This walk was, to be honest, not one I was especially looking forward to. I had reached the eastern edge of the New Forest National Park and ahead was the vast expanse of Southampton Water, where the rivers Test and Itchen form a huge and deep tidal estuary that stretches around 10 miles to the western edge of the city of Southampton. The nearest point I could cross the estuary was at Hythe, where a ferry runs. However between Calshot and Hythe is Fawley, where there is a vast amount of heavy industry. Indeed this is the largest area of industry I have passed so far and probably the largest until I get to Teeside. Fawley houses a massive oil refinery and a power station. Further upstream, Southampton is also a fairly industrial city, with a large container port and also a large cruise ship terminal all of which makes Southampton Water a busy and industrialised place.
I started this walk from Calshot and was staying near Christchurch. I drove along the A377 coast road to Lymington then took the B3054 across the New Forest, a slow but scenic route. I then turned right and followed the A326 and then B3053 down to the little village of Calshot beside the coast. I had driven here before and remembered that there were some free parking bays on the road immediately before the car park. Sadly when I get there I found the greedy Council had yellow-lined them out of existence – but I did find at least that following the (one-way) road back around there were still some free bays just beyond the car park that had not been removed, so I parked there.
I decided to park here because I could get the bus back at the end of my walk which ends it’s route in the car park at Calshot. It was a grey and overcast day, with occasional drizzle, so not ideal weather for walking, but it was at least fairly warm. I headed from my parking space down to the sand and shingle beach. I think there is something quite special about beaches that have woodland right behind them, as is the case at Calshot.
I turned right and walked along the beach, trying to stick as much as possible to the sandy areas rather than the shingle, which is so hard to walk on. There was some odd wooden coastal defences here and behind pretty beach huts, clearly much loved.
I continued along the shingle where the beach huts then ended. They were replaced by some boats of the nearby yacht club and then some red-brick buildings which had rather a military look to them (which I believe is because they were barracks during World War II). Nowdays they house some sort of water sports organisation.
Here I was now on the narrow shingle spit that leads out to Calshot Castle. The parallels with Hurst Castle at the other end of the New Forest are striking, and like Hurst, this one also has a castle at it’s far end. As it rounded the corner there was quite a line of shingle heading out to sea.
On my left now was a very large building. During World War II this was a sea plane base with the planes taking off in the calmer waters of the Solent alongside. These days it is an indoor activity centre with climbing walls and that kind of thing.
Out into the estuary of Southampton Water I could see the large Red Funnel car ferries running down the estuary, which link Southampton with Cowes on the Isle of Wight.
At the end of this surprisingly large hanger I reached the end of the spit and the interesting little Calshot Castle. Having seen so many of these design of castles on my walk I instantly guessed this was one built for Henry VII. And so it turned out. It has been used as a defensive castle since the 1540s and was last used during World War II, being closed as a defensive castle in 1961. It was then used by the coastguard until the 1980s where it is now in the care of English Heritage and open to the public.
As it was open when I passed and admission was only around £3 (I don’t remember the exact price, but today it is £3.30) I decided to take a look around. In fact the photo is mis-leading, it makes it look like there is a modern tower built on top, but this is in fact a free standing tower built just behind the castle. It looks like an airport control tower but is in fact used by the coast guard I believe to monitor traffic in Southampton Water. The castle still retains it’s original water-filled moat too.
Once inside I was pleased to see that you could walk around pretty much all of the building and go up onto the roof, where the canons can be found overlooking Southampton Water.
Further down the search lights that were used during World War II can be seen, shining their beacons of light over the water looking for invading ships. It is a very atmospheric place. I also rather liked the fact that most of the little alcoves had a bed in them, it did at least give a little more privacy than at many castles I imagine.
It was a nice little diversion to visit the castle so I would recommend a visit if you are in the area. Once I’d done at the castle I followed around the western edge of the large car park and boat yards on the edge of the spit. I continued along the shingle beach alongside the road out to the castle.
When this reached another parking area there was a track marked on the map at the edge of Southampton Water. This is not a right of way so I had wondered if I might have to keep to the road into Calshot village and pick up the right of way there. But thankfully public access to this track seemed to be permitted, it was well used judging by the number of footprints and was signed with a Hampshire Council sign “Calshot Marshes”.
So I followed this slightly muddy track over the marshes (which looks like it may flood at high tide) towards the major landmark ahead, Fawley Power Station.
This ugly building dominates the skyline in the area and the top of the tower can be seen from much of the New Forest and even, as I have discovered, from some of the hills on the western edge of the South Downs. I made my way along this track passing a mixture of salt marsh and shingle beaches to my right whilst some children looked to be having a canoeing lesson in the estuary to my right.
As I neared the power station the path became more of a track and indeed officially a right of way as it passed the fence of an area of waste ground ahead. Now I was alongside this immense power station and a swing bridge took me over the water outlet from the power station.
I’ve learnt from this coastal walk that power stations are very often situated on the coast. This is because they often need a water supply in order to generate steam and/or cool the power station, and the sea provides a ready source! The swing bridge (as marked on the map) did not look like it swung to me and the path crossed this outlet on a bridge enclosed with a wire mesh roof. I had not come across a path like it at the time, but I have seen other likes it since around Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire.
The water seems a rather un-natural blue and there was some sort of boom to stop the water getting out into the wider estuary for some reason. The power station also seemed eerily quiet. An internet search later revealed that the power station had actually been closed down the year before (and prior to that had only been used at times of peak demand). This blot on the landscape may soon be consigned to history.
Once over the outlet to the power station I continued on the path alongside the fence of the power station. where there was a large area of flat and featureless salt marsh to my right and the barbed wire fence to my left.
A few scrubby trees were managing to grow in the grass in places. Soon I reached the end of the power station and it’s fence on the left. To my right now the landscape became one of salt marsh and to my left were trees, it at last felt more rural.
The path soon entered the woodland and was a lovely walk through the woodland on a clear path, albeit one that was a bit muddy in places.
Soon the woodland ended and opened up into a grassy area with grazing ponies – the last vestiges of the New Forest which I had briefly re-entered.
Ahead was the water channel, lined with boats, leading into Ashlett Quay ahead. Here the low tide revealed numerous mud flats and marshes but I imagine at high tide it is prettier.
At the landward edge of the inlet was a a large and impressive mill (oddly not marked on the map). I imagine it is housing these days, but it is very well preserved on the outside.
At the end of this grassy area I followed the track around the south edge of the quay to the pretty little village green. Here there was a pub with some brightly coloured seats. It looked like a lovely spot to while away a few hours and by now the drizzled had stopped and it was getting quite warm – so I was tempted but I knew that if I stopped I would likely not get going again, so I pressed on.
The water channel flowing out to the quay was the only water here now, the rest all mud flats, but I imagine it must look very different at high tide.
Behind the large mill was the mill pond, though it too was almost empty.
Sadly that was the end of following footpaths for some time as I now had to get around the massive Fawley refinery, almost all on roads. I was not looking forward to it. The road away from Ashlett was at least quiet and when it split I took the right fork, heading for the village of Fawley. I was now a bit back from the coast and gaining height, but at least still in sight of the coast.
On reaching the end of this road I turned right around Copthorne Lane and took a leading off to the right and ultimately into one of the entrances to the refinery. Before I reached it, I turned left along Rye Paddock Lane and then followed a path bringing me down to the church yard at Fawley Church.
This is now right pressed up against the edge of the refinery, but you would hardly know looking at it (though there is a humming noise to be heard now).
Just at the back of the church yard is the high fence around the refinery, but the church has managed to retain it’s peace and charm. It feels rather out of place amongst all the industry behind it.
Sadly it was no more paths for me, I turned left along the road passing an entrance to the refinery to my right. I continued passing the houses until they ended on the right and then I was pleasantly surprised to find that whilst the pavement ended there was a lovely path that continued between hedges just between the road and the refinery, making for a more pleasant walk than I had thought I would be having.
This pleasant track continued beside the road to the B3053. It continued on the north side of this road, avoiding the road but soon I crossed to the south side where the path continued along the north edge of a recreation ground, just parallel to the road.
Here I could follow a well walked gravel path. At the end of the recreation ground I passed some allotments and then there was a much less used access road alongside the main road I could follow instead. I could continue on this access road right through the large village of Holbury, as the road had now become the A326. I passed a large theatre on the left, which was typical inter-war architecture I thought and looked a bit like a water works. I was puzzled at the name – Waterside Theatre, since it did not seem to be alongside any water. It did make me wonder if Fawley Refinery is built on re-claimed land and this was originally beside Southampton Water?
Nearing the end of the village I could at last turn right and leave the main road to take a track leading to Cadland Road. Ahead I had now rejoined the route of the Solent Way, my old friend for earlier parts of the coast of Hampshire! The path, now a wide track, made it’s way around the back of some more industry but then had large open fields to my left with grazing horses – it felt like I was back in the New Forest (but not this time).
The track briefly entered a lovely area of woodland which was very beautiful and a welcome change.
The track soon became a minor but quiet road again, passing a remote little pub in the hamlet of Frostlane on my right.
I continued along this track to soon meet the rather busier Frost Lane, the main road around the south edge of Hythe. Ahead though I was at last heading back to the coast, having got around Fawley refinery.
I was surprised to see a level crossing ahead. But a check at the map shows there is a railway line which serves Fawley Refinery. Crossing the tracks I noticed the tracks were very shiny, so it is obviously still used.
Once over this I had at long last returned to the banks of Southampton Water at Hythe. There was initially much salt marsh.
As I continued towards the town, this gave way to a shingle and mud beach.
I was getting close to Southampton now and could make out some ugly tower blocks on the other side of the bank – Southampton did not look very inviting.
Just after this little beach the road I had been following had to head away from the coast, past some light (mostly marine related) industry. I followed this road ahead passing much new housing before finally reaching the older centre of Hythe.
On reaching the main street I could at least head back down to the water front.
The tide was now coming in, as the water head reached the edge of the little promenade here, which backs on to the main shopping street. As I approached the pier sadly this promenade ended and I had to head back to the road.
Hytthe has a long pier, jutting out into Southampton Water. In fact it is still very much a working pier – a little train runs along the pier still where at the end a ferry takes you over into Southampton. This is the route the Solent Way takes. This ferry service seems to be run on a shoe string and gets subsidised by Southampton Council I believe. But it is likely the fastest way from here to the city centre so it remains a popular option. The pier opened in 1881 but the ferry actually ran much earlier than that and dates back to at least 1575.
Southampton Water is a busy shipping channel and so this pier has had a history of collisions, in 1885 and 1945. But in 2003 a dredger collided with it making a 150ft whole in the pier and isolating the end of the pier from the rest of the structure. It was repaired and re-opened in 2004 although a few weeks ago the ferry itself got stuck under the pier, crushing the wheel house. The pier has certainly had a troubled history.
When I reached Hythe I could take the ferry across, but I decided to continue and walk around the estuary. In hindsight this was a mistake really because much of the walk was alongside busy main roads and dual carriageways with nothing of interest to see and no view of the coast.
However to continue I returned briefly to the towns attractive high street.
I am not sure what the bunting was for, but it added a bit of colour. I continued along a cobbled street with some interesting old buildings and soon a little park on my right.
From here I could look out over the still wide expanse of water that is Southampton Water.
Ahead I came to a very 1980s development, Hythe Village Marina which as you might expect is housing and flats (mostly red-brick) built around a large marina. Yuppy flats as they were probably called!
I walked around this and found it fairly pleasant and was pleased to note that the lock gate had a path over it so I didn’t have to walk back again.
It was a pretty quiet place with the only people around fisherman. At the end I had wondered if it might be possible to walk along the beach north. But it did not look inviting or easy and with no other footpath along the coast until Cracknore (where a railway blocked the way) I decided not to risk it as it seemed very likely I would have to come back. Though I could now make out a cruise ship out in the water.
Instead, I followed the path along the north edge of this marina. At the end of the marina, when the road then turned left I could turn right through a gate onto a track which is also a public footpath. This ran alongside some rough ground that once again felt like it was part of the New Forest.
Signs however suggested the land is owned by the Port of Southampton. I expect they are hoping they will be able to expand onto this land which would be a shame for then even more of Southampton and it’s surroundings would be industrialised.
The path soon met a track going left to right where I turned left to approach the railway line then turned right on the track now going through the edge of some woodland.
This part turned out to be far nicer than expected as I was soon once more passing open fields with grazing horses and foals.
At a place called Oaklands the track rejoined the public road heading for a level crossing over the railway line again.
Immediately before the railway line a footpath was marked on my map heading right through the woodland towards Pumpfield Farm, but there seems to be a brief gap in the path. I suspected this is a mistake in the route of the path on the map and the two paths joined up. But I couldn’t find out, because a fence ran along the right and there was no sign of this supposed footpath at all. I reported it to the Council but I never got a reply and there is still no sign of this path.
So I had to continue on the road crossing the tree lined railway line (bet they get trouble with leaves on the line!).
At the end of this minor road I met Hythe Road. This was a busier road but thankfully the main traffic goes on the A326 which is just next to the more minor road here and bypasses Marchwood. I soon began to pass the first buildings of Marchwood and there were a couple of pretty thatched pubs on the way.
I’m always surprised how many Fullers pubs there are in Hampshire and Dorset given the brewery is in South West London (Chiswick). Not that I mind, I like their beer! The road soon curved to the right crossing the railway line again, where I observed the platform of the old and now disused Marchwood station.
Seems such a waste really when the tracks are still there and still used, it does not seem that it would take much to re-open this route to passengers.
I continued along this road aiming for the centre of Marchwood. I am not sure in hindsight the town has much of a centre. When I got to a church, a large pub and a few shops I decided that was probably the edge of the town centre.
Finding a bus stop near there I decided to end the walk here, as it was now quite warm and sunny and I was tired. I had about 15 minutes to wait for the bus which soon took me back to Calshot. By the time I got to the car park at Calshot I was the only passenger!
It was now a nice warm sunny afternoon so I headed down to the beach.
I was hoping for an ice cream, but sadly the cafe was closed, presumably due to the poor weather earlier.
I was pleased that I managed to find a fairly coastal route through this area and the route turned out to be better than I expected around Fawley. The highlight really though was Calshot and the marshes around it. Ashlett was also unexpectedly lovely. But most of the rest of the walk was along or close to busy roads through built up areas and industry and did not have a lot to recommend it. I was looking forward to getting passed Southampton.
Here are the details of the public transport needed for this walk:-
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 on this route.