It seemed a fitting choice to follow my hike through the Purbecks with a foray down the Avon Valley. After all, this was the route that fifteen thousand tons of stone took when lugged from the Purbecks by barge to Salisbury to build that magnificent cathedral. Even more appealing to me was the fact that few walk it as a long distance route as much of it runs across swampy lowland which is frequently seriously waterlogged. And I’d heard talk of kingfishers. And otters. Did you know that a permit from Natural England is required in order to photograph kingfishers? I didn’t.
The incredible thing about the great outdoors is its uncanny ability to dish out wake up calls just when you start to show the slightest signs of complacency. I was embarking upon the 34 miles of the Avon Valley Path which runs from Salisbury cathedral in Wiltshire through Hampshire and to the sea in Dorset and Christchurch Priory. The route is dotted with mills and weirs amidst endless stretches of rolling hills and fields.
It wasn’t until I reached the proposed starting point under the reproachful eye of the statue of The Walking Madonna that I realised I’d packed the wrong map. I only had half of my planned 15 mile route plus some hastily scribbled directions on the back of a piece of card. No smartphone today (don’t ask) and hadn’t bothered with my GPS. Truth be told, my friend was using it. Well, it was just an easy hike wasn’t it? Faced with a choice of going off into town in search of another map or ploughing on with my meagre instructions, I opted for the latter. Two hours later I was lost. And hot. And frustrated. I’d broken two of my cardinal rules:
- Always take a map. And check it (no brainer)
- Never rely solely on directions downloaded on the internet
I reacted as expected under the circumstances and fished out some cake. Dorset Apple, if you’re wondering.
This was a good time to reconsider my plans to hike solo through europe. Very enticing but a tad ambitious when you’re already stumped just off the M27. I’m sure I could still hear the screech of the coffee machines in Costa.
I was mightily pleased at that time that the spire of Salisbury Cathedral is the tallest in Britain. It does make you realise just how prominent a feature that spire would have been, before we littered the landscape with so many buildings. I could still decipher the vague outline in the distance. So let me say at once that the situation was not urgent. Far from it. But it could have been.
Then he appeared. A knight in shining armour; a man, walking my way. With a map. Faced with a defeated 2 hour trudge back towards Salisbury, I couldn’t have been more excited if Mr Darcy had emerged from the lake before me. We chatted, I confessed my plight and greedily eyed his Tuff map. So huge thanks to John from Blandford for your excellent company during the next few miles when we walked together until I hit the edge of my map. And sorry again about the stinging nettle incident.
It was really warm in the sun and although my feet were super comfy in my beloved Berghaus boots, they were too hot. It was definitely time for a paddle. My map revealed several spots close by in the pretty River Ebble. Job done.
Time for a quick lunch with Joshua Scamp. A fellow rogue. Mr Scamp (oh, I want that surname!) took the blame for theft in place of his son-in-law. Everyone knew he was innocent, which is why he was granted the unusual privilege of a churchyard burial. His rose-covered, crumbling headstone rests in picture postcard surroundings in the tiny churchyard in the village of Odstock. If you’re interested, read about him here.
I was aware that just before entering Fordingbridge there is an area where kingfishers are a common sight. I kept alert for the telltale flashes of blue but apart from brief bursts of excitement induced by my hair flicking into the peripheral view of my sunglasses, all remained still. Just as well, really. Wouldn’t want to get in their way.
The next day my route continued southwards and was exceedingly boggy in places despite the ongoing drought in the South of England. The effort required to constantly suck my boots out of the cloying mud was tiring but I forged on as I knew I would be pulling away from the river soon and thus reach drier ground.
As I neared the priory, I tried to work out how many people I’d seen over the entire 34 miles (discounting entering towns). I settled on around a dozen. What solitude.