Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The Coincidence on St Catherine’s

A Small Walnut Tree Atop The Hill
We had heard reports of walnut trees on St Catherine’s Hill near Winchester and our nut gathering had been met with some serious competition from the local kids on the town trees. So, on an unseasonably hot October day, we set off to explore the ancient hill fort and see if we could find a new supply.
A Good Day For a Stroll In - Plague Pits Valley!
The first obstacle to our expedition was that the small car park by the river Itchen was full – I have heard rumours about plans by Sustrans (the cycle network) to reopen the Victorian viaduct for bikes. This would be a massively ambitious project but could create a fantastic cycle track down the old railway route.
The Steep Embankments Can Be Quite Challenging
In the event we managed to squeeze in via the tradesman’s entrance and walk up past the Donga’s traveller camp, which is next to the reservoirs at the back of the hill. Their tarpaulin/tent dwellings and old vans with wood-burning stoves are a window into a very different way of living; it does not look at all comfortable to me but they do have a very big garden, even if it is called Plague Pits Valley. I am pretty sure that they don’t have to pay council tax or have a mortgage to worry about though.
Crowning Glory of Beech
On a hot day the walk up St. Catherine’s can be hard work but all the effort is always well rewarded when you reach the summit.
Children Marching the Mysterious Mismaze
Once you get to the top of the hill, stunning views over Winchester open up. The brow of the hill is crowned with a circular clump of glorious beech trees. There is also an ancient turf labyrinthine pattern carved into the hilltop called the Mismaze.
I Spy Apple Pie!
While the children zoomed about the Mismaze – I scuttled off to examine a couple of suspiciously walnut-like trees I had seen. They were indeed walnuts but they had been picked dry, presumably by the travellers – no nuts, never mind!
One of the Large Walnut Trees on St Catherine's Hill
However, it didn't take long before my Fruit Radar picked up tasty looking red apples on a small briar covered tree; if only I had brought my fruit picker with me. I got stung and prickled a fair bit but managed to get a few apples into my bag and they were lovely to eat with the blackberries.
Ready to Run Downhill...
Then, in a weird moment of synchronicity (strange things often occur atop prehistoric hillforts), we chanced upon someone I had worked with by email but not met in person. Chris is a freelance designer who was employed on my latest martial art book project Wing Chun: the Works.
Cooling Our Jets In The Itchen River
On the way down the hill we crunched on the foraged apples and found several more large walnut trees, all of them with no trace of nuts but definitely worth remembering for visiting (earlier) next year. Finally we cooled our hot feet in the soothing waters of the river Itchen before grabbing a few hazelnuts on the way back to the Dongas.

Ooh! That's Better.

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