The Itchen Navigation

It’s been a few months (4!) since I’ve actually been out on a long walk.  Despite thinking I’d get loads of walking done in summer, I seem to have done even less than normal.  Hey ho.  One walk I was keen to do, since it starts fairly close to me is the 10.4 mile walk along the Itchen Navigation trail.  The Navigation was a commercial waterway used to carry goods in barges from Southampton to Winchester.  Although it hasn’t been used as such in over 140 years, it is possible to walk alongside the existing Itchen river, and areas which no longer hold water but show where the canal once flowed.  In 2007 £1.6m of Lottery funding was granted to the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust in order to build a Heritage trail along the Navigation route, and this work was completed in 2012.  The Southampton Canal Society has a lot of great information about the Navigation, including a lot more about its history for anyone that’s interested!

While the trail actually starts in Northam, I opted to start at Woodmill, which is about half a mile from Swaything train station.  Woodmill Outdoor Activity Centre is located right by the trail, and when I arrived there were a few people easing themselves into kayaks for a wee paddle up the river.  This is is also next to Riverside Park, which I don’t think I’ve visited since I lived down here in 2000!  I had a map of the trail printed out on a piece of paper, but soon realised it wasn’t necessary as the route is well signposted along the way.

Itchen Navigation Heritage Trail signs

The first mile or so was really busy with dog-walkers, kids running about and lots of people just out for a stroll on what was a fairly sunny day.  Just as I approached an underpass which take you under the A27 road, a huge shower came through.  I managed to hide under the bridge and get my jacket on as it eased off.  I continued on, and from that point was on my own for the next few miles.  The first thing I noticed was how remote I felt from civilisation, even though I was only a mile or so from the main M27 motorway and indeed Southampton airport.  The trail goes under the M27, and the route to the underpass adds an extra half mile on to the original trail length.  Just before I reached it, I could hear the cars thundering past the motorway before suddenly hearing the roar of a departing aircraft from the airport.  It felt close enough to touch.  It made me realise that no matter how many times I drive up & down the M27, I’ve never given any consideration to the walks or beauty spots just a stones through away from either side of the motorway.  Once I’d crossed the motorway, it didn’t take long before the traffic sounds died down, and it was only the occasional aircraft noise that made me realise I was still pretty close to civilisation.

A few showers passed through, but then it started to dry off so back off with the rain jacket and the rest of the walk was happily dry.  We recently got a company performance related bonus at work, so while most of it went straight to debt, I used a bit of it to buy myself a new Osprey Stratus 36L rucksack.  I didn’t particularly need the space for this walk, but wanted to try it out and I’m happy to say it’s great and comfy to use.  I want to use this for the South Downs Way, as I’ll not be camping along the way, so don’t need to carry a tent & all the necessary accoutrements.  I didn’t see that many people for most of the walk, and only one couple passed me going in the same direction, although eventually quite a few people were out for a walk along the towpath in a southerly direction.  I could never manage to get a decent photo, but I was lucky enough to see a myriad of butterflies and a couple of beautiful dragonflies, specifically the Banded Demoiselle.  The males are bright blue, and the females green, and happily I saw both!

banded damoiselle Zsuzsanna Bird
Photo courtesy of Zsuzsanna Bird (HIWWT)

Some of the trail edges away from the river at points, and is quite narrow in many places.  I was glad to have worn long trousers rather than the shorts I had originally intended wearing, otherwise I reckon my legs would be covered in nettle stings and scratches from over growing foliage.  That said, the route does appear well maintained overall.  Where the towpath does sit alongside the river, it’s fair to say it looked good enough to jump in.  I did contemplate having a quick skinny dip a couple of times, but I’m afraid to say I wasn’t quite brave enough!  Probably just as well as the couple of places that looked suitable were soon passed by other walkers or people out with their dogs, just as I passed through.  Maybe another time.

Not having been out for any long walks since April, I realised that my feet were pretty sore after about 10 miles.  I didn’t bother wearing my walking boots and instead opted from wearing trail shoes as they had good grips.  In future I stick to the walking boots.  I just plodded along, and realised that I’m definitely not a fast walker, as I was averaging about 2.5mph.  I’ve always been a plodder, but really need to improve, as it’ll take me ages to get anywhere.  Hopefully losing more weight will help! Also just more walking of course.  By the time I’d reached the end of the Navigation in Winchester, my watch was registering just under 12 miles walked, so a little more than expected.  I was going to stop for food before getting the train home, but in the end I just walked to the railway station and luckily walked on to the platform just as the train I needed approached.  It took me back to my car in 12 minutes, considerably quicker than I’d made the outward journey!! So 13.1 miles walked in all, a half marathon!  It was great though, and I really enjoyed being out and about in the fresh air, seeing new parts of my locality and getting a good walk in.  I’ll not leave it so long until the next one.

These feet were made for walking

By some kind of Easter miracle, the weather this long weekend has been pretty fabulous. Usually Bank Holidays in the U.K. = rain, but not this time, in Hampshire/Surrey at least. So I’ve made the most of it by spending a fair bit of time outside. With my course now finished, culminating in the submission of a 3938 word essay at 2am on Thursday 13th (10 hours ahead of schedule, woo hoo!), I’m free to enjoy myself. Having also been sitting for pretty much the last two weeks, both at work and to finish the course, I knew I needed to get outside as my back was really starting to play up. I still plan to walk the South Downs way next Spring, so what better time to start getting out more and getting some walks in?

On Friday I decided to stay local and head to one of the nearby marinas for a coffee before doing a longer loop home. It was fairly quite for a Bank Holiday weekend which was nice, and after a wander down to the sea through a swathe of expensive houses, large plots of land with horses and expensive cars in the drive I reached the water.

It’s a route I often walk along, for good reason. My photos don’t do it justice but it’s a lovely river and there’s always plenty going on in the water to look at. I stopped for a quick chat with three women who were blowing up boards for a bit of stand-up paddle boarding. It looks like fun and something I’d love to try one day. I left them too it and headed home, walking five miles in total. So not loads but it felt good to get out.

Sunday was allotment day, and after 4 hours in the sun trying to remove as much bindwind as I could from my raspberry patch, a night of doing bugger all was called for.

I think 4 hours on the trot was a bit ambitious as my back was killing me on Saturday night. Bugger. I’d planned a walk with friends the next day, so knew that would more than likely help it. Thankfully I was correct.

So today I drove to Denbies vineyard in Surrey to meet my friends Nicky and Grant for a 10 mile walk through the Surrey Hills.  The route itself was that of the Denbies 10 race that Nicky used to run, and that I was supposed to do in January until I pulled my hamstring. So it was great to be able to walk the route and see what I’d missed. It was a bit of a chilly day, with a lot of low cloud cover, but we wrapped up, and about 2 mins in, walking up the first of many hills, it felt like it had warmed up!

When the sun came out from behind the clouds it was really warm, and overall the weather Gods were kind to us as it stayed dry throughout.  The route is so beautiful, we walked through woodland, fields and up and down the valley to see some amazing views. My phone camera isn’t great in low light so my pictures don’t do justice to the views.

All in all we walked just over 10 miles, and I can honestly say I loved every minute ☺️ Over the summer I want to try and walk a lot of the South Downs to get a feel for where I’ll be walking next year, but I’ll definitely make time to come back to Surrey and the North Downs.

Turning dreams into reality

Sometimes I think it’s easier to think of oneself as we would like to be, not as we actually are.  I’m a bit of a dreamer in that I’m always thinking of things I’d love to do, adventures I’d love to go on.  Often though I never make it from dreams to action.  In a previous post I’ve mentioned the Banff Film Festival which now tours the UK annually, with two programmes that highlight some of the best films to come out of the main festival that takes place every November in Canada.  You cannot fail to be inspired when you watch the films.

In 2015 I did a couple of short walks along part of the South Downs Way and it planted a seed.  So last year when I watched the films at the festival, I started to think about whether I could walk the whole of the South Downs Way.   The SDW is designated as a National Trail and it runs all the way from Winchester to Eastbourne, 100 miles to the east. It’s on my doorstep now, so why not?  Well, as much as I love the outdoors (when I’m in it), and I love the thought of spending time exploring the countryside in earnest, I still haven’t really turned that dream into reality.  I think that I’m someone who would undertake this task, that it’s very ‘me’, but the reality is i’m not a walker, and I’ve never done anything like this.  However, that’s not to say it can’t be me.

As we all know, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.  So to that end I’ve started to actually move along the curve from dreaming to action.  Realistically I’m not fit enough (and don’t have enough time) to do it this year, but i’ve earmarked a 10-day period towards the end of March 2018 for the trip.  I’ve spoken to a couple of people who have already walked this route before, and I’ve learned a few handy tips and pieces of information already.

Now it is time to plan it out in more detail, and I’ll talk about that in another post.  There are lots to think about, and I’m excited about delving into the details.  One of the best bits will be walking the route this year, but over days and weekends.  I want to cover all of it this year before embarking on a continuous trip.

So time to turn the dreams into reality 🙂