Group report - Droxford May 2017

This is an article published in the Summer 2017 edition of the Hayling Island U3A newsletter...

At the lunch held in early February to discuss the walks for the year, it wasn't so much as "volunteer" but a "not so gentle push" to become leaders for the Droxford walk!

Pam and I took it in our stride (as it were!!) and set off on a cold and damp day in April to do a recce walk. Armed with instructions and a map from a previous walk - and making sure I had my pedometer attached - we set off from Droxford Church. I guess it's ok if you have a good sense of direction, know your east from your west, and can read a map!! However, if all of these escape you then it can be dangerous!!! Our first attempt took longer than anticipated - due to the fact we misread instructions and went several different ways to get back on track! The pedometer reading was therefore worthless as we walked much farther than we meant to!

We decided to taste test The Bakers Arms (a gastro pub); after paying an extra £3 for a few small pieces of bread to go with a bowl of soup, it was decided to find an alternative venue. Also, they charged a £10 per head booking fee... they were crossed off the list straight away!

This necessitated a second recce of the walk a few weeks later - and this time although we started and finished at Droxford Church, we then had to drive to our designated pub - The Hurdles - a walker, cyclist and dog friendly pub. (Starters £4; all "home comfort" mains £10. with a dairy and a gluten free menu.) This then was our choice to have lunch in at the end of the walk.

A week or so before our "big day", Pam and I had a third recce: rather than starting at Droxford Church - we decided it would be far more sensible to actually start and finish at The Hurdles. But, still undetermined was the length of the walk and how long it would take in all !

Beginning with a short history lesson, the walk started across the road from The Hurdles on the old Meon Valley railway line which ran from Alton to Fareham during the first half of the 20th century. The line had stations at several of the Meon Valley villages, including Droxford, which boasted the longest siding in southern England.

It was in this siding that an event took place to finalise the plans for the biggest invasion force ever massed by the British military, the D-Day landings.

On the 2nd June 1944, Winston Churchill, members of his war cabinet, President Eisenhower and the French leader Charles de Gaulle, the Canadian President William Lyon McKenzie King and the South African leader Jan Smuts, all met on the Royal train, in the siding at Droxford. Tens of thousands of troops were already camped throughout the area, preparing for the invasion of France. The leaders went on a morale boosting visit to the troops and then returned to the train to hold last minute talks about the invasion plans.

Droxford station was chosen as the meeting point because of its proximity to the troops, its secluded siding and proximity to a deep cutting. It was thought that in the event of an attack, the train could be pushed into the cutting, where it would be hard to see. The beautiful station building is now a private residence and a humble little plaque is all that remains to remember the momentous events played out in Droxford.

On the walk we encountered a small herd of young heifers, one of whom took a liking to Pam and started to follow her - maybe it was the smell of her sunscreen! Then we came across a flock of sheep sheltering under a large oak tree - all looking at us with astonishment (as they do) and not a baa between them! The last field to cross held 2 Shire horses, eating grass contentedly until they spied our group making towards them - then one of them trotted over to the stile and just stood there - I think waiting for some mints! A bit scary if you don't fancy horses....!

And so, over a cold drink and some good food, it was finally decided that we had walked 5.2 miles which took 2hrs 20 mins. Next time it will be a breeze .....!

For those intending to become a walk leader - remember that all walks leave from the Community Centre at 0915 and not 0930 ....!

Happy walking.

Barbara Nixon