words & photos by Katie Isham.
Between Southampton and Eastleigh sprawls much green space. But it’s disappearing. The grassland that was once rampant, is incrementally invaded by housing estates and development. It’d been a few years since visiting the fields I’d once discovered after seeking an alternate car park for The Cricketers (funny how the hand of opportunity works) so a revisit was well overdue.
Chestnut Avenue runs the breadth of Eastleigh: a boundary between northern Eastleigh and southern Stoneham. In the middle of this thoroughfare, lies the aforementioned Cricketers Arms. Opposite the pub, on the southern side of the road is a car park, one that used to open up to playing fields and cricket pitches. Now there’s only houses. It’s a strange sensation when that last view of a place is forever extinguished and what you thought to be true is suddenly memory.
Thankfully, Avenue Park is still standing. From the car park, a small bank leads up to the reserve. This is a significant ground dating back to the 1500s. History is in the earth here.
Enter through the gate. The black metal railings distinguish it as dedicated parkland rather than just fields. These lands were once owned by the Fleming family and in the 18th century, Sir John Fleming sought the services of Capability Brown no less. The famed landscape architect created the undulating meadows and clumps of trees.
Watch carefully as you pass these clusters: this is a wildlife haven. I spotted a bird that was grand in nature but alas, with rudimentary ornithological knowledge, I failed to identify it.
The woodland copses and open fields are ripe for exploration. This loop is just one possible route. Take a stroll up the incline towards the grand building. Pause to reflect on this war shrine to honour those from Stoneham who died in World War 1.
Head down the hill behind the memorial into the woodland. The trees may be bare at this time of year, but they’re buoyed by sunshine, their twisted arms held aloft into a clear blue sky.
Through the trees, another gate guides you out the park. Ahead arises the bright bricks of the new builds. The gnarled trees that stand in falling leaf distance to the front doors look paradoxical, like the march of progress is being challenged to a fight by the old oaks.
To the left is the no-man’s-land between the houses and the woods. Cross this to extend the wander south towards Stoneham Lane. Or bend further left to trail around the edge of Smith’s Pond. This lake is part of the Eastleigh and District Angling Club and although only members may fish here, we can all enjoy the views across the water.
The path stumbles back onto the sandy gravel spilling from the new houses to loop back to the car park. Re-enter Avenue Park through the second gate, returning to the landscaped meadows. Linger to read the information board. This is a particularly comprehensive point of information so you might be advised to bring a chair to rest whilst reading this encyclopaedia of signs.
Once fully informed, take the righthand route around the enclosure. The busy road runs alongside here and although you’ll hear a thundering truck, the trees, hedges and fencing do a pretty good job of insulating us walkers from the commute elsewhere. Distinguished fir trees guide the way as the path slips between the fence and the sprawling sparse brown of winter brambles and shrubbery. Watch out for excitable dogs popping out from behind a bush on their daily mission.
Continue down the grassland and loop back to the left, under some more wintering branches until the shrubland gets denser to join up with the clumps of trees once installed by Capability Brown and currently inhabited by the noisy woodpecker. Recognisable even to amateurs.
New builds may be appearing all around this part of the old North Stoneham, but Avenue Park stands resolute. It has a job to do. It was capably crafted and still serves a daily purpose of providing life and leisure. Let’s hope it stays strong in the march of progress and we won’t get shocked on the next venture through.
Cost: Free walking. Free parking. Free twitching. Costs incurred if you wander across the road to The Cricketers.
Accessibility: Avenue Park is mostly made up of fields and pastureland. Trodden grass paths and woodland walkways lead through the park with a somewhat steep hill up from the gate. Some gravel paths between the park and the estate. The park is just off Chestnut Avenue, at the southern end of Eastleigh. Bluestar buses pass along the avenue but it’s a fair hike to the nearest train station.
Facilities: A car park just off Chestnut Avenue and a pub the other side of the road for any refreshments. Smith’s Pond is managed by Eastleigh and District Angling Club.
For more information: research.hgt.org.uk/item/avenue-park-north-stoneham/
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