Beaulieu may not be somewhere that springs to mind when thinking of the coast, but the Beaulieu River is quite a wide river at the coast and there isn’t a ferry across it so the lowest point you can cross is on a bridge in Beaulieu village. I’m also doing this walk in the opposite direction (starting from Beaulieu and finishing in Lymington) because of the very limited public transport between Lymington and Beaulieu. In fact for most of the year Beaulieu does not even have a daily bus service – for most of the year it has a bus service only on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday! Hence I did this walk on a Thursday.
I’ve actually done this walk twice, once in 2004 (where I stuck rigidly to the Solent Way) and again in 2013, where I took a more coastal route, so it is this later walk I shall describe. I’ve now entered the New Forest, now a National Park and famed for it’s woodland, heathland and wandering ponies. It is not so well known for it’s coast and there is a good reason for that – sadly most of it is not accessible. Money talks (and there is a lot of money in the New Forest ) so much of the area that is not open access is still private estates which the public cannot (legally) access. So a look at the map shows the closest route to the coast is almost entirely on minor roads, often some distance from the actual coast. A real shame. It is something I had hoped the new England Coast Path might resolve when it is opened in this area, (finally providing a good walking route), but this area is now a designated Special Protection Area (SPA), called the Solent and Southampton Water SPA. Some EU Legislation (Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010) has dictated that in any of these areas steps must be taken to prevent any additional disturbance to the birds within these areas. This I suspect will mean either it’s impossible to put in a better coast path (because it will bring more people to the coast and hence increase disturbance) or will at the very least have to be accessible only seasonally (outside the bird nesting periods). Time will no doubt tell, but for now the route is almost all on roads, so this does not rate as one of the better walks I have done.
I started the day near Christchurch and drove to Lymington where I parked in a car park near the top of the High Street. I then headed down the road to Lymington Bus Station (since closed and demolished) to take the first bus of the day (at 10:10) to Beaulieu, so that I then had the rest of the day to walk back without worrying about missing the last bus. In addition other than in the peak summer months this walk is not easy to do the other way round since the last bus of the day from Beauliue to Lymington is at 1pm!
The bus was on time and as you might expect given it’s infrequency fairly lightly used. However it got me to Beaulieu on time and dropped me off at a rather pretty wooden bus shelter right by the Mill pond on the river. I headed behind the bus stop to take in the view.
Beaulieu is a lovely village, one of the nicest in the New Forest in my opinion. It’s most famous attraction is the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu Abbey and Palace House (all part of the same attraction and admission price) located just north of the village. I have visited it (a couple of years ago) and whilst not a petrol head I still found it an enjoyable visit and there are some famous cars to be seen here too, such as some used in James Bond films, Top Gear and even Mr Beans mini! The palace gardens and abbey are also very good.
I expect playing into the hands of the visiting car enthusiast is this garage which seems to specialise in vintage and sports car for those with deep pockets who want a souvenir of their visit!
The village of Beaulieu is often overlooked by visitors of the motor museum and that’s a shame because it’s very beautiful. The three red diamond logos of the Beaulieu Estate owned by Lord and Lady Montague are all over the village so I suspect they actually own most or all of the buildings and rent or lease them out.
The main High Street has mostly tourist orientated shops and is partly cobbled.
Most of the buildings are made out of these attractive bricks.
Heading north I come to the back entrance to the Beaulieu Estate (firmly locked I’m sure!).
Anyway having explored Beauliue and it’s surroundings it was (finally!) time to begin the walk. I headed down the High Street heading south and soon found the footpath off which first takes me to Buckelrs Hard. It is well signed anyway!
The path takes me around the side of the school playing field, then onto a gravel track (almost a road really), heading south. This short walk between Beaulieu and Bucklers Hard is actually my favourite walk in the New Forest as it has such beautiful views of the Beaulieu River and some lovely areas of woodland. The only type of scenery common to this area which it does not include is heathland.
The official route of the Solent Way keeps on this gravel track through the woodland of Jarvis’s Copse and onto a second large wood, Keeping Copse. Here although not marked as a right of way on the map a sign gives you the choice of the main direct footpath straight ahead (a straight wide gravel path through the woodland) or the riverside walk which, as you might expect, runs right beside the river.
This latter path is the one I chose, being closest to the coast and it is also very beautiful. A mixture of gravel track and boardwalk path over more boggy areas, it gives numerous glimpses of the Beaulieu River, although sometimes you have to head a bit off the path into the marshes beside the river to really appreciate the views.
The river here is tidal and most tidal rivers and the coast generally have public access (at least below the mean high tide line) the Beaulieu River is unusual in that it is all, including the river bed, privately owned. As you can see many of the houses have their own moorings. I really enjoyed this part of the walk for the glimpses of the lovely river through the trees.
Sadly the riverside path does not last that long and I’m soon directed back onto the main path now a bit back from the coast to round a large marina and assorted boat yards and other nautically related buildings. Fortunately the path soon returns to the river side to reach the lovely village of Bucklers Hard.
This village was originally called Montague Town and historically has been a boat building village, using the wood from the surrounding New Forest. Boats used for Nelsons Fleet at the battle of Trafalgar were built here and even today some boat building still takes place. However most of the village now is given over to tourism, with the lovely red brick buildings tumbling down a small hill with a gravel car free road down the centre. It is also unusual in that it is one of the small number of villages that charges for admission (rather like Clovelly, that I passed previously). Thankfully the main street is actually a public footpath and the route of the Solent Way so you don’t actually have to pay to get here despite what might be suggested. However if you approach from the other direction (the road) a sign by the stile has now been put up telling you that if you follow the public footpath you must not divert off it and if you want to leave the path you must go to the visitor centre and pay for admission. However there is no such notice if coming from Beaulieu. The first time I did this walk I had no idea you were even meant to pay and so wandered up and down the street and also went into some of the houses that were open. It was only when I noticed everyone else was wearing a sticker that I realised I was meant to have paid to do so. Oh well.
On this occasion I walked up the main street, where I noticed a white van was parked on the “car free” road through the village!
At the end I went over the stile beside the visitor centre and shop, went over the stile and joined the road. Sadly road walking is the theme for most of this walk. As I climbed over the stile I was met by a a man from Bucklers Hard village. I think he was meant to marshall or direct the traffic to the car park (or possibly check for people parking for free who were walking), but he was quite friendly and wanted to know where I was going, where I had come from and wished me a pleasant walk. The road was fairly busy as this is quite a well visited place and it has no pavement although there was a grass verge in places. After about half a mile of road walking the road turns right and joins the slightly more main road at the tiny hamlet of Saltershill marked by this lovely old fashioned sign post.
Here I followed the road left for St Leonards (isn’t that in Sussex?). It was initially through woodland but soon opened up to fields on either side, much of it quite boggy.
I soon passed the entrance drive to the very grand St Leonards Grange on my right so I must have reached the village (hamlet) of St Leonards.
Here some ponies were relaxing on the grass beside the drive. Don’t worry the one lying down wasn’t dead, just resting! Marked on the map is an ancient barn and I soon passed the end gable of it.
It seems to have been partly incorporated into a still in use barn, quite interesting.
The road turned right around the barn and whilst there are other roads on the map heading off to the coast (east to the Royal Southampton Yacht Club and the river and south to Warren Farm and Needs Ore Cottages), signs informed me these were all private roads. A shame. So I had to continue trudging along the road. Still there was a grass verge for much of the time, not that there was much traffic and these cows seemed to be enjoying it.
The road briefly goes through woodland and emerges by a grassy field which was an airport during World War II, known as Needs Oar Point Airfield. You wouldn’t know it now, other than the grass is indeed very flat. I can also snatch a brief glimpse of the Solent beyond the field now a mile away although the brief drizzle that was now coming down had hampered visibility.
I had noticed for a while another man had been walking along the road some distance behind me too. As I stopped to read the notice about the old airfield he soon caught me up and called out. It was then I remembered I had seen him on the same bus I had caught that morning. He wanted to walk with me for a while and was staying in Sway and liked to come and visit the New Forest at least once a year. We both agreed that there was rather too much road walking on this part of the Solent Way.
There was not much of interest on the way the next road off to the south, Park Lane was again private, part of the Sowley Estate. It led to a place called Thorns Beach which sounds interesting, but as it was private I don’t know what it’s like. Onward we soon came to a junction. Nothing very exciting but at least it had another nice old sign although the grass had seen better days.
We continued ahead on the road now signed for East End. A couple minutes more walking and there was another junction (oh, the excitement!) where we turned left along Sowley Lane. On the right is a large pond, Sowley Pond. I hoped to get a nice view of it, but there was a line of trees between the road and the pond, so the best I could do was this little bit of water visible from the road.
Just after this pond the Solent Way path I had been following finally left the road to head on a path parallel with the road on the edge of a field. However I decided to continue along the road (it was more coastal) and ahead I also wanted to follow Tanners Lane (a dead-end road that heads to the Solent) to get at least get to the shore. So I bade farewall to the man I had been walking with (I don’t think he ever told me his name) and left him to follow the Solent Way.
I continued past another couple of private roads to the shore (Browns Lane and Pitts Deep Lane). On my right was a mixture of fields and woodland. I soon reached Tanners Lane. This is a dead-end road but it does at least lead to the shore and unlike all the roads I had passed so far it is, finally, a public road so I can walk down it, which is what I did.
I passed a few houses and was surprised to see the road opened up to a few parking spaces at the end a couple of information signs and a brief permissive path along the shoreline.
The beach here, like most of the coast between Southampton Water and Lymington is salt marsh so the coast here was really mostly muddy marsh and pebbles. I walked out a bit on it and here is the view looking west.
To my right a sequence of small marshy little islands had formed.
I didn’t try to go any further though, the ground was already boggy enough. I did wonder about trying to walk east along the shoreline along the beach, but decided against it as there was another pond that drained out to the sea ahead and I was not sure if I would be able to get across it.
Having finished my little explore of the coast I returned up Tanners Lane, passing the end of Sowley Lane and continuing north to Plywell. Here I turned left on the slightly busier road through this hamlet but as the road turned right there was a stretch of footpath, a welcome break from all the road walking.
This took me past a pond which looked a very un-natural blue colour.
I continued across a footbridge and past a private cricket pitch (part of Plywell Park). I soon passed the access drive to the house out of sight to the south.
I continued past another few fields on the right and then through a small but pleasant stretch of woodland. Pleasant because after a rather overcast morning it was now becoming sunny and quite warm, so the shade was welcome. The path emerged onto Shotts Lane. Here the Solent Way turns right away from the coast I think in an attempt to avoid too much road walking and stick to paths. I opted though to turn left – the more coastal route along Shotts Lane. At Lisle Court the road turned right but there was a footpath heading down to the shoreline. Although a dead-end I opted to follow it.
The shoreline was again a small bit of shingle beach and then a mixture of mud and marsh out to sea.
Once again I considered the possibility of trying to walk along the shore, but I knew Lymington was now close by and I could not see anyway to get back to the road if I did make it around the coast on the shoreline because the ferry terminal was in the way.
So I returned back up the path to the road and followed Lisle Court Road. This road got busier as I headed west past Lisle Court Farm and then the very posh looking Elmers Court hotel. I soon reached the end of the road and turned left. This was now quite a busy road but it did at least have a pavement. I was now in familiar territory, passing the grass field that is the Wightlink overflow car park I’ve had to use on occasion. Continuing along the road I soon reached the Wightlink ferry terminal. This also helpfully has a railway station next to it (Lymington Pier). The ferries here were originally operated by British Rail but later became private and are now both car and passenger ferries. Sadly the service has declined greatly in recent years. It used to be that it ran every half an hour, seven days a week throughout the summer taking 25 minutes. However when Wightlink introduced new larger ferries they were also slower and could not maintain the old timetable. As a result the service was always less frequent. Presumably this led to less usage and so Wightlink reduced the service still further to what is now at most an hourly service, and moved one of the new boats off this route and onto the Portsmouth to Fishbourne route instead, leaving this route with only two ferries.
I followed the road past the ferry terminal and continued along the now busy road. I passed a pub and then the road ran alongside the banks of the Lymington River which here forms quite an estuary.
It was not at it’s best however with the tide out revealing a lot of sea-weed.
On reaching the B3054 I could turn left on Bridge Road, which crosses the now wide Lymington River. Here is the view back down stream.
Whilst upstream it is rather more rural.
At the end of bridge I crossed the railway line via the level crossing and then turned left along Waterloo Road, passing Lymington Town railway station, onto Mill Lane and down to the quay in Lymington.
There are nice views to be had of the Lymington river from here.
My feet and ankles were quite tired now after all the road walking so I stopped on a bench for a rest. Suitability refreshed I headed back up the pretty streets of Lymington, along the High Street and back to my car.
Lymington, like Beaulieu, is another nice town and made a welcome end to the walk.
This was was not my most enjoyable coast walk. The first part from beautiful Beaulieu and along the river path to Bucklers Hard is lovely. Bucklers Hard is also a very beautiful and interesting village. As to the rest of the walk beyond that it is to be honest mostly a pretty boring walk along flat quiet roads some distance from the coast with not a huge amount to see. There are a few points of interest (such as the old barn at St Leonards) and the roaming animals, but overall this part of the walk is disappointing. I remain hopeful, if not optimistic that the England coast path might open up more of the currently private coast here and create a better route than is available currently.
Here are the details of the public transport needed for this walk :-
More Wilts and Dorset bus route 112 : Lymington – Lower Buckland – New Forest Hospital – Boldre – Pilley – Norleywood – East End – East Boldre – Hatchet Gate – The National Motor Museum – Beaulieu. One bus per day continues from Beaulieu to Hythe. 3 buses run in each direction on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays only. On schooldays only there is 1 additional journey, which is the only bus that runs on Monday, Wednesday and Friday if it is school term time.
For 6 weeks of the year (during the school summer holidays) there is another bus, known as “The Beach Bus” (and has a very elaborate website for a bus that only runs 6 weeks of the year). This runs the following route : Lymington – Hatchet Gate – Bucklers Hard – National Motor Museum – Beaulieu – Exbury – Lepe – Hythe. This runs from late July to late August running hourly until mid afternoon seven days a week during this period.
Finally and again during the summer months (from late June to mid September) a series of open top buses run around the New Forest – The New Forest Tour. There are 3 different routes (all circular and operating in one direction only). The Green Route links Lymington and Beaulieu and runs the following route : Lyndhurst – Brockenhurst – Lymington – National Motor Museum – Beaulieu – Exbury – Hythe – Didben Purlieu – Beaulieu Road Station – Lyndhurst. This runs 7 times a day during this period, seven days a week in this direction only. Sadly however the only fare available is a £15 day ticket. This is valid on all 3 of the open top bus routes but obviously poor value for money if you only use it for a single journey between Beaulieu and Lymington!
Do not be tempted to take the train. Whilst Lymington has a railway station and there is also a station called Beaulieu Road, the latter station is around 3.5 miles from Beaulieu so not really practical for this walk.