Suburban Safari: A drop in the Itchen   

Suburban Safari: A drop in the Itchen   

by Katie Isham.

Dip a toe into the Itchen Navigation. Not literally. Keep your walking boots on. But we’ll wander a small section of the trail that runs alongside the river to get a taste of what those dedicated long-distance walkers find so alluring. 

Start in Bishopstoke, on the edge of Eastleigh town centre. Eastleigh Hub is a sports and recreation facility that sits on the crossroads of the Itchen and the Bishopstoke Road. It’s also a short walk from Eastleigh train station or if you’re driving, there’s a car park attached. 

Our river runs alongside the playing fields. The vast green and brown patchwork squares, coupled with the adjoining children’s playpark, are perfect if you have energetic youths or canines in tow. But watch out for teams of sportspeople. The pitches are in regular use by mud-splattered thighs thundering up and down ever-fading white lines. For fun, I’m told. 

If all this activity is too much, duck out of the car park to the water’s edge to start the calmer walk.

Although, this stretch of the river, is less calm and more reminiscent of the sporting charge occurring on the other side of the hedge. Churning currents spew from the old Stoke lock downstream towards Southampton. We’re heading upstream in defiance of the flow. 

Walk the Itchen Navigation Trail. Pretend you’re one of the hardcore ramblers. For a fleeting moment. Theoretically, you can walk to Winchester from here, but we’re only there for a good time, not a long time. 

A bridge soon appears across the river and the opportunity is too good to ignore. Bridges beg to be crossed. Venture to the other bank and walk on the wild side. One side of the river trail offers a squishy, mulchy terrain accompanied by foliage in winter states of undress and shimmering pools of escaped river flow. The other offers an asphalt path sandwiched between a breeze block wall festooned in graffiti and a metal fence. Leave the trail and head back to the urban adventure. 

Follow the path for a little way along the river until another bridge leads you across the split in the Itchen and along the back of some houses. Keep your envy in check as the gardens unfold onto the riverbank. It’s worth keeping eyes peeled for water voles and kingfishers, but with a garden here, every cup of tea would bring a Naturewatch stakeout. 

Curve around with the path, flanked by brick walls, to a square of green surrounded by more homes. The site of an old church, the remaining crooked headstones edge the green with resilient history. Follow the gravel path across the grass and back onto the pavement of Church Road. Across the thoroughfare, another park and playground try to catch you eye, offering a skatepark as further active temptation. 

Alternatively, follow the path to the right where the river reappears and runs alongside the road railings for all to enjoy. There’s a tiny pebble beach where the summer months bring paddling and splashing opportunities for all. In these dark winter days, even the benches may be too damp to pause and savour the surroundings. 

The route continues roadside where the river edges the traffic and so pedestrians need to take the other side. Shops and pubs line the street and lead you back towards the main road. At the junction here, a glass cabinet displays some of the old machinery from Bishopstoke Mill. Pause to reflect before following the road and the river right to complete the loop. 

Cross another bridge nestled into the main road and it’s time to rejoin the Navigation trail. Sure, the ten odd miles to Winchester are a possibility if time and packed snacks are plentiful. But for most of us, time and energy are in short supply, especially this time of year. Fret not if you can’t set out on an expedition; any short adventure you can squeeze in is a bonus. 

Every small wander along a wintry riverbank lined with golden branches and mushy leaves accompanied by a little sun, constant chill and even a little drizzle will make the snuggling up on the sofa later all the more rewarding. Mild adventures for the win. 


Cost: Free for the walk. The Hub car park has a nominal cost at certain times. Take along pocket money for any refreshment stops. 

Accessibility: The path on this stretch of the navigation trail is bumpy but passable albeit a little soggy underfoot at present. Once off the trail, there are paved paths and a gravel track to divert around the park. 

Facilities: The Hub has a car park and assorted sport and community facilities including a playground. On the return leg of the route, you’ll find another playground with added skatepark followed by assorted shops and facilities including two pubs and a chippy. 


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