustration was that I couldn’t see through the hoardings and find out what was going on on the rest of the site.
Out on the street opposite the end of St Mary’s Street I discovered that the underpass that was closed when the demolition began has been reopened. Before I went through it I walked around to the other sid of the remaining building site onto Lime Street to try to satisfy my curiosity. What I discovered was a lot of nothing. Just some containers, probably being used as builders offices and a few cars parked up.
When the underpass was blocked off it was a bit of a blow. It was a nice easy place to cross the road without having to wait for traffic lights to change, important when you’re in a rush to get to work. The murals all along the sides of the sloping entrance ramp always made me smile too. They were representations of the local people in all their diversity. When it was all boarded up I often wondered if they were still there. Today I discovered they still were, albeit faded and, in some places peeling. Maybe the artist will come back and repaint them now?
Emerging on the far side of the underpass felt like a walk back in time for me. I could almost imagine I was going to pop into the cafe in Central Hall and grab a coffee before going around the corner and back to my office to arrange ship visits, entertainers and turnaround days. Sadly, those days are gone now though so I kept walking, past St Mary’s Church retracing the steps of so many walks home.
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It was December 1972 and Pappy was ill. He’d caught a cold from me, a cold I’d brought home from school and, as always, it had gone to his chest. He only had one lung after all. For days he’d been coughing and wheezing. My own cold had turned into a chest infection and I was off school myself which was almost unheard of. Mother made me go to school no matter how sick I was but they’d promptly packed me off home when they saw my feverish face and I’d been sent to the doctor for some penicillin. The little capsules proved impossible to swallow so Pappy opened them up and I had to take the bitter tasting powder on a teaspoon. Continue reading Memories of the early seventies – Arguments and a giant chair
From the moment I got my first record player, along with a big box of singles, I loved listening to music. Often I would sit at the piano in the front room, where all the silver cups Dad had won at bird shows were displayed, and pick out a tune or two, rather badly by ear. We listened to the radio a lot when I was small too and the songs of the sixties evoke many memories. Mother and I would waltz around the bedroom singing along to Englebert Humperdink’s Last Waltz and Mother would often make me sing Those Were The Days or Sing a Rainbow to her. In the summer of 1972, though, a pop song captured a moment in time for me like no other had before.Continue reading Memories of the 1970’s School’s Out
1972 began with a coal miners’ strike. As our coal fire was long gone, replaced by a far less attractive but much more practical gas fire, this didn’t seem to be a big concern for us, at least at first. Even so, I had a sneaking sympathy for the miners’ demands for more money. Spending all day in the dark at the bottom of a dirty mine seemed a horrible and dangerous job, deserving of a rich reward, especially when the Prime Minister earned so very much and seemed to spend most of his time sailing about on a yacht. Continue reading Memories of the early 1970’s – strikes power cuts and bombs
Sometimes things go to plan, others fate has a surprise or two up her sleeve. This is not always a bad thing. Fate has a way of showing you what you need even if you don’t know it at the time. Today was a case in point. The sun was out and I decided to get away from all the storm damage related tasks like, insurance assessors, prices, quotes, builders and generally clearing up and take a wander to the windmill. On the way CJ and I would pop into the polling station in an annexe of the village church to vote and maybe stop to tend Pappy’s grave. Continue reading A very familiar church
The peculiar heatwave that began on the night of the RR10 and baked us in thirty degree heat on our walk to Hamble continued for the next couple of days. It had all my running friends a little worried. The Southampton and London marathons were coming up. Everyone had trained in nothing but cold wetness. This morning weather warnings were posted. Marathon day was going to be hot, possibly hotter that the record breaking marathon day in 1996 when temperatures hit 22.7C. Heat is never a good thing when you’re running a marathon. Thunderstorms and heavy showers were forecast for this afternoon too but nothing could have prepared us for what actually happened. Continue reading In which we are entirely surrounded by water
“I’m not walking up Woodmill Lane,” CJ said, once I’d presented him with all the options.
He had a point, even without snow it’s a steep and seemingly unending climb to the Castle at Midanbury and an even steeper descent on the other side. Despite the cold, he didn’t want to turn back yet either though so we crossed the road and kept going along the river. Continue reading Frozen bridges, frozen feet
The first proper walk of 2018, if you don’t count lots of dashing about shopping or wandering around the Old Cemetery in the mud, was a version of Commando’s two bridge challenge. Frankly, at under four miles, it wasn’t much of a challenge but it was the first ‘just for the sake of walking’ walk of the year and there were swans, mud and some climbing that probably wouldn’t have seemed half as bad if I’d had breakfast before I went out. Continue reading Two bridges lite