By Katie Isham.
A walk through the moors seems like a good idea, until you have to load up backpacks and drive the busy country lanes to the wilderness. Well, here’s the simple solution: take a winter trip to our local moor in the suburbs. Only as far as big Sainsburys. Surely we can all manage that expedition.
Wildern Moor is part of the local nature reserve lying low between the expanding retail parks and sprawling housing estates of Hedge End. It’s just about holding its own in the face of development. Although, as some members of the ‘Friends of’ group I met along the route pointed out, at least one of the gardens opposite displays a plastic lawn: hardly complementary to mother nature in the local area.
Some of the wonderful souls of the Friends of Wildern Local Nature Reserve were also out wandering in the sunshine when our paths crossed. They explained the importance of this Wildern wilderness and the abundance of dragonflies and related creatures. Although that chilly afternoon, it was mostly birds in the binoculars.
And thus, a real safari is in the offing. Keep your eyes peeled for winged creatures of all varieties across the moorland. And of course, there’s plenty of flora to go alongside the fauna.
The car park at Turnpike Way rec ground seems a good place to launch. Head into the nature reserve at Goodall’s Lane and then the namesake’s meadow. The few boards and bridges are soon redundant. After a soggy winter, much of the ground is pure bog, and even with wellies on, socks are in the danger zone. But this is where the adventure is born.
Squelch the paths and duck under fallen trees. A few moss-encrusted beasts breach out of the ground that wouldn’t look amiss in a magical realm rather than the Southampton suburbs. Branches strung with catkins wave in the winter winds. It really feels like a land of fantasy.
The paths narrow as the trees, despite their state of undress, creep freely, and the barely passable ground gets marshier. Try to keep to the paths as they get hidden further by the long grass that then merges into pond rushes. Stay on dry land until reaching the fence and gate posts.
Swerve briefly back towards the pavements, but head right along the path, taking in the pond on the left. Pause at the boarding to enjoy the sights. The long reeds and sparse trees are the perfect location to try to spot some wildlife.
Then rejoin the path, past the stream and gurgling pipes. Bear left at the junction and a long path backing onto the nearby gardens will lead all the way to Wildern Lane. The comparative roar of the road is a little startling, but follow it left again, across the bridge and quickly nip back into the reserve on the next turn.
A short paved stretch and boots will echo on the tarmac, but the light through the bare trees illuminates the way like a catwalk. After a brief walk, the gate and pond appear again. Now time to cross the loop. Retrace steps past the pond (still keeping a beady eye out for winged wayfarers) but this time, head right after the stream.
The avenue of trees invites you onwards. A carpet of mulchy leaves will inspire marching deeper into the woodland. Despite the odd washing line peering over a fence and a random back gate peeking through the ivy, it feels like a real adventure.
A bridge will tempt you (we all know how beguiling bridges can be) with a left-hand diversion through more woodland to emerge onto the contrasting green playing fields of Greta Park. Or ignore the bridge and continue pathwards to return you to the rec ground.
Keep wandering the path under the arching branches of achingly beautiful arboreal lattices and soak up the wild moor atmosphere. Keep an eye out to the right into the heartland of the moor for sights of those suburb dwelling creatures. And keep pinching yourself that this treasure us so close to home.
Moor is more.
Cost: Walking the reserve is free. Free parking in residential streets and Turnpike Way recreation ground car park.
Accessibility: Much of the moor and meadows are currently hard to access due to flooding and muddy conditions. Even with wellies, there are tricky patches. But there is joy in the muddiness. The long stretch along the southern edges, alongside the stream is more solid and like a woodland path suitable for bumpy buggies and chairs. Wildern LNR is located in the heart of Hedge End, just off Turnpike Way, a short drive from junction 7 of the M27. A thirty-minute walk from the train station and several bus routes pass through Hedge End.
Facilities: Lots of nature. Some playground facilities at Turnpike Way Recreation Ground and Greta Park, both abutting the moor. Go with an empty bladder and sweets in your pockets. Shops, theatres, schools and cafes within walking distance if desperately needed.
Visit the Friends of Wildern Local Nature Reserve Facebook page
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