I’m pretty sure with the exception of a walk in a Pittsburgh park that all of my entries for Jo’s Monday Walk challenge have been Portuguese. Now whilst I am more likely to put on my hiking boots on in the Algarve we do walk in England too. So as Jo is in Poland this week and probably missing the warmth of the Algarve, I thought I’d save my Algarvian walks for another Monday and today share a very English walk we did the other day. If you like trains, rivers, archaeology and wildlife then this could be perfect for you.
We decided we wanted a walk we could start at our front door, and so my husband suggested we strolled to the neighbouring town of Eastleigh. I’ve done part of the walk before, but on previous occasions have been distracted by a lovely pub close to the start! This time though we made it all the way to Eastleigh, and if our feet had been less sore we would have kept going to Southampton as we were walking the Itchen Navigation Heritage Trail. We were both surprised that we had sore feet as when in the Algarve we had walked much much further. We can only conclude it is because the footpath was very solid for the whole route!
A ‘navigation’ is a river which has been modified to enable it to be used as a transport route, think canal but with a strong current. The Itchen Navigation was created in/from the River Itchen in 1710 to transport barges of coal and timber from Southampton docks to the Winchester wharfs. Not many of the wharfs remain now, but their names still survive in places, the walk officially begins at Wharf Bridge. As we live in north Winchester though and had decided to walk from home, it was easier for us to join the navigation at Tun Bridge. This bridge is on Garnier Road not far from the lovely water works building now known as The Pump House.
You won’t see any boats travelling up the navigation these days, just the occasional ducks and swans. The main reason is some of the ‘navigable’ sections are now dry beds. However even if they weren’t dry it is unlikely boats would be allowed to transverse its course as the River Itchen is a very special river. Flowing 28miles from New Cheriton in mid Hampshire to Southampton water, it is considered one of, if not the best chalk stream for fly fishing.
From our start at the bottom of St Catherine’s Hill we headed south for Twyford. We elected to walk right beside the navigation for this stretch, enjoying the views across to the Hospital of St Cross & Almshouse of Noble Poverty. Can you spot it in the picture below? Legend has it that Henry of Blois, a grandson of William the Conqueror was walking in the Itchen Meadows when he was stopped by local girl who begged him to help her people. Henry was so moved by the girl’s plight that when, a little further along the river, he discovered the ruins of a religious house, he resolved to use the site to establish a new community to help the poor. Impossible to know if the legend is true, however Henry, a few years after being appointed Bishop of Winchester founded the Hospital of St Cross, England’s oldest charitable institution (apparently!).
Leaving history behind us we came to Hockley Link and a few ugly few minutes as we crossed under the motorway, a noise which follows you for most of the walk unfortunately. Took the photo to remind me of the ugliness but keeping it small so I don’t scare you! Once back beside the navigation it was easy to blank out the background rumble and focus on the sight and sounds of the water meadows on either side of us as we skirt the village of Twyford.
Whilst you may not walk through the village, you do get to enjoy the lovely views across to Twyford church, which we can thank a local GP for. He decided the views were so lovely that years ago he, along with a few other local people, bought the meadows to save them for prosperity. So pleased he did as otherwise this area would have probably been built on by now, a dreadful but necessary south east habit! By the way if you are in the area and after a bite to eat Twyford has a superb pub ‘The Bugle’ and also a great cafe called ‘Bean Below’. You can’t miss the pub if you are driving through the village, but the cafe is a bit hidden as it is under the Post Office.
The next village is Shawford and one you do get to walk through on this trail. There’s a station here if you are feeling tired, and another a great pub called ‘The Bridge’. Despite its proximity we resisted the temptation of the pub, and crossed over the navigation to continue south towards Otterbourne, Colden Common and Bishopstoke. It was on this lovely stretch as we kept crossing to and fro over the navigation that things became very strange. I had expected to see cattle, sheep, lambs, ducks and swans on our stroll but the sight of emus, peacocks, egrets and alpacas was most unexpected! It was also on this stretch the weather could not make it’s mind up what it was doing.
Whilst there are plenty of places to eat on this walk we had brought a small picnic, a habit from our Algarvian walks where you are lucky if you find anywhere to eat when in the hills. Must admit it wasn’t the warmest of days to be eating a picnic, but this is England and so a chilly picnic is more than normal than not. The robin was delighted we had brought our lunch with us!
After a short pit-stop and a chat with the robin we were off again, and quickly became apparent that the towpath was close to human habitation and other footpaths. As suddenly we were being joined by dog walkers and other walkers, with one chap taking the opportunity to tell us about the navigation and railway line. This short chats are something we miss when in Portugal because our Portuguese is so limited, so it was quite nice to stop and chat for a while. As well as the farm life and unusual wildlife there were also lots of signs of Spring. If you follow my Algarvian blog you know I enjoy being a botanical tourist. I thought I’d save my English flora for a future post, but there are just a few photos I cannot resist sharing today.
Nearly all of the trail is managed by the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust which is why the paths are so well maintained, and why throughout the walk you will see evidence of ‘wildlife friendly’ engineering and the conservation of the archaeology that remains.
The navigation takes you behind the Eastleigh railway works and so for a while you have modern industry on one side and fields on another. It was here I spotted the fox, another unexpected sight but at least something that belongs in the English countryside unlike the emus! We were now very close to the end, and both of us were delighted the rain had held off. Our feet were also looking forward to catching the train back. A journey that had taken us a few hours to walk took us less than 10minutes to return by train!
The trail is well worth doing if you have cushioned soles and live near the Southampton to London railway line as the trail also follows the railway line, and so you can, like us, catch the train back after your exertions. If you are interested in walking it click here for the map and don’t forget to let me know how you get on.