This evening I continued my journey, an effort to get fit, the plan is to enter the Great South Run in October, a run of some 10 miles. It’s a way off yet but I thought I’d begin by taking a few brisk walks. Whether or not I actually make the race remains to be seen, but it seems like a good idea right now. Maybe being on the wrong side of 40 has prompted me to do something, something radical, the London Marathon was my first thought, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Today’s walk spanned a mere 4 miles and revisited some of my old stomping grounds. The idea was to leave my parents house, walk the short distance to the beginning of Hilsea creek (the bit of water that makes Portsmouth an island), and to follow the footsteps I once trod when I was much fresher faced.
The first glimpse of water was at the roundabout bridge, I peered over the edge and smiled when I realised the tide was out, always a good time to spot things, wading birds and such like. I glared at the spot beside the wall I sat so many times, 30 years ago, catching small wrasse on lugworm I’d gathered myself just downstream. Blennies were also plentiful in the deep hole, a hole I could fish into even at low tide and catch fish. I would sit waiting for the rod tip to nod, with my index finger on the line, and marvel at the impossible mullet and bass that would charge through when the tide began to flood. I would watch crabs chase each other around, large shrimps evade capture and eels slithering from one weed bed to another, it was like an aquarium, one I never ever got tired of viewing.
I pushed on further recognising more with every step, it seemed each new yard brought yet another smile. I reached the concrete steps that led down to the shore; I would scale them slowly as the bottom few were covered with soft slippery green sea weed. The rocks below were where I’d gather winkles, we used to love boiling them up of a Sunday night and extract them with a pin whilst watching the Antiques Roadshow. The winkles were fair game during the cockles’ breeding season, the summer months from May to July, outside of these months and it was cockles all the way, best enjoyed with buttered bread and a fresh salad, which always had to include slices of tomato and spring onions. Cockles were gathered by peeling back the blanket weed, their shells would be wedged into the mud on their sides with a small piece exposed, but you’d need to be mindful that crabs look very similar.
They were good times, I could spend a couple of hours on the shore at low tide, gather enough cockles for tea, enough soft backed crabs or ragworms for fishing later once the tide was on the rise and at the same time watch the marvellous curlew as it probed the mud for worms and molluscs. The sounds of the flats were eerie at times, especially when in a daydream you’d disturb a flock of plover or lapwings which would take flight noisily. Oystercatchers were probably my favourite of the wading birds, with their striking appearance and piping call as they flew. That’s why I was overjoyed to see one on my walk this evening, in fact, I spotted two. This photo isn’t very good, I couldn’t get close enough to it, but you can clearly make out their wonderful features.
Strategically placed blackbirds and robins serenaded me every hundred metres or so as if egging me on, helping me to keep going, willing me to reach my goal. Scavenging starlings sifted through the bladder wrack, searching for anything they could eat left behind by the previous high tide. Two mute swans traipsed across the mud a short distance until they reached a narrow tributary, then swam out to the main channel to meet by the ever rising tide. My walk then took me past the slip road, an old concrete pathway that leads, quite peculiarly, into the main channel. This was where we would push the dinghy and launch it from the end ready for a day’s angling, spinning for flounders mostly. The walk down that slip road was always so full of exhilaration, the prospect and excitement of a day afloat was almost too much to contain. Once the boat was in the water we’d jump in and push ourselves off. I was no rower, instead I’d peer over the edge searching out the gaps among the weed for fish, the water was always so very clear.
To my great surprise I met a very dear friend whilst walking, a friend whom I grew up with, fished with, went to school with, it was an uncanny meeting, but a very pleasing one, to think that he too visits the place we grew up and loved so much; after a brief chat and I bade him farewell and continued my jaunt. As I approached the Mountbatten Centre, (its grand opening in 1979 I remember vaguely) I was almost at the halfway point. Here I stopped a few seconds and starred at the remains of an old wooden boat in the mud. I wondered if it was the boat that was once moored out in the channel; we’d hitch a lift to it as kids and fish from it. Some years ago all the boats that lived there were removed for whatever reason, perhaps something to do with the development in the surrounding area, a new park n ride and other such 21st century luxuries. My how I wish I could go back to a time when they just left things as they were.
After a rest of a minute or so I turned around and headed back, with the wind on my back I felt like running, although I didn’t, today was for walking, running can come later. I think that because I had such a strong bond, such a strong connection with my route, I enjoyed the walk immensely; I could have actually walked much further. I retraced my walk back to the main road, entered the roundabout pavement and looked back at the creek one last time before heading home. I was saddened ever so slightly, sad that the walk was over, and a tad melancholy at the thought of all the fun times I shared there with my friends, every weekend, every school holiday, you never had to wonder where I’d be. Back then we thought we had all the time in the world; time moved so slowly, growing up was something for later, now was about fun. These days time flies past, birthdays seem to be getting closer together, the numbers are getting bigger rapidly. I think this is why it’s so important to lose yourself every so often, in a place you once visited, relive that childhood, fish those childhood places. Reversion isn’t an option, but it’s nice to pretend once in a while.