Suburban Safari: Winter Woodland and Waterways      

Suburban Safari: Winter Woodland and Waterways      

by Katie Isham.

When the days are cold and short, it’s time to make the most of the sunlight hours whilst you can and head on down to one of the country parks within the Southampton postcode. Is there any better way to warm yourself up on a blisteringly cold day than by tramping through some fine English woodland and along an eye-wateringly reflective river? 

River Hamble Country Park resides in the very eastern realms of the city. It’s most easily reached by car, although then you’re at the mercy of the parking charges. Make peace with the charge for easy access to beautiful grounds or find yourself a lovely friend who lives nearby where you can walk from their house. 

Once through the gates of the parkland from Pyland’s Lane, the footpath criss-crosses the vehicular path briefly before us pedestrians stumble downhill southwards into the woodland. The trees perch on the slope in varying degrees of undress. The forest floor is a sea of fallen gilded leaves; visit before they turn to mulch. 

Follow the route through the woods and enjoy the frosty halos of rays of winter sun encircling those last tenacious tips of green. The path is shared with horses (watch out under foot for evidence – big piles of evidence) and their riders, so nod a greeting as your journeys intersect. 

Sink further into the forest and pass trees split in the last storm, toadstools thriving in the damp, a stream perfect for enticing adventurous dogs into its waters and of course, heaps of leaves in every colour pathing your way towards the water’s edge. Downhill is all fun and games on the way; enjoy the free movement and try not to dwell on the return leg to come. 

Before long, you’ll reach a bridge. Only a small one but in a glorious position astride the cross section of stream and river. Even the trees point south to lead you along the riverbank to Bursledon. Feel free to extend your walk that way, but we’re heading north for now: we’ve got a date with a pontoon. 

A short stroll further and you’ll reach said structure. I have fond memories here of lazy summer days dangling feet in the water and the endless cycle of catching and releasing crabs as long as there were snacks in the cool bag. These days my feet are firmly cocooned in woolly socks and wellies and the crabs breathe a watery sigh of relief. But the views remain as beautiful as the first time I saw them. 

On a still winter’s day, the River Hamble is an azure serpent, snaking through the Hampshire hills. Sit on the slats of the pontoon and feel the beast heaving beneath you as it breathes. Watch out for winged wildlife along the shores and riding the ripples of the river. Listen to the roar of another travelling entity as the motorway bridge cuts through the landscape to the south. 

Take a wander further along the coast, minding out for soft mud and tides to round the riverbend. Glance above at the overhanging branches that dare to reach the edge of their comfort zone. The river is so magnetic, everyone and everything is compelled towards it. Let nature take its course and surrender to the pull. 

There are a set of excitingly steep steps, straight out of an Indiana Jones escapade, to lead you back to the woodland path and continue along the bridleway (or extend your wander up to Barnfield and the picnic areas) if you can drag yourself away from the river. I don’t know if it’s the cold winds or the ridiculously bright colours and fresh air energising your very being, but there will very likely be a tear in your eye. 


Cost: Free entry but parking charges apply if you park on site. 

Accessibility: Paths suitable for pushchairs, mobility scooter and wheelchairs if you don’t mind a few bumps. The ground can fluctuate in sogginess and density of fallen leaves. Can narrow in places around gates to the paths out of the park. Reach the park easiest from road (trains and buses stop a good twenty-minute walk away) from the M27 or A27 that merges into Bursledon Road. 

Facilities: Parking available on site for a fee. The small Barnfield kiosk may be open for refreshment emergencies but it’s probably wise to pack your own snacks.


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