“ 180 acres of woodland and grassland with impressive views over Southampton Water and the City. Just a short journey from the hustle and bustle of modern Southampton lies a tranquil green open space that offers a taste of the countryside, fresh air and fascinating historical and natural delights. Westwood Woodland Park is open to the public every day of the year with free parking and entry, offering over sixty hectares to explore. „
Regular voyagers down Southampton Water will recognise the tall, white tower blocks that mark the eastern edge of Southampton City. Nestling amongst the trees of Weston Shore they look neat; even utopian. At night, when the red aircraft navigation lights illuminate the tops they look even better. However, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that close up, they look god-awful. Living in one can be a mixed blessing, and one of the definite plus-points is the view over nearby Westwood. Westwood Woodland Park is a broad strip of woodland and grassland which separates Southampton from the nearest urban area to the east. It’s an extraordinary place which quietly provides a breathing space for one of the busiest cities in Britain, whilst remaining a haven for wildlife. Unknown to tourists, even at the height of summer visitors can quickly find solitude in the ancient woods, or space to run and play on the grassy slopes. Mind you, it’s only fair to point out that most of those grassy slopes were landfill sites many years ago, and although it’s almost impossible to recognise now, much of the site was originally intended to be a golf course. The tipped areas have been covered over and artfully concealed with tree planting schemes and other features, now providing one of the finest views across Southampton Water and on to the New Forest. The site is also a remarkable historic location. As well as an experimental WWII rocket launching site the largest surviving system of monastic conduits in Europe can be seen there. Monastic what? I’ll drop the jargon – this is a system of ditches and ponds which would be considered a remarkable feat of engineering even today. How those monks managed to dream it up, even less build the things, is hard to imagine. Once you’ve enjoyed the ditches (and you do enjoy ditches, don’t you?) you can stroll through the old Glebe Fields to emerge alongside Netley Abbey itself, a fin
e old monument and the destination of the conduits, where the monks used the water to power one of the earliest known flush toilets, still visible today. So with those enticements, how can you resist it? If you want to visit, there is free parking on Weston Shore, and entry to the site won’t cost anything either. Many of the paths are accessible for buggies or wheelchairs, and there are some marked trails. A good time to visit is spring, when the bluebells and other woodland plants are flowering, or summer when the grassy meadows are in bloom. There are no facilities as such but then what do you expect - this is the countryside! Nearby if you want such things is the much busier Royal Victoria Country Park where you can get food, toilets, museums, model railways and all the usual features, but, yes, you do have to pay there.