As we are staying a couple of extra days in The Firs; the sky was leaking badly; and I had been inspired by my walk with Paul (see 4th. September), I decided to take one of the walks in the AA 1,001 walks in UK. which I had bought at Mottisfont on 7th. September. Since I was going to get wet anyway, I thought the Alresford ‘Watercress Walk’ which partly follows the river Arle and runs alongside the famous watercress beds, looked the best possibility. A pair of decent walking shoes now seeming a good investment, Jackie drove me to Hedge End where I bought a pair in Cotswolds. Not having bought a new pair of shoes for quite a long time, I was amazed to find I now take a 12. Having been wearing 10 1/2 for most of my life, I had on the most recent occasion, purchased an 11, but that, I’d imagined was only because the shop didn’t stock 10 1/2. Apparently one’s feet lengthen and spread as one gets older. My chauffeuse then took me to Alresford, setting herself up with a newspaper and puzzles for the wait for my return. It was by now, fairly chucking it down. In the car she had asked me if my comparatively new raincoat had a hood. I didn’t know. I soon learned that I was not a hoodie.
So far, so good. Having walked through the town with Jackie, I left her seeking shelter whilst I trotted off down the hill in North Road. Almost immediately I managed to take a wrong turn and walk along what I thought was the correct bank of the Arle. A famous cottage I was meant to pass remained elusive, and I realised that the footpath seemed to have river either side of it. Perhaps I was on the wrong side. I backtracked and tried again. When Fulling Mill Cottage, straddling the river, came into view, I realised that I was now on the right track. Keeping no-one but the ducks company I continued on and around the river bank. One unusual phenomenon made me pleased I had taken the waterproof option with the shoes, and had chosen to wear my gardening trousers. At certain points the footpath ran under the river. It wasn’t actually meant to be that way. It was simply the swollen river asserting itself. Jessica had vainly spent thirty years trying to get me into green wellies. Maybe I should have bought some. Or perhaps, given the spreading of the feet, flippers might have come in handy.
As there seemed to be several parallel streams to this river, and I wasn’t quite sure when a bridge was a bridge, I constantly studied the map provided with the book. The purchase includes a plastic envelope to hang round your neck into which the relevant detachable page can be inserted. I had thought it was waterproof, however, nothing was going to keep the torrent out. Never mind, the sheet soon dried out on a radiator on my return.
I really must either learn to read these maps, or buy a pedestrian satnav like Paul’s. My next problem was finding Wayfarers Walk. I had to take a right turn. Surely it couldn’t be that thin track with a green bit of farm machinery forming a barrier across it? It doesn’t have a road sign. Neither does the much wider road I was now travelling along. Deciding it couldn’t, I continued straight ahead looking for the correct turning. I didn’t find one until I came to a T-junction with Winchester Road. The road I had walked up turned out to be Drove Road. I crossed the main thoroughfare, dripped my way into DB Curtains, and disappointed the staff by asking for directions rather than fabrics. The gentleman there most helpfully guided me back the way I had come, accurately describing the barrier, which I needed to walk around to enter Wayfarers Way. The barrier was to deter motor vehicles from attempting to use the footpath, which was a rough one, effectively a layer of flint. The mountain bike ridden by a helmeted cyclist with a mud-spattered face who approached me some way into the green tunnel, was one of the few which could have managed this terrain.
Now I had to find Fobdown Farm. At the far end of Wayfarers Walk was positioned another barrier. Passing this I had to continue along other tracks. No signs. Just tracks. From the not very detailed map, I had to pick the right one. I did. As I rounded the farm, my next human being approached me from behind. He was a truck driver looking for another farm. His satnav wasn’t proving very useful. Neither was I. I flourished my map necklace and said I was ‘struggling myself with this’. We shared a laugh, and I left him to a farmhand. Turning right beside the farm buildings I wrestled with the problem of when is a track ‘established’ or not. I mustn’t have understood the terminology, for this was my next wrong move. I should have been on a gentle descent past the watercress beds into Old Alresford. After a while it became clear that this wasn’t the case. Especially when it developed into a less than gentle upward track. Doing my best to ignore a farm machinery barrier which looked rather familiar, I soldiered on. Eventually I realised I was lost. All these tracks looked the same. They were all made of flint. There were even the same bits of broken branch lying in similar positions.
Ah……… No….. It couldn’t be. Could it?
Knowing by now that I would not make our rendezvous in time, or perhaps, ever, I decided to phone Jackie. By this time the rain had stopped and I saw two women approaching me along the path. I abruptly finished the conversation with Jackie so I could ask for help. As they approached, I greeted them with: ‘You know where you are going. Do you know where I am going?’. One didn’t get the joke and said she didn’t know. Her companion replied: ‘Yes. You are going to Alresford for a nice cup of tea and a scone. That’s where we’ve just been’.
What relief. Perhaps I was retracing my steps. I was warned that I would be in trouble if I didn’t have waterproof shoes. The river was overflowing. I pointed to my shoes and trousers and said I had already been that way. We said our farewells and I continued along increasingly familiar ground. Then I came across the second (actually the first) barrier. I had indeed again walked down Wayfarers Way. Although I knew them from having passed them in the car on the way down from Morden, I never did find the watercress beds, despite having added a good third onto my journey.
I was soon back in Alresford where Jackie was patiently waiting in the car park. We made our way to the Flower Pots Inn at Cheriton, hoping for a recommended lunch, only to find that the kitchen was closed because they shut at 2.30. This was just after 1.45. The beer in this micro brewery was excellent. George, a rather aged old hound, scratched his way into the small bar; we tried to ignore the customers tucking into tasty-looking platefuls in the next room; drank up quickly; and drove to the Farmer’s Home in Durley where we were served excellent grills, Ringwood beer, and diet coke.
This evening Danni made a visit and served up a spicy pork casserole which we all enjoyed. Roc des Chevaliers was also consumed.