Local walk from Eling Tide Mill along the coast to Marchwood

The field meeting for April was scheduled to be a visit to Radipole and Lodmoor RSPB reserves near Weymouth but this was cancelled due to a combination of distance and holiday traffic.

Instead a local walk from Eling Tide Mill along the coast to Marchwood was undertaken.

This area is not a National Park or a nature reserve but it holds many of the attractions of both within a maritime and industrial setting.

Eling Tide Mill uses the power of the tide to drive two flour mills for the purpose of grinding corn into flour.

One of the mills is normally stationary to enable visitors to see the mechanism and the other is usually in operation.

The site is advertised as one of only two operating tide mills in the country but is at present undergoing refurbishment until 2016.

The accompanying road toll bridge over the embankment is however fully functional even if it is not too overcrowded.

The weather forecast promised a bright sunny day but with a cold north easterly wind which was keenly felt in the morning especially on the exposed coast.

The walk started from the cemetery car park near the mill embankment and followed the coast on the west side of Southampton Water overlooking the container port on the far bank.

Loading a giant container ship provided occasional spells of interest during the walk and the constant hum of machinery was present all the time.

Nevertheless the noise was ignored after a while and other more rural features provided the interest.

A grassed area has been provided for picnics and barbeques around Goatee beach which provided easy walking during the early stages.

Goatee beach is something of a misnomer as it consists mainly of a narrow strip of gravel but the grassed area is large enough for games and relaxation.

There was in this area a Wych Elm tree or large bush growing near the beach.

At first sight it appeared to be coming into leaf like many of the other trees at this time of year but on close inspection the small leaves turned out to be seed cases or green keys with tiny flowers beneath.

This is a characteristic feature of Wych Elm which produces many seeds for propagation unlike the English Elm which propagates by runners.

Unlike the English Elm the Wych Elm is not affected by Dutch Elm disease but it lacks the statuesque appearance.

The walk along the coast soon entered woodland which formed a narrow strip all the way to Marchwood. It was interesting to compare this wood with those a mile or so away in the New Forest.

The wood on the banks of Southampton Water was more luxuriant and advanced than those in the forest which still have their winter coating of leaves on the dry floor.

White Wood Anemones and yellow Lesser Celandine grew in swathes on the wood floor as did the blue Dog Violets.

These flowers all grow in the forest but are scattered sparingly amongst the trees.

The reason may be that animals roam freely in the forest or it may be that the Waterside has its own microclimate.

The contrast was most striking with the Bluebells which were all in flower with spikes over a foot tall. In this case the growth could be explained by hybridisation with Spanish Bluebells but it was still impressive.

Other wild flowers included Stitchwort, Bugle, Ground Ivy and the occasional Primrose.

In one area of the wood, amongst the Wood Anemones, grew Moschatel or Town Hall Clock.

This was also growing with some vigour and could easily be seen without bending down to search the undergrowth.

The plant is not rare but is usually unnoticed because of its green colour and small size.

It is called a Town Hall clock because of the four flower heads growing at the top of the frail stem each facing one of the compass points.

It also has a fifth flower pointing to the sky; presumably so very small aircraft can tell the time.

The cold wind was unable to penetrate the wood very far inland and on coming across a small glade it was a pleasure to stand in the warm sun with white Blackthorn blossom and yellow Gorse forming protective walls all around.

In the past a ring of Blackthorn around a field was considered to ward off the devil and it certainly felt peaceful on a sunny day.

A Queen Carder Bee with its orange woolly jumper was seen to fly slowly into the glade and make its way beneath a leaf on the floor into its nest.

A circular route being impossible the return was a repeat of the outward journey except for a diversion through the grounds of St. Mary the Virgin Church; regarded as the mother church of the Waterside.

A church has been on the site since the ninth century and being the highest point of the area must have seen many changes and many ships sailing beneath its walls.

Hopefully it will continue to see many agreeable changes in the future.

Written by Mike Harrison
Waterside Natural History Society