by Katie Isham.
Don’t tell too many people but, a mere skip from Southampton General Hospital, tucked away at the back of a 1960s housing estate, down a road guarded by the endemic sight of Tesco that used to be a pub, there’s a gateway to a hidden woodland. These woods may be named after Lords, but they’re ready to welcome any of us peasants for a wander.
This is a true Suburban Safari. The gigantic trees rise from the back gardens of the suburbs and before long, a winding path leads you deep into Southampton’s very own forest heartland. And yet most people don’t even know about this wilderness on our doorstep, let alone go explore it. Time to set that straight.
Lords Wood is in the north of the city, sandwiched between Chilworth, Lordshill, Rownhams and the suburb of Lordswood itself. Take the seemingly endless Coxford Road north until you run out of tarmac. Then continue onto the footpath flanked by the boundary to the Sports Centre on one side and a towering metal structure on the other.
After walking for a minute or so, you’ll feel you’ve long forgotten civilisation, like slipping between fur coats into the forest of Narnia. Hook a left under the dark branches of the woodland where the soft needly carpet beckons you further in. Take the high road to look down on the valley below or if you’re feeling nimble, find your own path to lower ground. Either way, watch out for horses and their riders on the bridlepath.
Continue north and pause to inspect the dens, pyramids of logs and of course to enjoy the silence. In a ninety-minute walk on a sunny, spring day, I passed only a picnicking family and a pair of fellow walkers. I rather enjoyed the calm and the chance to listen to the birds, the trees and the other sparks of life. I had no idea I could feel this far away from everyday life still so close to supermarkets and ambulances.
Talking of the hustle bustle, if you keep walking, past a fence and along a country lane, you’ll stumble out of the bushes blinking into the roar of the motorway: a bridge over the M27 leads you to Chilworth if you want to stretch your legs further. The woods cocoon you so well that you forget you’re this close to traffic chaos.
And so I slipped hastily back amongst the trees. Take the road that forks left from the path and pass the grand houses that count a few golf holes as part of their gardens. Once past these and the stables, you’ll be back on a route through the woods. Logging tracks carve through the land or you can take the path less travelled.
Creep along hidden walkways between denser growth and follow the routes that wind you up and down steep hills, overflowing brooks and under canopies of enchanted pines. Take the direct course or wander in and out the arboreal tributaries before you head back to the suburbs. Your call. You can spend an hour here or a few. Either way, time spent amongst some big old trees will do wonders for your soul.
Gaze in wonder at these beasts. Breathe the oxygen they gift. Bask in their green splendour. And try not to get lost. But it’s never hopeless: just when you think there’s nothing but trees, you see a washing line poking out of a garden. Wander for long enough and you’re sure to find your way back to the suburbs sooner or later.
Cost: Free to wander the woods. Parking free along Coxford Road.
Accessibility: Woodland paths of gravel, dirt and some big puddles. Often steep. Plan accordingly.
Facilities: No facilities in amongst the trees. There’s a Tesco nearby but no longer any pub.