by Katie Isham.
In the current lockdown and amid rising fear in this wave of the pandemic, we are torn. Torn between staying away from other people or finding some space outside to get some fresh air.
Obviously we all want to stay safe and distance ourselves from others as much as possible, but it’s also important, for both physical and mental health, to spend some time outdoors. As such, for my latest wander, my heart desired space. A big green open space to stretch my legs, away from others and where I wouldn’t have to contend with the couples unfortunately handcuffed at the hip along narrow paths – the poor souls who must have a medical reason that renders them unable to walk in single file.
However, I’m also wary of venturing too far from the safety of basecamp. The New Forest might as well be the moon right now. So I was challenged to find some open space much closer to home. Hatch Grange is a pocket of nature just off West End high street, surrounded by housing and Southampton’s arterial roads. It’s just what I needed: a big open field. But a very charming field with hidden annexes.
Walk in from the road (with wellies on your feet in preparation for the current soggy terrain) and you have your space. A big wonky field spotted with giant arboreal beasts and a gang of them watching you from the hill. I suggest a big stomp to the top of said hill to get the lay of the land and to see why the big conifers huddle at the peak. Spoiler: it’s because of the view.
It’s not a massive mountain, but it gives you a glorious view for miles around. On a clear day, you can see as far as St. Catherine’s Hill in Winchester. A bittersweet outlook as you recall the times an expedition could range a mere fifteen miles afield with little thought.
A bench beckons from under the towering branches. It’s one of the greatest places to take in the vista and ponder life. It also offers a direct view of the centrepiece of Hatch Grange. Stuck in the meadow, there stands a relic of a grand tree that has become an art feature and a living record of local life. Carvings show history, friends of the area and etchings of flora and fauna found nearby.
To the side, running from the road toward the woodland, the avenue of lime trees makes an impressive entrance. They used to form the carriage driveway through the estate to the grand house. History swallowed the house in fire before the council purchased the grounds. Which is fortunate for us as we have an open space and the skeleton marks of foundations for those budding archaeologists. Personally, I couldn’t see anything, but I shall certainly return for a closer inspection.
Leave the field behind and take a diversion into the woods. Winding pathways carpeted with mulch; stark, looming trees with barcoded light from the winter sun; hollowed out root systems to spark the imagination. You don’t need a trip to The New Forest to find yourself lost in a forestry adventure.
A small stream is conquered by a rickety set of steps and a boardwalk (and everyone loves the clip clop of a boardwalk) to take you further into the woods. I only saw two other people (and a pack of dogs) on my walk through. It was a treat to worry about getting lost or losing a welly in the boggy mud instead of worrying about the pandemic for a minute.
Yet the beauty of this place is that it’s small enough so that you can’t actually get lost. You soon reappear back by the side of the road and back to reality. But I’ll take that momentary escape into nature, fresh air and blissful distraction any day.
Cost: Walking is free. Free parking on the street or in the Parish Centre if you use that as well.
Accessibility: Big, big field which can be squelchy in places. Wellies recommended. Woodland paths surrounding that can be uneven, and even verging on a mud-laden quagmire in some places. Steps down to a bridge in the woodland walk.
Facilities: Hatch Café attached to Parish Centre with library as well, in blissful non-lockdown times. West End shopping a stone’s throw away. A children’s playground is at the edge of the park.