by Katie Isham.
There are a good few Country Parks adjoining our fair city, so I thought it was time to visit one of them. I’ll be honest with you, I’m not usually a fan of a Country Park. It’s a little too prepared for my tastes. You have a brown sign to lead you (and hordes of others) there, usually a queue as you traipse around the marked paths, and worst of all, the parking situation is bound to be the dreaded “Pay and Display”. The whole experience smacks of “organised fun” – my least enjoyable brand of entertainment.
But I was meeting walking companions with a pushchair passenger so I thought I should at least try to venture onto the well-trodden path. I pulled on my wellies (unnecessarily as it turned out) and begrudgingly paid for the privilege to park my car at Itchen Valley Country Park.
Situated off Allington Lane, just over the M27 city border, the park is easy to access and has parking aplenty past the entrance where you find the café and toilet block. Woodland café is still open for takeaway under pandemic styled structures such as a one-way system and card-only payments. My cold Country Park heart melted a little when I saw they had vegan sausage rolls on offer for only £1.50. There would be time for snacks later, but first we had trails to trek.
The Play Trail is short and clings close to the car parks, but the terrain is relatively smooth and the journey is punctuated with wooden adventure stations to keep the kids busy while you daydream about a cup of tea and the fabled vegan pastry.
If that short trail hasn’t sated your thirst for adventure, try the longer Forest Trail that takes you for a loop past the Go Ape compound and around the High Hill Field. Once you find yourself in the open field, you can let canine companions run free. Itchen Valley is a park not short of a big field or two. There’s a whole heap of open space past this point. The Wildflower Meadow is another wide expanse of frolicking possibilities flanked on all sides by barricades of tall trees. Let your dog run free. Hell, throw caution to the wind and run free yourself. What’s a big empty field for if not for running across until your legs feel like lead and your lungs burn with exertion not felt since childhood?
By then you should’ve built up a hearty appetite and be ready for a nice sit down. Wander back down to the facilities to join the café trail: a one-way socially distanced queue longer than the Play Trail to forage for some treats.
My personal highlight of the visit was enjoying my much-desired vegan sausage roll (tasty, great pastry and bonus points for being warm) whilst sat in the autumnal sunshine overlooking the titular valley of the River Itchen. I got the stink-eye from a herd of cows looking to charge the fence nearby, but I assured them I wasn’t devouring their farmyard friends and so we settled on a peaceful truce. When the scenery is that serene, it’s hard to hold a grudge. It may not have been my favourite park, or even my favourite Country Park, but Itchen Valley is located at a unique viewpoint across our area, and has the added bonus of a vegan-friendly snack supply. A combination that makes for a very pleasant outing.
Cost: Free entry to the park. Parking charges apply. Go Ape and a visit to the café will incur more costs.
Accessibility: Lots of signposted trails of various lengths with bumpy paths. The Play Trail and the Forest Trail are wheely friendly, but the others have a lot of roots, bumps and gates.
Facilities: Toilets, Café and dog-washing station near the park entrance. Playgrounds and various trails around the park. Go Ape available for the more adventurous.