Sunday, 22 July 2012

A step in the right direction

Saturday 21st July dawned cool and if not bright, at least not dull and grey. Promising, I thought to myself, having already decided that I was going to walk from Winchester to Eastleigh along the Itchen Way which follows the Itchen river, a route used since days of yore by all those trading, travelling or trekking from the shores of where Southampton now stands. One of the early kings of Wessex, Alfred, or as he called himself, King of the Anglo-Saxons, stands guard over Winchester High Street.

A short way into the walk is where a pair of swans is raising their brood, all six of them. No longer little balls of fluff, they are beginning to fledge and have vestigial feathers showing. I wonder if they cause as much grumpiness as teething does for us humans?

George and I discussed the wisdom of starting the walk with a climb up St Catherine's hill, a short but rather steep climb up to a mizmaze (what is a mizmaze?) From here the view back to Winchester shows the cathedral standing proud above the trees.

A little further to the west is hospital and church of St Cross which was established around 1130. In front of it is an area called the water meadows. Water meadows, for those who dont know, are ares of river valleys that were deliberately flooded, allowing nutrients to be deposited and in late winter the water would protect the grass from frosts, allowing them to grow earlier than in other places. This in turn allowed flocks to be grazed earlier in the spring and allowing more animals to survive the winter. This became an established part of the farming cycle for many river valleys. In some parts the drains and ditched dug to control the flooding are still easily visible.

At the back of the hill is an easy way down - plenty of steps. Thank goodness for them because it is rather steep and with all the rain we have had in the UK the ground was a little slippery.

From St Catherine's Hill we could see the modern M3 motorway, the main conduit between the South and London, alongside the old viaduct which crosses the Itchen valley. Those with a keen eye will no doubt notice that the three lanes of the M3 south are chock-a-block with vehicles streaming down to the coast, as the sun was shining for the first time on a Saturday for many months.

Along the way were many beautiful flowers, most of which were of this species (I cannot tell you what it is other than to say it is a prickly, spiky thing), which attracted many of the hoverflies to it's bountiful nectar.

The rain has caused the paths to become narrow and overgrown. This shows George in the bright sunshine pushing his way through head-high stinging nettles and St Anne's Lace. 

The river had a myriad of these beautiful damsel flies all along it's length.  The flitter along madly, then suddenly halt and fold their wings back.

At one point we came across a mobile hindrance. There were in fact three of them, which caused us to stop and consider our options. Whilst we were doing so, a sprite of a girl came from the other direction and swiftly moved them out of our way for us!  

It is mostly a tranquil walk, all the way accompanied by the Itchen river which runs along, filled with fish. Not too sure what fish they are, apart from the world famous chalk stream trout, but there are just so many fry that they were almost being squeezed out of the water!  

Many of the birds are LBJ's, but not so this youngish moorhen which was quite happy for us to capture it on camera and wasn't at all concerned with our presence.

While most of the walk is through the countryside, towards the end we started to see a few "back gardens" and some were rather pretty, like this one.

And then, there were also a few sights of the stranger kind....

As ever, where there is clean water accessible to people, kids will set up a swing to allow them to enjoy hours of fun! 

Another variety of a thistlely looking flower. Don't ask. I cannot tell you what it is...

And then, just when I was beginning to think that surely the end must be coming soon, this appeared in a very welcome fashion.

Thoroughly enjoyed the day - must be repeated and often. It was a most pleasant ten mile walk. Not really one to be done in or just after really wet weather, but just a day or two after the rains, there wasn't much mud at all.