by Katie Isham.
Start this exploration in the centre of Romsey, the market town northwest of Southampton. Don’t worry though, we’re not staying amongst the hustle and bustle of the town centre. We’re heading out to the suburbs.
From the centre, travel east along The Hundred, one of the most dramatic road names in a town full of grand monikers. The houses and general architecture along here fit such impressive labels. Turn right into The Harrage for more beauty in the buildings as well as the sprawling gardens. Manicured lawns, bright flowerbeds and blossoms cascading everywhere. A most picturesque housing estate.
Slip through the small cutway at the far end to bring you onto the main road before steering right towards the bypass roundabout. Cross the road to lead you towards the allotments. Romsey allotments are as twee as you imagine. Rows of cane pyramids and lopsided sheds accompany your journey along the pathway. Don’t forget to hug the grand oak tree on the left that resembles an escapee from an enchanted forest.
Take this pathway sandwiched between the allotments bursting with growth and wellington-clad gardeners to nod hello to on one side, and the stream offering ducks and even a lesser-spotted aquatic trolley on the other. An idyllic walkway through suburban England.
The path will lead you under the railway bridge where no matter how tall you are, stooping is required. Again, houses surrounding the path are picture postcard worthy. Once through the path, bear right and head up the hill of Botley Road. This gets steep quickly so get your legs powering.
As the cemetery looms into sight on the left of the hill, don’t be tempted to head straight there: we’re taking the scenic route. To the right you’ll spot a set of secret steps leading into nothing but foliage. Trust me and climb the concrete slope.
Through the woods follow the winding path left, towards a clearing. Mind the big tree stump. Then ahead there’s a grove of oak trees. In their current spring attire, they are on the cusp of unfurling into neon green life. Pass between these sleeping giants waking from their winter slumber to open out onto the playing field.
Ahead lies a green expanse of possibility. Playing, running, exercising, laughing, barking, tweeting and always growing. For at the foot of the field lies the Whitenap Community Orchard. Cherries, pears, plums and of course, many varieties of apple, planted, nurtured, blooming and harvested by local volunteers. It’s a delight to see without even tasting its bounty. This is the real beauty of community.
Cross the field of activity to return to Botley Road. Across the traffic, it’s time to slow things down with a visit to Romsey Cemetery. A public facility established in Victorian days, this is a fine specimen of a graveyard. Wander the lines of graves to pay respect and to dip into the stories of history. The buildings here are a wonder. An Italianate and a gothic chapel live together in grandeur alongside the equally stunning firs, yews, monkey puzzles, as well as the blisteringly beautiful cherry blossoms.
It may seem on the macabre side, but there’s a lot of peace to be found in these places: like a park with less youthful brouhaha and more chance of spotting a rare bird. Find a seat to listen to the birds sing laments to those who have passed whilst hearing the distant shrieks of the playground across the road.
Surrounded on three sides by houses and on the fourth by the playing field, this is certainly a cemetery surrounded by community. Life and death are so closely linked and yet we get squeamish when we think about dying. The only thing certain in life is death.
That and the joy found in a bloody good walk on a bright spring day. Let’s go for the latter for now.
Cost: Free to walk the route and access to the cemetery.
Accessibility: Paved streets, narrowed and with a height restriction at some points. The steps can be bypassed by entering the field a little further up the hill on the main path. The woodland path is bumpy but passable, as is the field with a possibility of mud. The cemetery is open to the public from dawn to dusk. Reach Romsey from Southampton along a trifecta of A roads or via regular train services. The station is in the northern stretch of the town.
Facilities: Romsey town has a whole raft of facilities to suit your every need. Along the route there is also a convenience store and within the park there is a playground, fitness equipment and the glorious orchard.
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