The Itchen Navigation

It’s been a few months (4!) since I’ve actually been out on a long walk.  Despite thinking I’d get loads of walking done in summer, I seem to have done even less than normal.  Hey ho.  One walk I was keen to do, since it starts fairly close to me is the 10.4 mile walk along the Itchen Navigation trail.  The Navigation was a commercial waterway used to carry goods in barges from Southampton to Winchester.  Although it hasn’t been used as such in over 140 years, it is possible to walk alongside the existing Itchen river, and areas which no longer hold water but show where the canal once flowed.  In 2007 £1.6m of Lottery funding was granted to the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust in order to build a Heritage trail along the Navigation route, and this work was completed in 2012.  The Southampton Canal Society has a lot of great information about the Navigation, including a lot more about its history for anyone that’s interested!

While the trail actually starts in Northam, I opted to start at Woodmill, which is about half a mile from Swaything train station.  Woodmill Outdoor Activity Centre is located right by the trail, and when I arrived there were a few people easing themselves into kayaks for a wee paddle up the river.  This is is also next to Riverside Park, which I don’t think I’ve visited since I lived down here in 2000!  I had a map of the trail printed out on a piece of paper, but soon realised it wasn’t necessary as the route is well signposted along the way.

Itchen Navigation Heritage Trail signs

The first mile or so was really busy with dog-walkers, kids running about and lots of people just out for a stroll on what was a fairly sunny day.  Just as I approached an underpass which take you under the A27 road, a huge shower came through.  I managed to hide under the bridge and get my jacket on as it eased off.  I continued on, and from that point was on my own for the next few miles.  The first thing I noticed was how remote I felt from civilisation, even though I was only a mile or so from the main M27 motorway and indeed Southampton airport.  The trail goes under the M27, and the route to the underpass adds an extra half mile on to the original trail length.  Just before I reached it, I could hear the cars thundering past the motorway before suddenly hearing the roar of a departing aircraft from the airport.  It felt close enough to touch.  It made me realise that no matter how many times I drive up & down the M27, I’ve never given any consideration to the walks or beauty spots just a stones through away from either side of the motorway.  Once I’d crossed the motorway, it didn’t take long before the traffic sounds died down, and it was only the occasional aircraft noise that made me realise I was still pretty close to civilisation.

A few showers passed through, but then it started to dry off so back off with the rain jacket and the rest of the walk was happily dry.  We recently got a company performance related bonus at work, so while most of it went straight to debt, I used a bit of it to buy myself a new Osprey Stratus 36L rucksack.  I didn’t particularly need the space for this walk, but wanted to try it out and I’m happy to say it’s great and comfy to use.  I want to use this for the South Downs Way, as I’ll not be camping along the way, so don’t need to carry a tent & all the necessary accoutrements.  I didn’t see that many people for most of the walk, and only one couple passed me going in the same direction, although eventually quite a few people were out for a walk along the towpath in a southerly direction.  I could never manage to get a decent photo, but I was lucky enough to see a myriad of butterflies and a couple of beautiful dragonflies, specifically the Banded Demoiselle.  The males are bright blue, and the females green, and happily I saw both!

banded damoiselle Zsuzsanna Bird

Photo courtesy of Zsuzsanna Bird (HIWWT)

Some of the trail edges away from the river at points, and is quite narrow in many places.  I was glad to have worn long trousers rather than the shorts I had originally intended wearing, otherwise I reckon my legs would be covered in nettle stings and scratches from over growing foliage.  That said, the route does appear well maintained overall.  Where the towpath does sit alongside the river, it’s fair to say it looked good enough to jump in.  I did contemplate having a quick skinny dip a couple of times, but I’m afraid to say I wasn’t quite brave enough!  Probably just as well as the couple of places that looked suitable were soon passed by other walkers or people out with their dogs, just as I passed through.  Maybe another time.

Not having been out for any long walks since April, I realised that my feet were pretty sore after about 10 miles.  I didn’t bother wearing my walking boots and instead opted from wearing trail shoes as they had good grips.  In future I stick to the walking boots.  I just plodded along, and realised that I’m definitely not a fast walker, as I was averaging about 2.5mph.  I’ve always been a plodder, but really need to improve, as it’ll take me ages to get anywhere.  Hopefully losing more weight will help! Also just more walking of course.  By the time I’d reached the end of the Navigation in Winchester, my watch was registering just under 12 miles walked, so a little more than expected.  I was going to stop for food before getting the train home, but in the end I just walked to the railway station and luckily walked on to the platform just as the train I needed approached.  It took me back to my car in 12 minutes, considerably quicker than I’d made the outward journey!! So 13.1 miles walked in all, a half marathon!  It was great though, and I really enjoyed being out and about in the fresh air, seeing new parts of my locality and getting a good walk in.  I’ll not leave it so long until the next one.

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