Monday, October 27, 2008

Test Way #4: A shaky start!

Well, today, we finally managed to knock off the first section of the Test Way. It's more than a month since our failed first attempt but at last it's done.

We parked the car at Eling Tide Mill (pictured left) and walked through Totton to the Salmon Leap pub, then all the way across the aforementioned nature reserve, through farmland where we encountered a fierce hailstorm, to Romsey and a very nice lunch.

Perhaps I should leave it there? If I go on, I may put you off walking the Test Way, as (to be brutally honest) it isn't - so far - the most picturesque walk I've ever done!

Yes, there's the nature reserve, but the fact that it was flooded in parts made us take our eyes of the nature to keep concentrating on whether we were about to step off the boardwalk and into a foot of water! And yes, the section between the motorway and Romsey, where we encountered seemingly hundreds of hares running amock on a ploughed field, aswell as a dog that managed to slip its leash and spend ten minutes non-stop chasing them around, is much nicer to look at than the stretch between the nature reserve and the M27. But I will be disappointed if the next 35 miles of the Test Way is as vaguely related to the River Test as the first nine - we hardly saw it at all!!

Anyway, I should mention the challenging bits of this walk. In parts it could only be described as "squelchy", and is probably better attempted in the dryer months. But that is what hardy walking boots are made for, and we didn't really mind at all - it just made it hard going.

We also had to contend with an apparently unpassable break in the nature reserve's boardwalk, through which we could only navigate by climbing onto a gate which someone else then pushed open, allowing us to shimmy along to it and jump across to where the boardwalk restarted! It was certainly an adventure and a couple of our number did seem to suggest going back - but we were hearing none of it!

At another point, the path was unpassable without getting a severe "booty" - a stretch of about 200 yards was completely underwater - so three of us decided to take off shoes and socks and paddle through the water (see picture)! It was painfully chilly, or so my wife reported as I gleefully got through it with only lightly damp socks and boots.

All of this made the walk quite difficult work, but when we got onto Broadlands estate the scenery changed and, apart from 10 minutes hiding under an umbrella-shaped tree during a hailstorm, the sun came out and the whole experience was very pleasant.

And shortly after getting a glimpse of Broadlands House (see photo) through the trees we emerged onto the main road into Romsey, and caught sight of The Cromwell Arms, marking the end of our walk for the day. After lunch we left the Test Way and strolled on into Romsey, catching a train back to Totton and home.

We intend to carry on with the Romsey-Stockbridge stretch in the next month or two, but I can only hope that the overall quality improves... both under foot and in terms of the scenery. With Squabb Wood, Mottisfont and more of the river on offer, I'm sure that it will.

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