Whenever we stay anywhere in the UK (apart from the Vale of Severn, that dreadful winter), Mirinda is almost guaranteed to suggest we move there. She will browse estate agent windows, noting the prices and various home improvements and match them to other places. She gets all dewy eyed about a possible move, already planning where we’ll walk the dogs and I’ll do the shopping. And so, it was with a knowledge that comes from long experience that I assumed she’d do the same with Bishops Waltham.
It has most of the right elements, after all. Plenty of independent shops in the high street (though no Waitrose), being in Hampshire (Mirinda’s second favourite county), having a ruined castle that once belonged to a bishop of Winchester…the list goes on. And, of course, the house we’re staying in is very well appointed.
Imagine my relief then when she declared that she didn’t like it at all and there was never any chance of our moving here. I hesitantly asked why, given the on paper perfection that seemed to pervade the place. She ticked off her reasons like a Brenn gun at full burst.
The main reason is the lack of decent walking.
Now, the guy who owns the place we’re staying in was quite effusive when it came to telling us about the marvellous dog walking spots. There’s the reserve and the farmland within walking distance of the house for starters. And, true, if you take photos at the right angle, they do look quite good. Particularly at Claylands – the closest walking place.
The problem is two-fold. At Claylands, it’s all a bit bland and same-y. Once you leave the relatively small reserve part, there’s acres of land to walk in that are just big open fields with nothing but grass in them. There are, on the whole, Barely Perceptible Tracks (BPT), making it difficult going when all you want is an easy stroll with your dog. And, because the fields were, at one time or other, used by cows and tractors, there’s also deep corrugations hiding beneath the grass meaning you have to watch every step. This isn’t fun.
There is a lovely path alongside a wheat field which I’ve walked twice but, if you want to walk in a circle, the last mile or so is on road because the path doesn’t cut back. To be fair, there was a path a little bit down the road but the sign reading ‘BULL IN FIELD – BEWARE’ did put me off a bit. Particularly when I saw him standing in the field. He was about the size of a bus with a big neon sign on him flashing ‘C’mon human! Make my day’ every few seconds.
I did find a small, overgrown path (another BPT) the second time I walked the wheat field. This led into a very scrubby field full of cows. I followed the BPT back down to where I’d started and, apart from this tree, was less than impressed with it.
But at least the reserve is friendly. Alas, the same can’t be said for the other walk we took on the other side of the incredibly busy road outside the house.
First of all, there’s a fair bit of walking along suburban streets before reaching it and then a big car park. The other side of the car park there’s a walking track that wends it’s way alongside fields containing horses on one side and trees on the other. This sounds lovely and, as an access to decent walking, it would have been. The track went on for ages with no real opportunity to let Day-z off lead.
At the end of the track was a road which we followed down to a farm. One sign indicated a footpath heading off, across a field. Another sign, directly beneath it, claimed that there was livestock in the fields and dogs should be under control because it was a criminal offence to worry the cows. ‘Worrying is an offence’ the signs proclaimed. That gave us a slight chuckle as we headed across the first of many of these fields.
Eventually we came out onto another field with new trees planted along the edge of a small wood. The path ran between the two. The path was easy to see but not so easy to follow. At some, wet stage, a farmer had used the raised section for his cows to pockmark, making it very awkward to navigate. Mirinda claimed this was on purpose because they hate dog walkers. I think she might be right.
The next field was deeply ploughed but at least the farmer had left a wide track through it though he’d stranded a trig station in the middle of it, like an inaccessible lighthouse, mournfully alone and destitute.
But all of the preceding paled into insignificance when we emerged onto one of those heavily used country roads that England is so famed for. Two lanes, no footpaths, little verge and too many cars whizzing by at escape velocity. This went on for at least a mile before we found ourselves on the main road that, eventually, led back to the house.
I could go on…but I won’t.
So, in conclusion, I can safely report that we won’t be moving to Bishops Waltham. Not even close.