On A Mission

Geoff at Ashley Heath 2.13On another cold dull grey day I put off my walk until after lunch.  Jackie drove me to Ashley Heath, left me there, and I walked back along the Castleman Trailway (see 10th December 2012) to meet her in the Ringwood carpark.  She dropped me off in the One Stop general store.  I realised how aptly named this was when, immediately behind it, I found the site of Ashley Heath obsolete railway halt.  This was on the stretch which runs to Poole, so I crossed Norton Road to follow the path to Ringwood.Castleman Trailway ditch 2.13  The whole of this two and a half mile length is bordered on the right by a deep and wide trench.  Much of this has been to some extent filled in over the years by fallen leaves and other greenery.  It currently carries much rainwater. Ashley Heath moat bridge (1) 2.13Castleman Trailway moat bridge 2.13Ashley Heath moat bridge (2) 2.13 Where buildings back onto this ditch, many of them, especially those homes in Ashley Heath, have gates in their fences and bridges across the cleared out moat, giving their owners access to the trailway and forest beyond.  Dog walkers are always in evidence.  Some way along the track, where there is no sign of habitation, there are the remains of a small concrete shelter.  It contains the usual modern graffiti, but has clearly been there since before spray cans or felt tip pens were invented.  What is it?  I wondered.  Not really big enough for people waiting for trains.  Maybe an emergency phone box?  No wiring in evidence, but then there wouldn’t be by now.  Any ideas, anyone?Castleman Trailway concrete shelter 2.13

As I neared Ringwood the birdsong was first joined and then gradually drowned by the shrill clamour of schoolchildren approaching.  Chaperoned by three adults they came tripping, bounding, dawdling, and lagging along the trail.   I asked one of the escorts if this was a field trip.  No, it was just a walk.  That certainly beats being cooped up in a classroom.

When he read that I was walking along the Castleman Trail to Ashley Heath, Geoff Austin told me that he had done the same thing some years ago after his parents had retired to that village.  Recently he unearthed the photograph that appears at the top of this post.  In the picture he is hamming up waiting for a train at the extinct railway halt.  He sent me the photo and said he would be interested to know whether the sign was still in situ.Ashley Heath halt 2.13  Not only is it still there, but it has been cleaned and tidied up.  Not just by the removal of my old friend.

John Conway's tomb protection 2.13Walking through the Meeting House Lane shopping centre in Ringwood I was pleased to see that the tomb of John Conway ( see post of 30th November 2012) is at last receiving the protection it deserves.  Tasteful iron railings were being installed.

We dined on roast duck breasts this evening.  Possibly the most succulent yet non-fatty I have ever tasted.  I finished the Carta Roja.

After this we watched episode 3 of the second series of ‘Call the Midwife’.

The Avon In Spate

There are nine very tall panels to our bay window where the dining table is situated.  This gives us a kind of treble tryptich view of the beautiful lawns and trees beyond.  Over lunch we watched a pied wagtail running around, it’s bobbing appendage providing evidence of the aptness of its name.  A robin was hopping in the background.

Having to wait in for TV technicians, we did not go out until mid-afternoon.  Jackie drove us to Ringwood where she went shopping and I went walking.  From the main car park I walked through Meeting House Shopping Centre, across the High Street, and down Kings Arms Lane to Riverside Walk, along the bank of the river Avon and back to the car park to meet Jackie for our return home.John Conway's tomb 11.12  Still standing in the shopping centre is John Conway’s tomb.  It looks to be about eighteenth century, but is now worn illegible.  Instead of grass and daisies it is adorned by bricks, chewing gum spots, and dog-ends.  The other night it bore an empty drinks can.

Tree in pond, Ringwood 11.12At the end of Kings Arms Lane a village green now has a pond which surely wasn’t planned.  A bare tree does a dance on its surface.

As I approached the actual riverside I was amazed to see the path I would have expected to walk along completely submerged and the gate to it padlocked. Riverside Walk, Ringwood 11.12 Trees sprung out of fast-flowing water and, as Jackie put it when seeing other such waterlogged fields, tufts of greenery stood up like the marsh symbols on Ordnance Survey maps. I walked around some houses and crossed a bridge which had a torrent running only just beneath it.  The Walk itself was on a high enough level to be traversible, but either side of it the terrain was covered with water, with streams pouring into fields.  This was a combination of the Millstream and the River Avon.  It was hard to tell which was which.

Ponies awaiting rescue 11.12As I gazed across a field that was now a lake, I saw two ponies apparently tethered to a horse box on one of the few areas of solid ground.  I wondered if they were about to be rescued from a watery grave.

Walking left along the riverside I came to a road and turned back to follow the other direction, meeting a friendly man who told me some of the local history.  It was he who confirmed I had been watching the Millstream and the River Avon.  He was walking his two small terriers.  This was Mike Hooper, who turned out to have been working at Paddington Station in the 1970s when I had been working in the area.  He had lived in Ringwood for the last twelve years and had never seen the area so flooded.  He said the water level was usually three feet below the bridge I had crossed.  He pointed out new houses at risk of flooding, and a caravan site where the residents needed to wear Wellington boots to cross to their field.  Another man’s huge garden had become a lake.  He told me there had been twenty ponies in the now waterlogged field not long ago, and that they were being moved out.  They had been standing in water.  He thought the two I had seen were probably the last of the group which had been being kept in a field rented from the farmer who owned the land.Swan on field, Ringwood 11.12  Swans, egrets, and other water birds now claimed residence.

After I parted from Mike I saw some activity at the horsebox.  The ponies were being coaxed into it.Pony being led into box 11.12  I spoke to the woman doing this.  She was a very pleasant person who was the owner of all the ponies who had been in the field.  These were the last two being removed.  There had been twenty one in all, and I was watching  ‘the awkward ones’.  One had developed a certain lameness since yesterday.  Whilst the woman, Jeanie, was talking to me, one of her horses emerged from the box.  We were leaning on a stile some yards away.  ‘Get back in that box’, said Jeanie, kindly but firmly.  Like a reluctant dog being told to sit, the animal lifted a tentative hoof, and reluctantly, stutteringly, began to comply.  I learned from Jeanie that the forest ponies, although roaming free, are actually owned by people who have ‘forest rights’.  There are sales of them just as there are of other livestock.  She has some in the forest and some in fields.  On a couple of occasions she has recognised her own ponies in photographs in the media.  A local newspaper has put some on disc for her.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s superb roast pork with crunchy crackling.  I drank more of the McGuigan Bin 736 whilst Jackie preferred the English Three Choirs Annum 2011.