by Katie Isham.
The leaves of the calendar are falling as their tree-based counterparts tumble to the ground; October is here and the season is perfect for booted adventures through a forest. No need for extended rural journeys when you can safari through the suburbs and step straight into the local woodland.
Netley Common is, confusingly, not particularly close to Netley, but it is common land, ripe for tramping across. This is a pocket of forest that has seemingly been bypassed by the building of housing estates, roads and roundabouts encircling it. Pick a glorious autumnal day to go explore it.
This woodland is a local nature reserve and is a tapestry of British habitats. Enter from the car park off Kane’s Hill or, if you’re more local, wander in from the pavements of Thornhill. Once across the threshold of the reserve, the outside world fades away; the trees cocooning life from the roar of the roads.
Gravel paths lead through the trees into the autumnal enclave. Much of the ground is already crunchy underfoot with acorns and chestnuts. The local squirrels must be delighted. Fences break the lines of trees, and open gates welcome explorers into the heart of the heathland.
Fields of heather bursting with colour, sprawling gorse bushes crackling with yellow whilst sheltering lizards, adders and a whole host of insects; despite the cooler weather, even a butterfly joined the adventure. In days gone by, animals grazed this land but, on this visit, squirrels were the only visible mammals (two whippets doing reluctant circuits with their owner notwithstanding).
A landscape not unlike the New Forest, it’s easy to lose yourself on a wander through here. There’s a main path that follows the old Roman road but choose any number of the side routes to draw a web of wander with your footsteps. Pause to appreciate the striking trees towering over the intricate scrubland: beauty on every level.
At one point, the path is flanked by a parade of trees on one side and a bright blue fence on the other. This keeps the students of Hightown Primary School out of the woods but it must surely fan the flames of inquisitive, impressionable imaginations. Writing stories of woodland adventures on your doorstep would never be easier.
Not that the common itself isn’t full of its own stories. The history of this place runs as deep as the oaks’ roots.
In the southern corner of the reserve, several mounds rise from the ground. These innocuous looking grassy knolls are bronze age barrows living side by side with 1980s housing estates. History with every step.
Indeed, a little further wandering around the periphery will take you past one of the legendary Southampton boundary stones, festooned with newly fallen leaves. Spot it whilst the leaves haven’t completely camouflaged it.
There’s a possible detour branching off, down to the stream that’s more a ditch at present, over a bridge (everyone loves a bridge, even if currently unnecessary) and up a hill into Dumbleton’s Copse. Grand gatherings of giant trees sway in the wind, mirroring the pylons close by. Embrace the symmetry of engineering and arboretum.
This is a beautiful trek right on the doorstep. Flanked by main roads, punctuated by pylons and sneakily accessible via a housing estate, it’s a nature reserve that hides its light under a bushel. Discover the autumn light shining bright in the forgotten forests of the Southampton suburbs.
Cost: Free for the walking. Free parking in the small car park.
Accessibility: The car park is accessed just off the Kane’s Hill stretch of the A27 toward the Bursledon roundabout. Netley Common can also be reached on foot straight off the pavements around the Hightown end of Thornhill. The paths are gravel or foresty floor with some odd roots on odd routes, suitable for more robust wheels. Some of the routes have a gate to pass and there are steps down to a bridge across the stream if you are extending the adventure to Dumbleton’s Copse.
Facilities: Car park available with added bonus of pothole puddles. No toilets or refreshments. A diversion to nearby Thornhill, Hedge End or Bursledon will be needed if you have any of these pressing needs. Otherwise, bring pocket sweets for the journey.
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