After the problems with the last section, this was a much easier proposition. For one thing it was a short distance and secondly I was able to complete it on the Sunday afternoon before my course started. I was now the ‘right’ side of Southampton (ie on the way to and from my house) and this was in the land of the Sunday bus! Unfortunately I couldn’t bring myself to walk the section through Southampton and over the Itchen Bridge; I would suggest that this is really for completists only. Instead I started my afternoon out at Woolston, a suburb of Southampton immediately across the River Itchen. The afternoon’s walk would take me down the side of Southampton Water and this made for a fascinating section where I could spend my time watching ships going backwards and forwards along one of the busiest waterways in the British Isles.
On my way to Southampton the weather was absolutely fabulous and even when I boarded the bus at Hamble the sun was still shining. However, it worsened very quickly and when I started walking the glorious September afternoon I had been expecting quickly turned overcast and even started raining some way into the walk. It was pretty disappointing and I was pleased that the boat traffic was so interesting.
On reaching Woolston I quickly found the route and didn’t linger long in this rather unattractive quarter of Southampton. A couple of sights did catch my eye; a rather large feather put there in the Millennium to commemorate flight and sail (for Southampton was once the home port of ocean liners and seaplanes). The other was an old cinema converted to a bingo hall, which was once probably the centre of local entertainment but now a forgotten part of history. Across the water was a glimpse of the new; St Mary’s Stadium, home of Southampton Football Club. Along from there I could see the P & O Cruise ship ‘Arcadia’, looking magnificent at its berth and presumably loading up with supplies ready for its next trip out.
The first mile or so of the day’s walk was not particularly promising as I headed past a very large building site and past a down at heel housing estate dominated by Canberra Towers. Even the official website for the walk describes these as ‘ugly’! Yet once past these the walk became a lot more interesting as I passed through the seaward end of Westwood Woodland Park and then came upon Netley Castle. This was originally built by Henry VIII but is much altered and now serves as private accommodation although for a period it was bizarrely owned by Middlesex County Council, who used it as a convalescence home. More information about Netley can be found at http://www.netleyabbey.info/ . The path then left the coast briefly to pass through the village of Netley, a surprisingly attractive place considering the proximity to Woolston.
A little past the village, I entered the Royal Victoria Country Park. This is a most interesting place, dominated by the old chapel that was once part of the military hospital here. The park has many attractions for families and the place was really buzzing. The views across Southampton Water were probably at their best here too and I got quite excited when I suddenly heard the unmistakable horn of a passenger liner, which could only mean one thing – Arcadia was on her way!
The final section from Netley to Hamble was surprisingly quiet in spite of the fact that this stretch of coastline has only the thinnest strip of countryside running along it. However there were reminders of other development, with the view across to Fawley Oil Refinery dominating the skyline and a little further ahead was an enormous jetty clearly in place to service oil vessels. There was also a reminder of how heavily defended this coast must have been as I passed a couple of pillboxes, one of which was a particularly interesting design that I had not encountered elsewhere.
As I passed along this stretch of coast I was soon joined by Arcadia and I could now see how big she really was. Although several hundred meteres away I felt as if I could almost reach out and touch her. When one of the Isle of Wight ferries passed alongside it was absolutely dwarfed. As I looked back towards Southampton I was utterly amazed to see that a little further behind was another P & O cruise vessel, this time Oceana. It was a much smaller vessel but still full of people in holiday mood I’ll bet.
Having got the excitement of seeing these fantastic ships out of my system (how would I have felt if I’d stood here in the 1930s when such sights were commonplace?) I left the coast to head across Hamble Common and return to my vehicle. Wouldn’t you know it? As I wandered through the village the sun came out again!
|Woolston Toll Bridge|
|Royal Victoria Coast|
|Royal Victoria Chapel|
|Watching For The Enemy|