I’ve written before about how one of my favourite local walks is the stretch of river from Bishopstoke to Highbridge. As part of our “keeping it local” lockdown exercise, over the last couple of months Mrs Chippy and I have been exploring the rest of the river.
We started by running the stretch from Woodmill to Winchester and back. No, not all in one go; that would be silly. We took it in four stages – each stage a round trip of around 8 to 10 km (sorry to die-hard imperial measurers, but I measure exercise in kilometres – probably because the numbers build up more quickly).
The longest stretch was from Bishopstoke to Woodmill. It takes a lot of perseverance as, once you leave Bishopstoke, there is no crossing point until Mansbridge, 6 km away (the M27 doesn’t count). It’s also (possibly for the same reason) the least busy part of the path; we passed very few people. It was quite a surprise to see lots of people once we reached Mansbridge and completed the short section through Riverside park to Woodmill.
It’s also the least watered part of the route. Although you follow the original towpath, the navigation has long since been dewatered (yes, that is a real word). The water from the navigation empties into the original river just south of Bishopstoke, not to be seen again until it flows past the Mucky Duck at Mansbridge.
There is still evidence of its former life, such as the remains of this lock.
This was possibly the least-imaginatively named lock in the country. It also raises a chicken-and-egg quandary. The lock is named after the house, but the house is named after the lock. So which was built first?
This stretch is also a great source of wild garlic, which grows in abundance.
North of Highbridge the landmarks arrive with happy regulatory, always giving something to aim for. One run took us past Brambridge and the Shawford waterworks to Shawford and another past Hockley Viaduct, St Catherine’s Hill, Garnier Road, to City Bridge. And we’d made it. Oh, hang on – we’ve got to run back to Shawford where we left the car.
Well, having reached Winchester we decided we couldn’t stop there. The Itchen Way continues to the source of the river at Cheriton, running roughly eastwards to Alresford and then southwards to Cheriton. OK, New Cheriton. But as we were not familiar with the route, we decided we would walk the rest of the way – again, using a series of circular walks to cover the distance.
Wow! Why have we never been there before? The Itchen Valley above Winchester is beautiful – though the lack of steep-sided hills either sides does make calling it a valley a little incongruous. There is a plethora of paths running either side of the river which make easy planning of circular routes. Rather than the ex-industrial navigation river from Winchester to Southampton, the river here is a broad and shallow chalk stream, bordered by a collection of delightful villages.
Our first walk took us on from Winchester to the villages of Easton and Martyr Worthy (which, until then, I’d always thought was Martyn Worthy. Shows how well I read road signs). On the way back to Winchester, we discovered this.
No, not just any foot tunnel; a foot tunnel that originally ran under the Winchester-Newbury railway line. The embankment is now used by the A34. Well, I found it exciting.
OK, we did find something else exciting. Nestling between Worthy Lane and the A34 is the Winnall Moors Nature Reserve – complete (on that day) with swan and cygnets.
And dragonflies – I have to admit to being quite proud of this photo.
Following the Nun’s Walk (south of, and roughly parallel to, Worthy Lane) back to the city centre, we came across another nature reserve – complete with wooden animals.
Two more excursions took us through the villages of ItchenStoke, Ovington, Avington (how confusing is that, to have neighbouring villages with names that differ by just one letter) and Titchbourne. Alas, the Bush at Ovington was closed owing to COVID-19 restrictions.
We came across a few more animals en-route – some more expected than others
Finally, we were within striking distance of the end (or the beginning). “Just 5 or 6 km” I told Mrs Chippy.
The Itchen must gain a lot of water from hills around Alresford because above there the river quickly peters out into a small stream that could almost be mistaken for a drainage ditch.
A quick detour around the edge of Hinton Ampner (it’s the site of a civil war battle; so that is worthy of closer inspection on another occasion) and we reached what my map told me was the source of the River Itchen.
We probably need to go back there after some rain. A lot of rain. It was a bit underwhelming, to be honest. Maybe most sources of rivers are. This map shows my wandering around a field trying to find something that looked vaguely river-like.
All I discovered was a dry ditch.
We had to walk a kilometre downstream to find any water
Never mind, we had achieved our goal: we had followed the entire length of the non-tidal part of the River Itchen.
And remember that “just 5 or 6 km” I told Mrs Chippy? Any idea how I can explain this?