Saturday, 8 March 2014

Travels through the Hampshire countryside

This past week I had to deliver a training course in the town of Eastleigh, a few miles North of Southampton. Since the client's premises were very close to the railway station I decided to save myself the hassle of driving and take the train. It turned out to be a very good decision. For a start, the road route involves motorway driving most of the way, which is never pleasant at the best of times, but the main advantage of the train was that it gave me an opportunity to observe the countryside. Unfortunately, since I was travelling to work (suit, tie, laptop bag, briefcase etc) it wasn't appropriate for me to take the camera, though I almost wished that it had been. Today however I'll have to rely mostly on the written word to get my message across. I have put a few random photos into my post, but they are not specifically relevant to what I have written here.

See what I mean? (about lack of relevant pics...)

Each of the three days I made this journey, it was really cold first thing in the morning, and on two days it was sunny too, so the countryside looked lovely with frost-rimed trees and grass sparkling in the sunshine. Despite the relentless expansion of the towns like Basingstoke and Winchester, Hampshire is still predominantly rural, and from the train you appreciate this more than when you are in a car. The railway is often raised up on an embankment so you get to see distant views that are not available from road level. There aren't many big hills; it's gentle rolling countryside.

With all the rain we have had over the past three months, it was not surprising to see that there is a lot of flooding. All the rivers and streams are two or three times their normal size, and in some cases it was difficult to see them at all, since the fields next to them are completely under water. It is highly likely that foodstuffs will be in short supply this year, because farmers have just not been able to sow and plant. I think it will be many weeks before the soil dries out, even if there is no more heavy rain. It was depressing to see how many houses - particularly the isolated farmsteads - must be experiencing great difficulties with physical access, with the small roads and tracks under so much water. The livestock must have been suffering too; I was particularly aware of how many unhappy horses I saw. You can tell when a horse is unhappy: it stands very still, with its head held low!

This horse is not unhappy!

Talking of livestock, I saw lots of wildlife too. A hare, lolloping along on its gangly legs in the middle of a frosted field.; several rabbits scuttling about in the undergrowth next to the railway line; some deer shyly nibbling on the grass at the edge of a patch of woodland; birds of prey circling and hovering in the clear sky looking for those unfortunate little furry rodents in the grass below; a stately heron gliding gracefully over a stretch of flooded riverbank looking for a good spot for a day's fishing - or more likely frog-catching. You don't see that sort of thing in the city.

I was interested to see that several farmers are going to some lengths to foster the wildlife and give it some space of its own. Many of the fields in NE Hampshire are big and rather exposed, but they have thick hedges round them - ideal wildlife habitat. Some farmers augment the hedges by leaving unploughed a strip about 10 metres wide round the field margins. This develops into a tangle of grass, weeds and wild flowers which provide food for beneficial insects - and maybe bees? In a few places I saw new plantations of young trees. One of these was on the crest of a hill, an obviously windy spot, so it is presumably intended not just as a wildlife refuge, but also as a windbreak. During our very stormy Winter a lot of trees were lost, so I imagine that lots of new such plantations will be necessary.

One other interesting thing I saw was an ostrich farm. That's not something one particularly associates with Hampshire, is it? The poor birds are probably most unimpressed with our dismal weather! Have you ever eaten ostrich meat? I've had it once. To me it seemed almost like beef - definitely not in the poultry bracket, despite its avian origin. It's not something I would seek out, but I have read that it is becoming quite popular here, presumably in the "trendy" restaurants.

No it's not an ostrich, and no, you're not allowed to eat swans.

Well, that's it from me for today. Fancy the trip to work being the high spot of the week! Thursday meant a return to the London route. The dingy outskirts of New Malden, Raynes Park and Clapham Junction are a big step down from the delights of rural Hampshire, in my opinion!


  1. I do feel for the wildlife as well as the human inhabitants where there has been serious flooding.

  2. The best part of following a blog is learning about different parts of the world...interesting read. Thanks!

  3. You need a point and shoot camera to go in your pocket or briefcase Mark I would think you felt naked without a camera to hand, nice post none the less

  4. I'm going to agree with David. I bet the frosted mornings were beautiful and you were feeling sad about not being able to capture it. I loved your descriptions though, enjoyable read and interesting to learn about land use in your part of the world. Cheers!


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