October 2004 and October 2009
Having rounded the Isle of Wight I am now back on the main land. The approach to Southampton from the west was utterly grim, along a busy dual carriageway. So I did not have high hopes for the walk east of Southampton either, but it turned out to be rather good.
This is one of my first coastal walks (and the date of the photos makes me realise I have been at it for more than 10 years!) and when I first started 10 miles was about the furthest I walked (now I sometimes do over 20 miles), hence this walk is quite short – but I do have an extension to it, as well.
I decided to drive to Hamble and take the bus to Southanpton to begin this walk, rather than drive into the city centre. I drove from home via the M3 and M27. I had a good journey until I left the M27 at junction 8 where traffic was a bit heavy around the roundabout, the cause of the queue seemed to be traffic trying to get into a huge nearby Tesco I think. I always do my weekly shopping after work in the evening so I can keep my weekends free for walking and do not have to brave such places at the weekend! After that short delay it was clear on to Hamble and I parked in the car park in the square. A warning to any fellow walkers – at the time I did this walk, this car park was free and not time restricted – sadly that is no longer the case. It is now a pay car park with a maximum stay of 4 hours which is too short for this walk. So you will need to park in the Foreshore car park instead which does allow all-day parking (but is also a pay and display car park).
The bus was waiting by the car park as I arrived but by the time I had parked it had left, and I had 30 minutes to wait for the next one in to Southampton. This allowed me to have a look around Hamble. I had never been here before and a look at the map suggested this was to be a mostly urban walk. So it was a pleasure to find that Hamble-le-Rice (to give it it’s full name) is in fact a lovely and very historic village. There were numerous pretty red-brick houses around the square.
From here a cobbled street led down past shops, cafes and restaurants to the water front. From the type of shops to be found it was clear that Hamble is a wealthy place.
I followed this road down to the river where I could hardly miss the ferry across the River Hamble to Warsash. The Solent Way, which I was also following on this walk crosses the river via this ferry.
By now it was time to head back up the hill to the square.
From here I took the bus into Southampton. It took about half an hour.
Southampton is the first city I have passed through on this walk since Exeter. It is fair to say I am not really a city person anyway, but I did not warm to Southampton. It mostly seemed to consist of ugly concrete buildings and a modern glass and steel shopping centre. There were a few old buildings around, including parts of the city wall, but it all felt a bit lost in amongst the more modern buildings. It suffered a lot of damage in World War II I expect. It does have some good features, such as a very large central common, and it is nice to have so much green space close to the city centre.
I made my way south through the centre to the busy A33 which goes past the docks and cruise liner terminal – off limits to pedestrians. I continued as the A33 turns left and the road I am on becomes the B3038 as I pass an area on the right called Ocean Village. It is clearly a property developers name for what is in reality lots of modern blocks of flats located around a marina. I did leave the path to have a quick look and whilst the marina was nice, there was not a lot else of interest here.
From Ocean Village I returned to the road and was soon under the high Ithcen Bridge. The River Itchen is wide here and so well used by boats. This means the bridge must be high, so it passed way above the road I was on. Thankfully a set of stairs off to the left meant I could easily get up onto the bridge.
The bridge is made of concrete so definitely functional rather than pretty. It opened in 1977 and I was surprised to see is still a toll bridge. The charge for cars to cross is between 50 and 60p depending on the time of day but it is free to cross on foot. Samaritans signs on the bridge indicate sadly not everyone comes up here for the view. But it is a good view, as the Itchen is a wide river.
I could see though that I would have more industry to cross with some large dock buildings on the east side of the river (in fact I think these have since been demolished).
I could turn off the bridge just before the toll booths and follow steps down to the road by a car park. Here I turned right and then took the first road on the right Bridge Road and continue ahead into Victoria Road and past the old industry. (On a more recent visit the industry had gone with hoarding indicating a vast development of flats was planned).
It was nearly a mile of walking along a fairly busy road through housing to finally return to the waters edge at Weston. Just by this large jetty (presumably left over from the industry) there was a yacht club, an indicating that the estuary was switching from industrial to leisure use.
From here on, things improved greatly. Out in Southampton Water I could see the large ships being loaded.
Cars are apparently quite a large export from Southampton, perhaps that is what was going into this ship? By now the water side was a mixture of shingle and mud flats. The road now ended at a large car park and the onward route is on a wide tarmac cycle path beside the shore. Large greens separated the path from the nearby housing. Part of it was even a golf course, though part hidden by trees. Definitely more suburban than urban now. However beyond the golf course the path ended and I was back on to a pavement beside a road. The scene ahead was dominated by these hideous tower blocks.
I’m sure the views would be nice, but I would not want to live here! Flats like these seemed to spring up during the 1960s and 70s. After falling out of fashion for a few decades, tall blocks of flats seem to be popular again. I wonder if they will become as unpopular as blocks like this in years to come?
I walked quickly past the tower blocks beside the road and a car park. But ahead I had woodland again as I had now reached the end of Southampton. To be honest, I was not sorry to see it go, and as I had hoped the path ahead was much nicer.
I continued along the road past the woodland area, which also had walks through it inland through a little valley. The road soon turned off and the path ahead was once more a foot and cycle path. The cycle path soon turned inland and the path ahead became shingle. To be honest, there was not much to distinguish the path from the beach other than a concrete wall!
Soon though the path narrowed.
Oddly this is not marked as a public footpath on the map and the Solent Way now goes off inland along roads again. I am not sure if the path I followed was a permissive path, whether I was trespassing or whether this was a path that has since been eroded away. Either way I continued and was soon passing the coastal side of Netley Castle.
It looks a very interesting building, but sadly this was as close as I could get, as the castle has been converted to flats so there is no public access inside. A little inland from here there are also the remains of Netley Abbey. Now in the care of English Heritage and free to enter, I had not realised at the time it was so close, as I would have diverted to visit.
Ahead the path I had been following ended, so I had to divert down onto the beach. Perhaps this is why the Solent Way is routed inland! I was now briefly below some cliffs.
They looked to be very soft, with the holes birds had made nesting visible. I continued along the shore, grateful that the tide was out because I don’t know that this is possible when it is high tide.
I continue along the shore until I reached a slipway for a sailing club. I crossed this and continued along the shore line where the path ahead was now on a sea wall. It soon became busy and I soon found why, as I had reached the Royal Victoria Country Park. This is owned by Hampshire County Council and clearly a popular attraction. The park is named after the Royal Victoria Hospital which opened in 1863 and closed in 1966. It was a large military hospital and the main building was the longest building in the world when it was completed. When the hospital closed in the 1960s the site was acquired by Hampshire County Council and most of the hospital demolished, with the exception of the chapel which still stands.
It is rather beautiful and striking building and I think you can appreciate it better without it being surrounded by other buildings.
It housed a visitor centre I think when I passed. The coast was nice here, with a shingle beach lined with pine trees, though the views out to sea were off Fawley Refinery on the opposite bank.
At the end of the country park the path continues along the shore, along the shingle beach, though I found some firm sand near the shore line which was easier.
Although behind the trees here is a large industrial site, a thin strip of trees means I had no idea it was even here until I looked at the map! The sandy area on the shore soon ended and I was back to walking on shingle, but it was compacted and so not too hard. Soon the industry was making itself known though as ahead I was now passing a large oil terminal. The path went right along the shore and even passed between fences under a pier where the oil is loaded onto ships. It felt strange to be able to walk in amongst this industry.
I continued past a pipe line which I suspect might connect with the refinery on the other side of the estuary. The industry abruptly ended and on my left I now had the trees and grass of Hamble Common, a large area of open access land south of the town. I followed this east where I came across the remains of an old gun.
The Solent Way had already turned in land, but I had continued on the shore as far as possible, but the footpath I had been following had now also ended at a small car park by another large marina, which occupied the rest of the land ahead to the river Hamble.
So I turned inland and followed the footpath around the edge of Hamble Common, soon passing beside the numerous moored yachts.
Sailing is certainly a popular past-time on the Solent. I continued now turning away from the main river channel and following on a slightly boggy path beside a muddy channel.
Rounding this the path soon headed to the main track across Hamble Common, from which I emerged onto narrow roads. I followed these for a short distance where I could then turn right (it is a one-way road but I assume not for pedestrians) and follow this down back to the quay. I passed the slipway for the ferry over to Warsash, where the Solent Way continues.
However rather than take the ferry I headed up the road here back to the square and my car in order to drive home. I was annoyed to come back to the car park and find that it was full. But rather than take full for an answer some inconsiderate driver had simply left their car down the middle between the rows of parked cars. I was almost blocked in (the car to my right was blocked in) and had to make about a 10 point turn in order to get out.
The next walk starts from Warsash, which is reached by ferry. However before that, there is another path. My rules don’t require that I walk around each and every river and estuary encountered but I might choose to do so if I wanted to. At the time when I was walking the Solent Way I did not follow the estuary. But a few years later I was working my way through the excellent Time out Book of Country Walks. This is a book of 52 walks roughly between 7 and 12 miles and all based within about 2 hours travelling time of London (in all directions), starting and finishing at railway stations, and with excellent directions. There is also an accompanying website, which has many more walks (some from a second volume of the book and some only on the website). All the walks from the first volume of the book are available online each with a map and accompanying photos. In fact Time Out have such good taste they have even used some of my photos in the most recent edition!
I was following the route of walk 3 which is from Netley to Botley. This follows the same route along the coast from the Royal Victoria Country Park to Hamble and then crosses the river via the ferry and then heads inland along a path on the eastern side of the River Hamble. I knew nothing about this path but it turned out to be an absolute delight. Indeed looking at the map I would have been reluctant to follow it at all since it seems to follow an old sea wall with water on both sides – experience has taught me such paths usually mean the sea wall has been breached and they are dead-ends, but not so here. So my recommendation is that rather then end this walk at Hamble, you cross on the Hamble to Warsash Ferry and return to Southampton from Bursledon station so the rest of this walk and photos are taken from this later walk.
The River Hamble is a beautiful river and most of the part of the river passed on this walk is lined with moored boats. Somehow I think they add to the beauty rather than distract from it. I took the ferry across the river, which winds it’s way between these moored boats to deposit me at this rather fetching pink shelter.
The ferry currently costs £1.50 (there is no need to book, it runs on demand) and runs between 9am and 4pm in winter and up to 6pm in the summer. This drops you right on the path and you just turn left and follow the wide gravel path. It soon becomes a causeway, with water on both sides.
I was lucky that when doing this walk the tide was high so I saw water rather than mud flats that you get at low tide.
At places where it seems the wall has been breached a wooden bridge crosses over and this looks to be the sort of path that has a good enough surface it is easy to use all year around. The path was quite busy and it is not hard to see why.
On my left in places there were also areas of salt marsh.
The remains of an old boat could be seen in the marshes to the right of the path.
The path is a real delight and on a calm sunny day like this it is stunningly beautiful.
There was soon another much larger ship wreck on my left.
In places the path ran along a shingle beach at the edge of the river. Soon I had yet another marina on my left.
The path soon ended and heads through the car park of this marina and around the boats that are kept off the water (the path goes between the white painted lines around the marina). Once on the other side I am now in the edge of the old part of Swanwick and the gardens of houses now come right down to the waters edge.
Some even have little private gardens to the left of the path. Soon the path reached a car park and stopped being a path and was now a minor road. I followed this to reach the busy A27, which comes as a bit of a shock after the peace of the path. I turned left and followed the road to reach Bursledon bridge, the first bridge over the Hamble. I crossed this to also enjoy the view to the right.
The railway line also crosses the river and you can see the rail bridge just up stream. Boats continued to be moored as far as the eye can see – I wonder how many boats are on the river? Sadly it is now not as peaceful as it looks because I had the traffic on the A27 but the M27 is also only a short distance further up stream and you can hear the roar of the traffic on that too.
Once over the bridge I continued on the road and soon the road goes under the brick railway bridge. Here the walk I was following turned to the right but my recommendation is that once under the railway bridge you immediately turn left along Church Lane and fork left off it into Station Road. This leads to Bursledon Station where you can take the train back to Southampton.
This was a mixed walk. The first part around Southampton and over the Itchen Bridge is fairly urban and I did not enjoy this part that much. But once back on the coast it is a lovely walk with the highlights of Netley Castle and the beautiful Royal Victoria Country Park. The end point of the walk, Hamble, is also lovely but I think as I have said above it is much better to cross the river on the ferry and walk along the path on the east of the Hamble up to Bursledon. It is beautiful, easy to follow and also has the advantage you can take the train back to Southampton.
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk. If you end the walk at Hamble it is recommended to use the bus to get back to Southampton. Whilst Hamble does have a station, the station is over a mile from the village centre, reached by walking along the main road, so the bus is more convenient here.
Hamble Ferry (Hamble to Warsash) : On demand between 9am and 4pm with crossing later during the summer months. Currently £1.50 one way.
If you are returning from Bursledon I suggest using the train:-
South West Trains Portsmouth to Southampton : Portsmouth and Southsea – Fratton – Hilsea – Cosham – Portchester – Fareham – Swanwick – Bursledon – Hamble – Netley – Sholing – Woolston – Bitterne – St Denys – Southampton Central. Trains run hourly seven days a week and take around 25 minutes from Bursledon to Southampton (and a little less from Hamble).