Once again for this walk, I have a good coastal path. The drearily named “E9 European Long Distance Route” seems to end at Milford-on-Sea, but I have another coastal path which begins in Milford-on-Sea, the Solent Way, a long distance path which mostly follows the coast beside the Solent (between the Isle of Wight and mainland) east to the border with West Sussex, so right around the Hampshire coast.
For this walk I was staying near Christchurch and drove around to Milford-on-Sea, parking in one of the main sea front car parks. I am using photos from a variety of occasions as I have done this walk, wholly or partly, on several occasions. Milford-on-Sea has fine views over to the Isle of Wight, now close by and looking back I can make out the view back to Hengistbury Head.
However the sea front is lined with some rather ugly breeze-block built beach huts.
Or rather it was. For these huts were partly destroyed by storms in February 2014 and later demolished by the Council. It doesn’t look to have been much of a loss in architectural terms, at least although I don’t know what has replaced them.
From here I follow the promenade right along the sea front, soon passing the eastern of the two car parks which ends at shingle. From here I can continue on the sea wall passing the white Marine Restaurant, where all the windows were smashed in the February 2014 storms, cars destroyed and diners had to be rescued. Fortunately, all is calm today.
Just beyond this, the road ends and I have a choice of walking on a lower path behind the shingle bank or on top of the shingle bank. I opt for the latter. This gives fine views of a large (salt water?) pond just behind the shingle bank backed by a large caravan park. I think water flows in here from the marshes ahead.
The shingle is hard going and this is the start of another long shingle beach, rather like Chesil Beach and this one forms a long shingle spit that leads out to Hurst Castle. This is also the route of the Solent Way and although it is a dead-end I decided to take this route. I’ve actually been out to this spit on several occasions and I always find it very enjoyable, and atmospheric.
The path continues along the top of the shingle bank alongside the channel that feeds Sturt Pond, but at the end there is a footbridge over this but for now I continue on the beach heading to Hurst Castle. I’m now going to switch to using photos from December last year (2015) when I did this part of the walk again on a lovely clear sunny day.
This shingle spit is very reminiscent of Chesil Beach but easier going, for it only stretches for a little over a mile out into the Solent, unlike the more than 10 miles of Chesil Beach. Heading out along the top, the path is compacted in places, so is not quite as hard-going as you might expect, but it is still far from the ideal surface. Milford-on-Sea is now receding into the distance.
To my left is a beautiful natural harbour, formed by the quieter waters behind the beach, part of the Keyhaven and Pennington marshes. A deeper channel runs alongside the beach on my left, making a safe mooring for boats.
The marshes are at their best at high tide, as it is here.
It really is a glorious view across the marshes, with the Isle of Wight now very visible on the horizon.
Alongside to my left as I head further out it becomes marshy, with the grass of the marsh poking up above the sea. It is very beautiful. The castle and lighthouse of the spit can be seen below, the land behind is the Isle of Wight.
Soon I am approaching the castle at the end of the spit.
This is the main attraction of the spit and as a result of the difficult access and much of the public’s unwillingness to walk, there is also a ferry that runs from the village of Keyhaven to the castle during the summer months. This castle has an interesting history and was established by Henry VIII back in 1544. The oldest parts of the castle date from this era. It has been used intermittently for defensive purposes off and on since then, with it’s last use being in World War II where it was decommissioned in 1956. It is remarkable that the building has survived for so many years in such a remote location, although it is now quite common for the sea to reach the castle walls on it’s western side so there is still some doubt about it’s long term future.
The castle is now open to the public (from late March to the end of September) and jointly managed by English Heritage and the friends of Hurst Castle. On this occasion I didn’t visit it, but I have done in the past and strongly recommended it. I find it a very atmospheric place, on this remote shingle spit closer to the Isle of Wight than the mainland and separated by the fast flowing waters of the Solent. I’m not going to include hundreds of photos of the castle, but the central courtyard shows the more modern parts of the castle, with brick walls on the inside of the castle walls.
In parts you can also go on top of the castle walls which give a good overview of the spit and surrounding buildings.
Continuing my coastal walk, rather than return along the spit immediately I headed around the right hand side of the castle along the beach. Here groynes have been constructed to try to reduce the erosion of the shingle. Erosion has worsened because of coastal defences in Bournemouth and Christchurch which reduces the amount of material washed down the coast, so these groynes are an attempt to reduce the erosion here.
This part of the walk goes past the oldest part of the castle, with the rusty panels which presumably once could be opened built into the walls.
At the far end of the castle, the sea is lapping against the castle wall. I have to time it right between waves to avoid getting wet feet!
Once around the castle, I reach the lighthouse which is the other main feature of the spit. This is still an operational lighthouse, as the Solent is a busy shipping lane and this shingle spit would otherwise be a major hazard to shipping.
Sadly, I don’t think it’s possible to visit the lighthouse.
The Solent is a much-defended coast and so looking across the choppy waters of the Solent I can clearly make out another defensive structure, Fort Albert on the Isle of Wight (now split into private flats I believe).
This is in fact the closest point between the Isle of Wight and mainland, as they are separated by around half a mile at this point.
This does not mark the end of the spit though, so I continued along the beach to the end of the spit where I can look back along the millions of pebbles to the castle and lighthouse.
The only other building to be found is an old fishing hut which looks derelict now.
Having explored this shingle spit it was time to head back since it is a dead-end. I returned via the same route along the top of the shingle spit which ends at a minor road (flooded at high tide). I turn right along this and now enter the New Forest National Park, as the wooden sign behind the road informs me. The New Forest is one of the most recently created National Parks in the UK having gained National Park status in 2005. It includes a stretch of the Solent coast (though sadly much with poor or non-existent access) but is more famed for it’s areas of woodland and open heaths, grazed by ponies, donkeys and various other animals which can roam over much of the park. It also marks a change in the scenery I will be encountering, since the Isle of Wight is now just a short distance off shore the Solent is protected from the worst conditions of the open sea. As a result much of the coast is marshland whilst the Solent is a very popular area for yachting.
The road I am now following is busier than you might expect, because it provides free parking for Hurst Castle and so is a popular place. Thankfully I only have to follow it for a few hundred metres, whereupon the path continues on the sea wall, but the road heads a bit inland. The onward path is now a compacted shingle path along a man made sea wall, making for easy walking.
I’m soon approaching the small little village of Keyhaven. The path passes a boat yard then large car park (which does have a public toilet). It is from here that the ferry to Hurst Castle runs during the summer months.
At the end of the boat yard I join the minor road again to run behind the back of the harbour and past a couple of parking areas, then turn right to leave the road and continue on the good sea wall path around the Keyhaven marshes.
This is obviously a man made path following sea walls that have been built, but the area inland is marshy too. Perhaps the result of previous gravel extraction or a leaky sea wall?
Rounding the corner, the marsh on my left gave way briefly to a lake.
The sea wall twists and turns, sometimes at 90 degree angles and I soon come to a junction with another path heading left to reach the road and a pipe line going out to sea, marked with a few wooden posts. Not sure what it carries, though.
The path onwards is now more a causeway with marsh to my right and marsh to my left but the path is raised up and dry underfoot. Rather to my surprise a bit of a sea mist begins to blow in, restricting visibility and reducing the temperature by several degrees.
Rounding the corner the sea mist seems to disappear almost as soon as it arrived, thankfully.
I soon have to head a little inland to round an old dock (Moses Lock) although I am not sure if it is still used – there was no sign of any activity. The Solent Way here heads further inland, but there was a path over the sluice gates, avoiding the need to diver further from the sea.
Rounding the corner I reach another lake on my left, Eight Acre Pond (I can guess how big it is, then) though the map also marks a Fore Acre Pond but the sea wall here has clearly been breached, so it is no longer a pond at all.
There is what looks like a boat club at the far corner of the lake.
The path zig-zags back along the sea wall past more salt marsh and another large lake on the left. This one seems to have been converted to a nature reserve, with numerous little islands having been created, presumably to provide safe nesting grounds for the birds, and a bird hide at the back of the lake. It reminds me of Brownsea Island.
Rounding the corner I can now see Lymington ahead. The first site is the masts of the numerous boats in the marina. Indeed boats are rather a theme in Lymington – this is a very exclusive town with yachting seemingly the main pastime, with the Lymington River being packed with boats all the way up to the Walhampton Road. In addition there is also a car and passenger ferry service to from Lymington to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight. It is in fact the shortest crossing (in distance, if not time) and I soon see the Wightlink ferries passing in the Lymington River.
This is a sight you rarely see now because a few years ago Wightlink scrapped the old ferries in the photo above and controversially introduced newer, larger and slower ferries, which have difficulty passing in the Lymington River and so are now rarely seen doing so. They could never maintain the every half hour frequency that the old boats managed so the service frequency was reduced (also breaking connections with bus and train links at either end). The cuts in service continued (and I suspect causing a drop in usage) until now the service is only hourly, with one of the 3 boats built for the service having been moved onto the busier Portsmouth to Fishbourne route, to replace another older ferry Wightlink sold. A shame to see how the service has been run-down.
Continuing on my walk, the path soon reaches this marina which also boast a large car park, but the coast path (or Solent Way) is diverted inland around another area of marsh and the boat yard.At the end of the marshy area though the path turns right and enters a boat yard, where the boats are in varying states of repair. The path here is not obvious so I wander down the row between the boats and then follow the path along the western edge of the marina, now back beside the sea.
Near the end of this the path goes around the outside of an outdoor swimming pool, past another small boat yard and through the edge of a car park. After this it enters a pleasant little park. The Solent Way does not enter the park, but keeps to the road but I do, as it makes a pleasant alternative to road walking.
At the end of this park I must rejoin the road, past more boat yards and ugly warehouses. Boating is big business in Lymington! Finally I reached the little quay near the centre of the town which doubles as a car park but gives me a fine view over the Lymington River.
This is the limit of navigation for all but the smallest of boats, because the railway line to Lymington Pier now goes across the river on the low metal bridge you can see in the above photo. This railway line serves both the town (via Lymington Town station) and ferries to the Isle of Wight (via Lymington Pier station) which depart from the other side of the river from the town. The train service is a shuttle services up to the mainline at Brockenhurst.
On reaching the quay I leave the coast and follow the pretty cobbled street (Quay Hill) up to the High Street in search of a bus.
I cross the road ahead and continue up the High Street. This is lined with market stalls (or rather was, most of them look to be packing up when I got there). Near the top of the High Street I come to Lymington Bus station, where I catch the bus back to Milford-on-Sea (note that since doing this walk, Lymington Bus Station has been sold and closed). The bus runs on time and it is a pleasant ride back to Milford-on-Sea, where I got off at the stop I used last time and walked back to my car on the sea front. The first time I did this walk (in 2004) I was not so lucky, because it turned out there was a carnival on in Milford-on-Sea that afternoon. The road was closed and the bus would only take me as far as Everton so I had to walk the mile and a half along the B3058 back to the town. Fortunately, by the time I got back to the town the carnival had passed so after a few minutes I was at least able to get out of the car park, as the road to Lymington had just re-opened.
This was another enjoyable and varied walk. I particularly enjoyed the walk out and around Hurst Castle and the spit. Beyond this the coast changed in character as I rounded the peaceful and remote feeling marshes. Indeed remoteness was a surprising theme of this walk, because in truth civilisation was never far away, although it does feel like it is at times. Lymington was a nice town to finish in and was prettier (and posher) than I had expected.
Here are the details of the public transport needed for this walk :-
More Wilts and Dorset route X1: Lymington – Everton – Milford-on-Sea – New Milton – Barton-on-Sea – Highcliffe – Hinton Admiral – Mudeford – Christchurch – Iford – Royal Bournemouth Hospital – Bournemouth (Square). Hourly Monday – Saturday, 4 per day on Sundays. It takes a little over 10 minutes to get from Lymington to Milford-on-Sea.