2:7 Alton to Winchester

No tubular problems today which is good because it is a fairly long day with a severe time restriction. Basically, I need to get to Winchester just before 5.00 if I am to catch the last bus back to Alton or pay an absurd amount to get the train on a different branchline as far as Woking.

View Alton to Winchester in a larger map
Fortunately I make the early train I am aiming for. There is a chap on it in a railwayman's uniform but it looks a bit old fashioned. Do South West Trains have uniforms with waistcoats with brass buttons? I can't remember. But when we get to Alton he goes to unlock the platform where the Watercress Line steam train goes from and the mystery is solved. The Watercress line carriages are suitably green.

Probably I should get this train. It would solve my time problems and on the walk to Stornoway I did a few legs (from Northampton, from, Matlock, from Alston up the river South Tyne) where I could have hopped on a steam train for a few miles. I didn't because I wanted to walk every step of the way - but I have no such great desire for this jaunt. On the other hand the trains did not arrive until a few decades after Jane Austen died and I want to get the feeling of distance around her world that I can only really get from walking or going by horse or horse drawn conveyance. And as I am a couple of miles from Chawton, I reluctantly decide to walk it.
But I am quite happy to jump on a bus or get a taxi for a couple of miles to the other end of Alton which is not big but quite long and which I have already walked most of the length of.  There are no buses on this Bank Holiday Monday, however, and the cab company by the railway is shut. I suppose I could try phoning but I just start walking,  back into town. Back past the coffee shops and charity shops from my last visit. Back past the triangle of green called The Butts. and only then do I start new ground.

The road after the Butts takes me past a huge sports centre. And beyond the sports centre a cricket pitch.

There is a walkway that takes me up and off the road. I take this on the assumption that I will be able to get back again although the road is a few meters below the pitch and there is a hedge.  After a bit I start to worry and look for gaps but these are all filled by a netting, presumably to stop cricket balls escaping.
Still, it seems illogical that there would not be a way out to the road and so I carry on. And fortunately, just as I get to the end of the cricket patch there is in fact a decent gap and desire line path.

I am only on the road for a short while before getting to Chawton Park Woods.  This is delightful. I have been here before once and I remember noticing the coppiced hazel. These stools have obviously not been cut for a long time but their existence, and the name suggests that it is very likely that Jane Austen would have walked here: Her brother was the owner of Chawton House and Chawton Park Woods would have presumably belonged to him.  And she was a great walker in the countryside around Chawton Cottage.

These stools have not been cut in a long time so they would not have looked exactly like this (it is unlikely that they would have been neglected in the early 1800s) but there is another difference. The Watercress line runs through the woods but there are also strange parallel banks.  You do get old banks dividing coppices or delineating droves in old woods and these can be ancient. But these banks are too close together and they run parallel with the railway line.  I think they are probably something to do with it. Other lines, abandoned much earlier?  The remains of a station or some sort of shunting yard?  I don't know but I think they must post-date Austen's perambulations.

There are still a few last bluebells in the woods.  And I pass a farm that looks idyllic down below me.  Then I pass into access land and the decidious woods give way to conifer plantations.

This seems quite an old plantation with big, well spaced trees. But I am starting to hear high pitched engine noises.  In the fields to my left there is an off road vehicle. And a little further there are guys on trail bikes.

I remember hearing their engines whine as I walked along the old railway track into Chawton last time out. The tracks of the trail bike are in the dried mud of the byway I am walking along.  I quicken my pace, keen to get out of earshot of the bikers and offroaders. 

After a building and some sheds, I start to walk away from the noise. And though there are still tyre tracks in the mud no one seems to be using the byway today.  It is a bit odd though; there are two parralel tracks. The one I am on which is fairly substantial but a few metres away there another, freshly bulldozed.  All the same this is pleasant enough walking in the woods and, apart from a couple glimpsed far ahead at one point, I have these woods entirely to myself.

The end is marked by an electricity sub-station and then I hit the road.  The minor road that I take has houses on both sides with a wide grass verge.  It feels unexpectedly suburban. Am I still in commuter country?  Perhaps. Though this is my seventh day I have wandered around a bit, rather than take a direct line for Lyme.  And South Western trains have been both fast and frequent.

I am going down hill so almost miss a very odd vehical. It whizzes by, a torpedo of orange fibreglass. It does not sound as if it has an engine. A recumbent bike in an aerodynamic shell? Perhaps, it has gone before I know it.

The next road is even smaller and the character changes, more rural, less suburban feeling, as I drop down to Soldridge.

I pass a rabbit, hopping painfully. It is clearly suffering badly from myxomatosis. I am close, it has been blinded by the disease, but when I move it hears the sound and scurries off into the undergrowth so the half formed idea I have to find something to whack it over the head and end its misery is not put into practice.

A little further and I come across a great bloom of ramsons - wild garlic in flower. 

Though this road is quiet, I am glad to get off it and onto the track and byeway of Stancombe Broad Lane. This is great, one of those idyllic tree lined byways.  Traffic free,  almost no people (I see a couple of women with two dogs at one point), a sort of linear woodland, with the odd glimpse of the more open country to each side. My only gripe is that I am going downhill and downhill and that means that at some point I will have to go up again.

I am hungry and thirsty and it is getting hot so I am on the lookout for a place to stop. At last I come to a junction with another byeway which has a grassy bank and stop for a roll and some water.  The two women with the dogs come down just as I finish the roll, and we exchange greetings. They go one way and I set off in the opposite direction.

Before long my byeway joins the road to Bighton. This is the tawny colour on the map intermdediate between the brown of a proper B road and the yellow of a really minor one,  but it turns out to be quiet and actually quite lovely.  A cool tunnel of dappled shade as trees have overgrown on both sides and been trimmed into an almost tubular archway.

And Bighton is quiet with some pretty cottages and an appealing looking pub. 

Too early for that though so I press on, taking a small road past a farm that then turns into a permissive farm track.

This runs on pleasantly enough for a while but when I approach the junction with the right of way I want to take into Alresford, the track is flooded. Not a major problem as other walkers have made a track up and along the bank at the side. 

This is decision time. The track turns north and joins a road but there is a right of way that goes direct and past some watercress beds. It is shorter and involves less road but also looks less certain. It is quite overgrown looking though obvious (I think!)

Deciding to take that rout I am reassured to see deep tyre tracks on this way. In fact, rather to my surprise, it becomes an obvious track with high banks on each side. Some of this is very muddy though and I keep having to avoid wet bits.  The plethora of trail bike tracks convinces me that I am on the right path (though getting my glasses out and looking at the map properly would have made me wonder).

And it gets wetter and wetter. I see a dead buzzard, its plumage perfect and healthy looking so I wonder what it has died of.

It is getting wetter and wetter. And now the mud is pristine apart from tracks of birds and animals. The complete lack of footprints does make me wonder.

I wonder if I have got to the watercress beds yet but the banks on that side of the track are a sea of nettles, so I think better of attempting scrambling up.

Eventually the nettles thin under trees and the track has got so wet I have to scramble part way up the bank. 

Further up the track a cock pheasant drinking the water from the track further up.

A little further and the view opens up on the north side of the track. There is a small pond with a wealth of wildfowl, tufted duck, shoveler, Canada geese with goslings, mallards...

The banks recede but the path does not improve. Indeed it does not really look like a path at all now so much as a stream with boggy vegetation on either side. I cannot escape this though as I am hemmed in by a barbed wire fence and the fences, on either side of the stream, get closer and closer.

I cannot see my feet. They are lost in the greenstuff, and I am trying to stay out of the clear water but I can feel through my boots that I am standing in at least a couple of inches of water. And the fringe of vegetation is disapearing.

There is a building and a track to my right and I keep edging up the side of the stream as far as I can, until there is a barbed wire fence in front of me as well.  There is no option. Either I trace my way back through the stream and muddy track as far as the main junction, or I have to get through the barbed wire.

Climbing it is not a serious option. I don't have my insulating foam for one thing and also I am starting from below it with very soggy footing. However, that is an advantage when it comes to wriggling underneath the lowest strand. I sling my rucksack over it and slither under on my belly. I feel the barbed wire catch my fleece but there is no turning back now so I force myself through. To my surprise I find no tear when I get to the other side.

Now I am on a nice track which comes round the building. Could the right of way have been diverted? A bit further and I see a sign warning me of dogs running free. Oh great! I speed up, my feet surprisingly dry. The boots have (mostly) saved my feet from a soaking.

A little further and I see the footpath. Getting out my glasses belatedly it is obvious what I did. I missed the right of way over an open field, north of the duckponds.  Strangely the thing I came down is marked neither as a track (which it clearly was to start with) or a stream (which it clearly was at the end).

Having found firm ground and the right of way properly I now find the elusive watercress beds. These are really impressive,  huge rectangles of vibrant green stretching away into the distance.

My right of way takes me through a field of grass and through a little gate onto a road.
The road into Alresford passes more watercress beds and I am surprised to see and hear lots of activity. These beds seem to being replenished, with men raking gravel, tractors distributing it, all sorts of activity despite it being a bank holiday Monday.

The road I am on takes me to a junction with a B road and here I turn south into New Alresford.  This is actually a very odd road. On one side, mostly obscured by trees, is a big lake, apparantly an artificial fishpond created for a priory.  On the other there is a stream running parallel to the road. what is odd is that both the stream and the lake are down substantial banks. The road seems to be constructed on a narrow causeway and it is hard to see how it could be natural.

At the end of the causeway, there is still no footpath, but I enter Alresford which proves to be well stocked with interesting and old buildings.

Reaching the main street, which is very wide, I am for some reason reminded strongly of Appleby in Cumbria from my last walk. Other ends of the country and yet they feel quite similar.  I decide that I can afford a stop for tea and decide on The Courtyard Tearooms, who are apparantly addicted to pink gingham.
There is no space in the courtyard so I sit in the back room of the tea room having ordered tea and a cheese and watercress scone. I wait, and then I wait some more.  The precious minutes tick by. Eventually I go and ask and they say it is coming but I suspect the girls who are a little overrun this sunny bank holiday Monday, had forgotten my order. 

But it comes eventually, and the tea is excellent and the scone delicious.  Drinking the tea as quickly as I can I am about to use the toilet when the family on the next table get in before me. The mum takes the baby in to change its nappy. As she comes out the dad takes in the little girl to use the facilities. No problem. Except that as I am waiting another family come in, and stand in line. I have been sitting (my table is right next to the toilet) and did not bother to get up to queue.  I say something about how I had better get in the queue and stand up but the guy with the baby studiously ignores me.

Now I have to wait for the next family's girl and then the father, but having stood up at least I get in before the mother. Hell, that quick tea and scone stop has turned out to be a real time swallower.

I set off with more urgency.  There is only really a choice of roads out of Alresford and I elect for the more direct route even though it involves a little more road - due to time considerations. Fortunately this is as pleasant as a road out of a town can reasonably be expected to be, with a footpath between trees on a wide verge at the side of the road for a good part of it.

Then it becomes a slip road to the A31 but I take a minor road just before they converge. Having ground uphill in what is now very warm sun, the minor road wends pleasantly down again.

I get my first glimpses of the River Itchen, below me, through the trees. 

I reach it at a magical spot. The wooded gardens of a house where a little footbridge has been made over to an island in the river (or at least a part of it)

A little further down the road there is a gate, invitingly left open. However I doubt that it is an intentional invitation and carry on.  This is another green tunnel of a road with the river running by the side.

There is a small road running north over a beautiful old bridge (which I cannot find a vantage point to photograph) and I take a slight detour.  There are a family of walkers doing the same but coming from the opposite direction.  I can see trout in the river and the farm beyond the bridge looks lovely.

But I am aware of the time constraint so press on, back along the road to Ovington.

I do not go into the village itself. That would be the quickest way and time is really pressing but I simply cannot resist the temptation of the detour along the river shown on the map.  I pass a pub called The Bush Inn.  Its garden is crowded and I do not have time to stop but I really regret it. Because it looks to be absolute perfection in a country pub. 

And then the walk along the river. I go across a wooden footbridge and find myself walking on a narrow strip between the main river on my left and a 
subsidary channel on the right. And it is absolutely beautiful. Big trout idle in the clear water of the Itchen. All facing upstream and keeping themselves stationary against the current by lazy sweeps of their tail fins.  True, it is busier than I would like but it is a gorgeous day and a bank holiday so that is not surprising. Families are out in force and it is hard to blame them.

All too soon I leave the river and take the track up to the village of Itchen Stoke. But even the expected bit of road is not neccessary as there is a permissive path across the meadows.

I pass a house respendent with solar panels.

And the oddest little shedlet with a huge thatched roof.

Then a brace of wooden bridges take me back over the bifurcated Itchen.

My way leaves the woods to cross an open field and join Lovington Lane

Then it leaves the road to climb quite steeply up through more grass fields and through a wood.

St Swithuns Way (for that is what I am on now) then takes me along the southern edge of a golf course before joining a track that leads me back down to the river along the course's western side. 

The golfers demonstrate their famous flair with fashion and colour coordination. 

Another bridge takes me back north again over the river but before I get to Itchen Abbas a footpath takes me off westwards, through fields.
The path meets a track and then I am puzzled as to how to continue. There is a big fieldgate with a smaller way marked kissing gate. Also a sign saying something about the pigs that I can see in the field. But the kissing gate has a bicycle lock on it preventing access.  There is also an open entrance to a drive - but that looks like it is just a private driveway for a house. There is a girl down the track forking manure and an older lady approaches so I ask her if she knows which way.

She looks at me as if I am a bit of an idiot and points at the kissing gate with the way mark.  I tell her it is locked. She says no it isn't and then looks and finds the bike lock. She scratches her head, nonplussed.

Fortunately the young girl hurries over. The fieldgate is not locked and is the way in, she explains. I ask if the pigs are friendly. Yes, she says, they will come over to greet me but they are fine.

OK, so I set off through the pigs field, a bit nervous  because the ones I passed on Saturday went jumping around in frenzy as I passed their pen. These ones however completely ignore me.

As I go out of the gate on the other side I see a sign that informs me that their names are bubble, squeak, banger and beans. It also clearly says to use the big gate, which would have been helpful at the other end, I think!

Never maind. I set off again through more fields and well maintained footpaths.

I am surprised to see a pair of deer eating in one field, surprised because there are a lot of walkers about today.

There is a beautiful half timbered thatched cottage just before the church at Martyr Worthy. But it is odd, there is something not quite likable about it. It is just too perfect, its lawn too manicured. It needs its hair ruffling a bit to make it really charming.

Soon I am going to have to make a decision. I could strike north of the Itchen for Kings Worthy and catch a bus that will take me into Winchester in time for my bus back to Alton. But I am feeling pretty good and would prefer to get to Winchester itself today. However that is more tricky time wise.

At Easton Lane there is another bridge and here I plan to finally decide. Stop, look at the map, have a drink. Unfortunately the bridge is crowded. There is a police car and someone is explaining that thier car has been broken into. And in the field where the KingsWorthy way goes there is a huge group of ramblers, some with people who have learning disabilities. However they move off and I find a spot to slump.  I think I can make it but only just.

There are still stragglers from the large group. The last being a woman with a girl with downs syndrome who is being cajoled to continue and supported but has her head down and has clearly had enough. They get to the stile and the girl collapses prostrate on the ground not moving. She is going to take some persuading to get going again, I think.

But I have decided to go for Winchester. And that means no time to lose. I set off back past the police car

and back over the bridge and into Easton. 

Past a fine church and then through more green fields.

This looks lovely but the noise from the M3 soon intrudes. And in the hot sun strolling would be a lot more pleasant than grinding out a route march, which is what I am doing, checking the time against my progress with increasing anxiety.

At last I reach the motorway. There is a brief detour north and then a tunnel which also allows a stream of the Itchen under the road.

Beyond the tunnel I am inbetween major roads, the further I get from the M3 the nearer I get to the A34. Still it is interesting terrain. The footpath is good but on the side there is carr woodland, old willow rather than the sallow I am used to from Norfolk - carr is wet woodland with standing water in the winter and sometimes summer - the nearest we get to mangrove swamp in this country.

After a while I hit the next tunnel or rather tunnels under the carriageways of the A34. Passing a man fishing. Maybe the shade is good but I wonder why anyone would chose to fish there with the traffic noise.

I know from the map that there is an industrial estate on the other side of me from the river but for a way I cannot see it because of the trees. The path looks very rural and as I get further from the main roads the traffic noise gets less. Then I do get a glimpse of industrial buildings.

But rather to my surprise the terrain becomes more rural again. I am in a big pasture with trees either side and no sign of Winchester at all.

This is not a good thing. I am running out of time very fast indeed and the pasture stretches away for what looks like miles. Where the bloody hell has Winchester got to? I am walking as fast as I can, sweating profusely in the evening heat.

At last, at long bloody last, I come to a short lane that winds around and lets me out on a city street. I hurry up the road making for the river.

When I get to it I opt to go on the footpath on this side as there are many bridges. I have almost run out of time, mere minutes left and I try a creaky run for a short while. Cross the river on a footbridge.
There is a road before the one that leads to the bus station and I see a kid on a bike come out of what looks like the back. I gamble on it, scurrying up the road and then the side turn. It looks blank but it is too late to turn back so I continue and realise that the blank empty warehouse is in fact the bus garage. I run through it to the bus station beyond.

There is only one bus there. It is a bank holiday evening. There is one small knot of people over to one side and the bus right by me. I hear its doors close and its engine is running but it has not set off. The 16.53 Stagecoach 46 to Alton is still there. The last bus in the bus station. 

So I run round and wave at the driver. He looks at me. I gesture that I want to get the bus. He shrugs.

"Please" I say realising, incredulously, that he really does not intend to let me on the nearly empty and still stationary bus. "This is the last bus!"

He looks at me and his face breaks into a grin of pure malice. He laughs and starts to move the bus.

Fury grips me. I am very tempted to stand in front of the bus to prevent him leaving. But I content myself with stepping out of the way and shouting "You Bastard!" at him.

Still laughing, the nasty little shit drives off. 

It is a beautiful evening and I trudge, very tired now, into the old and lovely part of Winchester to walk up to the train station. But I am too tired to enjoy the place or the sunny evening.  It costs about £20.00 to get a single up to Woking which is the nearest place I can buy a ticket to that will make my return valid.

Still, I have a tea and sit outside the station as I wait for my train, and good humour returns. That was a really great walk and I am very pleased to have made the acquaintance of the delightful River Itchen.




Copyright 2006| Blogger Templates by GeckoandFly modified and converted to Blogger Beta by Blogcrowds.
No part of the content or the blog may be reproduced without prior written permission.