Another Saturday morning, another stroll through the Old Cemetery. As this morning was dull and drizzly, I was all too glad to get off the flats, where all the parkrunners were gathered, and into the relative shelter of the cemetery. There was no plan, no graves to search for, just a slow, peaceful wander with the pitter pattern of raindrops on leaves to keep me company.
The rhododendrons were putting on a beautiful show near the gate. A splash of pink to brighten the dullness. A solitary bee was slowly going from flower to flower, diving into the leopard spotted throats gathering pollen and nectar. Every time I raised my phone to take a picture though, he buzzed to the next flower, so I gave up and walked on.
A little way down the path I startled a squirrel. He froze mid bound, long enough to get a picture, but not a very good one. One slow step closer and he was off, shooting into the trees like a streak of lightning. On I walked, wondering how many squirrels were watching me from the branches?
Above me, through the leaves, there were patches of blue sky, but the drizzle kept falling all the same. A tunnel of hawthorn branches, bowed down with the weight of wet flowers, dripped gently on me as I passed. Hawthorn, the auger of spring, seemed to have somehow got it wrong because it looked and felt more like autumn. The flowers were pretty though.
The more open area beyond the hawthorn was dappled, not by sun, but by daisies. Each forgotten gravestone seemed to have its very own bouquet. Every flower was speckled with sparkling raindrops.
Off the main path, on a narrow trail, my feet brushed the wet flowers as I passed. Now and then I had to duck beneath low branches and sidestep precariously angled stones. Here I found buttercups, forget me nots and wild geranium, lapping up the moisture.
One section of the trail was all nettles to be carefully stepped over. The next all dandelion clocks, bedraggled by the rain. No amount of blowing would tell the time with these.
Further still another hawthorn grew so low across the trail I had to bend almost double to avoid it. The pretty white flowers, rimmed with pink dripped on me all the same but I forgave them because they were so lovely.
Heading back towards the gate now, the next hawthorn was brighter still. The branches arched across the trail were a mass of shocking pink. Each tiny flower seemed to shout, ‘look at me!’
Pink seemed to be the order of the day here. Even the horse chestnut had decided to get in on the act. Rather than glowing white, each candelabra of flowers was salmon pink, as if the flames were burning low.
Rain or no rain, I couldn’t wander amongst the graveyard flowers forever. The parkrun would soon be packing up and it was time to get back to reality. Spring maybe very late in coming this year and the rain just keeps on falling, but the flowers in the Old Cemetery know it’s May and summer will soon be on the way.
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When the weatherman said the first half of April was going to be cold and wet, with maybe a little snow, I should have listened. Ok, I did find my yaktrax just in case but, this morning, when I looked outside there was beautiful blue sky and sunshine. This was handy as I had an errand to run involving a fourish mile walk.
Anticipating the cold, I did put my arctic coat on and grab a hat as I headed for the door. Outside it looked like perfect walking weather but, as I put my key in the lock to open the door, something began to fall out of the sky. In fact lots of somethings. Little balls of ice about the size of a pea, not quite hailstones, not quite snow were hitting the decking in ever growing numbers. Some landed with a splat and disintegrated, others bounced and rolled. From past experience, I believe they are called graupel.
Outside I stopped to take a few photos and a video, sure the graupel would be short lived. It kept on falling though, getting heavier and heavier. My errand wouldn’t wait though, so, hood up and head down, I set off up the hill with the icy balls bouncing off my hood and sleeves.
At the top of the hill I stopped to catch my breath and look at the pretty primroses surrounded by icy little balls. The heat of the climb didn’t last long. The wind was bitingly cold, even with my warm coat. My face hurt. If anything, the falling ice was getting harder, more splat than bounce now.
Two miles on it was still falling. The catkins at Millers Pond looked sad and droopy, crystals of ice weighing them down. The icy drops were teaming into the pond creating a million little ripples around the lily pads. There were no ducks to be seen. No doubt they were all sheltering somewhere under the trees.
Beyond the Railway arch I thought I saw a tiny patch of blue sky but the sleety, haily, rain was still falling hard. My errand took me to the top of Portsmouth Road. My original plan had been to visit St Mary’s Extra Cemetery but the weather changed my mind. Instead, one my mission was accomplished, I just turned around and headed back towards the pond.
As I made my way along the trail towards Middle Road, the blossom on the hawthorn seemed to be mocking me. It’s supposed to be a sure sign of good weather after all. By now the worst of the ice and rain had stopped but I was wet and very cold. It felt more like January than April although the bluebells told a different story.
Typically, the sun did come out when I was half way home. It did little to warm me but the slightly uphill walk helped a little. If the hawthorn is to be believed spring is here, just not today with the east wind blowing.
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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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Last summer the Spitfires had a Summer Challenge run from Winchester to Woolston on the Itchen Navigation. John asked me if I’d lead a walking group, as there were a few people who didn’t feel up to running the fifteen miles but didn’t want to miss out. Obviously I jumped at the chance and we all had a tough, but amazing day. In fact, it was such a success John decided to do it all again this year. On Sunday, Commando and the fast boys went on a reconnaissance mission. Today, CJ and I did the same. Continue reading A reconnaissance mission
A while ago Commando came back from a Sunday bike ride with the fast boys raving about a giant barn he’d seen. John, fast boy, founder of the Itchen Spitfires Running Club, history buff and keeper of interesting facts told him it was the biggest barn in Britain. Commando said he’d take me to see it one day. Today was that day, although I had no idea where he was taking me at the time.
With a little help from Google Maps we found our way back to Hythe High Street. Here we sat for a moment or two on a shady bench and perused Google Maps. My next objective was on Shore Road where another famous resident of Hythe once lived. While I was searching for it I spotted a road called Sir Christopher Court. Behind it was a small park facing the water. Might this be where the hovercraft stone was hidden? As the park was right at the beginning of Shore Road, we decided to check it out. Continue reading Hythe, powerboats, hovercraft and a final postcard
Hythe is a quaint little place that seems half stuck in another, gentler age. The narrow High Street may be pedestrianised these days but the shops with their bow fronted windows look much as they must have when Jane Austin visited back in 1807. Red white and blue bunting was strung across the street and no one seemed to be in much of a hurry, unlike the busy city centre we’d left behind us. Despite its slightly old fashioned air, I knew there were some modern amenities and, once we’d left the pier, we both decided our first port of call should be one of them. Anticipating the journey CJ hadn’t had any breakfast, for fear of seeing it again on the boat, so we headed down the High Street to Costas for croissants and coffee. Continue reading Postcards from Hythe
CJ suffers with terrible sea sickness. We discovered this on many trips across the English Channel to Cherbourg when he was a small child. At first I’d spend the whole journey in the ladies watching him throw up. Then, thankfully, he got too old for the ladies so Commando had to deal with the puking. We tried every anti sea sickness product under the sun. They didn’t work. Not one of them. Not even a little bit. Despite this, today, he and I were going on a cruise. It would be a very short cruise. Hopefully it would be too short for any actual vomiting to commence. Continue reading A short cruise and a very long pier
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
Sleep didn’t come easy last night. I stayed up far too late writing about the peculiar storm and flood while it was fresh in my mind. When I did go to bed it was hard to sleep. The lightning was still flashing like a manic disco ball outside the bedroom window. My mind was racing, filled with images of those huge tubs floating across the garden and worries about what the water was doing outside. It really did feel as if we were in a Winnie the Pooh story and, at any moment, Pooh and Christopher Robin would come to rescue us in an upturned umbrella. Continue reading The Marathon after the storm