Having followed the Solent Way from Lymington to Beaulieu on my previous walk, I was disappointed to note that the route of the Solent Way onwards from Beaulieu was routed along the B3054 to the edge of Hythe (where it crosses on the ferry to Southampton). Considering that this part of the New Forest is all open access and the B3054 is a busy road with no pavement this struck me as a far from an idea route.
So I decided to ignore the Solent Way and find my own route closer to the coast. The little village of Calshot is right at the western mouth of Southampton Water and seemed a good point to aim for. I was pleased to note that despite being a tiny place and in a fairly remote location there was a bus to Calshot, and a fairly frequent one at that. Sadly the same is not true of Beaulieu. For most of the year there is just one bus, 3 times a week, between Hythe and Beauliue, where I would need to change for a bus onwards to Calshot. However for the 6 weeks or so of the school summer holidays there is a much better service, called The Beach Bus (I think because it serves the beach at Lepe) which has a rather elaborate website for a bus that runs only 6 weeks of the year! So for this reason I was doing this walk in August so that I could use this bus.
I drove to Beaulieu and parked in the little car park at the back of the main street. From here I walked to the bus stop and took the Beach Bus on to Hythe. It was a pleasant journey through the New Forest and with a sneak preview of my route through Lepe on the way. Sadly the weather forecast was for heavy rain for much of the day. I was pleased it was dry, but by the time I reached Hythe the rain had started. The view over Southampton Water was rather bleak!
I arrived about 11am. I had around 20 minutes to wait in Hythe so had a quick look around before taking the next bus on to Hythe, which I reached by 11:45 (nearly 2 hours after leaving Beaulieu).
The bus dropped me at the main car park at Calshot which lead down to a 1-way road around the village, so I headed straight ahead to the beach which was lined with brightly painted beach huts.
It is a shingle beach here but it offers lovely views over the Solent to the Isle of Wight. Heading east from here there is a dead-end road leading to a spit which includes Calshot Castle amongst other things. It looked quite interesting but I decided to go there on my next walk.
The first part of my planned route was to walk west along the beach to Lepe, although the map suggested this might be tricky at anything but low tide as the beach almost disappears at a place marked as Bourne Gap. It was not especially easy because it was a shingle beach, which is hard to walk on and some sort of wooden coastal defences (I presumed) had been built on the beach.
The beach soon became really peaceful, with the beach huts ending and the beach now being backed with trees instead, making for a rural scene.
However my plan soon hit a snag.
A barrier had been built along the beach (and out to sea) which said “South Solent National Nature Reserve Please Do Not Enter”, with additional “No Entry” painted in red on the barrier. Whilst it may have been possible to climb over I suspected there might be another barrier at the other end and in addition I already had doubts about whether it would be possible to walk past Stanswood Bay and Bourne Gap. (As an aside if anyone else is going this way I did note the grid reference of the barrier is SU474005 if you want to know how far you can get).
So less than a mile in and I was already having to re-trace my steps, passing an odd looking tower behind the beach.
So instead on reaching Calshot village again I headed inland along the B3053. At least being a dead-end road there was not that much traffic as for much of the way there was not a pavement (but at least there was a grass verge). There were a few roads of houses a bit back from the coast and soon I had spotted a footpath which headed west allowing me to take a bit of a shortcut. This turned out to be rather unpromising, going alongside a car repair garage and behind some houses, then entering a small area of woodland. I emerged onto Stanswood Road. It was a pleasant tree-lined road with little traffic.
It was back to the road walking and I followed this road which headed west for around 1 mile passing the hamlet of Stanswood which consisted of a farm and a few isolated cottages. At the end of this road I reached Lepe Road opposite a building which looked a bit like an old railway station to me.
The rain had by this stage reduced to just a light drizzle and soon stopped entirely. Here I could turn left and follow the road for around half a mile to be back by the coast – at last! It was quite a busy road as at the end was Lepe Country Park, which turns out has a large car park and is very popular.
The cliff top here was lined with pine trees, making for a nicely framed view over the Solent.
On this occasion I continued west along the coast. But on a different occasion I had headed east to explore the coast east of here as far as I could. So I’ll switch to covering that briefly.
I headed east along the coast and the area around Lepe was used heavily during World War II (I later found out there was a large sea-plane base at Calshot, for example). I could initially follow a cliff top path which gave me some nice views over the beach below.
Soon the path descended back to the beach level, so it was back to walking on shingle.
Continuing east there were the remains of what was once a large building producing something during World War II (unfortunately, I don’t remember what).
Beyond that there was a fence and the now familiar sign barring further access.
So returning to Lepe I now continued to head west. There is a visitor centre at Lepe which has toilets and some local information.
It also has a cafe. I now followed a path at the back of the beach. The tide had gone out now revealing mud and sea weed as the tide has receded.
There was soon a sea wall path which approached and isolated and vulnerable looking house which had been built above the beach.
The map suggests it is called The Watch House and signs requested you to respect the privacy – I am not sure if it is a permanent residence or a holiday home. Approaching and passing the house, the path soon became shingle again.
The road that was parallel with the path soon turned inland and I passed a little lighthouse just behind the beach which I think is now a private residence.
The path continued as a gravel path along the back of the now deserted beach for a while.
However it soon ended and I now had to walk along the beach.
Soon I came to an area where the coastal defences had been damaged and a section of cliff had fallen. I stood on what I thought was rock but turned out to be clay, slipped and fell right over. Fortunately no damage done to either myself or my camera. The path became increasingly difficult to follow with the coast to my left now becoming muddy salt marsh and the beach getting ever narrower.
I had to negotiate my way around the trees ahead here where there was really no beach at all but instead (thankfully firm) mud that looked like it was covered at high tide. It was a bit of a battle to get around this part without falling over (again) or getting my feet wet. A minor road had now started to run along the back of the beach and it was a relief when I could join the road again. It was at this point I found this sign pointing back the way I had come. Well now they tell me!
It’s a bit late for the warning – they should have a similar sign at the other end, but I did not notice it if there is one.
Sadly from there on, there is no further access to the coast. The road ahead soon turns inland. A dead-end path heads off it to Lower Exbury Farm but there is no onwards route to there and the path ends before it reaches the coast. So instead I stuck to the road for a little over a mile to approach Exbury. It was at least quiet.
On reaching the village itself, I passed some curious buildings, this one looked like a water tower (but there isn’t a water tower marked on the map so I don’t know).
The church itself was surprisingly large and very pretty.
Exbury village though is perhaps better known for Exbury Gardens. This is quite a large garden which occupies the land between this road and the Beaulieu River. It is open to the pubic (for a charge) but since I don’t think it offers any access to the coast or estuary and it was a rather grey day I decided not to bother going in.
Just past the village though there was a road off to the left. This ended at a place called Gilbury Hard where there was a little dead-end footpath heading down to the banks of the river. I decided to follow it, keen to get a view of this side of the river, even though I knew I would have to come back the same way.
The road soon passed under a rather ornate little bridge.
This is part of the Exbury Gardens and presumably the bridge doubles as a way for visitor to the garden to cross the road whilst keeping non visitors from getting in to the gardens for free!
The end of the road ended at a small car park at Gilbury Hard where – at last – I had a view of the river.
Looking north I could just make out the street in Bucklers Hard.
There was also a footpath here. Since it was a dead-end footpath I was not expecting much from it (such paths are very often blocked or so overgrown as to be unusable), but in this case the path was in good condition so I could walk a little further up for a better view of Bucklers Hard.
And a view back down the river.
On reaching the end of the path of course I had to re-trace my steps, passing back under the bridge at Exbury and back to the road. On re-joining the main road I turned left, passing the entrance to Exbury Gardens on my left. It was now more dreary road walking although the road was at least tree lined.
In a little over a mile, the woodland either side of the road ended and it became more open, passing a few houses and farms. Then I could go over the cattle grid and finally in the open heathland of Beaulieu heath. This is more the sort of scenery the New Forest is known for – open heathland with grazing horses.
I now made my way close to the edge of the road but at last off the road, following the edge of the heath. After a while the heath gave way to open grassland, but this seemed to be equally liked by the horses.
There were then areas of heathland to my right which was just coming into flower.
This is more what I hoped and expected of the New Forest. Sadly it was short lived, as the area of open heathland lasted for less than a mile, where I reached the road from Holbury. Just beyond this I reached the B3054, the main road to Beaulieu now less than a mile away. Sadly it had no pavement and the open ground around me had ended, I was now passing alongside hedges and fences. There was a narrow grass verge most of the way but I was still inches from the traffic and in places it was too overgrown or uneven to walk on, so I had to walk in the edge of the road.
It was therefore soon a relief to see the ponds of Beaulieu come into view.
Soon I could also make out the Palace House off to my right.
There were also views of the abbey.
I was soon back to the familiar and picturesque surroundings of the centre of this village.
After taking a few photos of the mill ponds and relaxing on a bench I headed back to my car for the journey home.
It has to be said my route was not entirely successful, having to take several dead-ends (one planned) but overall I still think it is better (and certainly more coastal) than the official route. However it is a shame there are so few footpaths in the area meaning much of the walk was following fairly dull roads out of sight of the coast. There were though some highlights. I enjoyed both Calshot and Beaulieu at either end of the walk and Lepe was also a lovely place to explore. But it would be great to see a better coast path through the New Forest.
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk. Outside of the times when the “Beach Bus” runs my suggestion is as follows, which requires you to do the walk in reverse.
Park in Hythe and take the 09:15 bus to Beaulieu (arrives at 09:28). This runs on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday only (route 112). Then walk to Calshot. At Calshot there is a bus broadly hourly (generally on the hour) back to Hythe, with the last bus at 18:10 on weekdays and 18:00 on Saturday, it takes about half an hour to reach Hythe. The best ticket to purchase is a day “Explorer” ticket which can be bought from the driver on the 112, costs £8.50 and is valid on both bus routes. For the full details of the various routes, see below. 2 of the bus routes serving Beaulieu are seasonal.
More Wilts and Dorset route 112 : Lymington – Lower Buckland – New Forest Hospital – Boldre – Pilley – Norleywood – East Boldre – The National Motor Museum – Beaulieu – Dibden Purlieu – Hythe. 3 buses on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday between Lymington and Beaulieu, one (and only one) of which continues on to Hythe. Additional journey on local schooldays only between Lymington and Beaulieu.
Solent Blue Star route “Bluestar 8” : Southampton – Millbrook – Totton – Rushington – Pooksgreen – Marchwood – Hythe – Holbury – Blackfield – Fawley – Calshot. Hourly Monday – Saturday. In addition there are extra services between Southampton and Hythe.
The following routes run seasonally and provide additional options between Beaulieu and Hythe.
The Beach Bus : Lymington – Hatchet Gate – Bucklers Hard – The National Motor Museum – Beaulieu – Exbury Gardens – Lepe – Blackfield – Hythe. Runs from late July to late August only. Daily running a broadly hourly service.
The New Forest Tour Green Route : Lyndhurst – Brockenhurst – Lymington – The National Motor Museum – Beaulieu – Exbury Gardens – Hythe – Dibden Purlieu – Beaulieu Road Station – Lyndhurst. Roughly every 75 minutes running daily from 25th June 2016 – 11th September 2016 in this direction only. The only ticket available is a day ticket (valid on all 3 New Forest Tour routes) which costs £15 (poor value if you only want to use it from Beaulieu to Hythe!).