Day 12. Kingsclere to Winchester
Running out of Kingsclere I passed many tiny old cottages, but was soon on a country lane moving in a southwesterly direction. We had planned my route for day twelve to again be a mixture of road and trails to avoid long straight country lanes where visibility and safety could be an issue. It also allowed me to cross some interesting parts of the county, such as Watership Down and the villages around the River Dever in Hampshire.
Sidenote * To quickly clarify what a ‘down’ is exactly, the Oxford English Dictionary defines them as: “Ridges of undulating chalk and limestone hills in southern England, used mainly for pasture.” There are many different ‘downs’ across the southern counties of England – and Watership Down in particular was brought to fame by the book of the same name written by Richard Adams, first published in 1972. It’s a classic story that was later brought to life on film, one I remember watching as a child that had me totally gripped, and in tears on numerous occasions!
As I made my way out of Kingsclere I tucked the map under a strap on my running pack for easy access and then soon turned off the road on to the bridleway that led towards the hilly area of Watership Down. Setting out slowly across fairly waterlogged grass fields, where hairy looking horse jumps dotted the edges, I treaded gingerly to avoid slipping on the wet ground. After about half a mile or so I knew a turning on to a footpath was coming up so I moved to take hold of the map – but it was gone! A quick look around resulted in no sign of the map and so the only option was to retrace my steps – almost all the way back to the beginning of the bridleway. Feeling slightly stupid for such a mistake I found the map, in it’s Ziploc plastic bag (adaptation on a map-case), resting against a thick tuft of grass. Thankfully it hadn’t blown completely out of sight and I decided to place it in a more secure zipped pocket – something I should have done in the first place!!
Going back to the footpath for the second time, I reached the section where the land started to rise steadily upwards to the top of Watership Down. The steepness was almost too much for my calf muscles to handle, the stretch starting to edge on what I felt happy with so I slackened my pace to a comfortable walk up the hill – which allowed much more time to take in the view. Along the top of the down there was a stretch of gallops, and although no horses were in sight that day it wasn’t difficult to imagine a training group of horses and their jockeys racing down the sanded tracks, wind in the their ears, nostrils flaring.
I crossed a fence and spotted the familiar figure of Mum who had walked up onto the down as a break from all the driving! We found the triangulation point on the down together (marking the highest point of 237m), took a few photos, and checked the map. The next part of the day included farm tracks and lanes down to the village of Overton, and after that Hunton, Stoke Charity and Micheldever.
Approaching Hunton and Stoke Charity the landscape changed quite dramatically, impacted by the River Dever. The river water was crystal clear due to it’s flint stone bed and long tendrils of green weed gently floated in between the roots of willow trees, reeds and other plants. Mum had been waiting in the car along Hunton Lane, where we spotted a thatch cottage in the middle of a makeover. I quickly asked the men working on the roof how long it would take to complete the re-thatching, and the reply was 4-5 weeks. A massive job requiring mounds of dry straw and skills handed down over generations. As we crossed the river the scene was quite mesmerising, a church surrounded by low lying wetlands dotted with trees. It was a beautiful setting and I felt slightly out of place in modern-age brightly coloured running gear! It was almost as if time had stopped still a couple of hundred years ago and any minute a horse and cart laden with crops would wander round the corner.
The final approach to Winchester felt very long! The road was rolling with climbs and descents that normally would be a breeze but by that stage of the day it was simply a case of mind over the-matter-of-the-knees. There were also sections outside the minster city where signs of damage caused by the recent floods were everywhere – sandbags, dirty water lines and uplifted pavements. In the suburb of Kingsworthy the water was still bubbling up through man-hole covers and drains – basically finding it’s way through any crack it could find.
I eventually arrived in Winchester at the train station late in the afternoon, meeting up with the support car just in time to greet my Dad who had travelled down to join us. Once Dad arrived we all sat down in the station cafe – the first time on the trip that Mum and I had allowed ourselves to switch out of ‘go’ mode – but we still poured over the maps and made plans for the following day. I tucked into the usual chocolate protein shake with a cheese and peanut butter sandwich, followed by a cookie & coffee – such a treat that tasted amazing!! We drove off to our accommodation for the night at a nearby Days Inn, trying not to think too much about the fact that the next day was the last of the run: Winchester to Bursledon, Southampton.