- Date: 15 October 2023
- Distance: 9 miles
- Start: 10:00 St Catherine’s Park & Ride, Winchester
- Leader: Sandy Arpino & Lynne Burge
Nine intrepid Ramblers don’t let Storm Babet dampen their enthusiasm
Although Storm Babet – named after a woman who visited an open day at the Dutch weather headquarters (!) – was still crossing the country, nine brave Ramblers stuck to their planned walk along the River Itchen one Saturday in mid-October. There had been heavy rain all night and the forecast was very patchy.
Being a linear walk – from Eastleigh to Winchester – there was the inevitable complexity of how to end up back at our cars when the walk completed. The walk leaders decided to tackle this issue at the beginning (rather than the end) of the walk, so we met in Winchester’s St Catherine’s Park & Ride and took the P&R bus to the city centre. From here a mile’s walking through the inviting market and up a hill led us to Winchester railway station, from where we took a waiting train south to Eastleigh. Our timing was perfect vis-à-vis the weather: the heavens opened as we reached the dry of the station forecourt and the downpour ceased as we disembarked at Eastleigh. A short stretch of pavement delivered us to an extensive recreation park and onwards – finally – to the River Itchen.
Perhaps not unsurprisingly, the normally gentle chalk-stream with its crystal-clear waters had been turned into a murky, raging torrent – and the riverside path was very wet. Thankfully underfoot was firm gravel, though extensive puddles had accumulated which required careful manoeuvring to avoid wet feet. Given the high water levels we were able to observe in action the navigation infrastructure along the river which serves to control flow. Indeed after a few miles walking upstream the waters cleared, held back by a series of weirs. Delightfully the sun broke through the leaden skies for a while, offering us picturesque scenes to photograph.
Once the waters calmed, we encountered groups of water birds, posing amongst the newly emerged autumn colours.
After passing Compton Lock – where families paddle on summer days – and taking a tunnel under the noisy M3, we forked left to follow the westerly side of water meadows to the Hospital of St Cross. Not a hospital in the modern sense, St Cross is an alms-house, founded in 1130 by the Bishop of Winchester, to provide charitable support for those in financial or physical difficulty. Today the Hospital still offers a home to 25 Brothers in its beautiful almshouses. Its striking Norman church impresses by its setting, size and simplicity.
Rain began to fall quite heavily as we approached St Cross so we hurried for the cover inside where we enjoyed our lunch. Some of us bought tasty tea, coffee and cake from the inviting cafe, while others participated in Wayfarers’ Dole. The tradition of Dole at St Cross – the giving of refreshment to travellers – dates back nearly 900 years. Modern travellers like ourselves can request Dole, receiving a small tumbler of pleasant ale and a little square of bread.
Reinvigorated – and with the rain reduced to a light shower – we strode back to the P&R and our cars. Setting off for home, we were grateful that the storm had been kind to us – and pleased that we had braved the elements for an interesting walk.
Author: Sandy Arpino
Photography: mostly Sandy Arpino plus a few extra from Linda & Paul Farley