Walking a marathon is not as easy as you might think but my training for the London Moonwalk took me through some interesting places that I might otherwise not have seen. This is the story of my final training walk, the full twenty six miles from Southampton to Winchester and back again. When I got up the rain was teaming down. Just a shower I thought, the forecast was for showers so I was under no illusion about it being a nice dry sunny walk. Then the morning TV weather forecast came on, showers all day, heavier ones later with thunder and possibly hail! Is someone trying to tell me something? Showers I can cope with, I don’t like them but I can live with them, but thunder, hail, rain all day? It wasn’t a very enticing prospect.
Down by Woodmill a kindly duck posed for me, I think he thought I had some bread for him actually but still. A little further along a swan did the same his beautiful wings held high behind him. Swans are such graceful creatures, at least on the water, they never fail to make me smile and I carried on marching with a stupid grin on my face. Round the next bend the grin turned to a little giggle when I noticed a cat, not unlike our own little Fluffy, sitting on the bank paying close attention to the ducks swimming past. Pretty sure the ducks are safe and I got the feeling they were taunting the poor cat as they swam back and forth past her.
The weather seemed to be brightening up so I carried on. When I was almost at the Green Bridge I spotted some Fritillary amongst the tangle of leaves beside the path. Such unusual looking flowers with their deep purple heads hanging down like little lanterns and a pattern that reminds me of snake skin. Then in amongst the trees I saw some shelf fungus, not pretty stripy ones that look like flowers but huge creamy white, green around the edges, almost like mouldy bread. I clambered over the tree stumps and assorted ivy stems, risking the boggy ground to take a photo.
After that it was onwards towards Eastleigh and the Swan Centre for a skinny latte. The sun was getting quite warm, despite the forecast for cooler weather and high wind and I was getting hot with the fleecy lining still zipped into my waterproof coat. There was nowhere to stop to take it out and put it in my rucksack though so I carried on, past the airport and up Wide Lane.
At the Swan Centre I grabbed a takeaway latte and made for the toilets. Not the most hygienic place to take a coffee but needs must as Costa’s is the first thing you come to in the Swan Centre and the loos are at the other end. I stripped off my rucksack, water bottle and jacket, unzipped the fleece and stashed it in my rucksack. Then it was a case of putting everything else back on, using the facilities and setting off again feeling refreshed and slightly cooler. I strapped the water bottle inside the jacket and left it undone to get some extra ventilation.
When I got to Ham Farm, the pretty little thatched cottage that is actually a Harvester Inn, still sipping my latte, I half expected it to rain. It usually rains when I walk past there for some reason but today it didn’t, the sun was actually shining, although there were a few dark clouds that told me there would be rain at some point unless I was very, very lucky.
On Highbridge Road there were masses of nettles on the verges. This is not the best of news for verge hopping when cars come but I was prepared with long leggings and, as they were covered in delicate white flowers, hairy like the nettle leaves so probably just as vicious, I was almost pleased to see them. Very carefully, I knelt beside the verge and took a photo. Luckily I didn’t get stung. A little further on, just past the first weir, there were yellow lamium, or dead nettle, with lovely silver striped leaves and cheerful yellow flowers, very like the nettle flowers, they brightened up the verge no end.
Down by the next weir the butterbur were almost over and no longer so pretty, the dying flowers blackened and quite ugly and the leaves beginning to come out. Now I’d reached the section of road with no footpaths so it was verge hopping time. Thankfully no one tried to run me down and I was careful to raise my hand in thanks to everyone who slowed and pulled out to go past me. There was a little shower along the mile or so of verge hopping so I put my cap on and pulled the waterproof jacket together, fastening it over the water bottle with the handy Velcro fasteners. It seemed to do the trick and the shower was short lived.
When I reached East Lodge I crossed the road, to take advantage of the access road that rejoins Higbridge Road a little further up, and get away from the traffic for a while. The laurels were bursting with blooms, spikes of pretty little starry flowers with long anthers adding to the effect. They smell very strong, citrusy, a smell that reminds me of toilet cleaner and makes me sneeze. It was also along here that I saw my first cuckoo pint flower of the year, well it wasn’t open but it would be soon. Sadly this was on the normal common or garden cuckoo pint and not the varieagated ones that grow along here, I’m curious if their flowers will be varieagated too. Maybe I will never know.
There was a horse in cow pyjamas in the field at the junction of Main Road. The sky behind him looked a little worrying and I remembered the heavy rain that soaked me just after I passed this field last time. Thankfully it didn’t happen this time and I stayed dry. Before long I was in Twyford and the sky was blue with nice fluffy white clouds as I passed through the village. When I came to Queens Road, where I had to turn off to pick up the footpath, I caught sight of my reflection in the window of the corner house so I stopped to snap a photo as proof I was really there. Because I walk alone very few of my photos actually have me in them.
For once there was no getting lost on the footpath front, it was all perfectly executed and I found myself walking past the quaint little school and honeysuckle cottage. When I crossed the road and headed towards the start of the footpath I was surprised to see the white cows close to the fence. Every time I’ve passed before they’ve been right over the other side of the field and just dots in the distance. One little calf even stood and watched me pass.
At the ten mile mark I stopped at the bench and sat for a moment so I could take off my rucksack and get my first bottle of chocolate milk out. I stretched out my calves as I drank the milkshake and looked out over the river in the valley below. The clouds were gathering again and I was fairly certain there was more rain to come so I didn’t linger long.
Along this footpath the cow parsley was almost coming into flower and everywhere there were umbels on the verge of opening. Just before I reached the church I noticed some honesty flowers beside the wall, unmistakeable to me as I have them in my garden with their violet five petaled flowers, delicately veined with dark purple they are lovely enough in flower but the pods are beautiful, oval discs of shimmering creamy white like mother of pearl, they are fantastic in dried flower arrangements. Walking through the sunny churchyard there was more honesty all along the wall making it a riot of dancing purple flowers.
Then it was on to part two of the footpath and I could hardly believe my eyes when one of the donkeys on the ramshackle farm was right up by the fence standing in the shade of a tree. It seemed like the animals were being very accommodating to me on my last long walk. When I stopped to take photos he posed obligingly then came right up to the fence and let me smooth him. Thanking him for being so kind to me I wished, not for the first time, that I had carrots in my bag to reward him. He seemed quite content with a little smooth and a few words though.
When I came out onto the road again there were workmen clearing the footpath with big blowers. They stopped for me to pass and one apologised for all the dust. It was a bit gritty on the eyes and I was pretty glad to be wearing glasses. Just before I reached the Hockley traffic lights the rain began to fall again and I pulled my coat closed once more. Then the hail started, like being peppered with tiny stones. Thankfully it didn’t last long and by the time I reached the other side of the road it was over as quickly as it began and the sun was out again.
The path that leads to Five Bridges Road was lined with cowslips, heads of jolly yellow flowers dotted with orange. I wonder why they call them cowslips though? So I was on Five Bridges Road again, just a few miles from Winchester, the sun was in the sky, the showers had all been light and my legs felt fine as I passed bridge number one. At bridge number two, my turning point for the last walk, I took photos from both sides of the bridge, on one side I could see the cotton wool balls of sheep in the distance. On the other side was the mill and St Catherine’s Hill.
The sun was shining, the heavy showers hadn’t materialised, maybe the weatherman was wrong? I went on to the next bridge crossing another little stream and looking at the sheep in the distance. Then there was another bridge, another tiny stream. The trees beside the stream had hidden the next field and I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw more sheep, much closer. There were lambs too, laying around in the sun and a few gambolling about the field. This really was an idyllic scene.
Walking on, I found a gate with a style giving me an unobstructed view of the sheep. One little lamb stood looking right at me and I walked away with a smile. Then I remembered the lamb chops and diced lamb I bought at the butchers on Thursday. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to eat them now without thinking about him. Eating meat is all very well if you can disassociate yourself from the fluffy little lamb or calf or curly tailed pink piglet.
Talking of calves, the field on the opposite side of the path was filled with them, white ones, obviously white cows are de rigeur around these parts. The footpath ends with a big gate and then carries on for a bit as a narrow road. There were cars parked everywhere, sensible people who drive here to walk Five Bridges Road and the trail at the other end that leads to Winchester taking the scenic route through the fields. One of these days I’m going to take that path because I’m pretty sure it leads to St Catherine’s Hill. Today though I was taking the route I knew.
The top of Five Bridges Road comes out onto Saint Cross Road, a long, straight, leafy road leading right into the centre of Winchester. To my right I could see the spireless tower of the Saint Cross Hospital church but there was no time to stop and explore and, from the road, the almshouses and other buildings got in the way of decent photographs. This is a place I really must come back and visit though. The hosiptal and church are famed for the beauty of their architecture and, despite it being one of England’s oldest almshouses and still in use, it is open to visitors. Oh well, that, and the story behind it will have to wait until another day.
There were plenty of other interesting looking buildings to look at and snap with the camera on my iPhone though. One that caught my eye had a curiously complicated steeply angled roof and the most wonderful long black and white windows. As I passed I noticed a man working away to repair the roof. Old buildings like these may look fantastic but maintenance must be an ongoing nightmare.
Then there was The Bell Inn, in business since the 1860’s it is reputed to be one of the best in Winchester and, looking at the board outside, the idea of Friday night’s fish and fizz appealed to me. It looks like a quintessential English pub, not one of the fancy gastro pubs you seem to get everywhere these days. I like my pubs to have a bit of the spit and sawdust about them personally and this one looks like it would be all low oak beams and polished wood inside. This is another thing to add to the list then.
The whole road is like a step back in time, if you ignore all the modern cars, the telephone lines and what have you. There are flint clad cottages, painted cottages, terraces with front doors opening right onto the narrow pavements I could have spent all day looking, snapping away and wondering about the history of each one.
When I came to the imposing sight of St Thomas Church it took me right back to my first twenty six mile walk. St Thomas is a listed building dating back to the 1840’s, although to my untrained eye it looks far older. It has been deconsecrated and is now used for storage and as a youth club but it was made famous in Thomas Hardy’s novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles. It seems a pity that such a beautiful and undoubtedly historic building is no longer being used for its original purpose.
It’s no secret that I don’t know Wincherster at all well, even though it’s so close to my home and has more history than you can shake a stick at, I’ve only ever been there a handful of times. On that first ever twenty six mile walk, the last of my previous Moonwalk training escapades, I caught sight of the spire in the distance and though perhaps I’d reached the famous cathedral. As I got closer it was obvious I hadn’t but, as I’d just passed the thirteen point one mile mark and had no idea how far it was to the real cathedral, I turned back. Little did I know how close I was.
This time, mainly because Sirona, who worked in Winchester at the time, had told me I’d missed the cathedral by a whisker, I decided to walk on a little further. If I didn’t get to the cathedral or at least the centre of Winchester by the time I reached thirteen and a half miles I’d give up and turn back. Well, I’d hardly passed the church when I looked down a little alleyway and saw some spires and a flag in the distance. Could this be the cathedral? Feeling slightly stupid, I stopped a young couple walking past and asked. They probably thought I was an idiot but they tried not to show it as they informed me that, yes, it was.
So I set off down the alley, trusting to my superior sense of direction (that is meant to be ironic by the way) and the fact that the spires were fairly easy to spot on the skyline. If I just kept going in that direction I was sure to come out in the right place eventually and I could use WalkJogRun to get me back to Saint Cross Road again afterwards. The alley led to a street of old red brick buildings and another alley, this one came out right in front of the cathedral. I’d arrived!
There was a terrific sense of euphoria at the sight of the historic building, surrounded by grassy areas and people milling about everywhere. There may have been many miles ahead of me at this point but, for some reason, I felt very emotional. Somehow I managed to control the urge to jump up and down and squeal but I am sure I had the most stupid grin on my face.
Pausing the WalkJogRun, I strolled about for a bit, looking at the bundling from different angles. It is one of the largest cathedrals in England, having the longest nave plus it is the longest cathedral in Europe, so there’s quite a lot of building to stroll round. The original cathedral was founded way back in 642, imagine that, a time when the year was still in triple digits! The original building, just to the north of today’s cathedral, was known as the Old Minster and was demolished in 1093 when the one I stood gawping at was concecrated.
Much of Winchester Cathedral is built of limestone from quarries on the Isle of Wight and there are mortuary chests containing ancient remains moved from the Old Minster belonging to historic characters such as Saint Swithun (of forthy days of rain fame), King Canute (of wave turning back fame and whose palace I visited recently in Southamptin’s old walls) and King William II, otherwise known as Rufus (whose stone I also visited recently in the New Forest). In fact the collapse of the original crossing tower was blamed on the fact that the rather unpopular William Rufus had been buried beneath. I’m not sure if they moved him but the replacement still stands today so maybe he was moved somewhere less vital.
There is so much history here I could go on and on but I’ll try to keep things brief because there’s a lot more walking to fit in. The cathedral bells number 14, the only diatonic ring of fourteen bells in the world. Bell ringers may understand what that means, I’m afraid I have no idea but I read it on Google so it must be true. Jane Austen, who died in Winchester, is buried in the cathedral along with a long list of bishops and cardinals. Kings were crowned here, remember Winchester used to be the capital city of England at one time.
Great writers have written about this cathedral, notably Trollope, it was even used as a film set in The film Da Vinci Code, as the Vatican believe it or not. Not only that it had a pop song written about it, The New Vaudeville Band had a top ten hit with ‘Winchester Cathedral’ in 1966, I remember it well. Despite all the history and the fact I could have easily spent the day wandering around, I had no time to go inside, or any money to pay an entrance fee for that matter so I thought I’d go and have a quick look at the streets nearby before I set off on the long walk home.
So I walked through the cathedral grounds to The Square, a quaint little narrow street, made into a precinct. I had a look at the castle like facade of the museum and then I spotted a pretty and ancient looking pub, The Eclipse and thought I’d take a photo. As I stood in front of it with my phone raised a man in a leather jacket who had been sitting outside with a young woman said, ‘I like your t-shirt,’ so I lowered the phone and went to have a chat with him. Maybe it was the left over feeling of euphoria but I found myself explaining all about the Moonwalk and my long walk to reach Winchester, he and his friend seemed impressed, well they didn’t fall asleep anyway. The man asked if I’d like him to take a photo of me outside the pub? Bearing in mind what I said earlier about me never being in any of my photos I thought that was a wonderful idea, even if I was a tad nervous about handing over my phone.
Luckily he didn’t run off with it and he took a great picture with the whole pub sign in and everything, he even managed to make me look almost reasonable, given that I had not a trace of make up and I’d been walking for several hours in all weathers. The couple kindly agreed to let me take their photo and post it on my blog and then, even though I’d have loved to sit for a while in the sun at the old wood table with a cool beer, I set off again.
Back I went, through the cathedral grounds, searching for a loo (when am I not?) with a quick stop to snap a picture of the rather beautiful bronze stature of a soldier on the war memorial. Three young girls stopped me. I thought at first they were going to ask me to take a photo of them as one had a camera in her hand. As it turned out they were Swedish students with a rather strange request. It was their friend Hildegard’s birthday and they were going around asking people to be videoed saying ‘Happy Birthday Hildegard.’ Quite why she would want this I’m not sure but I obliged. Of course it is possible I’ll end up on a Swedish version of You’ve Been Framed but still, who’s going to know?
The loos were easy to find and, right outside, there was a man selling ice cream. I quite fancied an ice cream right then but I had no cash on me. When I left home I’d put my cash card in my small walking purse but no real money so I asked the ice cream seller if there was an ATM anywhere nearby. “If you go up there and round the corner and down there…” he said.
“Is it very far?”
“About five or ten minutes.”
So I proceeded to explain why I wouldn’t be going all that way to get some cash and so, unfortunately wouldn’t be able to buy one of his ice creams after all.
As I walked away another man approached me.
“Sorry, but I couldn’t help overhearing. Did you say you were walking to Southampton?”
So, yet again I told the story of my walk.
“Wow!” he said. “I drive from Southampton to Winchester every day and that is a long way!”
Eventually I set off back up the alleys and back to Saint Cross Road, texting Commando as I went, just to let him know where I was and that I was on the return journey. Back along Saint Cross Road past all the interesting buildings, a row of pastel painted terraces, a red brick building with diamond leaded windows and strange wooden doors.
By this time I was feeling a little peckish. Breakfast seemed a long time ago and chocolate milkshake and latte is not real food even if there are lots of good calories there. As I walked towards Five Bridges Road the smell of chips assailed my nostrils and made my mouth water. I still didn’t have any money because I’d not found a cash point but I thought I’d see if they’d take my card for a portion of chips. The very kind man inside took pity on me and agreed, even though it was under five pounds (I should hope so for a portion of chips), and I walked away with my little plastic tray.
Of course the rain started then, right on cue. Luckily I found a funny little wooden bus shelter with a tiled roof and sat inside until the shower passed. After about ten chips I’d had enough so I threw the rest in the bin and carried on. This is what Intuitive eating is about I guess, I wanted chips, my body said I needed greasy carbs and salt, I ate what I needed and then I stopped. Maybe, just maybe, I’m learning.
The last part of a really long walk is always the hardest, I walked back down Five Bridges Road, the chips, that seemed like such a good idea lay very heavy in my stomach. Note to self, chips are not a good walking snack. At the other end I decided to stop off because I needed the loo and there are some good bushes there. This was when I accidentally stopped the WalkJogRun instead of pausing it. I was so cross with myself but there was nothing I could do but make a mental note of the mileage, fifteen point three five, and restart it. From then on it was mental calculations every time I looked at my distance and I had no idea of my time.
The walk back up to the Church Lane footpath was fairly uneventfully. The men were still cleaning the footpath and they stopped again as I passed by. The donkeys were still by the fence and I said hello to them as I went past. As I knew I wouldn’t be passing that way for a long time I stopped for a while to have a little look at the gravestones in St Mary’s Church. They are very old and most of the writing has long since worn away or been covered by lichen and moss but there were a couple I could make out a few words and dates on and it seems most are from the late 1700’s.
What stories there must be in that graveyard and what a pity they have been lost to time and the elements. One grave has a tree, now cut down, growing between the headstone and the foot stone. Many are leaning at strange angles. In the middle there is a huge tree with a wooden bench around the trunk, next to it an old lawn roller. Some graves are almost under the tree although I imagine it wasn’t there when they were originally dug. Now they are the shade of the tree. I stood under there for a while looking out at the other headstones that appeared to be bleached white in the light of the sun. It was a peaceful place with an eerie kind of beauty.
As I left the churchyard I spotted some white honesty flowers by the hedge. I’ve not seen white honesty before and I didn’t notice it when I was walking the other way. Funny how things look so different when you’re going in the other direction, there was a short stop on the benches to get my second chocolate milkshake out of my bag and stretch my legs out a bit. My calves were beginning to get a little tight by this point, probably because the walk up Church Lane is all on a slight incline. Unfortunately I managed to stop the WalkJogRun again instead of pausing it. Once again I restarted and now the calculations became even more complicated, sixteen and a half miles walked, nine and a half to go, if you don’t count the extra point two.
Worryingly a large white bank of cloud seemed to be coming in from the direction I was walking. The chances of getting home without getting wet didn’t look good. At the other end of the lane the white calves were right up by the fence, one tiny one, the size of a large dog, stood and looked at me accusingly. So that’s beef off the menu too then.
Between Honeysuckle Cottage and the Quaint School I stopped to take a photo of a tree I’d seen on the way out. Going the other way I’d been too intent on getting to the footpath because I needed the loo but I’d made a note to have a closer look on the way back. The wonderfully knarled and contorted trunk had caught my attention at first but when I looked closer I could see that one branch had become entangled in the wire fence as it grew and had twisted itself around, pulling the fence down as it got heavier.
The rain held off as I made my way back long Highbridge Road and the cars were kind to me today so there was little in the way of verge hopping. I did stop once to snap a picture of a crowd of bluebells growing on a bank. I had to clamber into the ditch to get it and narrowly missed getting entangled in some brambles but I think it was worth it especially as I spotted a wood anemone too, the yellow sepals standing out against delicate white petals.
Allbrook Hill was a struggle and my right knee began to ache. I’m pretty sure this is because I lead with my right leg so I tried as best I could to lead with my left to even things up. This knee aching thing is a new development over the last few long walks and it is a bit of a worry, something I need to keep an eye on.
By the time I got to Ham Farm the clouds were really gathering so I tried to keep my speed up. At over twenty miles this wasn’t easy, my legs were beginning to tire, especially after the hill. The Swan Centre was a welcome sight, just five miles left to go and a latte to give me a boost. In actual fact I decided to go for a frappachino because I was quite hot and somehow a hot cup of coffee didn’t seem all that appealing.
The frappachino turned out to be a good idea, it lasted longer than a coffee. Sipping it slowly I went back past the airport, as I waited to cross the road a woman shouted out of a car that she was doing the Moonwalk too and good luck to me. That gave me a real boost and I made it over the blue bridge before I finished my drink. I dumped the empty cup in a wheelie bin conveniently left out for the dust men by one of the houses in Wessex Lane. Then the rain started.
This was no small shower, it was a downpour, the rain I’d been expecting all day. On went the hat and the jacket was velcroed closed. Luckily the trees going across the green bridge and along the footpath sheltered me a bit and, by the time I got out the other side, it was over as quickly as it began. The dark clouds were still there though as I crossed Riverside Park, trying to keep my pace up as best I could although by then, twenty four miles in, it was hard. The sunbeams coming through dark clouds looked like something you’d see painted on the ceiling of a chapel, beautiful but threatening.
My right knee, that had started to hurt after Allbrook Hill, was really hurting by this time and, knowing I had walked more than the thirteen point one before I turned I began to take short cuts across the grass in an attempt to get home sooner. The path that follows the river is a winding affair and by taking the straightest route I could I probably cut a tenth of a mile or so. Not much but every little helps, especially as more rain was certainly on the way.
When I saw the slope going up from park to road I knew I had just one mile left but I groaned inwardly at the thought of the calf punishing climb to the top. The temptation was to take the last mile slowly, my legs told me I should, but the imminent threat of rain told me not to so I pushed as hard as I could. At this point I had no idea of my overall time and, frankly, right then, I didn’t much care, it was all about finishing and getting indoors before the rain started again. The last half mile was a real struggle, my knee was hurting, I was tired and hungry. Just when I was at my lowest one of the Buddhist nuns from the nearby Buddhist centre walked up the road towards me. She smiled and said a cheery hello as we passed. That smile gave me the final boost I needed to keep going as fast as I could.
I made it just in time. When I added up the three WalkJogRun totals I’d walked twenty six and three quarter miles. The best was to come though, when I added up the three times, I’d done it in under seven hours, six point eight nine eight to be exact which Commando tells me is six hours fifty four minutes. My time for the twenty six mile Moonwalk training first time round was seven and three quarter hours, I’d knocked off almost an hour! That really made my day.
So that was it, the final long walk. Despite a terrible forecast that almost stopped me going out, the weather was kind to me. According to Sirona’s friend there was heavy hail in Winchester not long after I left so I guess I had a lucky escape. My knee was fine after a little stretch out and the one blister, on my little toe, didn’t hurt at all when I was walking.