Sunday, September 14, 2008

Test Way #3 When a bog is actually quite an important place

As I drive home from Southampton to Hounsdown every evening after work, there is a very distinctive section of road between Redbridge and Totton. One reason for it's distinctiveness is that it has a speed camera, and it's that camera that makes the overall distinctiveness stand out, mainly because you have to slow down. And slowing down means you have time to notice the view that's flying past the window.

The bits that really grab your eye, as the road crosses the River Test between Redbridge and Totton, are the massive crate-loading cranes of the container terminal to your left and, on your right, what can only be described as grassy marshland (or perhaps a bog). At least, that's how I could only describe them but, then again, I'm only saying what I see and had never investigated any closer.

There are three parallel bridges over the Test at this point. Firstly, the road bridge that is the main artery from the city to the New Forest; another that carries passenger trains in and out of Totton along the Weymouth to London Waterloo line; and another, the use for which seems to mainly be as a jumping platform for teenagers on hot days, eager to dive into the cold water below. The really interesing thing, however, the thing that makes this part of the journey distinctive, is the distinct lack of buildings.

Basically, you've just driven out of Southampton. You can see it in the rear-view mirror. And you're driving into Totton, which stands unattractively before you. However either side there is nothing at all, apart from water on the left and grassing mashland bog on your right.

This is, essentially, a big natural barrier between Southampton and Totton. If it wasn't for this barrier, Totton would have lost it's status at the biggest village in England (that may well be an urban myth, actually; no-one's ever confirmed it officially to me) and become little more than a suberb of the city.

And now, on this sunny autumn afternoon, having walked a quarter of a mile down The Test Way from The Salmon Leap, we found ourselves stepping onto a rather ricketty looking boardwalk. I realised that it was those same grassy boggy marshlands I pass every day that we were now walking out onto.

The boardwalk itself isn't as ricketty as it looks, but slats are missing in places and, were you to trip at certain points, you'd easily fall into the sloppy mud either side. We made our way tentatively along through gates and barriers to keep grazing animals on the firmer ground.

Eventually we realised that we'd gone rather further than we should have with Ellie's bad hip - although she'd not complained once, so turned back upon reaching the Southampton-Romsey railway line at a foot-crossing.

On the way to this point, however, we'd discovered (thanks to some notice boards and reference to my dad's aforementioned book) that the grassy marshland I'd been driving past daily for years was, in fact, a protected nature reserve and an area of special scientific interest, on account of the fact that, because the freshwater Test meets the saltwater Solent here, there are several uncommon species of plants along with many different types of birds and other creatures.

Amazing what's right on your doorstep, isn't it?

Ellie (6)was fine afterwards, by the way, although her younger sister (4) was moaning a little about her tired legs. On our minds was whether we could quickly organise a weekend away for them with their grandparents, so we could complete the first leg of this walk from home to Romsey. And who knows what after that?

Could it be that, at some point in the future, we'd walk up to Inkpen Beacon having completed the Test Way?

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