A Real Pest House, a Castle and the Canal in Winter

First a little reminder that I have a newsletter, and it’s going out later today! In case you missed it, I’ve also been talking about fantasy and sequels over at The Novel Approach. I’ve also been hard at work revising my Nanowrimo novel, current working title The Unslumbering Sea, though it may go back to Drowned Ghost Thingy again soon, because I’m not sure I like that. I am looking for a beta reader for that one, with one particular requirement: I need someone with a good ear for a Yorkshire accent who can tell me if my characters sound too home counties. If anyone can help, I would be very grateful. Lastly, here’s the actual  subject of this post: another of my rambles, this one through the heart of Austen country.

On Tuesday, to distract myself from Resistance‘s release day, I went for a long wander through the Hampshire countryside. It was a beautiful day, more like April than December, and I was heading for Odiham, a large village by the canal a few miles north of Alton and Chawton, where Austen lived (there will a proper post about Alton in a few days, because I’ve been there recently too). Odiham is a charming place, pretty and quiet, and best known for its RAF base, which is the home of the UK’s Chinooks (we often see them in the skies around here). It’s about 15 miles further up the Basingstoke Canal than my home town of Aldershot, and a huge contrast from Aldershot’s rowdy urban setting. It also has something very unusual in its churchyard.

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Here is All Saints Church. Yes, folks, this is December. If you look closely, you may even be able to see the Christmas tree on top of the tower which proves the date (it’s tethered to the flagpole).

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And this is the Odiham Pest House. The pest houses in Resistance are of the urban, late medieval variety–large centres for the isolation and treatment of plague victims. The Odiham one doesn’t really fit that description. Built in 1622, it was originally intended as a poor house, for housing the most poverty stricken family in the parish. It was probably used for that purpose for most of its life, but from time to time it was also used as a pest house–an isolation hospital for any villagers or travellers with dangerous infectious diseases. Unusually, this one is in the centre of the village. Most were built on the outskirts and have since been demolished, often to have later cottage hospitals built over them. Odiham’s has survived, and is now a little heritage centre. It probably saw more cases of smallpox than plague. Its unusual location is thought to be partly because it was already conveniently located in the graveyard. (I was standing with my back to it in the previous photo)

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Here is Odiham High Street, looking very bright and springlike. I’d been intending to walk back along the canal as far as I could before the light went, hopefully to Fleet and maybe all the way home, but I suddenly changed my mind. I’d never walked the last few miles of the canal, which ends just west of Odiham. Why not today?

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And it was a good choice, because it was lovely, although muddy on the towpath.

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These swans were gathering a feast from the bottom. This is a very quiet stretch of the canal, which starts off winding through the outskirts of large towns but slowly rises into the countryside between Fleet and Basingstoke. It no longer reaches Basingstoke and even the keenest boaters don’t come this way often.

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This is Odiham Castle, built by King John between 1207 and 1214. It was from Odiham that he rode to Runnymede to sign the Magna Carta and he was besieged there for a few weeks in 1216. It later became the family home of Simon de Montfort, leader of the rebel barons in the Second Barons War. For a year, de Montfort ran England, summoning parliaments (he introduced a very rudimentary form of elected parliaments) until he was defeated at the Battle of Kenilworth. His wife was sent into exile and the castle became a summer retreat for later royals. King David II of Scotland was held under house arrest here for eleven years in the fourteenth century. Later it became a hunting lodge and eventually fell into ruin. The picture above shows all that remains. The canal cuts through what was once its outer bailey.

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And here it ends. This is the mouth of the Greywall tunnel. Once this ran for almost a mile before the canal continued on to the large town of Basingstoke. It was so narrow that bargemen had to walk their boats through by lying down and pushing their feet against the wall. In the 1930s, the tunnel collapsed. The canal was no longer commercially viable, so no repairs were made and the last few miles on the other side were silted up and eventually built over. The old canal basin now sits below the bus station in Basingstoke. Today the tunnel houses several colonies of rare bats.

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The last few metres, from above the tunnel entrance.

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These cottages are in the village of Greywall. Never a huge place, Greywell has had a population of between 220-300 for the last two centuries. It’s an old place–in researching it last night I even discovered that the church here lost three of its vicars to the Black Death in 1349. Priests, like doctors, were especially vulnerable to plague, as they had contact with so many of the sick.

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Here is the war memorial. The Kellys Directory of 1911 states there were 272 people in the village in 1901, and it would have been a similar number at the outbreak of the war.  My attention was drawn by the unusual design of the memorial. A bit of googling explained: it is only a few months old. Greywell never had a memorial, but recently applied for a grant to fund this one. It was dedicated on 11th November 2015. 

The village website has a whole page about it, with information about the men named and others who fought in both wars. The men’s biographies are under the documents tab.

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Here is the churchyard of St Mary’s, the little village church. I had veered from my planned path at this point and had no idea what to expect around the next corner (the maps said “springs.”)

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I found the upper reaches of the River Whitewater. Although it was midday, the winter sun was low enough that I could barely see as I made my way along this walkway.

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Looking back from a little further along the river. At this point I was so far from my planned route I had to backtrack, once I’d finally located a bit of ground where the mud wasn’t too deep to sit on my coat and wolf down some lunch.

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So up the byway I went, and the weather turned as I did. This is what I think of as proper Austen country–low hills, walking despite the weather, and green everywhere.

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That byway took me to a hilltop and then I came down the lane on the other side. As you can see by the shiny road, it was raining on me. I kept walking out of the edge of the cloud and never faced worse than a shower, which just added to my secret conviction that there had been a time machine slip-up and I was really in April.

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The lanes eventually led me to the outskirts of Basingstoke. This is the tithe barn in Old Basing, which was closed to visitors (perils of impulsive route changes). It’s part of a large complex including the ruins of Basing House which Parliament spent 24 weeks besieging into a heap of rubble in 1645, during the English Civil War.

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All that was left was the footpath into the town centre, which branched off this marvellously named road, which beat out the hamlets of Blounce and Golden Pot, both on the Alton to Odiham road, for my favourite place name of the day.

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By this point, the sun was so low these teasels seemed to be glowing. Within twenty minutes, I was at Basingstoke station and by the time my train came it was dark. It was a very pleasant day’s walking. I do love the ones that have some history mixed in.

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©Amy Rae Durreson 2015

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4 Responses to A Real Pest House, a Castle and the Canal in Winter

  1. Andrea M says:

    So much fun to read – thank you!

  2. kiracee says:

    I would love to beta read for you again, but alas, I don’t have any idea what a Yorkshire accent sounds like.

    I do enjoy reading about your rambles and seeing the pictures. So very different from where I live. Thank you for sharing.

    • amyraenbow says:

      😦 It’s frustrating, because I try to be subtle with writing dialect, but you need a good ear for it to do that, or to be there as you write.

      I’m glad you enjoy the walk posts. I enjoy writing them and looking out for interesting details as I walk. I’m so lucky to live in such a beautiful area.

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