by Katie Isham.
At least once a week I treat myself to a walk to work through Woodmill in Southampton. Sometimes more when the roadworks are rampant. But it’s never for very long. So I thought I would give myself time when I wasn’t racing the clock for a short wander along the River Itchen.
A safari is by definition a trip to watch, photograph or hunt wild animals in their natural environment. And whilst I’m less than keen on the hunting side, I was looking forward to seeing some life by the river. Woodmill always offers some wildlife companionship and on this trip, the view of humanity was plentiful as well. The joy of walking is to walk alongside others: to see the whole spectrum of society: walking hand in hand, dog-walking, running, feeding the ducks, fishing, playing games, and generally enjoying our green spaces. The first weekend of Lockdown version 2.0 and the sunshine brought the crowds (myself included) flocking to the riverbank.
The car park closest to Woodmill is your best bet to avoid the inevitable sunny day parking congestion as it’s the largest. Meet the river straight out of the car park and head upstream. Spot the various river-dwelling birds and gaze down at the fish in the shallow waters.
The bank is usually thrumming with human activity, sometimes so much so that it’s hard to social distance on the path. I prefer to go off-roading and steer my way across the skeleton bones of the old pitch and putt course. You have to mind out for the derelict bunkers, but you’ll find heaps of space for social distancing. And if you take a dog, they’ll prefer the running room. This route also allows you to wander between and underneath a range of trees, and as we trundle through November, they’re just about holding onto some displays of colour.
Which brings me to my favourite line of trees in the park (possibly the city). A line of fiery sentries with cascading rainbow leaves. You’d think they’ve been painted to lead towards the solid stone bridge that gives Mansbridge its title.
In non-lockdown times, I’d recommend stopping by The White Swan just around the bend for riverside refreshments. Or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, you could embark on the Itchen Navigation Trail here all the way north to Winchester.
That wasn’t on the cards for me. I briefly retraced my steps then hooked a left before reaching the links course. The park leads onto the streets where a magnificent beast of a signpost points you in the right direction. I followed the sign towards Riverside Park and took a stroll down arguably the leafiest street. River Walk ticks another of my personal superlatives. Possibly my favourite residential road: chalet style houses straight from an alpine forest, a babbling brook and an arching grove of trees to lead you alongside the park. With a street like this, you don’t mind missing out on the park.
Walk beneath the canopy and ponder which house you’d choose if you won the lottery. Before long, the road ends and you join the infamous Forest Hills Drive. Its very name strikes fear into the heart of all who’ve learned to drive on the Southampton streets. But we’re not heading to the test centre. Instead, the opposite direction leads back towards the park. Again, if lockdown restrictions allow, I would propose a swift beverage at The Hop Inn overlooking the park.
Thankfully, the government hasn’t gone so far yet to outlaw the humble ice cream van and for some reason, no matter the weather, there always seems to be a van parked around the car park. Therefore I suggest you take the opportunity before another restriction is enforced. Treat yourself to a 99 and continue your people watching whilst we’re allowed to roam free.
Cost: Free entry to Riverside Park and free parking in any of the attached car parks. Pocket money for ice cream recommended.
Accessibility: Paved path along the river and standard pavement on the street section. You can off-road across the park if you wish. Car access to the car parks from Woodmill Lane.
Facilities: Depending on lockdown restrictions, you could visit The White Swan pub at the furthest point towards Mansbridge or The Hop Inn, a stone’s throw from Riverside Park. No public toilets available. Possibility of an ice cream van at the Woodmill Lane car park. Playground available. Sadly, no longer any Pitch and Putt facilities.