“Hi Dan, we are having a few drinks in town tonight to celebrate/morn the closing of the pharmacy. Would love you to be there”. It was a text message from my old work colleague. In order to have a few drinks later meant I would have to use public transport to get there & back. I looked at my watch – it was 0930 & although Storm Callum was arriving, I had very little else planned for the bulk of the day & I felt a bit of a bimble coming on. But the question was where?
Clicking on the Stagecoach app on my gadget, I noticed for a few pence more than a return ticket, I could purchase a South Dayrider Gold bus ticket, which promised me unlimited transport through West Berkshire, Hampshire, Sussex & Surrey, for the whole day. Mmmm looks interesting, thought I, but thinking of my return journey post-beer, I decided to train-it to Winchester & then use the bus to explore from there onwards. Forty five minutes later, I was in the city, careening through the wind & drizzle, destined for Winchesters’ shabby art-deco bus station & the call of distant lands thereafter….
Fareham – all of 12 miles from Winchester as the crow flies, was my chosen destination. Although hardly Timbuctoo or outer Mongolia, it was a place I had never bimbled around, so I thought why not? I excitedly hopped aboard & took my place among the nattering, silver-haired folk on the top-deck, eagerly anticipating the departure. And for the next hour & a bit, I bounced, shuddered & swayed – my body reacting with every corner, tree branch & road indentation on the route through Twyford, Colden Common, Fair Oak, Bishops Waltham, Waltham Chase & finally into Fareham.
Now I don’t want to be negative, but Fareham town centre sadly isn’t itself a travellers Mecca. Like many towns in the UK, the large industries that once provided gainful employment & invigoration to the local area have long since set sail, leaving in their wake, buildings & people that both look tired & weary. As I sat stirring my ‘Americano’, in one of the well-known coffee shops, I watched life-hardened retired folk, slowly make their way around groups of pasty-looking teenagers, that were loitering on the street furniture.
Exiting the coffee shop I spied a marina located the other side of a viaduct, so inquisitively I made my way across a sort of roundabout/road junction, that looked like it had been designed by someone using the ‘pick up sticks’ method of civil engineering. Whilst I waited for the green man to arrive at one of the many pedestrian crossings, I looked up to spot a shiny, red DB Schenker lugger pulling a line of plush Pullman coaches, on top of the viaduct. From the look of it, it didn’t look like there were any affluent punters on board though. Once the other side of the archway the wind immediately kindly buffeted me with sea spray & whilst I contemplated walking to Lee-on-the-Solent, 3 miles away, I decided to just park my posterior on a metal bench & stare out over the yachts on Fareham Creek instead.
It was then that I noticed a small metal plaque on a lump of stone next to me, which read something along the lines of;
“This is roughly the site where William, Duke of Normandy might of come ashore & marched to Winchester & then Wallingford. Something about the Battle of Hastings & being crowned King of England in 1066” (Perhaps I should of read it a bit closer or taken a photo)
That’s interesting thought I. William, the Duke of Normandy, more commonly known as William the Conqueror, was also known affectionately to others as William the Bastard & although I had a mate in the army that was known as Harry the Bastard, I am not entirely convinced that they were directly related. As I mused, I munched on my jam sandwiches, imagining a flotilla of boats appearing in front of me & a bunch of obstinate French soldiers disembarking, only to stand arguing under the viaduct arches, about what pedestrian crossing they should take to cross over for the direction of Winchester.
I packed my bag & decided to follow the French & march, well, catch the bus, back to Winchester. As I took my place once again amidst the line of silver-foxes, ready for another white-knuckle excursion through southern Hampshire, I checked the time. Oh bother, thought I, it’s school chucking out time. All I have to say is picture if you will, a bus loaded with ‘The Inbetweeners’ & you may catch my drift. Within ten minutes the bus was full of hormones & BO – what fun. Three boys behind me were having a cracking conversation about another youth at school “He’s well ‘ard ‘cos he kicked (name escapes me) in the balls” & “Yeah, he is really hard ‘cos he is almost six foot tall”. Personally, in the ‘ardness stakes, I tend to find bald-headed, four-foot high, five-foot wide, short-arsed psychos more terrifying than the lankies, but each to their own.
By the time Winchester arrived, it was a welcome relief to get off the bus, stretch my legs & breathe some fresh air again. As it was now Friday afternoon & being concerned about traffic, I started to power-walk up Morn Hill to catch the number 64, mid-route, which would lead me to Alresford & ultimately, beer. A mere 20 minutes later I was in the Horse & Groom – my good man, a pint of your finest ale if you please …..
So after a few bevvies with my work colleagues, I bade farewell about 2030hrs to catch a bus back to Winchester, in order to make my train home. Alresford itself is only about 6 miles from Winchester, connected for the most of it by a dual carriageway. Being on a bus, on a dual carriageway in the daytime is scary enough, but try it in the dark & you are the only passenger. With an engine noise that sounded like Concord throttling back, the bus hit maximum vibration & set a new land speed record, reaching warp speed 5, within a minute of joining the main road. As it crested a hill, I was convinced the whole bloody thing took off.
I would like to say that my return journey to Reading by train was as smooth & fluid-like as my inbound one, but alas no. I caught the 2126 South Western train to Basingstoke, where I then enjoyed an hour & a half wait on the platform, in the humid mizzle, surrounded by jovial drunk people dressed in lederhosen (German thigh-slapping attire). By the time I opened the front door of my house, 3 hours after leaving the party in Alresford & some 14 hours after I had initially locked it, I was ready for my bed. And as my head hit the pillow I contemplated whether my bimble had been a success or not. As I drfited off, a slow-travellers quote came into my mind;
‘It’s not always the destination, but the bit in-between, that is often most the memorable & interesting’.