Friday, 24 April 2015

Walking the Testway - Dunbridge to Whitchurch

           The Testway is a 47ish mile route from Eling tide mill to Inkpen Beacon. I got introduced to the Testway via my running club. I used to love being taken to obscure places on the Thursday night social runs. All these places were so local but I didn't even know they existed. A lot of my time has been spent running, walking and taking wildlife photos along some of the testway. Mostly on the Lower test near Totton and in Nursling and Romsey. Ever since, I have been in love with the Testway and would be bold enough to say that it's my favourite place in the world :)

    Before this walk I had only gone as far as Stockbridge and no further. One day this summer I plan to run the whole route from Inkpen to Eling. I have often got lost on the Testway. Lost in Squabb wood and ended up in someone's back garden in Shootash. Lost in Nursling and often on private property in fields and at fishing lakes. Almost lost in Wherwell this time around as well. But I am now learning the route and my next mission will be to walk from Inkpen to Whitchurch.

    Whitchurch isn't actually on the Testway and is about 4 miles off course but it does have a train station which gets me back to Southampton :)

                           (Just after Mottisfont where I saw my first ever Stoat and chased it)

       I got the bus into town and a train to Dunbridge and Mottisfont, which is the same station if you were wondering. I was in Dunbridge just after 8am. As soon as you cross a bridge you are in Mottisfont and below you already is the river test. I had written down directions and also had a map with me. Getting lost can be done quite easy, especially when you get to a junction somewhere and there are no testway signs.
I walk through a field of cows and sheep and then I arrive near the Abbey. I now know where I am as I have done some of this route before. I visit the old church and watch as Jackdaws fly into the eaves of the church roof. You can hear their young and they were busy feeding. I tried to get some good pictures but failed. I couldn't hang about all day as I had planned to walk 20 miles. Which is probably the furthest I would have ever walked.

      I head onto the path on the picture above and see a stoat. At first I just thought it was a squirrel. He was just stood up on his back legs looking at me. Unfortunately, the zoom lens was in my rucksack. He was off running already so I decided to give chase and try and get a better photo. I chased him for quite a while as it looked like he had nowhere to go except for straight ahead because of the fencing either side. But eventually he jumped really high and went into the field next to the Abbey. Later I noticed on my Garmin watch that my fastest speed was just over 10 mph. He was pretty fast!

(Oakley farm)
    I walked past a few houses and across a big field where I saw a couple of dog walkers and then into Oakley farm and towards Brook. The only thing with the testway is that there are a lot of private property signs and private land. Bit of a shame really but that's the way it is I guess. The testway then comes onto a cycle path which pretty much goes all the way to Stockbridge via Horsebridge. I find this to be quite a boring bit as it's a cycle path which follows an old disused railway line. I have also done this part of the route many times. Because I am falling behind schedule, I decide that I am going to run this part of the route.
It never happens though. I get chatting to this girl in her mid 20's who is training for a sponsored walk. I ask if it's okay to join her and she says she would be grateful for the company. She is training for something called the moon walk which is a walk of 26.2 miles and is of a similar route to the London marathon but it starts at midnight. She asks where I live and tells me she used to live in Bitterne but has lived in King's Somborne for the past few years.
After a while I let her continue with her 16 miles of speed walking as I want to take a few pics of the rapeseed fields.
        I come into Horsebridge and take a few pics of the station. A few runners pass me and accuse me off walking faster than they are running. I tell them I have the London marathon in a week, they tell me they are doing a half. We wish each other luck as they pass me.
There is a guy running towards me and straight away he says "We meet again". I say "How's it going?" and he jokingly says "Painful". He's wearing a hi vis jacket and it's now 10am in the morning! How long has he been running for? I haven't seen this man previously today by the way and haven't got a clue where he knows me from. He's about late 50's I would say, bit shorter than me and grey hair. I tried to think for the next few miles but nothing came to me.
      Rather than continue the boring route on the cycle path to Stockbridge I turned left onto Stockbridge common which is a National trust site. It was nice walking alongside the river and I knew this would lead me into Stockbridge eventually. I saw my first sightings of a little grebe but they are quite a shy species. I couldn't really get a good photo as they would disappear under the water for long periods of time and you never knew when or where they would reappear. Time was ticking away and I had already done extra miles according to my watch. I had planned to meet my mate Lawrence for lunch in Wherwell and it had already gone 11.

(Stockbridge common)
       I walked into the town of Stockbridge and passed many of the shops as I wanted to take a few photos near the Longstock route that I once ran towards Andover. I was good at wasting time and not very disciplined! I finally got on the road to Leckford though and chatted to a guy who was putting up race signs for the Houghton 11K. He noticed my Great South run t-shirt and made conversation. We swapped a few marathon stories and he told me about the race and how he was time keeping for the event. I really wanted to do this event but I would be too tired the next day and had no way of getting there.
         I had a few missed calls from Lawrence. I always have my phone on silent and always forget this. I tried to phone back but signal was poor in the Leckford area. He said he was on his way to Wherwell. I was thinking that I was probably still 5-8 miles away! I was distracted again. This time by the amount of butterflies I had seen. Lots of Brimstones during their courtship displays. These were great too watch. I then saw an Orange-tip butterfly. I really wanted a good photo of one of these as I had never got one before. I was on a mission but this wasn't helping me meet Lawrence in a pub in Wherwell. It kind of reminded me of Alice in Wonderland where I was being led astray by an Orange-tip butterfly rather than a hare. Sometimes I would find myself running back the way I came from.
(My hard work paid off in the end!)
     Lawrence and I had made contact. He was now at the White Lion pub in Wherwell. I had only just passed Fullerton and then passed the Mayfly pub and into West down. I told him i'd be a while and would meet him in Chilbolton instead as it was closer. I came off the railway gravel track and into West Down where the route climbs up a grassy hill and down again and then across the road into a secret little woodland with more private lakes but beautiful views all the same. I would soon be on Chilbolton cow common. I walked through here and to the other side but when I got to the other side it said that I was in Wherwell? Was that Chilbolton? I phoned Lawrence and told him I was now in Wherwell where he had just left but he was already at a pub in Chilbolton. I felt so bad! Turns out that the Testway doesn't really go into Chilbolton, just the common.
(The end of Chilbolton common coming into Wherwell)
   The next time Lawrence phones, I am not lost but I don't exactly know where I am. I tell him i'm on a hillside in a field somewhere and I think I've passed Wherwell. Possibly heading into Forton now? I tell him i'll phone back when I see a landmark of some kind.  Half a mile later i'm actually in the main part of Wherwell and the first place I see is the White Lion pub where Lawrence was previously. He's not picking up his phone though and I guess he must be cycling. I send a text and buy a pint of diet coke in the pub. I was up to 15 miles of walking with a bit of running already.
He came and found me and we ordered lunch and chatted away. It was so good to see a familiar face and chat away about our day. It was now 2pm and we were only just having lunch. It had already been 7 hours since I had left my house for the bus.
(The beautiful village of Wherwell)
        After leaving Lawrence and taking the above photo I was kind of lost. Written directions say to turn left but the road says it's a dead end and there are no Testway signs telling me to turn off. I quiz my mind for a little while and try and gather some intellectual thoughts until I come to some sort of sensible conclusion. Fuck it! This'll do, i'm taking it.
The gravel track climbs for some time and either side of me in the woodlands are more Rapeseed fields. And then it passes a farm and then i'm in more woodland. I'm getting a bit worried now though as I still haven't seen any testway signs. My written directions seem pretty vague at this point. I then start to worry if I will make the train station in time. I make a few calculations in my head and decide to split the miles up. No more than 20 minutes a mile and I will try and catch the 6.51 train. if there is one? I just knew that the trains to Salisbury were every 51 minutes past the hour. Then there was the worry of being stranded in Salisbury by the time the Whitchurch train got there.
Isn't it strange how a long relaxed walk can suddenly become a hysterical tale of isolation and panic?
(Finally I see life. A Muntjac deer stares curiously in Harewood forest)
     At last the written directions are starting to make sense as I pass a few farms in Harewood forest. There are quite a few deer around here including the rarer Muntjac deer. I see 3 of them but two run off. One just stands there staring curiously at me. I'm thinking that maybe he has never seen a human being before. I actually have time to change the lenses over on my camera to get a closer picture. After 2 minutes or so he runs off to catch up with the others. Finally I see a Testway sign and am relieved and this puts my mind at rest. I then cross over the A303, past a big mast and into a big long field which brings me to another A road and then I cross it and head into the village of Forton which is full of lovely thatched cottages, chickens and a big wedding.
(Yay, a testway sign leading me towards Forton)
       Without my written instructions of the route, I would have been lost again trying to find the route after crossing the A303 and it looks weird to have part of the route on a main road with no footpaths. It's good to know these things as it will help with my run but the only concern I have is that I will be running it in the opposite direction from Inkpen to Eling. Anyway....
        After Forton, I come into Longparish at last. This is where I have to leave the Testway though to get the train in Whitchurch. Again, I see no obvious route for the testway but I have my planned route and road names which are easy to follow. After a mile or so though the route seems to be just one long country lane for about 2-3 miles. Even though I've now done over 20 miles I decide to run on and off for the last 3-4 miles as I want to make sure I get the next train. I also would think about getting lost, diversions etc.. I was getting hungry again now and hadn't eaten since the pub. I had a cake and a cereal bar in my bag though. I also hadn't really drunk much apart from two pints of coke earlier but I seemed fine. It was starting to get colder now though as the sun was a lot lower in the sky.
(The long undulating country lane)
    I'm supposed to cross the A303 again but it seems like the road is never coming and I can't hear any traffic. It's just fields, farms and fisheries here. I am literally in the middle of nowhere! Or so I think until I see a runner coming towards me who tells me Whitchurch is another 2 miles away and all I have to do is keep going in a straight line. I finally get to Whitchurch but didn't write down the directions for the train station for some reason. I ask an elderly man who looks local and he tells me it's pretty much straight on but it's about a mile and a half away. I carry on running. The legs are pretty tired now and the backpack seems to have given me a friction burn on my back which is still painful if sweat gets to it. But I finally arrive at the station and I have 15 minutes to spare after buying my train ticket. I use this time wisely by taking off my shoes and socks. I change my socks and t-shirt and spray myself with some deodorant and eat my food. It all works out in the end. I did 24.5 miles in a super slow time of 8 hours and 38 minutes. What a great day of exploration and adventure though :D
     Bits I had previously forgotten.
A welsh man at the train station told me about his latest divorce, how he had lived in Southampton for 10 years with two different wives (not at the same time) and was finally moving back to Bridgend. He also claims to still have a break of just over 100 on the snooker table but due to age, his percentage/average is waning.
when I started the walk I forgot to start my garmin and walking through a turnstile I got stung by a stinging nettle. I walked back to Dunbridge, started my watch and got stung again by the same stinging nettles but on the other leg. I then slipped on some sheep poo and that was all in the first mile of my walk.
Looking forward to walking Inkpen to Whitchurch sometime in the next month or so. Only about 15 miles too ;)

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Random bike ride after work

                           (Brook, near the Testway between Mottisfont and Horsebridge)

      It was a lovely sunny day on Monday and I was at work and loved riding my new mountain bike into work. It felt so much easier to ride than my old worn out bike. It sure was a pleasure to ride rather than a chore. So, during the working day I had decided to go for a bike ride straight from work. I do like to plan things though so I went onto Google maps to try and work out a route. After a while I thought about cycling to Stockbridge but then changed my mind to King's Somborne which would be a shorter loop.

If you didn't already notice with my running, I am obsessed with planning looped routes and very rarely do any "out and back" routes. So, I had planned a route to King's Somborne via Romsey, Timsbury, Brook and Horsebridge. I was thinking that 20 or so miles would be plenty for me.
     When finishing work, I decided to take a bottle of water with me and buy a large sausage roll and a snickers from the fridge at work for provisions. I had also written down the roads I needed after King's Somborne for my return journey through Eldon and Braishfield.

                               (A lovely looking rapeseed field along the Testway cyclepath)

       Off I went from Nursling Ind. Estate to Lee lane. Onto Lee lane and into Lee and then into Romsey. I was quite warm already though as I was wearing a hooded top and a big coat. I managed to fit the coat in my rucksack and put the hoodie around my waist. I cycled past the Fishlake meadows where I could hear the angry sounding call of a Cetti's warbler and then onto Greatbridge road taking in memories of an old job I had for many years on Romsey Ind. Estate.

     Into Timsbury and past the skate ramp I skated a few times at Hunt's farm. Past the Mottisfont road - The path now ends so it was time to cross the road and I was surprised when a lovely motorist flashed his lights for me to cross in front of him on the busy Stockbridge road. I waved and smiled of course :)

(The old railway line at Horsebridge)
     The route now goes onto a cyclepath next to the Stockbridge road and goes all the way to Stockbridge but to the left is the Testway which eventually joins on to this cycle path. This route is actually an old disused railway line.
I pass a few houses at brook and then watch a Kestrel hunt in a field just before Horsebridge and see two Heron fly overhead at the same time.
I get to Horsebridge and cycle past the John O Gaunt pub and see the King's Somborne sign. Only a mile and a half a way. This route seems too short as I am really enjoying the leisurely pace of my adventure. Not at all strenuous in any way. I decide to turn back and get back onto the Testway cycle path and head for Stockbridge and decide to find a looped route (or hope for the best).
(The sign at Horsebridge)
      I cycle on past the river test occasionally and say hello to the odd walker. I then pass a field full of rabbits which happens to be Stockbridge common nature reserve. I can now see the church and a few buildings which I know is the centre of Stockbridge. I do know this route quite well though as I have walked the testway as far as Stockbridge and have run 24 miles to Andover before. So here I am at Stockbridge! About 15 miles in and feeling good.
(They can't afford benches along the Testway)
      Ok, I was kind of sure that I was heading in the right direction at the Stockbridge roundabout. Left is the shops, Longstock and Salisbury, Straight on is Stockbridge and the School where I did the Stockbridge 10K race once and came 11th! Right would be the Stockbridge road back home. So, that only left me with one exit which said Winchester.
Oh My God! What a hill! I cycled pretty hard up this long hill. My quads were really feeling it, I was out of breath and sweating a lot. What had happened to my relaxing bike ride? I had gone from a comfortable route I knew to a tough route with sense of real direction. I was also hoping to get home before it got dark as I didn't have any bike lights either. It was nearly 6pm when I got to Stockbridge already.
(Decision time at Stockbridge roundabout)
     I made it to the top of the hill and then it was a massive downhill. I was going so fast and my eyes were watering with the speed. I then passed "Stockbridge Down" which looked quite nice.
One hill I cycled up there was a car speeding behind me. He was going to overtake but then he saw a car coming the opposite way and slammed on his brakes screeching loudly to a halt behind me. I stopped and swore at the guy many times as he waited for the other car to pass and he didn't even have the nerve to make eye contact with me. People like that really shouldn't be on the road. Makes me so angry!!! Anyway.....
There were a few undulations after this. A series of ridges and crests as I liked to call them. I then realised that I didn't know the difference between a ridge and a crest and when I googled it at work today, it appears that there is no difference.
So, I seemed to be heading towards Winchester until I saw a sign for a place named "Crawley". It had to be done. The sign said it was only one and a half miles away to the left. I went there, took and few photos and did a loop of it. It's a lovely little village with a 14th century church and a little pond with some Mallards and Tufted ducks.
(Crawley is about 5 miles from Stockbridge and about 5 miles from Winchester)
         I wasn't too sure where to go after the loop. There was Winchester to the left and Stockbridge to the right. There was a road straight on but the sign didn't tell you where that road went. My phone was now dying but I had a quick look on google maps before it died and it looked like it may take me to King's Somborne.
I was worried that I could no longer take any nice pictures of my surroundings as I had just seen a massive hare standing tall in a field. Nevermind that it may be dark soon, I don't know where i'm going and I may get a puncture and need to make a phone call! Also, I really wanted to eat my Sausage roll and Snickers now but I felt like I had to push on and get to slightly familiar surroundings at least.
(Taken from the 14th Century Church in Crawley)
            So, I was all alone on this Country lane of fields for about 3 miles without seeing another person. (Turns out it was called Littleton). Just lots of Pheasants and crows in the fields and a few Red legged partridges. I pass a place called Rookey farm and then come into "Up Somborne" and see a Sign for "King's Somborne". This was a good sign although it had gone 7pm already and I hadn't even made it there yet. I was guessing that I had an hour of daylight left.
I got into King's Somborne and was surprised how lovely it was with the old little shop and the stream running down the middle of the road and also being part of the Clarendon way. I had been passing through this place in a car many times but never really saw much. We also used to skate on a ramp here back in the 90's.
(The pond at Crawley)
         Anyway, I was happy now as I had written down the directions from here to Braishfield. I found everyone in King's Somborne to be very happy and friendly. Every single person I saw smiled and said hello. I wish the people of Romsey would take note! Probably the most miserable people i've encountered in all my travels even though I love the place.
It was just a case of making my way to Eldon. I found the roads easily and was soon passing through a nice looking estate on a hill. I think this may have been Eldon although I know the Eldon road is about 3 miles long. The road soon narrows down into a lane and then for those 3 miles it's just farms. Sadly, the first mile was mostly uphill. I actually got off my bike for a bit to walk as my legs were a little bit numb now. There was lots of woodland and lots of flowers. Primrose etc.. No photos though i'm afraid.
            After the massive climb it was downhill again. So down I went but I was breaking quite a bit as it was quite windy and narrow and didn't want to get hit by a car. Although later I would discover that I wouldn't see another person or car for the whole 3 miles of Eldon. But, I did have to stop at the bottom of the hill to let a Pheasant cross the road in front of me! He didn't look scared at all, as most of them today had run or flown off as soon as they saw me. There is so much wildlife in Eldon too. In the short space of a mile I saw 3 buzzards and a Kestrel. I saw one buzzard attack a pigeon. Wasn't sure he had caught it though. I went back to investigate and all I saw was this little deer looking at me in the woods. So cute.
Later on down the road there were more undulations. There were more deer running down the road in front of me and a buzzard flew right in front of me and perched in a nearby tree.
(Horsebridge again)
        I was soon into Braishfield and now feeling much more comfortable about making it home in the daylight or soon after. A quick cycle back into Romsey where I finally decided to eat my squashed sausage roll and snickers and then North Baddesley and Rownhams. Lordshill and home about 8.15.
4 lovely hours of cycling in the sun and about 40 miles :)

   (kind of what the route would look like that I used, although it says 44.6 miles and took me longer)