by Katie Isham.
On New Year’s Day, I’ve taken to undertaking a “Big Walk”. One involving a big drive followed by a long walk, preferably by the sea, incorporating a stop for a hefty calorie intake before going home to warm up in the way you can only when you’ve been outside cavorting with nature all day.
This year will be somewhat different. Much like most things have been over the past ten months. Tier 4 restrictions (and the desire to keep everyone – myself included – as safe as possible) mean adventures must be local. Lo and behold, this very column can provide exactly the motivation and inspiration we all need! Mild adventures are better than no adventures.
This is a route I’ve walked, jogged or cycled more times than I care to admit. Repetition is often sneered at as boring when people crave variety. Yet I’ve come to love the idiosyncrasies of the familiar walk; every time you repeat a route, you find new joy in the familiar. The route may change but the weather, the people (and dogs) and the details refresh every time.
Start at the bottom of Weston Lane by the On the Water Café. There’s a small car park for those of you driving. Views across the water to the cruise terminal may treat you to some ships, containers or ferries in action. Then follow the coast southeast. The giant tower blocks of Weston will point you in the right direction.
The promenade here runs along the shingle beach with a small concrete wall as its boundary. Can you even call yourself a Sotonian if you haven’t attempted to walk the length of the wall at one point or another? If you have small people with you, they’ll appreciate a diversion at the sunken pirate ship, although my childhood heart will always belong to the climbing frame helicopter.
Come wander where people have come to walk for over a century and see the people of today. Old couples, dog walkers, wobbly toddlers on bikes. Southampton life can be seen in technicolour here. My last foray along this stretch was on Christmas morning and it was a joy to greet everyone. “Merry Christmas!” we called to each other with a wave. Channelling my inner George Bailey was tonic for the soul. We might have to keep our distance, but we can still be kind to our fellow walkers. On New Year’s Day morning I anticipate more public salutations.
You can travel back in time by entering the 1930s beach shelters. These squat, white shells are as much a part of Southampton as the Bargate. Or indeed, the ice cream van ever-present at the car park at the far end of the promenade, keen to give you sustenance as you venture into the woods.
Follow the path skirting the shoreline past benches and rope swings that peek out onto Southampton Water from overhanging trees. Wellies may be in order here if the tide has been swelled by a storm. Take care around the blind bend for cavalier cyclists before you reach the most photographed tree along the coastline. Standing to attention like a sentry watching over all sea arrivals into the city, the tree pierces the sky, looking magnificent in all weather, but especially against a striking blue canvas.
Continue past the sailing club and another wall to walk along. If the tide’s out, you may dare take the waterside route through to the next stage. If you’re feeling less adventurous or aquatic, the path winds through the park and out onto the road for a change of scenery.
Running alongside the cricket field is a row of colourful houses that are as sweet as the pick n mix selection they resemble. Keep going past the park and the shops. In more normal times, I’d suggest a stop at the bakery, or the fish and chip shop or the pub (or all three if the mood takes you).
Before you know it, you’ve reached the entrance to Royal Victoria Country Park. I’d personally carry on alongside the water, but you’ve got a whole world to explore here if you wish. But for me, I’m only there for the sea.
It might not be the New Year “Big Walk” I’ve become accustomed to, but I’m glad I survived 2020 to be able to go walking anywhere and to breathe the sea air. And maybe by next year, we can hug as well as wave hello.
Cost: Walking is free. Free parking. Money needed to indulge in a takeaway snack or drink at any of the establishments along the route.
Accessibility: The walkways are paved, although there are points where the shingle, or floodwater, covers the path after a particularly heavy storm.
Facilities: Toilets and takeaway refreshments available at On the Water Café and Royal Victoria Country Park Café.