Thursday, 5 July 2012

The Avon Valley Path

I was going to write about gardening within the business, planting down at the allotment (finally!) and such like,  but to be honest, the weather has been so consistently bad over the last few weeks that there really isn't much to write about. I don't know if anyone other than those living in the UK is aware, but we are having a record amount of rain. It's very depressing, there is no schedule now, and when work has been possible, there have been 9.30pm finishes. Some other companies that I know, mostly in the landscape business, have gone under, as it's been impossible to meet customers needs, and income has been non-existent.

So I thought that I would relive the last weekend through this post.
We had the weekend off, it was forecast to be dry for some of it, and so with a couple of suitable Bed and Breakfasts booked along the way, we set off to walk the Avon Valley Path. This is quite a long post, as there is so much to see on this walk, and I have only shown a little of it.

At 34 miles long, it allows for a complete escape for a short period of time, and is a continuous series of footpaths, bridleways and tracks following the River Avon from Salisbury Cathedral to Christchurch Priory through rich countryside. And so, with rucksack packed, we caught the bus out to our starting point, Salisbury Cathedral, and had a very early croissant and coffee breakfast in the cafe beofre setting off.

The path is signposted all of the way with an array of different types of marker, and it wasn't long before we came across our first main one. Although Christchurch was still some way off, we had arranged our first stop in Downton, about eight miles away.

It was  wonderfully sunny, and with a strong and cool breeze, a real tonic after the weeks that we have been having. It was lovely to just walk and talk with Amanda for such a long time, with no distractions other than the sound of birds, and sharing our interest of wild flowers.

By way of celebrating the unspoilt countryside that the path goes through, some local school children had designed this beautiful bench, that is now tucked away to one side on this 'secret path'.

There were fields and fields of wheat and barley, and I just felt like running through it, but I think the farmer may have had something to say!

It made me think of the scene in the film Gladiator, as, like Maximus Decimus Meridius, we walked along while letting our hands run through it. 

Heracleum sphondylium (Common Hogweed)


 Agrimonia eupatoria (Agrimony)

Around every corner was another eye catching scene to meet the eyes. Just to the left there is a small house, and watching us, as we stared down though this tree lined path, was a little white, scruffy terrier. Not making a sound, but just watching us go about our business. maybe he/she too was just so chilled out with the surroundings?

Along one farm track we came upon this lovely cottage. The garden was just a messy, higgledy piggledy array of interesting bits, random planting, pots with flowers, fruit and vegetables, and this wonderful fellow to greet new arrivals!

Onopordum acanthium (Cotton Thistle)

Malva sylvestris (Common Mallow)

We had just crossed a very long field, through a very large herd of cows. The gate had said to be cautious because there was a bull with them, but we couldn't see one. Before going through the gate and continuing on our journey we decided to take a breather by these tree trunk to check our progress. 'Gary' said Amanda. 'Ummm' said I. 'Isn't that a bull coming at us?' said Amanda

'YEP!' And so we calmly made our way to the gate and over the stile. OK, maybe more like a mad and panicky dash, as the bull continued after us.

The pictures aren't necessarily in the correct order, as it really doesn't matter. Here in the quiet and peaceful village of Charleton-all-Saints, apart from a very old church, is this phone box. One of the old type long since abandoned by it's phone, and now a place where the passer by can collect a book, and make whatever donation to the village one feels appropriate. The English eccentricity eh? Brilliant!

Every now and then the path would bring you right up close to the River Avon itself. By now building into a deep and fast flowing river as it wound itself through the countryside.

And eventually right under the building that we were staying for our first night, The Watermill Bed and Breakfast in Downton. Mandy and Colin, the owners, had given us the suite in the highest part of the building, with incredible views down the river. The area of tree to the left is an island belonging to them, and accessible by a wooden footbridge. Did we go over?......of course we did!

Looking to the left from the same window are some lovely old houses by a tributary.

It felt good to take the boots off and get into trainers. And of course we just had to have some tea.

Dipsacus fullonum (Teasel)

Linum usitatissimum (Linseed)

Wherever possible, farmers keep the path clearly visible, so that stray walkers don't do any damage by wandering, often resulting in some quite extraordinary effects.

Papaver rhoeas (Common Poppy)

Verbascum nigrum (Dark Mullein)

Amanda took great delight, and several photographs, while watching me try to negotiate this bramble covered stile with a heavy rucksack. By I kept my dignity (who am I kidding). Still, it provided a moments entertainment for someone...... grrrr!

And we enter Hampshire, and the New Forest.

Cirsium palustre (Marsh Thistle)

Only very occasionally does the path take you onto a lane, and these are so quiet that we could happily stroll hand in hand as we soaked up the air.

Hale House, a place along the route, is rather odd. Still lived in, but in a state of disrepair, it tells of a once glorious estate. And the path goes straight down here! Really quite an eerie experience.

And behing the house is this exquisite little church. It was Sunday, and we had watched people leave as we approached, and were subsequently told by a lovely lady still there, that we had just missed tea and biscuits.....bah....maybe next time. It's baroque and renaissance architecture make it a rather unusual looking church, perhaps even unwelcoming on the outside.

But inside that couldn't be more from the truth. Very obviously used by all generations of locals. I rather liked these chairs for the little ones, arranged around the font.

Digitalis purpurea (Common Foxglove)

And just after the church, I noticed a little track going off to one side. Feeling like investigating a little, I took Amanda along with me, and we came across a little bridge, with this unexpected view of the river, which we hadn't realised was so close, as it runs silently along.

Not all of the waymarkers are large. The standard type are the little badge that you see below, with the green bridge symbol for the Avon Vally Path. These are attached to whatever they can be attached to, and generally point in the direction you should go. In this case, it was attached to this little post, and tucked almost out of sight among tree roots by the side of the lane. It's important to keep your eyes open for every marker!

Silene dioica (Red Campion)

So many little cottages in this area of trees in the New Forest, that a sign was needed to guide arrivals, and what a sign! It was raining at this point, and our rather splendid giant rainbow umbrella was up!

Symphytum officianale (Purple Comfrey)

It was now halfway through our second day, and pouring with rain. The umbrella had to go down to cross this miniature suspension bridge on the approach to Fordingbridge. The whole thing swayed left to right, and up and down, as it crossed the big river underneath, quite unsettling.

We had several miles still to go until we reached our next nights stop, a 400 year old pub in Ringwood, but the rain continued throughout the rest of the day, and alas the camera had to go away, and we rely on our memories of this wonderful river walk. The rain continued even more heavily for the third and final day, and so on waking up in the pub, we decided to call it a day, and do the final nine miles another day. We had a fantastic breakfast, and then set off back home on the bus, full of thoughts of everything we had seen over the last couple of days. And yes, the rain carried on for the few days to come until yesterday, Thursday, which was blissfully sunny and warm, and work got done and was good. Although not sunny, today promises to at least be dry, and so I had better go and rouse my beautiful wiffe from her slumber, so that we can get something done. Thank you for walking with me along this path, and I hope some of you get the chance to do it yourselves someday.

I do just have one question. This plant is a bit of a puzzle to us. It was en-masse at the edge of a field, and had vetch like foliage. We think it may be Tufted Vetch, but the stamens are particularly long. Can ANYONE confirm this, or give us it's actual name please? 

Take care out there!


  1. You should have trotted a float down the river. Yes, the onopordum is magnificent!

  2. What a treat. I love the idea of a trail like this where one can enjoy the countryside with stops along the way to stay over.
    That wheat is really rolling. Just like it does here.
    Funny meeting up with the bull. They're nothing to mess with but believe me when I say a momma cow when you mess with her calf is much more dangerous.
    What a great B&B on the river and the linseed field is lovely. All that purple!
    Thanks for sharing your hike. If we ever get that way...

  3. Good for you guys to enjoy trips like that together! Many people only get to dream about it! Keep it up..and when you get sick of that rain. .we would really, REALLY like to have some too. .we have been exceptionally dry for 2 years now! Neither situation is ideal for anyone is it!! Too much and too little! Have a great weekend.

  4. Gary,
    Should you ever tire of gardening and plants you “must” take up travel writing. You have such a wonderful way a taking us along with you guys that it almost feels as one is actually following along side you. And you always take us to the most wonderful places.

    I glean so much from your postings, be it learning planting and pruning technique, artful plant placement or the history of some location. Thank you for sharing so much beauty and information with us all. – gary

  5. I thought from the beginning that you two were walking 34 miles in one day! Still quite a feat, my husabnd has such bad knees he could never make it. Wonderful adventure, very romantic. Hope the rain lets up for you over there, take care~Gina

  6. Rob, next time my time!

  7. Sherlock, if you ever get over this way then give me a bell and we can all do a chunk of it together!

  8. Hi Gina,
    I will let you into a secret. In my younger days (30s), I used to do this whole 34 mile walk in nine hours, time testing for other events. I have slowed down a bit now though.

  9. Hi Melanie,
    We are having more than enough rain to go around, it's making things very difficult indeed. Thanks for dropping in.

  10. Hi Gary,
    Thanks so much for those kind and generous words. I too enjoy reading about the goings on at Fox Paw, although it looks like you guys have had a pretty rough time of it lately!

  11. I loved following this walk with you, and particularly all the wild flowers.

  12. Hi Linda,
    Glad you enjoyed it. I must admit that we are looking forward to finishing it in drier weather. Take care