This was to be my last walk along the Solent Way, which finishes at Emsworth. I decided to take the train to Hilsea, as it was nearly Christmas and the roads into Portsmouth would be congested with Christmas shoppers (and, truth be told, I was also a little reluctant to leave my car in the area around Hilsea station). I took the fast train as far as Havant and then changed onto a stopping train to reach Hilsea.
I retraced my steps of the previous walk through the industry around Hilsea and finally back to the Solent Way near Anchorage Park. Thankfully this time there were no motorbikes on the path.
It was one of those lovely winter days where it is a clear blue sky though the low temperature meant that it was always a bit hazy. It was near high tide so Langstone Harbour to my right was almost full of water, though I could see that this far north the water was shallow as there were areas of salt marsh visible.
I am walking close to the A2030 and the noise of the traffic drowns out most of the noises from the harbour. The path is though at least a path next to grass until I reach the road bridge.
Now the traffic is very close by but at least there is a pavement so I’m not forced into the road. Now if I look both left and right there is water, a reminder that Portsmouth is an island, albeit one connected by a number of bridges.
At the end of the bridge the road approaches a roundabout on the busy A27 but here the Solent Way turns right along a tarmac path just south of the busy A27. The roar of the traffic is still very much in evidence and sadly there is a lot of litter, but at least I am no longer right next to the traffic. Despite the noise from the traffic this is obviously quite a popular area, as there are several car parks alongside. It is only a few hundred metres where I meet another “almost island”, Farlington Marshes. It is surrounded by the harbour on 3 sides whilst the north side is the busy A27 dual carriageway. There are no buildings on the area and yet it has the feel of somewhere man made.
I was not certain of this but confirmed it when I got home, this is an area of reclaimed land. It was used during World War II as a decoy for nearby Portsmouth which probably explains the number of round ponds full with water – bomb craters.
Fortunately the area has escaped development and is now a nature reserve, so as I had south things soon becomes more peaceful.
On my left I soon pass what I suspect is an old bomb crater, now an attractive little pond. As I head south the traffic noise retreats and the birds become the main sound. It is lovely and peaceful. The haze means Portsmouth looks more distant than it really is.
On my left I am passing a very wet area that looks as if it might once have been a river and almost slices this area in two. It is only around a mile along the easy sea-wall path to the southern point of the marshes, a place called New Milton Fishery.
Rounding the corner it is clear that this part of the harbour is very shallow and several marshy islands have formed. Baker’s Island, South Binness Island, Round Nap Island (love that name!), Long Island and North Binness Island. I suspect when the tide is out you could wade out to these islands, but it would be muddy and I don’t think public access is permitted anyway as they are part of the nature reserve.
Rounding the corner I am now heading north again, around a different part of Langstone Harbour and with Portsmouth now largely out of sight. To my left now are a series of streams and water channels that make up the marshes. I am glad there is a raised path so I can keep dry feet.
The view to my right now from the sea wall and through the haze is of Havant.
Heading further north the gap between Farlington Marshes and North Binness Island is tiny. You could easily walk over now as the tide is out, but an RSPB sign pleads “No Access Please”, confirming what I thought that these islands are all part of a nature reserve.
Out in the distance I can see trees which I assume are part of one of the other islands. The tide is going out now and once I pass the island of North Binness Island there is more marshland to my right.
I have almost rounded Farlington Marshes now so I am back alongside the noise of the A27. The receding waters have left all sorts of interesting patterns where small water channels flow over the green sea weed of the harbour bed.
The birds are enjoying it feeding I suspect on lug worms that have come up from the mud now the tide has gone out.
As I reach the end of the marshes the surfaced path continues alongside the A27 and the slip-road onto the start of the A3(M) motorway. The view out over the harbour is lovely though I can see the sun already getting low in the sky, and I still have a way to go.
As the A3(M) slip road turns off to the left so the path turns a little to the right and I get away from the traffic a bit. The area ahead has the look of more reclaimed land, though it does not even get a name on the Ordnance Survey map. There is a yacht club at the south eastern corner of this area with a slipway for launching the boats into the harbour, but it is all quiet today.
I am now approaching another large town, this time Havant. It soon makes it’s presence felt with the unwelcome sight of industry ahead.
Here the path runs alongside an attractive creek but it is spoilt by the cranes and piles of rubble ahead. Still the path remains quite nice, running alongside the edge of a thin strip of trees and bushes on the left until I reach the road ahead. Here I can turn right and cross the fairly wide stream here, which oddly seems to have no name on the OS map. An old mill marked on the map hints at it’s former use, though. I have to continue on this road through the industry for about 500 metres to the end of the creek where I can turn alongside the stream. Luckily it is the weekend so the industry is all quite and there is very little traffic.
There is another small bridge over this and a brick weir just next to the bridge. Another controlled stream perhaps once also the site of a mill? At the end of the creek thankfully things become rather more rural again.
Whilst the view is better it stinks around here and the reason is obvious from the map, just inland is a sewage works. Reaching the edge of the harbour once more the harbour is now a mixture of rocks and mud.
An outfall is marked on the map, from the sewage works. It is therefore hardly a surprise to come across a sign warning not to bathe and that the shellfish will be contaminated.
Soon the smell of the sewage works has gone and I am once again alongside marsh with the harbour to my right. To my left much of the area is developed with a large industrial estate, but this does not stretch right down to the waters edge, thankfully. Ahead I soon have to cross another small creek. Again the path heads a bit inland, but this one looks more natural with no weirs or man-made banks.
However beyond this I have to follow the road – Mill Road which suggests this too was a mill stream. I am now heading past the houses that mark the edge of the small village of Langstone. Given the sizeable communities around the harbour it is perhaps a surprise that it is this tiny one the harbour appears to be named under.
I am soon crossing an old railway line. This used to link Havant with Hayling Island, crossing to the island on to a bridge. The weight restriction on this (now removed) bridge, which had a lifting wooden section meant that only small steam locomotives could be used. This earnt the line the nickname “Hayling Billy” line (as the locomotives were often called Puffing Billy).
Other than the removed bridge, most of the railway line is now a footpath and cycle path, known as the Hayling Billy Coastal Path. It now also forms part of the long-distance Shipwrights Way a new long distance walk Hampshire County Council have done excellent work in creating (as it also crosses previously inaccessible military land in places). I cross the old railway line though and reach the A3023, the only road out onto Hayling Island.
Here I have another thing to consider. Should I divert and walk around Hayling Island or miss it out? I decided for now to continue on the mainland following the Solent Way ahead to Emsworth (but it won’t surprise you to learn that I subsequently came back and walked around Hayling Island, too). The Solent Way crosses the main road and continues straight ahead along a quieter road which turned out to be lovely.
Lined mostly with thatched cottages painted in attractive pastel shades, it was very beautiful.
This is Langstone High Street, and it is lovely. It gets better though. At the end of the high street the houses on the right end and those on the left front directly onto the harbour.
Only a low stone wall protects the houses but they are clearly very old and look absolutely lovely. The one at the end is also a pub and what a lovely location for a pub. I am very tempted to stop but I wanted to finish the Solent Way today and I won’t make it before dark if I do stop. So reluctantly, I head on.
The path runs along the raised wall right in front of the houses and they have a fine view over the harbour.
Even at low tide it is lovely, with the boats now marooned on the mud flats, at high tide it must be a stunning view and what a sight to wake up to each morning. The buildings have not given up their struggle to the sea yet though because ahead is another unusual building.
Towers like this near the coast are usually lighthouses, but there is no light at the top. So I assumed instead it was perhaps a windmill. This turns out to be correct, it used to be a windmill (Langstone Mill), but is now converted to a private residence. More surprisingly is that it appears to be built entirely on the mud, with most of the building raised up on stilts.
The Solent Way goes beside this “island” mill and gives a nice view back over Langstone. I loved Langstone and feel a little sad to be leaving it. The path ahead is more or less a causeway with the harbour on one side and a large pond on my left. When this ends it resumes it’s course right along the shoreline with the grounds of Wade Court off to the left. The views of the harbour are lovely now, with the sun getting increasingly low in the sky and that lovely pre-sunset light.
I passed what looked like it might be the remains of a shipwreck embedded in the mud and shingle. Langstone was now becoming distant, with the sun beginning to set almost over the old windmill.
There was now a bit of a chill in the air as the sun got low. Normally this would make me quicken my pace a bit but I am enjoying the views of the harbour so much. The sky is now dotted with flocks of birds flying in the distinctive V-shape heading to roost for the night, it is a lovely sight to watch them against the setting sun.
It is beautiful and I take many photos. Sadly the path does not continue right along the shore all the way to Emsworth, I am soon directed to turn inland.
The path soon brings me into the cemetery that surrounds the church at Warblington. This is a tiny place now with just a few houses, the church and a farm but the map suggests this too was once an important place with the remains of a castle a little inland. The path goes through the centre of the cemetery. The church bells are ringing to my right, for reasons unknown (I hope it is for a happy occasion). As the sun is getting lower, the mist is coming in. In this ancient church yard, with the sound of the church bells and the mist coming in over the harbour I feel like I could have stepped back almost 1000 years and looked upon largely the same scene (the church is 12th Century, so not far off 1000 years old). It is a wonderful place.
Looking inland I can see what looks like another church tower, but I later find out that this is in fact the remains of the castle. The setting sun though means I must continue and the path ahead now goes on a path between fields, with cattle grazing in one of them. I pass a little area of trees and then the path is back alongside the waters of Langstone Harbour. A few boats are moored up at the little creek here.
The onward path from here is easy, a tarmac path behind the houses of Emsworth and with the harbour on my right.
Pretty soon it becomes a wide gravel track, used by cars to access some of the properties. After a few houses the gravel track soon narrows to a path again with the large back gardens now backing the path on my left. Ahead I soon reach another yacht club and beyond that a bit of a surprise. I have water on both sides again!
This is Emsworth Mill Pond a tidal mill pond, though I am not sure if it is still tidal since it is full of water and the tide is now low. The Solent Way continues on a minor road which runs the coastal side of this pond, it feels like a causeway. At the end it rejoins the road where I can look back and it looks almost like the people are walking on water!
The sun has now set and the waters of the mill pond are incredibly calm, it is a serene place. I continued with the Solent Way until it ends at the square in the centre of the village. From here I followed the road north to the roundabout over the A259. This is the old coast road I think before the A27 dual carrigeway was built. It is still pretty busy, though. The A259 will becomes very familiar on the walks ahead! Crossing the road this side of the village is more modern and I continue further inland to reach the railway station and the end of my walk.
As I am waiting for a train to take my back to Hilsea I think of my progress. Emsworth is the last place in Hampshire, I am only about 300 metres from the border with West Sussex. I have nearly finished walking the Hampshire coast. Counties are an obvious way to measure progress around the coast. But there are other changes I notice too. The road numbers now begin with a 2, not a 3. The station too is different. From the start of this blog in (beside the Severn) when I used a train it was usually run by First Great Western and if going to London, it was off to London Paddington. This continued through Somerset, North Devon, Cornwall and most of South Devon. As I reached east Devon I found that if I wanted to catch a train it was then South West Trains, running into London Waterloo, which continued through Dorset and most of Hampshire. But the trains have changed too. Now I am waiting for a Southern Train and listening to announcements for trains to London Victoria rather than Waterloo. Another way to measure my progress.
I took the train as far as Havant, where I could then change for another train back home, it took me around 1 hour and 20 minutes to get back to my local station.
I really enjoyed this walk. It was helped by a beautiful sunny winters day, but the marshes were an interesting contrast to the urban landscape which was never far away, with the city of Portsmouth close by at the start and I also passed the large town of Havant. Langstone was unexpectedly lovely, as was little Warblington in the marshes. Despite the changes all around these places seemed to have remained largely the same for hundreds of years. Long may they remain.
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-
Southern trains Portsmouth – Littlehampton : Portsmouth and Southsea – Fratton – Hilsea – Bedhampton – Havant – Warblington – Emsworth – Southbourne – Nutbourne – Bosham – Fishbourne – Chichester – Barnham – Ford – Littlehampton. Hourly Monday – Saturday. It takes a little under 15 minutes between Hilsea and Emsworth. There is no service on Sundays to Hilsea on this route. There are additional services available by changing at Havant, including on Sundays. For details, check on National Rail.