122. Warsash to Lee-on-the-Solent

October 2004

For this walk I was travelling from home. It took me a little over an hour to drive down to Warsash via the M3 and M27 and I was pleased to find a large and free car park on the water front.

The car park was a little to the south of the ferry from Hamble so to make sure I did not miss any of the coast out, I first turned north along the lovely path beside the river to reach the ferry. A fisherman was sat on the banks of the river and once again I had timed it for high tide, when the area is most scenic.

The River Hamble at Warsash

It was a peaceful autumn day with hazy sun and the leaves on the trees just beginning to change colour.

The River Hamble at Warsash

When I reached the ferry slipway a sign said that you need to press a button to call the ferry, presumably because it is quieter in the autumn. I headed back past the car park I had parked in and then a large marina, which blocked access to the coast, so I had to walk along the road here. At the end there was another car park and I walked through this to take a closer look at an interesting building ahead. I thought it was a lighthouse, but it turns out to the be the harbour masters office, though perhaps it also has a light on top. I’m sure the stripes can’t be a coincidence.

The Harbour masters office, Warsash

Beyond this there is a minor road I follow that heads off into another yacht club but after that is a lovely path along the top of the low gravelly cliffs, with trees on either side. I pass several piers and jetties and the one at the end seems to have a sort of crane lift to get the boats out of the water. Clever.

The coast near Warsash

On my left is a large building, I think the Warsash Academy, part of Southampton Solent University (I’d never heard of it, but it came a University in 2004) which specialises in maritime courses, unsurprisingly. In places the coast path is getting very narrow and here it looks like the tree is clinging on for dear life!

The coast near Warsash

The coast near Warsash

Across the water I can now see the industry of Fawley Refinery now in the distance on the other side of Southampton Water.

Fawley Refinery

Beyond this the path continues as a concrete sea wall beside an area of marshes (or you can walk on the gravel beside it).

Hook Lake, Warsash

This harbour area looks man-made and beyond it is a little shingle spit, Hamble Spit, which is again proving popular with fisherman.

Hamble spit

I’ve now properly rounded the corner, out of the Hamble estuary and back beside Southampton Water. I’m passing a nature reserve off to my left now, called Hook with Warsash Local Nature Reserve. Inland are ponds and streams. Whether they are natural or created by something like gravel extraction I am not quite clear, but I can see a few birds in the far corner.

Hook with Warsash Nature Reserve

The path ahead is becoming more awkward, now following on shingle, though it is at least fairly compacted.

The coast near Warsash

It is a pleasant walk though which has now become surprisingly rural. Soon the nature reserve ends and the path climbs up onto little low cliffs. The beach is now very narrow and it is clear the coast is eroding quite quickly here.

The Solent Way east of Warsash

Thankfully I don’t have to continue along the beach, because I would get wet feet as there is a path along the low cliffs. But it is not in a good state with several sections almost eroded away completely.

The Solent Way east of Warsash

Young trees and bushes have fallen into the sea. I make it along however (and it is hardly a long drop should the path give way) and reach an isolated caravan park, Solent Breezes.

The path is a squeeze along the front of the caravan park, but I make it past.

Solent Breezes Holiday Park

However given the state of these paths back in 2004 I suppose it is now no surprise to find that the path I followed along the coast is now closed from the eastern end of the Solent Breezes Caravan park to roughly the point where a footpath reaches the coast from Hook Park Road and Workman’s Lane. This explains why two routes are shown on the map, as the alternative route is to follow tracks behind and around the inland sides of the caravan park. It seems a bit mean that the caravan park has apparantley not allowed a new footpath along the cliff edge here and forced it inland.

It might be possible to squeeze along the shore at low tide but I’m afraid it certainly isn’t at high tide. Once past the caravan site though things improve as I’m back following a good path along the top of low cliffs. I hadn’t really expected cliffs here, so it makes a nice contrast. I soon passed an old World War II lookout. It looks like the sea will soon claim it, as part of it is overhanging the cliffs and there is a crack in the roof.

Old World War II pill box

It’s an easy walk here, between bushes and gorse which limits the view of the Solent a little, but it is nice to be off shingle and tarmac. Ahead the path drops down to a small little stream flowing out to sea. It is a pleasant surprise and yellow gravelly cliffs resume beyond it.

Brownwich

As I get closer there is more water than I had expected. The water is calm, creating nice reflections.

Brownwich

Thankfully I don’t have to get wet feet, as there is a footbridge over the stream. I hadn’t expected such rural and unspoilt coast on this walk. Beyond this little stream the path soon climbs on to the top of the slumped cliffs. Water from the sea is collecting at the back of the beach in places.

The Solent Way west of Titchfield Haven

This cliff section is especially good because there are few bushes to limit the views. It continues for nearly a mile but then descends down to Meon Shore Chalets.

Meon Shore Chalets

I am not sure if these are actually permanent homes or just very posh beach huts. The path heads on the inland side here on what is basically the road for the chalets. Signs warn you that the beach here is private, but thankfully in the UK if you are below the high tide line, it is NOT private, despite what some people would like you to think.

Meon Shore Chalets

When the chalets end the path comes down to a minor road which passes Titchfield Haven nature reserve. This is the mouth of the River Meon, Although quite a narrow river it heads quite a long way inland to the South Downs. However it forms a surprisingly big estuary, which is now a nature reserve.

It is possible to head inland and explore the reserve (though I don’t) but what I can see is a mixture of grasses, reeds and ponds. It looks rather nice.

Titchfield Haven

The road is now lined with parked cars and there are many walkers about enjoying the fine afternoon. I soon pass a small car park where there is a little promenade, but it must be high tide as I have to time it carefully between waves to keep dry feet.

At the end of the car park the road turns inland though only slightly, to cross the river on a bridge, so thankfully I don’t have to walk inland to get around it. Just before I go around it there is a small shingle beach ahead with another yacht club behind it.

Hill Head

The view from the bridge is rather lovely with the boats moored up in the small harbour at the river mouth.

Titchfield Haven

Once over the river there is another yacht club the other side but then I can resume now along a little promenade. I have reached Hill Head which is quite a large place, which I had never heard of before. I like it, there is now a proper shingle beach, lined with groynes and backed by attractive green beach huts.

Hill Head

I continue along the concrete sea wall in front of the beach huts. It is an easy and nice part of the walk.

Hill Head

At the end of the promenade, according to the map, the Solent Way continues along the beach. But there is no path now, you have to walk along the beach and with the tide high and lapping at the shore in places this is not an option, so I have to follow the road briefly instead, to another car park.

Thankfully I can soon return to the coast and at this car park a concrete promenade begins right along the coast. Inland from here is a small airport I think mostly used by the Coastguard, who have a search and rescue helicopter based here, though you can’t really see the airport from the coast. It is difficult to tell where Hill Head ends and Lee-on-the-Solent starts, there are still houses and flats along the coast. But a short distance ahead I pass something rather unexpected!

The Hovercraft Museum, Lee-on-the-Solent

A hovercraft! This turns out to be part of a Hovercraft Museum. Here one of the old SRN-4 can be seen. These huge hovercraft used to cross the channel between Dover and Boulougne and also from Ramsgate to Calais. They could reach speeds of 70 knots (over 70mph) and normally operated at up to 60 knots, still nearly 70mph. They were in service from 1968 to 2000 and I remember seeing them in the late 1990s, they were quite a sight. They had room for 30 cars and over 250 passengers. I suppose the lack of vehicle capacity had become a problem and, with the advent of the Channel Tunnel, they could not really compete on speed, either. Though happily although no longer crossing the English Channel, hovercraft continue to operate across the Solent from Portsmouth to Ryde and I was pleased to see on my last visit they have a couple of new Hovercraft that were on show, prior to being introduced.

I would like to look around the museum but it was closed (the museum is currently only open on Saturdays). So I continued walking instead. Out to sea the views of Fawley I had earlier had been replaced with views of the Isle of Wight instead, which was a vast improvement! The promenade in Lee-on-the-Solent was quite busy on this fine afternoon and I now had a shingle beach to my right.

Lee-on-the-Solent

On reaching the main sea front car park at Lee-on-the-Solent I decided to end my walk here. Although not a long walk, I knew that the path soon ended and I would have to walk along the shingle over Browndown ahead to reach Gosport, which would be tiring. So instead I headed to the main road in order to pick up a bus back to Warsash where I returned to my car and drove home.

I had very much enjoyed this walk. I had expected the coast between two major cities (Southampton and Portsmouth) to be very urban. Whilst there were some urban areas what there was was quite pleasant and there were plenty of more rural sections of coast in between which were nice. Not spectacular perhaps, but certainly pleasant. It is a shame some of the paths have been lost to erosion since but this is still a good (and easy) walk which is easy to follow.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk.

First Southampton (City Reds) route X5 (Solent Ranger) : Southampton (West Quay Centre) – Woolston – Warsash – Titchfield (Bypass) – Fareham – Stubbington – Lee-on-the-Solent – Stokes Bay – Gosport. Every 30 minutes Monday – Saturday and hourly on Sundays. It takes about an hour to make the journey.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link | Slideshow

 

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