Sunday, 16 June 2019

The middle of the St.Swithun's way

Four weeks in and my ribs are still very much broken. It is a very frustrating time for me. I am so used to vigorous activities such as running, skateboarding, weights, core work etc.. I can’t do much lately apart from cycle and walk. I managed to cycle 100K the other weekend, so the following weekend I would decide to go for a long walk. After a bit of thought I chose the St.Swithun’s way. I have come across it before cycling out to places like Itchen Abbas and Tichborne which are just the other side of Winchester from Southampton. 

  I didn’t feel prepared enough to cover the whole 34 miles from Farnham in Surrey to Winchester in Hampshire, so would pick a section from the middle. My plan was to walk from Alton to Winchester, removing about Ten miles from the whole route. I had also decided to start in Alton and the cheapest way for me was to get a train to Winchester (£7.40 return fare) and then take a bus from Broadway (next to the King Alfred statue) to Alton (£5.65 single fare).
I had written down a list of place names that I would pass through to try and keep me on track if I were to stray from the route. This is something I do a lot when exploring and it’s always helped. Sadly though, I had written this list and left it at home on my notepad. I was trying to remember some of the place names when I got off the Bus at Alton train station. 

  It wasn’t long until I could see my first sign for the St.Swithun’s way just outside the Railway Inn pub. I knew which way to go due to the direction of the bus that brought me here. I walked left and then soon into the high street of Alton. I didn’t realise how big the high street is in Alton. Lots of shops that I wasn’t expecting. A local market with local produce was also on display as I passed by. Quite a nice looking place really.
I passed a green called ‘the Butts’, turned right and then a left onto a lane which soon led me to a subway. A sign displayed the ‘Jane Austen trail’. I was soon in the village of Chawton and familiar with my surroundings. Lots of lovely thatched cottages scattered around and then I’m at Jane Austen’s house. I cycled here once before but didn’t pay to go in. This time I decide to pay the £9 which gives me a years entry to her house.

   As I step inside, it starts to rain. I chat to the staff and watch a film about her life which is truly fascinating. I am the only one here as it’s only just gone 10am which is when they open. After the film, I walk around the garden and listen to the wildlife and look at all the plants and flowers. They have a book on spotted wildlife, so I add a Greenfinch and a Harlequin ladybird to their vast collection.
I get inside the main house and there are more people here now. I walk around and read the notes while a lady plays the piano of classical music, sadly no Beethoven though. It is now getting busy. Can you imagine four people stood in a small room? I bet this place is flooded with people in the summer. I spent about an hour here and probably would have spent longer if they had a cafĂ© or a coffee shop. Definitely worth an annual fee of £9! I bought a book marker and left as the rain had stopped. 

I continued my journey and turned right into what looks like a cul-de-sac (which actually translates to “bottom of a sack”). Here, there was a wooden sign pointing left in between the houses for the St.Swithun’s way. Through a metal gate and then a narrow cut way with stinging nettles either side. I managed to get through without contact though. I had already crossed the A31 to Chawton and now I would cross the A32 and head for another metal gate. The grass was long and wet so my feet were getting soaked but I always packed a spare pair of socks in my rucksack. I followed a narrow trail. This is where the notes I’d written down would have come in handy! I passed a farm and carried on and then there were a few options but no signs. The poppies looked lovely here and a skylark was in full courtship display. He was hovering high and singing away loudly. 

The sun was even shining now.
I carried on under a bridge which was part of the Meon Valley. I discovered this afterwards and should have taken a right turn quite some time ago. I continued and found myself at a road crossing and opposite was ‘Manor Farm’. This was definitely on my list of places but then Manor Farm has got to be the most common farm name in England, surely.

I walked into Manor Farm and up a big hill, I could see for miles. I came to a courtyard but there were no signage here. I turned right and ended up at a church. Northanger benefice. Maybe a link to Jane Austin’s first novel? I found out that the Northanger benefice consists on Eight parishes scattered around Hampshire.
I was somehow in Farringdon. The rain was now pouring down and I was trying to look at google maps on my phone to try and get back on track but then my ankle twisted quite badly on uneven ground and I was in pain. I hobbled to shelter so that I could get a clear view of my phone which was getting soaked. I had indeed gone to far west and should have been more East. I walked through the village and crossed a road and walked for miles The plan was to try and reconnect with the route at Kitwood. I had only covered 4.5 miles when I had twisted my ankle and was miles from civilisation as I knew it. I couldn’t stop now. The ankle would get tight, swell up and I wouldn’t be able to walk. I had to keep going which meant no pub or food stops. 

I was really pissed off about my ankle but then calmed myself and said “Dean Jones, you wanted adventure, this is it!”. I put myself in a more positive frame of mind and carried on. I got to a busy road and climbed over part of a steamroller to get access to a field. It didn’t look like this field was walked in much. I found a gap in the fence and then was at a new looking housing estate where I crossed a roundabout and continued, past a golf course and then I saw a sign for Ropley. Three miles to Ropley. I could walk that and if the pain was too much, I could get the bus from there. Another climb and a very straight road. A few cyclists about who waved and commented about the weather but no cars. The rain came in heavy intervals and then the sun would briefly appear.

I came to a junction and then I saw a sign for St.Swithun’s way. Somehow I had walked a part of it without even realising I was on it. That made it easy to know which direction to go at least. I opened another gate, crossed a field and was then walking across a wheat field. The wheat only a foot and a half high at this time of year and still green in colour. There were a couple of fields like this and then I was in Ropley. I walked straight across from one bridleway to another and there was another wheat field but I paused and gave it some thought. There were two paths and no signs here. My brain decided that it had remembered something from my scribblings at home after all. I was to turn around and pass a school in Ropley before I headed down Hammond’s lane. There were no signs here either, This route is not well signed at all. I was soon reassured though when I came to a lovely field which I had to pass through, followed by a road and three more fields. Luckily no cattle in the fields, just sheep and really big oak trees. The sun was lovely now. I could actually feel the heat from it now and my cold hands were starting to warm up. This was a really stunning part of the route.

I could here the Watercress steam train tooting away many times but could never see it. I came to a country lane and walked down there for quite a while. It was a weird route. Sometimes you’d have barren fields in the middle of nowhere and then you’ll be walking down a country lane for miles. Plenty of variety but I never saw another person on foot since leaving Chawton. There were a few cars in Ropley though. I had decided to take a painkiller now, but only the one. Beer was important for me on my walks. I was looking forward to the beer more than anything. I was earning it after all. My ankle was really tightening up now. Even though I was continually moving on it, there was no other movement in there. It was so fat and swollen that I could barely move it from side to side. I stopped to do this and loosen it up in there. I was feeling a bit sick too. I ate some nuts that I had bought with me and drank the rest of my water.

Anyway, I was Twelve miles in now and had decided that I would finish at Alresford today and not Winchester. I had already walked 7.5 miles since twisting it. It’s probably not too wise. I saw it as role play and just pretended I was the lone survivor of a plane crash in Mexico and kept on going until I reached the safety of the border of something like that. I could hear music coming from the Alresford music and beer festival. Can’t be too far then. I had to cross the A31 again as they built it through the St.Swithun’s way. I crossed a busy roundabout and headed into Bishop Sutton. It was here that I heard the whistle of the watercress train again, but this time I could see the steam from the top of the engine and before long the whole train came into sight and passed in the opposite direction to which I was walking. 

 I followed the trail behind the B road. Wasn’t sure if this was a good idea with the ankle on the uneven field. I saw two other walkers. My first of the day! We exchanged hellos and smiles as we passed. I then saw four boys climbing a barbed wire fence, they had obviously gone a bit wrong too. I stopped at a fjord wondering whether or not to enter another field. No signs again. I decided against it despite it looking really nice. I got to the main road again and saw signs for St.Swithun’s way. Turns out I had guessed the right way. I walked down the A31 and a woman across the road shouted “This is the worst bit of the route”. I agreed. She then shouted that she was waiting for four boys. I told her they were on their way and would be with her soon and that they were climbing a fence. I probably got them into trouble. No more signs were seen but I didn’t care. I walked the road into ‘New Alresford’ as the sign proclaimed. I knew where I was and only had a two minute wait for the bus back to Winchester. Despite it being Ten miles shorter back they still stung me for another £5.65.

I was happy and relieved that the journey was over but glad I did it. I was looking forward to meeting my mate Paddy in Winchester for beer now. The painkiller had really helped me on those last Three miles. 15 miles in total. I look forward to doing the whole 34 miles next time and I have studied the route much more and my strava map, so I know exactly where I went wrong. I also decided to join the LDWA (Long Distance Walker’s Association) so now I have access to the route on my phone as a map in Garmin and I can download many more and find some new routes too.  Looking forward to trying again. Hampshire really is so green and beautiful.

The ankle is still healing but should be okay in another week :) 

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