For this walk I decided that rather than drive to Lee-on-the-Solent I would park at Fareham station and take the bus from there to Lee-on-the-Solent and return by train from Portsmouth Harbour. Which is exactly what I did – the hour long bus journey at the end of my last walk made me realise how seriously slow the buses are in this area.
Although winter it was one of those beautiful clear sunny days that always come as a bit of a treat during the dark gloomy winter months. Many inland paths can also be mud-baths so a walk along a beach and tarmac, as this one was, means you can avoid mud, too.
The bus from Fareham to Lee-on-the-Solent was very quiet and the journey not very long so I soon reached the shingle beach at Lee-on-the-Solent.
There were quite a few people about along the promenade and a few fisherman at the shoreline, well wrapped up against the cold.
Once again I was following the Solent Way, this time sticking to the route of the path all the way to Gosport.
The walk starts off easily, on reaching the sea I simply turn right and follow the tarmac promenade east to reach the end of the town. This is an easy walk but also quite pleasant since the promenade is backed by a green for much of it’s length. It does not take long to reach the end of the town.
I’ve now reached an area called Browndown.
This is an undeveloped area which is (or at least, was at the time) owned by the Ministry of Defence. I’ve heard part of it once had an army camp on it, but the land now seems to be mostly a large area of shingle, heading some distance inland and with some vegetation growing on the shingle once it is away from the sea. It looks to be disused now. As with much army land it is dotted with strange bits of concrete and the remains of some buildings, now derelict.
The path is no longer a path but rather a walk along the shingle, so it is quite hard going.
A note for future walkers: I understand this land was considered surples to requirements by the MOD and at least part of it was sold in 2012. Access is now unclear. At the time public access was permitted along the shoreline. However the official page for the Solent Way now warns that “From 1 January 2012, the Defence Infrastructure Organisation have with drawn all permissive rights to walk along the foreshore for the Solent Way at Browndown near Gosport“. Yet the route is still shown on maps and I’ve heard from another walker he was able to walk it without problem after this date. So I am not sure if the route I followed is now possible. Please leave a comment if you know the current situation and I will update this post accordingly.
Anyway at the time I was free to walk along the foreshore and could soon make out Portsmouth ahead of me. It was a beautiful clear day. Soon there were a few small areas of firm sand near the shoreline which made the walking much easier than on the lose shingler higher up the beach. Despite the difficult terrain it was an enjoyable part of the walk.
As I neared the end of the shingle bank I passed Browndown Battery. It is disued and dates from the 1840s. Despite this it is apparantley in good condition and now a listed building – but it is not open to the public. Just passed this I left the military land and reached a second fortification. I’m not sure what this is called but I think it now houses a Historical Diving Museum, which is unusual.
But it is not open in winter. I was now on the edge of Gosport, at a place called Stokes Bay. I had not heard good things about Gosport, so this was unexpectedly nice – a wide shingle beach backed by a minor road with grass and trees behind it.
Rather than walk next to the road, I decided to stick to the shore edge where there were again patches of hard sand.
After a while, when the going underfoot became harder again I headed up onto the promenade alongside the road. I passed a commemorative plaque marking the embarkation of Canadian troops to Normandy for D-Day, a reminder that this coast was not always so peaceful.
I passed another yacht club (how many are there along the Solent?!). The road had now headed inland and so the promenade was more pleasant without the traffic.
The beach was soon backed by areas of grass and plants slowly colonising the beach.
The tide obviously rarely, if ever, reaches the back of the beach. Out to sea I could see Ryde clearly on the Isle of Wight and numerous large tankers making their way along the Solent probably heading to or from Southampton.
Soon I reached the lifeboat station which marks the point where the promenade ends again. My route onwards is along a path at the back of more shingle beach, I think still part of Stokes Bay. Ahead I can see the top of the Spinnaker Tower. This was originally planned to be a millenium project and hence with the name Millenium Tower. In the end construction did not even begin until 2001. It was still under development at the time I did this walk (as the cranes indicate) but it looked to be nearly complete.
Out to sea I could also clearly see one of the Solent Forts which are built in the Solent betweeen the mainland and the Isle of Wight. They were built to help protect Portsmouth from seaborne attack. There are 4 forts, Spitbank Fort, No Mans Land Fort, Horse Sand Fort and St Helens Fort. None of the forts were ever really used, though they continued to be upgraded but have not been used by the military since World War II. I think the one I could see is Spitbank Fort.
There is a lot of military activity around here because Portsmouth was (and still is) the principal port of the Royal Navy and so protecting it from attack is very important. So it was perhaps no surprise that I was soon passing another fort. This one, Fort Gilkicker was also in use until World War II. It was disused and used to be owned by Hampshire County Council who used it as a store. The fort is now apparently awaiting restoration as flats. The end of this fort marks the point the Solent Way turns inland. But there was still access along the beach so I decided to continue ahead.
The beach had now narrowed and was now a thin strip of shingle separated by wooden groynes. I continued as far as I could but soon there was no way ahead for this fence blocked the route onwards along the beach.
The fence is just before the start of fort Monckton. This fort is still in use by the Ministry of Defence (I don’t know what for) which perhaps explains the lack of access. So I head to re-trace my steps to Fort Gilkicker and follow the Solent Way as it now heads on a wide track inland past the lake of a golf course.
This then took me to Fort Road and sadly was the last I then saw of the coast for some distance. The end of the track led me to a road (Fort Road) which soon had houses on the left and trees screening the fort on the right. The road soon turned left and a little beyond that a private road turned off right into what I presume was once military buildings but now houses an immigration removal centre. So I had to continue on the same road ahead which headed further inland until I could take the second right, Haslar Road.
This was very uninteresting because on either side were high brick walls. I am not sure if their purpose is to stop people looking in or stop people getting in or out (or both). But either way it was not a very pleasant part of the walk hemmed in by walls alongside a busy road, though at least there was a pavement. Some of the buildings looked like they might be quite interesting.
The wall finally ended as I reached the sea once again, at a place called Haslar Marina.
Here a bridge went over the mouth of Haslar Lake, a little estuary from the mouth of Portsmouth Harbour.
At the end of the bridge I was now nearing the edge of the centre of Gosport, but the large marina continued to my right. Gosport has a reputation as being a deprived place but the number of yachts suggested this wasn’t true of all parts of the town. I’ve said it before but marinas full of moored boats always look quite pretty (at least, I think so), particularly in this lovely light.
It was now less than an hour before sunset so there was a beautiful light as the sun got lower in the sky. It made a lovely ending to the walk. At the end of the marina there were some fairly grim looking block of flats to my left, but my eye was drawn to the other side of the harbour where I could now see Portsmouth centre, the Spinnaker Tower and the ferries which cross both to the Isle of Wight and to France.
I have now reached a part of the coast dominated by harbours (Portsmouth is, technically, an island city between Portsmouth and Langstone Harbours). Portsmouth has a huge harbour and is still the home of the Royal Navy. But the deep and sheltered waters of the harbour mean it is also used by the large cross channel ferries. Like nearby Southampton, it is an important port.
A few metres ahead I soon reached the Gosport ferry. This acts as something of a lifeline. I remember reading that Gosport is the largest town in the UK which does not have a railway station. Perhaps as a consequence I’ve also read that the A32 into Gosport is one of the most congested roads in the country. So the ferry is an important link out of the town. It runs ever 7.5 minutes for most of the day and makes the short crossing over to Portsmouth in 4 minutes. This is what I did now and it is a quick an efficient service. It also helpfully moors up right alongside Portsmouth Harbour station.
I had originally planned to end my walk here but I decided that it was such a nice day (and lovely light) there was no rush to head home so I decided to explore the coast immediately around Portsmouth which was rather nice.
I found a beach behind this fort.
As the sun was now setting, this was as far as I got and returned to the harbour and the station. From there I took the train to Fareham. Looking at the tired looking shoppers piling on the train I felt I had found a far better way to have spent the day than shopping! It was a short journey back to Fareham, now in the dark, where I drove home via the M27 and the A3, taking a little over an hour.
Other than the section hemmed in between walls in Gosport this had proved to be an excellent walk and far better and more interesting than I had expected. The undeveloped shingle beaches were welcome in an area that is otherwise fairly urban and I had enjoyed looking over to the Isle of Wight and the boat traffic in the Solent. It helped that other than through Browndown there was also an easy path throughout, making this an easy walk to enjoy all year around.
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 25 minutes to make the journey from Lee-on-the-Solent to Gosport.
The Gosport Ferry : Gosport to Portsmouth Harbour station. Every 15 minutes seven days a week, increasing to every 7.5 minutes during the day time Monday – Saturday. Crossing time is around 4 minutes.