by Katie Isham.
This may seem like a rural safari, but we’re just ahead of the curve. The suburbs are coming. Out on the periphery of Southampton, on the other bank of the River Hamble, housing estates are multiplying, stealing space from green fields for our ever-increasing population. The ceramic looking structures are new additions, but they are adjacent to a somewhat ancient woodland. And the exciting news is that the forest is growing too.
Curbridge Nature Reserve sprawls on the east bank of the Hamble, its woodland wares rambling across fields and down to the shore. Start adventuring at the Burridge recreation ground car park. Only a fifteen-minute drive from the east of Southampton, you’ll feel like you’re in another land. Cross the rec ground field towards the entrance to the cricket club and meet the National Trust greeting signs. Take the track to begin the loop.
Veer left at the first gate into the field of trees. They may be fledgling trees, but what they lack in might, they make up for in number. This is a field of dreams: dreams of keeping this part of our world green and flourishing. The National Trust have been working to conserve this area as a Site of Specific Scientific Interest by rerouting the paths and planting a whole field of trees. Walk amongst the forest of the future and imagine the life that will come and go as these trees grow.
The ground here is squelchy at best. Sturdy, waterproof footwear is essential, but it’ll be worth pulling on the wellies. Take note of the tiny baby Sequoia in the middle of the field. It may be no bigger than a table-top Christmas tree now, but it’ll dwarf us all one day…
At the far end of the field, steer left into the woodland realm. Wander along the paths to walk alongside the water. Catch glimpses of the river as you flow in opposite directions. Follow the soggy ground down steps and across roots deeper into the forest. There are vistas here of the rainforest landscape that once covered this area; ponder whether you’re more likely to spot a dinosaur or a fairy peeking out from the ferns.
The route soon heads downhill towards the riverbank. Carefully cross bridges and a network of boardwalks sandwiched between muddy quagmires as the Hamble reveals itself in its full beauty. Once on the lower level, it’s time to turn back to join the flow of the water on the return leg. Peek out from behind fallen trees living their best horizontal life and spy on the paddleboarders and kayakers messing about on the river.
The map and signpost at the entrance to the reserve labels the edge of the water as a “beach” (quotation marks included) so don’t expect room for a parasol. The sliver of shingle allows a small platform to get alongside the water, once the overhanging branches and inviting mud flats have been successfully navigated. But this only adds to the sense of adventure.
To walk the whole loop, including the return leg past the grazing field, may only be around a 2km journey, but it’s a good old romp. There’s mud, slopes, bridges, a “beach”, dangerous roots, boardwalks (plural for your pleasure), more mud and enough mild peril to make you feel like you’ve been on a real adventure whilst making it home in time for tea.
Once you make it back up the lane and past the cricket club, you’ll see the looming new builds on the horizon. Progress is progressing. People need homes but we need trees too. Go wander between the ancient woodland and the new plants that will one day, when we’re long gone, become the new ancients. Be part of the right kind of progress.
Cost: Free access and free parking.
Accessibility: This is a wellies at the ready walk. Unfortunately, this walk would not be suitable for wheels. The current state of the ground is squelchy to say the least. Even if it were dry underfoot, there are quite a few steps, slopes and uneven ground. However, despite it being only about a 2km loop, the adventurous going makes it seem like a proper romping stomp for those who are fortunate enough to don a walking boot. Start the walk from the car park at Burridge recreation ground, just off Botley Road and next to the cricket club.
Facilities: Car park at Burridge recreation ground. A children’s playground and a free to use tennis court attached. No toilets or refreshments. BYOC.
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