Ten miles, cygnets and coffee

7 July 2019

The route for our ten mile Clarendon Marathon training walk was an obvious one, at least to me. The midpoint between my house and Kim’s is Woodmill so we arranged to meet there at eight o’clock this morning. Eight might seem a little early on a Sunday morning for most people but, given the heatwave we’ve been experiencing, starting early, before it got too hot, seemed the sensible thing to do. Besides, Rob and Commando had gone out at silly o’clock for a run so we were both awake anyway.

As I headed down towards the river it was certainly much cooler. Whether this was because it was still so early, or because the heatwave was over, I couldn’t tell. Just in case I’d worn my light mac anyway. Although I’d left in plenty of time I marched along, not wanting to be late. Just before I got to the reed beds though, I stopped in my tracks. The mute swans and their fluffy grey cygnets were there on the mud of the low tide. The cygnets were sound asleep, watched over by their parents. It was such a beautiful sight I forgot all about time and the miles ahead.

Smiling to myself I carried on towards Woodmill. As I rounded the last bend Kim was there, walking towards me. Together now, we carried on towards Mansbridge, talking about the sleeping cygnets. Last time we came this way we’d taken the road route through Mansbridge to Wide Lane because there’d been lots of rain and we were worried the trail through Monks Brook would be muddy. Now, after a few days of heat and sun, we decided to risk the trail.

Walking with someone else made the trail seem far shorter than it does when I’m alone. We zipped through, finding barely a trace of mud. Kim was enchanted by the mushroom chainsaw sculpture made from a fallen tree but we were chatting so much I didn’t take any pictures at all. In fact the next time I took my phone out of my pocket was by the airport roundabout. The grass verge was a mass of poppies and I couldn’t resist them.

We marched up Wide Lane, past the entrance to Lakeside where we’d turned off last week, looking forward to a toilet and coffee stop in the Swan Centre. The thought of a takeaway coffee from the Swan Centre has kept me going on many a long walk in the past. When we got there though, the doors were closed. We hadn’t factored in the fact it was Sunday and our very early start meant it hadn’t opened yet. This was quite a blow.

For a moment or two we stood looking at each other wondering what to do. We both wanted coffee but, more importantly, we both needed the loo before we headed back towards Southampton. We walked up towards MacDonalds, not really relishing the idea of their coffee but thinking we might use their toilets. Then I remembered there was a Costa up one of the side streets.

For the uninitiated, Eastleigh is a maze of grid like streets that can all tend to look much the same if you’re not paying attention. We turned up what I thought was the street with a Costa about half way along. It wasn’t there though and we reached the end feeling more than a little disappointed. We were now right by the Railwayman statue on the edge of Eastleigh Park. Nothing was open and there was no one about. It felt like a ghost town.

Fairly aimlessly we turned right, in the general direction of the main road and the train station. Just as I remembered there was a Costa in the airport that was bound to be open, Kim spotted a little coffee shop on the corner of the next street. It was called Cooffe #1 and it was open. Gratefully we went inside, ordered takeaway coffee and made use of the facilities.

As we walked back towards the still closed Swan Centre sipping our delicious coffee, I spotted Costa to our right. Suddenly I realised what had happened. When we left the Swan Centre we were further up the road than we’d thought because we’d walked along to MacDonalds. Instead of walking up Market Street, which was where the Costa was, we’d walked up the next street along, High Street.

The little detour had added about half a mile to our walk but at least we’d got our coffee and found a toilet. The whole thing reminded me of the last long walk of my very first Moonwalk training. The plans had been to walk the whole twenty six miles, just to prove to myself I could do it. Walking back along Twyford Road towards Eastleigh all I could think about was the toilets in the Swan Centre, when I got there though they were closed for refurbishment or some such thing. Feeling rather desperate I’d walked up and down the streets looking for somewhere else to go. Eventually I’d ended up in MacDonalds but I’d added another mile to my already stupidly long walk in the process. At that stage the five miles home seemed an impossible task but, somehow, I made it.

Of course, our walk today was only ten miles, give or take. Both Kim and I have walked longer distances in the past so adding a little extra wasn’t really an issue. We retraced our steps back towards Mansbridge, sipping and talking the miles away. It was almost a surprise to find ourselves back at the little stone bridge over the Itchen again so soon.

The swan family were on the river near the bend and we paused for a little whale to watch them. The babies seem to have grown in the short time since our last walk this way. It won’t be long before they’re as big as their parents.

Kim and I parted company at Woodmill. Being suddenly alone, the last couple of miles really seemed to drag. It was a relief when Cobden Bridge finally came into view, along with some black swans. The steep climb out of the park was not such a welcome sight. As I trudged up the hill to my house I wondered how on Earth I’d managed to get through all those long lonely training walks of the past?

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Two challenges

21 June 2019

A little while ago I saw a Facebook post about a challenge to walk one million steps between July and September this year. Thirteen weeks walking around 11,000 steps a day seemed doable and the money raised would go to Diabetes UK. As my wonderful Mother in Law, April, suffered with type II Diabetes, it was a charity close to my heart so, on a whim, I signed up.

A few days later a Twitter post from my lovely friend Kim said she’d signed up to walk the Clarendon Marathon in early October. It wasn’t really a surprise, she’d been talking about it for a while and had even asked me about my two Moonwalk marathons. What was a surprise though, was the reply from Commando saying he’d signed me up to do it with her! Luckily both things worked together rather well but it meant I really was going to have to up my game and get some miles in.

Commando, possibly feeling a little guilty, bought me a brand new Garmin so I could track my miles and steps better. Armed with this and a training plan, the walking began in earnest this week. It started on Monday when I added a bit of extra distance to my normal daily walk up the hill to the shops by taking a longer route. On Tuesday I walked to the big supermarket in Portswood to get my daily milk and newspaper rather than just up the hill. This more than doubled the mileage but there was a bit of an issue.

Not long after I left home the rain began to fall. This wouldn’t normally have been a problem as I was wearing a light mac, but I was also wearing leather sandals. By the time I was half way across Cobden Bridge my feet were soaked and I could feel the burn of a blister starting on my left foot. As a start to a walking marathon training programme it wasn’t great.

A packet of blister plasters was swiftly added to my shopping list. I sat on the steps just inside the door of the supermarket to put one on. Then I went back out into the rain and walked home again with my four pint carton of milk and my newspaper.

On Wednesday I added miles to my normal up the hill shopping walk by going through the local woodland called Hum Hole. All the rain we’ve had meant it was extra green but the normally slippery path has been resurfaced since I last walked this way. Rather than being slightly slimy and slippery in the wet it is now grippy and beautifully spongy underfoot. Commando thinks they may have used recycled tyres, which seems like a brilliant plan on many fronts.

At the very top of the steep climb I paused to get my breath and looked up into the dripping trees. When I saw a woodpecker I could hardly believe my eyes. Often I’ve heard them pecking away in the woods but this was the first time I’d ever actually seen one. Of course, by the time I’d raised my phone to take a photo it had flown away so all I got was leaves and a moody looking sky. On the way home I spotted a new commemorative bench at the top of the hill. It’s really rather beautiful with its red poppies and it must be very new because I’ve not noticed it before.

Thursday saw me back on my Monday big loop up the Hill. There were different gardens to look at and one, filled with poppies caught my eye so I stopped to take a picture. It wasn’t until I got home and looked at it properly that I noticed the tortoise hiding amongst the flowers!

To add a little more distance I stopped off at the Village church and visited Pappy’s grave. Walking back through the precinct the clouds ahead looked threatening so I upped my speed on the way home. Luckily it’s all down hill. Unluckily, I didn’t beat the rain and got quite wet.

Kim and I had come to the marathon training game a little late to fit in a full training schedule but, luckily, we both walk, or in Kim’s case, run, a fair few miles every day anyway. The plan was to walk alone as much as possible but to have one long walk together each week. As Kim works shifts, it wouldn’t be the same day each week but today was our first.

The plan was to start from my house and walk to Southampton Common by way of Eastleigh, a distance of around eight miles. Commando and Rob would meet us in the Bellemoor for lunch and a Hamwic Harriers brainstorming meeting. It was a beautifully sunny morning, far warmer than it has been of late, and it looked as if we might even get there without getting wet.

Walking across Riverside Park towards Woodmill, I hoped I’d see the mute swan cygnets again. Today they were on the far bank though, just grey specks in the distance. There were a couple of black swans a little closer and they, and the good weather tempered my disappointment a little.

This walk reminded me of all the long walks I did to train for the two Moonwalks. Both times I’d taken a route along the river, adding a little more distance each week until I finally ended up walking to Winchester then turning around and walking back. The memory of all those lonely miles reminded me of the enormity of the task ahead. A few doubts began to creep in. Now I’m much older and probably not as fit. Will I really be able to do it all again?

Of course this time I wouldn’t be doing it alone. As I didn’t want Kim to start having doubts too, I painted a confident smile in my face, put an extra spring in my step and pretended I wasn’t worried. We walked together along the riverbank towards Mansbridge chatting away as if this was just any old walk. We laughed at the haughty looking greylag geese and reminisced about the day of the kayaks.

About half way to the bridge we came upon a family of mute swans with four beautiful grey cygnets. Seeing them certainly made up for my earlier disappointment. As we walked on I told Kim about the orphaned cygnets at this exact spot a few years back. We both wondered if either of the parents was one of those same cygnets? It was such a lovely idea we hoped we were right.

In no time at all we’d reached Mansbridge. From here I’d normally take the trail along Monks Brook towards Eastleigh but, with so much recent rain, this didn’t seem like a good idea. It’s muddy along there at the best of times and neither of us fancied a swim in the brook. Instead we walked along Mansbridge Road, just as I used to do when I was Moonwalk training. In fact, I probably haven’t taken the road route since then so it added to the deja vu feeling I’d been having on and off since Cobden Bridge.

Before I knew it we were passing the airport, stopping briefly for a picture of all the poppies on the verge by the Spitfire sculpture. The miles really seemed to be going far quicker with a little company and some chat.

We finally departed from my old Moonwalk route at Lakeside. Rather than carrying on up the road to Eastleigh we headed across the park towards North Stoneham. There was a quick stop for a toilet break in the fancy new building and a brief sit down on a bench for a snack. Snacks are an important part of long walks. Not only do they give you energy, but they also give you something to look forward to to break up the miles. Today I’d brought some of the chocolate salty ball running snacks I make for Commando. They’re basically dates, peanut butter, coconut oil, cocoa powder and oats with a few extras thrown in. Kim loves them so she was delighted I’d brought them.

We stopped for barely five minutes and then we were off again. The next part of the route had been worrying me a little all morning. In the past I’ve often walked across Lakeside, taken the bridge across the Monks Brook ford and crossed the road to Stoneham Lane. Now though the whole road layout has changed and I wasn’t sure if we could still get through. If we could it might not be as easy as it had been.

In the end my worrying was all for nothing. There is a new pedestrian crossing, albeit temporary, just the other side of the bridge. It took us to the beginning of Stoneham Lane, at least what used to be the beginning before the new part of the road was built. This part of the lane was always the most difficult to walk because it bends sharply and there aren’t even any verges to jump on if a car comes. Now though, there are no cars so it has basically become a very wide footpath. Today it was lined by big orange barriers and cones. What purpose they served we never did work out.

Once we’d passed St Nicolas Church it was fairly easy going. There’d been no more progress on the pavement since I last came this way but almost all of the lane did have a pavement and, in no time at all we’d reached Burgess Road and the Common felt very nearby. Of course it is all uphill but, with someone to talk to it didn’t seem too bad.

By the time we got to the Common there were a few worrying looking clouds on the horizon but we didn’t have far to go by this time so we just kept walking. We made it to the Bellemoor before the rain fell and discovered we’d also beaten Commando and Rob. Not bad going at all for our first marathon training walk.

Annoyingly I accidentally stopped my Garmin atLakeside so the walk is in two parts
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Pavement chalk, a chalk stream and reclaimed land

27 March 2019

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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Messing about on the river

16 September 2018

Usually on a Sunday morning the fast boys are up early and out running somewhere. Normally somewhere off road and muddy, as my washing machine can attest. This Sunday was a little different. Actually it was a lot different. Someone, possibly Rob, had the bright idea to go kayaking instead of running. Obviously this was something I couldn’t possibly miss, even if I had no plans to actually get into a kayak, being seriously deficient when it comes to balance and agility and not inclined to swin in the Itchen. As it turned out, watching the kayakers was the most fun I’ve had for ages and I got a nice walk into the bargain. Continue reading Messing about on the river

Slip sliding to the final running school 28 August

28 August 2018

Today was my final Running School session and I wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or sad. The previous sessions had all been extremely tough, pushing me to my limits but there was something almost enjoyable, in a masochistic way, about being tested and getting through it. Maybe enjoyable isn’t the right word and maybe the joy part when they were over was more about having survived. Either way, I set off this morning with mixed feelings. For once there was a good chance of getting wet along the way and I was actually wearing a thin raincoat. Continue reading Slip sliding to the final running school 28 August

The Running School part five and a bit of a dilemma

21 August 2018

Today was my penultimate Running School session and it was yet another very hot, humid day. Luckily, as it was a later appointment, Commando was picking me up so I’d only have to walk one way. Due to Paul being on holiday it had been two weeks since my last session but I’d been practicing like mad trying to keep my fitness up. So far, it seemed to be working. The pain in my leg has been much diminished and walking feels much less of a chore and more of a pleasure. This didn’t mean I was looking forward to a work out with Paul though. Continue reading The Running School part five and a bit of a dilemma

Four of six at the Running School

7 August 2018

Every session at the Running School seems to be harder than the last and my fourth session was no exception. It wasn’t helped by the extremely hot and longer than planned walk to get there. It seems that, no matter how much I practise the exercises at home, Paul always comes up with something new to torture me. Continue reading Four of six at the Running School

The hottest walk and a bad descision

7 August 2018

My fourth Running School appointment fell on what felt like the hottest day yet. The temperature was in the thirties when I left home and the humidity level was off the scale. In my rucksack a big camelback water bottle was slowly defrosting. When I got up this morning I filled it and put it in the freezer. Somehow I didn’t think it was going to last the whole walk so I was desperately trying to ration my sips.  Unlike my previous two sessions, which were both early afternoon, this one was at midday so I was going to have to walk home too.  Continue reading The hottest walk and a bad descision

Back to the Running School

2 August 2018

Last week’s cancelled Running School session was rescheduled for today. Unfortunately, the weather was no cooler. By the time I reached the river I was so hot I looked as if I’d already had a gruelling workout. To make matters worse, a whole squadron of seagulls buzzed me as I started off along the river path. Walking through a mass of low flying gulls, their wings inches from your face, is not as much fun as you might think. Continue reading Back to the Running School

Change of plan

26 July 2018

This morning I had my third appointment at the Running School. To be honest, after the camping and travelling I wasn’t feeling the love. Neither was I entirely convinced I’d get through it. What I really should have been doing, once I got home, was resting and stretching, with maybe a little bit of practicing the glute bridges, twisting stretches and the like. There’d been barely any time for all that though. What with the unpacking, washing, shopping, Old Cemetery visiting, picture taking at the mile race, editing and posting said photos, trying to catch up with the newsletter writing, blah, blah, blah, I’d barely had time to blink.

Continue reading Change of plan