When I left you I’d just reached Hamble Station, which had come as a bit of a surprise because I was supposed to be following a disused railway line. The thought of actually catching a real train home to my village crossed my mind because I was pretty hot at this point and obviously lost. There is only one train an hour stopping at my little village though and I was pretty sure I’d just seen it go past. As the station is unmanned there was no one to ask and no one to buy a ticket from either. There may have been one of those horrible automated machines somewhere if I’d cared to look. Machines and I don’t get on very well though and I didn’t relish the prospect of losing my card or the long wait for another train.
Hamble is not somewhere I know very well either so, while I was sure the road I could see was Hamble Lane, I had no idea which way would lead me to familiar ground or how far that would be. Of all the available options retracing my steps seemed like the best, if not the most interesting, and there was a small chance I would spot where I’d gone wrong and pick up the trail again. With a sigh I turned and set off back along the path beside the wire fence.
This time I kept my eyes peeled for signs I might have missed. There were buds in the burdock and spiny thistle buds too but not a sniff of a sign. Perhaps if I could find the half buried rails again I might be able to pick up the trail. When another train sped by I cursed myself for not waiting a little longer on the station. If I had I might have been able to catch it home.
Then I realised I was at the exact spot where I’d seen the buried rails before. In fact I was almost standing on them. I stopped and looked carefully around me. These were definitely the rail trail rails so where had I gone wrong? This was when I realised the trail had actually forked. I’d been so excited to see the buried rails I’d missed the other, much narrower trail and had been literally walking in the wrong side of the tracks from that point on. For all the earlier signs and sleeper markers there was nothing here to point me in the right direction.
The rails disappeared into the undergrowth and, with no idea where the trail would lead or if it was actually the rail trail or not, I trusted my instincts and took it anyway. A little further on I was relieved to see old sleepers, the rails again and something that could have been part of a signal or a buffer. Then I came to a small boardwalk, maybe to get across what would be boggy ground at other times of the year. The boards were a little on the rickety side but I crossed anyway.
Keeping my eyes peeled for more signs, or at least rails, I passed through a pair of gates across another track. In the absence of anything to tell me where to go I carried on straight ahead. Grass and brambles crowded the narrow trail and, although it was pretty and mostly shaded by trees, I was desperate for something to tell me where I was. All I got was another boardwalk and I began to wonder where I was going to end up.
Another gate took me across a tarmac lane and, if I wasn’t very much mistaken, the steps on the other side were made from railway sleepers. Better still, the top bar of the gate told me I really was on Hamble Rail Trail. Not long after this there was another of the big sleeper signs that told me I was close to Hamble Lane which I already half knew. The trail opened up after this and I found myself in a sunny meadow.
Thankfully, the heat of the meadow was short lived and I was back amongst the trees and yet more sleeper signs telling me nothing much plus another gate. Finally there were rails again, overgrown but not buried and, shortly after this, a disused level crossing on Hamble Lane. After this the trail became more urban. On one side there were glimpses of houses through the trees and wild shrubs. Now and then a small stretch of track appeared then disappeared again into the long grass and weeds. At least I knew I was on the rail trail though.
Here some of the plants owed more to the nearby gardens than the wilderness. The unusual red bracts of Leycesteria formosa drooped across the path amongst the thistles and bindweed. Still the rails played hide and seek with me and a few dog walkers came past, the first people I’d seen since Victoria Country Park.
I came upon an unusual bench that looked as if it was made from sleepers or at least something railway related. For a few moments I took advantage and sat sipping my water and admiring the grain of the wood. The time I’d spent at the abbey played on my mind though so I didn’t stay too long. Off I went again, through an arch of bending trees to yet another gate.
Just before the gate another sleeper sign told me I’d walked 3 1/2 kilometres since Netley and I wondered which part of Netley this was referring to because it felt like more to me. The gate at least had the familiar Hamble Rail Trail carved into it but it led me out onto a street. This was Spitfire Way, I knew because of the signs, and I’d seen it marked on the rail trail maps. The rails were easy to follow now, running through the grass beside the little Tarmac path.
Just when I was congratulating myself I reached the end of the track, almost literally. The rails crossed a road, I wasn’t sure which one, and looking almost new, disappeared around a bend. From here they’d have been easy to follow but the big BP Oil Terminal sign told me this was private land where trespassers would be prosecuted. Did this apply to the rails too? The rather hazy rail trail maps I’d found on line told me the trail would take me to Hamble Common and, from there, the shore but there was nothing anywhere to tell me if it was safe to follow the rails or not.
Maybe if I knew Hamble I’d have known where to go but I didn’t even know what road I was on and there were no signs. Feeling rather worried about passing that very emphatic notice, I kept to the road and went in what I thought was the direction of the sea instead. I walked and walked past road signs that meant nothing to me, getting more and more concerned. Once or twice I thought I could see water to my left but I was too afraid to leave the safety of a road that must lead somewhere, to risk going towards it. When I passed a bus stop I stopped to read the timetable hoping to find one going my way soon. Being Sunday I was out of luck it looked like they were going the wrong way anyway. Finally I spotted some shops ahead and they looked a little familiar.
When I reached them I knew exactly where I was. Just around the bend was The Harrier pub and, opposite, the reassuring sight of the little Folland Gnat by the entrance to the aircraft factory where Commando works. This is one of the few bits of Hamble I do know and I walked happily past the playing fields towards the woodland trail Commando showed me on a chilly December afternoon.
The trail would lead me back to Victoria Country Park I knew and, although I wouldn’t get quite the walk along the shore I’d wanted, I wouldn’t be lost any more. Right then my phone rang. It was Commando, as if I’d conjured him up by thinking about him.
“Where are you?” He asked.
“Hamble, on the trail you showed me in the winter,” I said.
“You’ve got a way to go then,” he sounded disappointed, “I thought you’d be almost home by now.”
So, as I walked, I told him about my abbey detour and getting lost. When I mentioned my temptation to catch a train or a bus because I was lost and hot he said, “do you want me to pick you up? I could drive down to the country park and meet you.”
Right then five and a half more miles in the sun, even if the first three would be along the cool shore, didn’t seem like much fun so, to my shame, I said yes.
There was still just over a mile to walk to our meeting point but crossing Victoria Country Park brought a hint of sea air. Back on the shore I had a few minutes to wait until Commando arrived. It was bliss to stand watching sailors move their little boats about with the sea breeze cooling my hot cheeks. By the time Commando arrived I looked almost human again with hardly a hint of the beetroot about me.