Southampton – Netley and Weston Shore

Netley Castle

Netley Castle

Sunshine greeted me when I walked into the gym this morning, well a bit of sunshine between the clouds anyway but I’m taking what I can get. Of course it was walking day but only a short one. The plan was to do thirteen miles, a nice little half marathon to get me warmed up but, as they say the best laid plans…

A nice walk along the shore

A nice walk along the shore

With a shorter than average weekend and a lot more to fit into it than normal I decided to just have a trot down to the shore and back. After all, at this stage, the mileage is not such a big deal is it? Far more important to visit Commando Senior and get some jobs done around the house. Next week is the big one, the twenty six mile training walk so less is probably more this week anyway. Got to save those legs.

As I got my moonwalk pack during the week I decided to wear my walk the walk t- shirt, white with a sparkly pink bra on the front and walkthewalk.org underneath in pink sparkly letters, and my pink Moonwalk hat. That way at least people would know I wasn’t just some random nutty woman marching about but a bona fide nutty Moonwalker in training. I also had my Karimor three in one jacket on to try it out. It’s supposed to be wind proof, waterproof and, with the zip in fleece, warm too.

By the time I got to the top of the Little Hill I was wondering if it might have been sensible to take the fleece lining out before I set off. The sun was shining and the windproofness meant I wasn’t cold, even though the wind was. The Moonwalk hat didn’t seem the best idea either, my ears were cold, and I wished I’d gone for one of the fetching bright pink beanie hats instead. I may have to buy one, I don’t like having cold ears.

Insect like Grevillea flowers

Insect like Grevillea flowers

At least it was roughly down hill from there and I began to cool down a bit as I trotted down Peartree Avenue, arms pumping, thinking I might make good time on this walk. Just as I was thinking that I spotted the insect like curly red flowers of Grevillea hanging over a garden wall and had to stop to take a picture. So much for making good time.

When I reached the green two women walking dogs stopped me. One was really quite elderly and frail looking, the other young, probably in her early thirties, with long dark hair. The younger one said, “Are you doing Walk the Walk?”
“Yes,” I told her. “Just a short eight miles or so today though.”
“Wow! Will you be coming back this way?”
“Probably, but not for a while.”
“I don’t have any money on me right now but I’ll keep an eye out for you because I live just up there and I’d like to donate somthing.”
The Moonwalk t-shirt was definitely a good idea. I carried on with a big smile on my face.

Going past the old Vosper Thorneycroft site, where they’re building all the new flats, a group of workmen smiled as I passed. One stopped and said, “Way to go girl! You’re doing a great job. How many miles have you walked?”
“Coming up to six hundred.” I told him
“You go girl!” he said, punching his fist in the air.
Well it certainly makes a change from the normal interchanges you get going past building sites and it sent me on my way with a beaming grin and a spring in my step.

The dog walker and the runner

The dog walker and the runner

It wasn’t long before I was walking past Southampton Sailing Club and all the boats in the enclosure there. The wind was getting up and the sound of it singing through the masts of all the little sail boats was quite eerie. There was a dog walker on the path ahead and I strode out to catch up and overtake. I’m a sucker for speeding up to go past people, somehow I see anyone walking ahead as a challenge, even though they’re quite unaware they’re in a race. Just then a runner came zooming past putting me squarely in my place. If there was any racing going on I was most definitely a back marker. I gave up and stopped to take off my Karimor jacket and tie it round my waist, I was boiling.

The newly painted flats

The newly painted flats

So I walked along the promenade, breathing in the smell of the sea and listening to the seagulls screeching and wailing. The painting on four of the five blocks of smaller flats on International Way has more or less been finished now and the fifth is all scaffolded up ready to be started. I like the way the blue changes from dark to light as you move along the blocks and it’s certainly a vast improvement. Pity the sky couldn’t follow suit and show me a bit more blue, the clouds were gathering and I began to wonder if I’d have to try out the hood on the Karimor jacket before the end of the walk.

Maybe they're gulls, maybe not

Maybe they’re gulls, maybe not

At the end of the promenade I took the footpath along the top of the shore. The were gulls in the shallows, at least I think they were gulls, they could have been ducks, with the mud flats and the pebbly shore between us I was too far away to see. The path meanders in and out of the trees that line the top of the shore here so it felt like I was playing hide and seek with the sea. I could smell it, I could hear it and once in a while I could see it through the trees. There’s quite a collection of fallen trees along here, maybe because the sandy soil coupled with high winds is does not make for stable roots. The rotting carcasses of trees are always interesting, the way the wood decomposes, changing colour, softening, strange holes forming where beetles burrow, lichens and fungi setting up home. Sadly, there were no interesting fungi today but, on one, the hollowed out space where a branch used to grow had become home to a tiny sedum seedling. Isn’t nature wonderful, nothing is ever wasted, the dead nourish the newly sprouted.

The decomposing bodies of fallen trees

The decomposing bodies of fallen trees

New life springing from death

New life springing from death

The next time the sea came into view I was passing the sinuous little stream that runs down to the water like a shiny snake through the pebbles. A little further along a bridge crosses the stream where it flows under the road from the woods. Now there was a choice, go up onto the road or carry on on the footpath along the shore. Today there was no contest, I wanted to keep near the water so I kept to the footpath.

The sinuous stream

The sinuous stream

View from the bridge

View from the bridge

There’s a funny little marker stone along here, an oblong covered in moss and lichen, its weathered away in places. To me the strange pictogram looks like a barrel or a grenade perhaps and it’s marked 1989 with something above the picture that has more or less weathered away. I’d love to know what it is and what it means but I can’t find anything like it on Google.

Answers on a postcard please

Answers on a postcard please

Willow catkins

Willow catkins

On past the back of West Lodge at the start of Abbey Hill I went, pulling my coat back on against the cold wind blowing off the water. A quick stop to look at the catkins on the willow there, then it was past Netley Saling Club, past the twin tree with beautifully knarled and twisted roots, like arthritic fingers clasping tightly to the earth and another choice of path. Would it be up onto the road at Abbey Hill, the path through the woods coming out at Netley Abbey or carry on along the shore line? I chose the shore line because I had a plan, but we’ll come to that later.

The twin tree

The twin tree

Roots like arthritic fingers

Roots like arthritic fingers

A detour to have a look at the pipe

A detour to have a look at the pipe

First there was a little detour down onto the shingle to have a poke around and see what I could see. There’s a big oblong concrete covered pipe along here that carries flood water down from the woods to the shore. You wouldn’t think something so utilitarian could be interesting but it’s a seething mass of life. There’s bladder wrack, once used to treat goitre, fat speckled air sacks clinging to every surface, slimy dark green sea lettuce, hanging in wet strands and, amid it all, other kinds of life. The bare concrete is hidden by masses of barnacles, winkles like little snails, limpets clinging so tightly you’d need a sharp knife to remove them, some look like they’ve been turned to stone.

Bladder wrack

Bladder wrack

Sea lettuce and a winkle

Sea lettuce and a winkle

Alive with barnacles

Alive with barnacles

Limpet stuck fast

Limpet stuck fast

Limpet turned to stone

Limpet turned to stone

The shore is mostly pebbles with a sprinkling of sand here and there. As I walked the shingle crunched under my feet a mass of stones, black, red, orange, grey, white and shells of every kind with twigs, pieces of glass worn smooth by the sea and dried up seaweed. The closer you look the more you see and I’m an inveterate collector of shells so I always look. Today I limited myself to just two shells and moved on.

So many shells

So many shells

So few pockets

So few pockets

I love shells

I love shells

Along this part of the shore the sea has eaten away at the clay creating mini cliffs where the strata of the clay creates stripes of gold and orange and the poor shrubs cling tenaciously, their roots dangling in mid air.

Mini cliffs of clay

Mini cliffs of clay

Strata in the clay

Strata in the clay

Roots dangling in the air

Roots dangling in the air

Then there’s the driftwood, swirls and crackles, crazed, marbled striped in wonderful twisted shapes. It leaves me wishing I could take it home and instal it in my Garden as a sculpture. The way the sea reclaims everything fascinates me, how it works away, taking the weakest first then slowly eroding even the strongest until nothing is left but sand.

Cracks, swirls and marble in the driftwood

Cracks, swirls and marble in the driftwood

Wonderful shapes

Wonderful shapes

And stripes

And stripes

The walled path

The walled path

After a while I came to the walled path right on the edge of the shingle. This was no random choice, I wanted to walk past Netley Castle. The reason for wanting another look at the castle tied in nicely with the reason for my walk, all my recent walks. Back in 1989, when I was expecting Mini Commando, Mother was living in Netley Castle and she and I walked along this path, painfully slowly, sucking in the healing salt air. It was one of our last walks together. Now you may be thinking I must be quite grand to have a mother living in a castle on the shore, nothing could be further from the truth. At the time Netley Castle was a convalescent home and Mother was living there because she was recovering from a horrific course of radiotherapy. She had cancer, a vicious, rampant cancer that would kill her just two months after Mini Commando was born.

So many incarnations

So many incarnations

My pilgrimage to the castle was a reminder of exactly why I’m doing this Moonwalk. Anything that can stop other people watching their mother eaten away by this terrible disease is worth whatever it takes and walking twenty six point two miles, six hundred miles, six thousand miles even is a small price to pay to help make that happen.

Amazing to think Mother lived there once

Amazing to think Mother lived there once

The castle was built in around 1542 as part of Henry VIII’s costal fortifications, using stones taken from Netley Abbey after the Dissoloution of the Monasteries. It was manned as a fort until 1627 but by 1881 it was being used by Colonel Sir Harry Chrichton as a private house. After his death the castle was turned into a convalescent home but, not long after Mother’s death, it was converted back into private housing, this time luxury apartments. So, from a military building protecting our shores, to the house of a knight, then a convalescent home where a poverty stricken widow spent some of her last months to housing for the wealthy, it’s had quite a history.

Regally rising above the gorse

Regally rising above the gorse

The castle was where I turned back, more or less. Then it was a trudge back, uphill all the way, looking at the flowers and weeds along the way. Maybe I’ll show you the pictures tomorrow, then again, maybe not, it depends what else happens really.

At home, after a dash round Sainsbury’s and the butcher, I’d just finished my pastrami salad wrap and was thinking about getting ready to go and visit Commando Senior, when there was a knock at the door. It was Rachel, come to cut my hair. In all the upheaval and furore of the last week I’d totally forgotten. How come I can organise my work life perfectly but my home life is a disorganised mess? There is a message there somewhere.

So, in the end, Commando went on his own and I stayed at home having a much needed hair cut and listening to Rachel’s baby, Tommy, snoring away. Who knew babies snored, and we’re not asking little purring snores either. Bless him. Talking, of snoring, think I’m going off to do a bit of that myself, it’s been a mad old week.