by Katie Isham.
This time of year is synonymous with the bluebell explosion of the British woodland. You’ll find local enclaves at Manor Farm, Victoria Country Park, further out into the New Forest and of course, in the Old Cemetery on The Common. But for now, come explore the rural route leading from Botley to Durley Mill for a journey through the kingdoms and levels of another glorious spring landscape.
Start your bluebell pursuit in Botley Square, a quintessentially cute village suburb. Walk the high street until Winchester Street, then follow this northward. Pass the fire station, turning right after the allotments to join the footpath. Apparently Suburban Safaris must currently include an allotment walk-by.
Skirt past the allotments and pass the giant white Lego brick to lead you into the field zone. This walk tracks very much like a zonal walk. Every few minutes, the landscape changes or you come across a significant landmark; it feels like you’re on a quest video game and you must pass through various lands and complete the challenges to reach the triumphant bluebell prize.
Next is the sheep stage. Walk between two fields on a path ideal for enjoying the scenery including ewes and their lambs circling below the resident pylons in their field. To reach the next level, pass under the railway line through a graffiti daubed tunnel. The framing to expose the lush green field and striking barn on the other side is perfect.
Skip along the line carved by boots on an otherwise flawless green until you reach the farm. Here’s where a wise merchant would sell you supplies in the game. Instead, Popell Farm Shop offers local produce, sweets or a chance to pet a day-old calf. It’s a wonderful pitstop opportunity.
Level up to greet the big cows as you continue along the footpath over a stream and alongside their field. Then pass some more big bodies as you travel through a car scrapyard before dipping down to join the “main” road briefly. Steer right on the tarmac, over a bridge and up Netherhill Lane.
Climb the hill and keep an eye out for the footpath to the right after the houses. Another path leads you between a beautiful garden and a luscious field with views down the valley towards the River Hamble to the right. Soon it opens up via a gate and a welcoming tree only just donning its spring leaves to bring you to the field level. Another green space to frolic across. Head toward the gang of green trees to the right for the final boss level adventure.
Once into the woods, it’s clearly bluebell season. Their dainty heads drooping in the dappled sunlight is like a wistful dream. The blue blends with the neon green of new life alongside white flowers keeping the bluebells company (answers on a postcard for their genus – botany identification skills elude me). Delve deeper into the woodland, down paths lined with spring growth. It feels like a treasure trove worthy of the end of any quest, a place the pixies and fairies would protect with all their might.
Tread carefully as you trespass through their land and across the stile. Down the hill and through another gate will present you with a behemoth of a green giant across the road. A tree that should be a mystical portal with its branches of electric white and green. It’ll point you over a duo of bridges to bring you to a small pond as part of the meandering river. The shallows here are perfect for small feet or muddy paws. Or to sit and watch the calming waters in contentment after completing the bluebell quest game.
Sure, there’s an extension option, following the path to loop around on a longer walk, yet it’s equally satisfying to retrace your steps, noting how far you’ve come and how many realms you’ve passed through on such a short wander.
In fact, on reflection, you might wonder if the reward was the end at all. Maybe the journey was the point of the game all along?
Cost: Free walking route. Some funds needed for supplies in the farm shop en route.
Accessibility: Reach Botley on the eastern outskirts of Southampton from the A334. On several bus routes and the train station is a half mile walk from the square. The walk is mainly on paths or roads and their edges but there are several gates and one stile to navigate.
Facilities: A whole range of adventure on hand and a delightful farm shop along the way to pick up supplies, and greet the cute calves on site. Not forgetting a barrage of bluebells.
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