Monday, 28 January 2013

Leap Loop & Dark Water

January, February, what’s a family meant to do?

Cold winds bluster, wet rain tumbles from the doom laden skies, reedy sunshine fails to warm the sodden ground. We decided a day at the seaside would be perfect.

Leap beach is always a favourite and so we headed off down through the New Forest to see if the Isle of Wight had blown away yet.
Fortunately, the Island was still visible through the mist and thin sun; talk  camping there in the Summer helped to warm our chilled hearts. As the tide was high, we wandered Westward along the beach, spotting boats, sea birds, shells and various interesting stones.
Behind Leap beach there is a tidal, saltwater marsh ominously named Dark Water. Despite its unpromising name Dark Water is actually a beautiful nature reserve, many interesting birds and wildlife can be seen here. Children can also be entertained by catching crabs near the entrance.
A quick visit to the shop/café by the car park will furnish you with a guided walk around the 5 mile Leap Loop. Of course, the more adventurous among might want to wander off piste, just be sure to wear your wellies.
Alternatively, you can walk along the beach in an Easterly direction, where you eventually end up on Calshot Spit. This strip along the edge of the Solent can be a bracing walk, all of its own, if you are feeling energetic.
There is also a suitably challenging children’s adventure playground on top of the bluffs by the café – just in case anyone has any residual energy left, before heading for home.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Snowballs and Sledges

Needless to say, as soon as I mention that snow never settles in Southampton, it snows all night and all day, lays thickly and the city is brought to a standstill by the relentless blizzard!
All the schools were closed and the gleeful yelps and screams of cheerful snow covered children, ambushing each other up and down the streets, could be heard constantly throughout the morning.
By lunchtime all was all quiet on the Western front, the children were all frozen to their bones with soggy socks and frostbitten fingers. It was still snowing hard outside, as the coats and gloves dried out on the radiators and the frigid digits wrapped around cups of hot chocolate gradually thawed.
After some grub and warming of the extremities, everyone was back at it again. Epic snowball fights evolved all along the road. Boys Vs Girls, Kids Vs Adults, Family Vs Family, it didn’t seem to matter much.
Frozen Ducks Dodging Pack Ice
There were occasional tears, when someone got a facefull of snow or a soggy shot straight down the neck, but they were soon revived with a quick towelling and sent back out into the fray until the battle gradually petered out as the light faded.
The forecast said that it would continue all day and probably not abate over the weekend. Obviously, it was time to break out the thick socks and sledges!
The following day a gang of us headed out to Shawford Down, the main roads were thankfully clear, and the journey was safe. The massive hill had been well used by local children the day before and was looking a bit worse for wear but it was still frozen so the sledges were soon flying along.
Spontaneous snowball fights broke out all over the place and zooming sledges made textbook targets. The sledgers could neither stop nor dodge the chilly-fingered assassins, as they slid toward their snow-spattered destiny.
A Direct Hit (Tee Hee)!
Amid the chaos on the slopes I spotted a tiny shrew darting about in the snow, doing the best he could to dodge the pandemonium that had descended on his home. I scooped him up in my gloves and deposited him somewhere more peaceful, amongst some grass.
Eventually it was time to get back home to thaw out and have some warm tea. Today it remains cold, there is still snow and ice everywhere and my snowball arm is aching from overuse!

Monday, 14 January 2013

Spitting into the Wind at Hurst

Brent Geese Flying South, Possibly to Avoid Becoming Xmas Lunch
Well folks, for me personally 2013 has, so far, proved a long way off satisfactory. Hopefully things will begin to improve, as time goes by. But enough of my woes, I have a popular blog to maintain. Winter/Spring is always a lean period for foraging but we still love to get out amongst nature, and hope to inspire you to get outdoors, for a walk with your family.
Hurst Spit and Keyhaven Salt Water Lagoon
Much to the children's disappointment, it has not yet snowed where we are. Mind you, we rarely get snow settling in Southampton, even when it is forecast for the area. I always blame this deficit on the hot rocks that lie beneath the city; they are used as a source of geothermal energy to heat part of the city. People never believe me when I say that Southampton used to be a Spa town, but it was.
The Needles, off the West of the Isle of Wight
We have managed to get out and about a bit though, and we had a very exciting and stormy walk on Hurst Spit. Hurst Spit is a massive shingle bank that has been thrown up by the constant action of the elements. It is the closest part of the mainland to the Isle of Wight and has long been a strategic military point for the defence of the Solent seaways to Southampton and Portsmouth. The castle at the end of the spit was built by King Henry the 8th in 1544 and King Charles 1 was imprisoned there in 1648 before being executed. 
More important these days are the large tidal lagoons of Keyhaven, behind the spit, a refuge and harbour for  many small boats and also an important nature reserve and bird sanctuary.
In the Shade (and Lee) of the Spit
When we arrived the Spring Tide and wind had caused the road to flood but we chugged through and found somewhere dry to park. The fist thing that was apparent was the force of the wind, the car was being buffeted all the time.
Some Would Say We Are Crazy - We Would Disagree!
We donned our wet weather gear to shield us from the storm and set off to test ourselves against its power, it was incredible. The waves were smashing into the shore and several times spray and spume breached the vast barrier to soak the few brave walkers. 
Milford, Battered by the Storm
We decided that it would be too exposed to trek to the fort and lighthouse, and chose instead to go the other direction toward Milford. We saw many flocking birds including Fieldfares (I think) in the corn fields where we parked. I could watch birds doing this all day, it is just fascinating how they all change direction at the same time. 
The Brilliant Brent Geese Treat us to Another Honking Fly Past
The highlight for me though was when a vast flock of Brent Geese, that had been grazing on a field, took off as one and wheeled around honking, doing a few laps of  the lagoons, before settling in a different part.