Last Sunday we were wracking our brains for somewhere to walk that wasn't going to be too muddy (after all that rain), which was relatively sheltered (due to the wind!) and somewhere a bit different. I thought a potter along the Avon Valley might be interesting, starting off on very familiar ground!
We parked up just off the A338 outside what used to be The Hourglass restaurant (now an Indian), right next to my old school 'The Burgate'. The start of our route really got the memories firing up - it was our cross country course. It started off through a farmyard (following the Avon Valley Path) and out onto watermeadows. Back in my day, the farm was a dairy - consequently, the yard was absolutely disgusting. I remember carefully picking my way through the excrement, only for fellow runners to come full-pelt through and splash me - ugh! Nowadays, the farmer has closed his dairy and diversified - holiday cottages, willows for cricket bats and beef cattle. Several years ago I tried to persuade him to come into a Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme - although I wasn't successful at the time, clearly he needed more time to think it through and did eventually come into the scheme, safeguarding this area for wildlife.
Once through the yard and crossing the meadows, you start to see a ridge ahead of you as the gravel terraces making up this massive floodplain come into view. Here, the river is wide and meandering, providing ample habitat for a variety of wildfowl, although when we visited there were only swans! there were, however, also no people!
We had entered the New Forest National Park when we entered the meadows, but it didn't have the classic 'feel' of the Forest. Exiting the meadows via another farm, we headed across the cattle grid and into an area much more representative of the Forest. Ascending the hill, we passed many ponies in their thick, shaggy winter coast, merrily munching away on holly. This hardiness makes them excellent grazers throughout the year, and shapes the landscape in which they live. Deep in the enclosure of planted beeches are the remains of a castle. however, this is often overlooked because on the other side of the road (which is also the path at this point!) is a stunning view out across the floodplain. The flatness of the meadows contrasts with the hill on which you stand, and in the slight drizzle, the silver-snake of the river really stood out.
We continued our walk down through Woodgreen, picking up the old dismantled railway, now a footpath owned and managed by Hampshire County Council and also in an HLS agreement. We started at the well-preserved remains of the Breamore Railway station (which is now an office), walking back towards Burgate to the car. The routes runs parallel with the road, and cuts through more wet meadows, as well as areas of scrub and ponds, providing a linear corridor for wildlife.
An interesting route that brought back many memories - so glad the days of cross country are over!