July 2011 and February 2015
When you are walking the coast, harbours, rivers and estuaries always give you a decision to make. Do they count as the coast, or do you cross on the most coastal ferry or bridge? When I wrote my rules I decided that when I reached a river or harbour I would cross it at the nearest ferry or bridge, rather than walk around, but that if I decided I might like to walk around then I would do (as I did at Poole). At a rough “finger in the air” estimate if you walked around every river, harbour or estuary until it ceased to be tidal you’d probably increase the mileage by 50% (the Thames is tidal as far as Teddington for example, more or less the western extremity of Greater London).
So at the end of my last walk I had already crossed the mouth of Portsmouth Harbour on the Gosport to Portsmouth ferry. But I wondered about walking around Portsmouth harbour even though my rules do not require me to. A quick look at the map soon convinced me this wasn’t a good idea – the western side of the harbour is mostly lined with heavy industry and military bases. On the eastern side there is the Royal Navy base, then there is the continental ferry port and north of that the harbour is lined by the M275 motorway. None of these things are exactly welcoming to pedestrians. But the north of the harbour looked both more promising and more interesting.
The stretch of coast between Fareham and Portchester has a footpath along the coast more or less the whole way. Part of it is even a long distance footpath (The Allan King Way). I’d never heard of Allan King but a quick google showed he was a member of the local Ramblers Association and the path was named after him, which is a nice tribute.
So I decided that rather than walk the whole way around the harbour I’d walk this stretch, from Fareham to Portchester, but miss out the rest of the harbour. But first there was something else I wanted to do.
When I first walked the stretch of coast to Portsmouth the Spinnaker Tower was still being built. Now it is finished and so I wanted to make a visit. One of the dilemmas I sometimes face when there is both a cliff-top path and a route along the beach is which to walk. The beach is closer to the sea and usually easier. The cliff top tends to offer more far-reaching views. But in this case most of the Hampshire coast does not have cliffs, so if I want to get higher and get a far-reaching view I need to resort to something man-made. Enter the Spinnaker Tower. So first I visited the tower.
There is quite a lot of interest around Portsmouth Harbour. The historic dockyard is very much worth a visit. I have done so, but it was a long time ago (probably about 20 years ago), so I really should go back, as the Mary Rose is now much easier to see than it used to be. There is also a large and seemingly popular “outlet” shopping centre here, Gunwharf Quays. But I’m a man so I hate shopping and treat shopping (when it is necessary) as a mission to be accomplished in the shortest possible time so I can get on to doing something more interesting. There is also the possibility of boat trips, around the harbour to see the naval ships. And last but not least is the Spinnaker Tower. This is a simple viewing tower. There is nothing at lower levels (unlike, say, The Shard in London), instead 3 floors at the top (one of which was closed when I was there) offering wonderful views over the harbour and city. There was meant to be a choice of lifts too, one inside the tower and another glass lift going up the outside of the tower. But the lift on the outside never worked properly since the tower was opened (I think the mayor might even have got stuck in it at one time?). It has since been removed and instead made an area for abseiling. But I took the easy option – the lift. Admission to the tower costs a few pence under £10. It is not cheap, but then it is a view you can’t really get elsewhere, so why not?
I travelled down on the train from home which took about an hour. It was a Sunday (in July 2011) and fairly early in the morning, so after paying my admission I did not have to queue to get into the lift to the top. And the view was certainly impressive. A note to photographers going up there though. There is not the possibility to take a photo of the view other than through glass. Something in the glass seems to confuse the white balance of cameras. If you don’t notice (as I didn’t) you will end up with photos with a strong green-blue colour cast, so I had to do a bit of processing on the computer to get rid of it. Looking at the photos now I seem to have ended up with a little too much red instead, though.
So first of all, here is the view looking east, over the old part of the city and Southsea beyond.
You can make at the fun fair at Clarence Pier and the war memorial on Southsea common, as well as one of the Solent Forts out in the Solent. Turning a little to the right now.
This time I have fine views of the Solent, with the Isle of Wight beyond. You can see the ferries heading to and from the island and two of the Solent forts. Looking west I can follow my route on the previous walk.
Below you can watch the car ferries from the Isle of Wight making the tight turn into the harbour and beyond all the marinas at Gosport that I walked past last time, with the Isle of Wight visible on the horizon.
The view inland is, as you might expect from a city, rather more urban.
The round tower is a fairly recent residential tower I think whilst below is the Gunwharf Quays shopping centre with the city centre beyond that, over the common.
More interesting I found was the view over the harbour itself.
Here is the view over the naval docks. To be honest I expected to see more ships. The one at the back is HMS Ark Royal, but this time I think it was decommissioned and awaiting it’s fate. The military buildings behind are rather nice looking and you can also see the Historic Dockyard beyond that. With a slightly cruel twist the old wooden ship, HMS Victory is now of course a museum piece but in fact officially still commissioned (unlike Ark Royal). Looking further up the western side of the harbour in Gosport there was another large marina.
Looking further into the harbour there was a line of boats alongside the deeper channel and this also shows the sheer scale of this harbour.
It is of course the fact this is a large, deep and sheltered harbour that makes Portsmouth such a good port, hence why it became home of the Royal Navy. This of course is why there is so much defence of the harbour.
Looking almost below you can see Portsmouth Harbour station and the trains inside it, and behind that HMS Warrior, another vessel that is part of the historic dockyard.
I think that covers the view from the tower – it is certainly a good view and I enjoyed tracing the route of my coastal walks and seeing areas that are otherwise off limits, such as the naval docks. Having taken in the view, several times, from every angle it was time to descend and leave the tower (though it is nice not to feel rushed at the top, as tickets are not timed). Time for one last view of the tower from the ground (the lift shaft was still in place at the time).
I spent the rest of this way exploring the coast around Portsmouth before heading home. So having now enjoyed the views of Portsmouth from the tower, it was time to walk. I actually did the walk on a different day (this time in February 2015). This time I took the train down to Fareham from my local station, which took a little over an hour.
The station at Fareham is, unfortunately, not very central. It is as the very west of the town so I negotiated the busy dual carriageway and headed east through the town centre. The choice and type of shops would suggest that Fareham probably struggles to attract shoppers away from the nearby much larger centres of Portsmouth and Southampton. I made my way under the railway and busy roads of the A27 and A32 to follow the edge of a little park beside the water. I could follow this for a few hundred metres before it was back in front of houses and negotiating the railway and the A27 (a dual carriageway here) again. The Wallington River flows out here (it starts in Waterlooville) into Portsmouth harbour. Once around this I can pick up a good path, heading away from the busy roads and railway.
The railway crosses the river on this attractive brick viaduct. I’ve now left the busy roads behind, the path initially following the rivers edge and then the access road to Cams Mill ahead. This was once I presume a mill. Now the complex is mostly a large and clearly popular pub.
The buildings look to have been well converted, keeping much of their character. I’m always surprised quite how far from London you see Fullers pubs too (they are based in Chiswick), there are quite a few in Dorset, too. Though that is no bad thing in my view, as I like their beer!
Some of the other buildings around the pub are I think part of a business park. Must be nice to have a pub so close! Once past this complex I am now free from traffic and following a rather good compacted gravel path alongside the estuary with a golf course inland.
The weather forecast turned out to be not quite as good as forecast. There is plenty of blue sky around, but it seems not to be coinciding with where the sun is, so it was cold and dull. There is a cold wind blowing, which I am walking into. So it is a relief when the coast (and path) turn right to head south, where I am no longer walking into the wind.
On the other side there is a small marina, but things are more rural on this side.
The tide was going out and as I continued and so the water receded to reveal a mix of shingle beaches and mud. I passed another little marina and soon had views as the river started to widen into the harbour.
Rounding the corner I was then heading east approaching Cams Bay. Nice to have the wind behind me. The waters edge was now mostly a shingle beach with a few trees lining the coast here, it was quite pretty even if it does look a little bleak in winter.
Soon I reached the edge of Cams Bay, a muddy little bay. The rather straight banks of this bay suggest it is, at least partly, man made to me, though I don’t know if this is true. The golf course was now hidden by a thicker area of trees.
At the end of this bay the official route of the footpath is inland, cutting a corner, but there was a well-worn path right around the coast, so I continued on this.
Ahead I could see more boats moored out in the deeper channel, These are reached from the pier at Wicor Lake, ahead.
I continued along the path now with the water right beside me. The harbour had now widened greatly from the river estuary and I could look out over the expanse of water (or rather, mud) at some of the cranes and wharfes at the other side of the harbour.
At the waters edge, plants were growing on the marsh as presumably the waters are calm this far from the open sea.
At the end of the sports fields I have some light industry at Wicor Lake, which forces me a little inland.
To get around this marina, jetty and light industry, I am forced inland around the car park onto the access road. Thankfully it is not a large area of buildings and so I soon turn right back to the coast and and then resume my route along the Allan King Way right along the shoreline. It is a pleasant path, lined with trees and easy going underfoot, even in winter, as it is mostly compacted shingle. To my left now is a brief stretch of countryside. But it does not last long and soon the houses of Portchester are just off to my left. Although the houses are close to the harbour in places, for the most part there is a nice large green separating the houses from the harbour, which I like.
The path briefly goes in front of another area of “works” and then resumes past another small area of countryside on the edge of Portchester. Ahead though is something rather more impressive, Portchester Castle.
These walls are very old and date from roman times. Portchester Castle is fascinating, a medieval castle built within the walls of a former roman fort. As you might expect of such a wonderful building, it is now Grade I listed and in the care of English Heritage. The nice thing is you are free to walk around the outside of the ancient roman walls. Considering the age of the castle it is interesting to see that the line of the sea seems to have changed little in such a long period of time. The walls are close to or next to the harbour, as they would have been when the castle was opened. I guess being at the landward side of the harbour, coastal erosion is not much of a problem.
Rounding the corner the castle walls are now even closer to the harbour.
I suspect the sea once came up to the edge of the castle, but the little low wall has been built to offer protection. Inland you can see the chalk cliffs of Portsdown. As Portsmouth was such an important town to defend there were three lines of forts built. The most inland lie at the top of these chalk downs, where there is a view over most of the harbour and of Portsmouth. The next line was along the coast itself (such as Southsea castle) whilst the next line of defence were the forts built into the Solent itself.
At this eastern side of the castle I now have views over to Paulsgrove Lake. The land on the opposite bank is now close and part of the city of Portsmouth.
It was not always this close though, as much of it is reclaimed land, Horsea Island part of which is now used for a residential development around a marina (Port Solent) and another still in use by the Navy.
Following the castle walls round you seen reach the entrance to the castle.
The castle is very much worth a visit and that is exactly what I did (though on a different date). As you might hope for something with so much history the castle is in the care of English Heritage and is open to the public all year around (only at weekends in the depths of winter, though). Admission is pretty reasonable too I though, at £5.80 currently.
Inside the walls is very interesting. One corner has the more recent (medieval) castle. Another corner has a church whilst a large area of the green is given over to a cricket pitch!
The best feature though is that the keep is largely intact.
This means that it is possible to climb steps right to the top for another fine view over the harbour. That is what I did, of course and it is certainly worth the climb.
There are also fine views inland over the town.
Other parts of the castle are partly ruined, but still very interesting.
Having enjoyed my visit to the castle I headed away from the coast and inland along the road through the town. The area nearest the castle was clearly a very old town too with some attractive buildings.
Sadly as I continued north to reach the station the buildings became less interesting and less attractive, as the town has clearly expanded a lot in more recent years. I soon reached the busy A27 roundabout which I had to negotiate to continue north to the station. From here I could take the train back home.
This was not a long walk and whilst I would not recommend trying to walk all the way around the harbour I thought this little stretch between Fareham and Portchester was excellent. Almost all the path was next to the river or harbour, there was much to see and the terrain was easy. Walking this way also means that you have the wind behind you (a particular bonus if it’s a cold wind, as it was for me) and you get to finish at the fascinating Portchester Castle. If you are in the the area I certainly recommend a visit to Portchester Castle, as well as the Spinnaker Tower and Historic Dockyard. Whilst it might be a large city there is certainly much of interest that is worth visiting in and around Portsmouth.
The relevant website provide all the details you need to know to visit, including opening hours, directions and admission prices.
For the walk here are details of the public transport needed. I recommended travelling between Fareham and Portchester by train. If you are driving I suggest parking either at Fareham station or in the town centre, because there is no car park at Portchester station. Trains between Fareham and Portchester are operated by both South West Trains and Southern on differing routes. However all trains by both companies are listed in this timetable : Fareham and Havant to Portsmouth. There are generally 3 trains each hour between Portchester and Fareham taking 5 minutes. If you are travelling from further afield here are details of the 3 routes serving both stations are below.
South West Trains London Waterloo to Portsmouth Harbour via Eastleigh. London Waterloo – Woking – Farnborough – Basingstoke – Micheldever – Winchester – Shawford – Eastleigh – Hedge End – Botley – Fareham – Portchester – Cosham – Hilsea – Fratton – Portsmouth and Southsea – Portsmouth Harbour. Trains run hourly seven days a week though some trains omit Woking and Farnborough and others also stop at Clapham Junction.
South West Trains Southampton to Portsmouth : Southampton Central – St Denys – Bitterne – Woolston – Sholing – Netley – Hamble – Bursledon – Swanwick – Fareham – Portchester – Cosham – Hilsea – Fratton – Portsmouth and Southsea – Portsmouth Harbour. Trains run hourly, seven days a week.
Southern Trains London Victoria to Southampton Central : London Victoria – Clapham Junction – East Croydon – Gatwick Airport – Three Bridges – Crawley – Horsham – Barnham – Chichester – Southbourne – Emsworth – Havant – Cosham – Portchester – Fareham – Swanwick – Southampton Central. Hourly Monday – Saturday. Trains also operate hourly on this route on Sundays, but do not call at Portchester.