2:8 Winchester to Dunbridge

The forecast is sunny with some heavy showers but I come out of Winchester Station to slate grey skies and threatening drizzle.

View Winchester to Dunbridge in a larger map

I pass a Waterlows and notice the window which seems curiously attuned to my endevours. I am currently http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/jun/10/old-ways-robert-macfarlane-review
reading The Old Ways by Robert MacFarlane which itself is very relevant to my walk especially the Austen pilgrimage aspect of it.
And that is the centrepiece of the display but there is also a copy of Walking Home by Simon Armitage about walking the Pennine Way. I have not read that but can relate to this quote: On Cross Fell, “a truly terrible place… some abhorrent strain of that particular fell species, the Caliban version, illegitimate and monstrous,” he very nearly gives up.

I go in and buy a copy of the OS 1:25,000 map of the New Forest.

A short walk takes me further into the centre and I soon find my way to the Cathedral. It doesn't open until
9.30 and I am  bit early so I take a stroll around, fascinated by the medieval passage that is clearly used by locals as a commuting route, people scurrying though and some going by on bikes.

At 9.30 I go in but there is no one at the entrance bit, I take a look at the inside and then go back as a
woman scurries in with a cash box and starts setting up. "You can go in," she says, "I am not quite ready. Just put something in the donations box."

I say thanks and ask where Jane Austen is buried.

The cathedral is rather squat from the outside, at least it seems so to me, used as I am to Norwich's soaring
cathedral spire, but the nave inside is seriously impressive.

I find Jane Austen's grave and take a photo, pausing for a moment. I have read some stuff before about it being tragic that her work is not mentioned as if this is some sort of sign of a lack of appreciation but it does not read like that to me. More that, to her family, family affection trumped everything else - I can't see that that implies a lack of appreciation for her writing.   I miss the other plaque and window, not being aware of them.http://austenonly.com/2012/07/18/jane-austens-memorials-in-winchester-cathedral/

Leaving I decide to go to the tourist information centre to grab a map and find the house she died in.
However that does not open until 10.00 fortunately it is directly opposite the bus station so I take the chance to go and complain about the driver who left me there last week and laughed at my desperation. A very sympathetic woman takes my details.

Armed with a map I thread through the Cathedral Close and find the house in College Street. Unfortunately it is covered in scaffolding so there is not a lot to see.

I head up to the road out but as I get to the main road the drizzle becomes hard rain. I dither a bit, thinking
about getting a coffee but in the end dive into a charity shop to look for a book to read without success.

The rain does not stop but it does relent, and it is getting late now with no sign of it really clearing, so I
decide I had better set off.  The road I am on, St Cross Road, quickly goes from central to dullish surbubia. It is long and straight and almost entirely uneventful.

The rain quickens again just as I turn off the main road and, instead of taking the byeway on the map, I
scurry to a railway bridge to shelter. There is no pavement and it is narrow so this is not a very comfortable shelter.  And as soon as the rain eases a bit I set off again.

There is a footpath up the side of an sub-station and then past an infants school, up some steps and I am on a long oblong piece of grassland. The grass is long and soaked so I stick
to the pathway. There are a few people using it more, it seems as a route than for recreation on this dismal
day. I pass a lady carrying her shopping - which seems slightly odd as it looks very rural. I know from the map that it is not really, that there is a housing estate to the side, but buildings are screened off.

My route takes me steadily uphill and near the top I turn and look back. There would be a great view on a
clearer day but at least I can see the cathedral nestling in the Itchen Valley.

Now I hit the busy 3090 but there is a footbridge to take me over it.

The footpath at the other side takes me past another school and then along a narrow corridor that seems to
be made entirly of ivy.

 I get a bit confused at the end of this but soon find my way again down another little passageway,
debouching at an open field next to a recreation ground.

The footpath takes me past a real curiosity.  A modest field, its fence rusted almost completely away, holds
buildings that are overgrown with weeds and half absorbed back into the ground. They are too big for old allotment huts but it is not obvious what they are. According to the map this place is "Texas."

The footpath climbs up Yew Tree Hill. This would be lovely on a fine day with good views to the East, but
there is a lot of vegetation fringing the path and this is very, very wet, soaking my trousers.

Then the rain starts up again in earnest and I have to shelter underneath a hawthorn.

At the top of the hill I get confused and take the wrong path due partially to the old problem of not bothering to take my glasses out but mostly sheer stupidity as there is a covered resevoir to tell me exactly where I am and this is on the wrong side of me. Fortunately I recognise that I am headed the wrong
way quite quickly and put myself right.

And now I don't have to worry about glasses for a bit as I am on Silkstead Way, a lovely byway. I had been
looking forward to this and it doesn't disappoint, an old looking track, leading gently and gradually downwards.

The track is well maintained with plenty of evidence of tree clearing along the way. The strangest thing is a
length of blue plastic hose festooning a tree.

I do love these old byways and this one is particularly fine, with trees on either side. This really could be

All good things come to an end, however and the track eventually turns into a little metaled road, leading upto the hamlet of Silkstead.

 I miss my turning and have to back track and then realise it is just a smudge of green leading across the field.

I pass an open field with an extraodinary gathering of gulls and crows in it.

On the other side I spy a house with some remarkable topiary.  I suspect that they need to invest in a bigger

Parsonage Farm presents me with the tinyest most overgrown path yet. I struggle through it only to be met
by a bigger better footpath that has gone round the side of the settlement.  Fine, but you wish they would change the old sign which is what I followed!

On a track again I soon see Hursley poking its head out of the greenery. Very regular houses but quite old. I wonder if it is a model village as it reminds me a little bit of Turvey from the Stornoway walk.

The track lets me out on the main road and I am pleased to see a pub right next to me. I am hungry now and there are two pubs marked on the map though I do not want to go far looking. There do not seem to be any cafes so though the pub looks a bit posh and expensive I decide to try it, leaving my muddy boots at the door.

A very attentive waiter/barman spots me right away and as I want to eat finds me a small table. The place is very intense with two older guys running around seeing to the
customers as well as the younger waiter. I am guessing that this is their place because they are very, very focussed. I order some wild boar sausages and mash and check out
my new map.

The more I look at it the more I think that the New Forest might be a mistake. It is too far south. Well, I knew that. But there is a lot of stuff to avoid or cross, fringes of Southampton, major roads etc. On the other hand the route over to Salisbury looks very promising.

I had planned to go to Romsey which does not really commit me irrevocably but it looks like a pain to get to. Romsey centre is compact but there is a long straggle out Eastwards which I would have to walk through. It reminds me of Alton in that way.  But I could just miss it, and make for Dunbridge station to the north west - if I am not going to go via the New Forest.

My sausages arrive - three of them and some very smooth mash. And I cogitate as I enjoy them. By the time I have finished and finished my pint of soda water and lime I have decided.

The decision means that I have longer to walk today than I had originally intended. And of course I have buggered about in Winchester looking at Jane Austen sites and dodging rainstorms for most of the morning. So now I need to get a move on.

I walk south out of the village, passing the second pub. Then there is a puzzlement. The map shows a road
off to the east but to the west only a little white side street.  But there seems to be more traffic coming from
the west. I turn into this and miss my footpath at first because this time I actually have to go into the grounds of yet another infants school to pick it up.

But when I do it is a beauty - a track wide greenway fringed by young trees. These alternate, aspen oak then
aspen again.

Over to my right I see a cricket pitch. Again this is odd. There is a big house marked on the map but no
village. Only later do I find out the answer to the mystery of the traffic and the cricket ground. This is Hursley Park, the headquarters for IBM in the UK.


My footpath does not take me to the house, however, but to the edge of Ampfield Wood.  I reach it and find
lots of grim notices

The only path I am allowed to take is a mire, churned up by mountain bikes from the look of it.

I negotiate this and as I work my way uphill so the ground gets drier.

Eventually it opens up and, after a while, I join a road at the hamlet of Knapp, briefly before taking a much better made track back into Ampfield Woods.

There are still lots of signs warning about private land and shooting. It is odd because there are forestry
commission signs but even forestry commission land (and it is not obvious what is and what is private) seems to be restricted.

I follow the track so far and then peel off onto another one. The signs have got me a bit worried as I am not one hundred percent sure I have taken the right turning (these are
woods after all) and I don't want to get shot at.

But eventually I find my footpath turn off and am confident again. Better yet at the junction I see this year's
first orchid.

This path is even muddier than the first one but fortunately there is a diversionary one through dry bracken which I take advantage of and when it returns me to the proper footpath this is decent going.

I hit the edge of the woods and the landscape opens out again. I see my first deer of the day, which is quite
surprising considering that I have not seen another walker since the edge of Winchester.

This is lovely here; green fields framed by broad leaved woodland, fabulously lush and verdant.

The footpath brings me to a minor road at Lower Slackstead. This is a hamlet that is clearly trying hard to
win the loveliest thatched cottage award. The one on the corner is fantastic.

But a little way down the road is another. This one is distinguished by a gorgeous cottage garden. A pheasant wanders around in it bringing his own iridescence to the the vibrant mix of colours.

Now it is a road route march, but I am not unhappy with that. The road is not busy and the sun has finally
come out, drying my damp bits. And It is fast walking which considering my late start is important.

I pass an old farm and notice a sign saying  Plasma Design.  I have seen this quite a lot.  In Hertfordshire a
lot of big old farms have been converted to commuter flats but over the last few days I have walked past several that have become mini industrial estates.  The new face of the English countryside? Perfect thatched cottages amongst farms that are now design studios and marketing firms offices.

I pass a field with so many buttercups glowing in the sun that it could rival an oil seed rape field in full bloom.

And then a little pond with a handy seat at Braishfield.  I take advantage of the seat for water and a bite. As I sit I notice fish in the muddy water. To my surprise some of them have dark orange colours and a closer look shows them to be goldfish. Scores of them. I count over 50 before giving up. There are bigger orange shapes a little deeper too. Koi?

Sadly I cannot really linger as there is still a long way to go. I set off again up the road and then take a coupleof footpaths that lead me to Hall Place. Here I have to fringe a field and then cross a road.

Here the prospect is a bit daunting. Hard going in an overgrown strip of vegetation over a ploughed field. It dips deeply and then rises again and I am now feeling distinctly tired. Nothing for it but to press on though.

As I do I become aware of lapwings crying and as I progress their calls become more urgent. They start to
fly around me. They must have young in the field because they are getting really agitated. I just hope the young or eggs are not in the strip of grass that I am blundering through.

At last I leave them and the right of way joins a farm track for the last little way into Manor Farm.
This is a sprawling place with an amazing assortment of animals.

A fine turkey cock eyes me suspiciously, hens, young baby calves in pens at the side of the track with guinea
fowls hopping in and out of their enclosures.

I walk up to a fork in the tracks and take the lower, more direct way into Michelmersh. This soon becomes
no more than a right of way across a field.

It brings me out in a curious churchyard. Curious because what I take to be the belfry is a wooden structure almost detached from the church.

I check the map as I leave the church ground and a man asks me if I am lost. "no" I say. and then. "well, I
don't think so."

The road leads to a byway and then this to a road again. I am delighted to see this. It is very long and straight and leads downhill and there seems to be no traffic at all on it. Just what I need to pick up the pace for a couple of kilometers. In the far distance I can see something move? It is too far to make out what it is and I don't really want to stop to get my binoculars out of the rucksack so I take a photo hoping that I will be able to identify it later.

However it is too far away even for the extreme zoom of my camera. However, I think it is probably a fox.

Photo snapped I set off down hill and gobble up a very quick kilometer.  My only pause comes as I pass a
farm. A woodpigeon has got itself trapped in a farm building and is banging against a window. However, the place is festooned with signs saying "no public access" so I figure I had better leave it for whoever works or lives there to sort out.

Banging on I soon come to the junction with the A3057 by a pub called The Bear and Ragged Staff.  I cross
the road and take the B road to Kimbridge.

This is not so much fun. I seem to have hit rush hour. There is no footpath and lots of cars, most going too fast.

On the bright side I start to cross the River Test. I say sort of because it is in so many streams. I have http://www.kimbridgeonthetest.com/index.cfm?AppMethod=About_Kimbridge.Committed_to_quality&null
accused the Lee/Lea of being schizophrenic before but the Test really had multiple personalities. Little streams and big ones, bridge after bridge. I must cross at least five as I pass the Kimbridge trout farm and fishery .

At one point I can see a footbridge further upstream that is festooned with blossoming wisteria. Some insects
glide by some distance away. I am not sure but I think that they might be mayflies, something I have never managed to see, or at least to be aware of seeing.

I hit a level crossing and then am able to get off the road for a short section of footpath through a wood.

The road this takes me to is not so busy or so fast (despite being technically more major). And so it is a fairly painless last few hundred meters into Dunbridge.

At Mottisford and Dunbridge station I check the timetables and the one  picked up at the tourist information. I have to wait 40 minutes or so for a train but it looks like that will take me to Romsey just in time to get a bus back to Winchester - avoiding an expensive detour to Southampton.

I take a seat and finish my water and eat a final muffin. The level crossing bleeps and the half-gates close. Moments later a train hurtles by at tremendous speed, making the little platform vibrate. I start to laugh. Years go I wrote a comic story about a station just like this called The Duckdale Express. It amuses me to think that I have finally found Duckdale Station.

As I sit there ghostly insects drift by, along the track. One or two at first but then more.  Surely they are mayflies?

It seems astonishing that I should see a proper mayfly hatch but on a station platform not a river. They continue to glide by. I try to photograph them without luck. Though they seem to glide serenely they actually move quite fast and they are small objects. Then I go to check the train timetable and see one on the wall.

I click and go back to wait for my train and watch the ghostly mayflies glide down the railway track, just as if it were a river.



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