Saturday, 22 February 2014

Boiling Sands in Spring

Thick drifts of snowdrops send a reminder of colder Winters, but Spring is definitely coming. The signs are everywhere. Colourful crocuses are popping up by the roadside. The first daffodils are trumpeting in warmer weather. I have even seen early Plum blossom in Hedge End where I work.
This weekend though, we were looking for a different type of Spring. We were hunting for the source of the river Hamble. The Hamble’s tidal estuary exits into the Solent and is Hampshire’s premier yachting mecca. Some of the older readers of this blog may remember the TV series Howard's Way, which was filmed there.
The source of the Hamble (a group of natural springs) can be found near the town of Bishops Waltham, in the Moors nature reserve. It is known locally as Sand Boils or the Boiling Sands and it is quite an exciting discovery when you first discover it. 

A strange phenomenon occurs where chalk aquifers meet clay and sand but geology lesson aside – when you look into a shallow stream basin, true to name, the water appears to be boiling! 
Sand on the bottom of the clear stream bubbles and swirls as if some underground heater has been turned on. This is an illusion caused by the water being forced up through the stream bed; the water is actually cold. The film (below) captures this curious effect better than the photo.
video
We washed our muddy wellies by paddling in the boiling sands and then set out on a short walk through the reserve, to make them even muddier. It is a beautiful area with lots of interesting things to see, but even the established paths were mostly under water. We spotted a venerable old apple tree that had covered the ground at its feet with hundreds of small apples. We also noticed a Nuthatch singing a buzzing song high up in the crown of a tree.
There are various different areas where the water wells up from below and many of the trees stand in quiet pools creating a unique environment. The different spring waters all gradually come together and there is an ancient mill (Chase Mill). The river then runs down a valley to the lovely little town of Botley, where there is another historic mill. Thereafter the river is tidal as the estuary leads down to the Solent via Manor Farm Country Park, Bursledon, Wasash and Hamble.
A few years ago, my brother in law and I paddled a kayak up the Hamble estuary from Bursledon to Curbridge. There we had a tasty Sunday roast in the Horse and Jockey, before heading back down the river again. We saw Kingfishers, Herons, Oyster-catchers, Turnstones and many other birds on our journey.



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