Thursday, 5 March 2009

Solent Way Day 1 Milford-on-Sea - Lymington

Milford View
In 2006 and 2007 I undertook a course at Southampton University, attending for an intensive residential week on eight separate occasions on an approximately quarterly basis. This was the perfect opportunity for me to explore the Solent Coast although I would only have the odd couple of hours here and there, which meant that unlike some of the walks I have done, there was no flow to the walk and many sections I had to have a few goes at until I completed them. One big section I decided to leave altogether due to the difficulty of timing a walk with public transport. Despite the difficulties with the route and lack of time, I did nonetheless find it very interesting and varied as it traversed the length of the Hampshire Coast and crossed countryside as diverse as the Lymington Marshes, the New Forest, Southampton Water and Portsmouth.

Hurst Castle
The first section was completed one September afternoon on a rare afternoon off from coursework and was undertaken in one complete section in line with my usual tradition of parking at one end (Lymington) and using public transport to reach the other end (Milford). Today I took the frequent bus from Lymington to Milford on the Bournemouth route. Milford is a pleasant if unremarkable place but its real attraction is its seafront, which has fantastic views to Hurst Castle, Bournemouth and beyond and the Needles on the Isle of Wight. It was a very sunny and blustery place to start my walk and had the impression of the meeting place of south west coast and south east coast, with their very different and distinct characters.

Hurst Castle
The way ahead was slightly odd since the first port of call would be Hurst Castle, approximately a mile away along a shingle spit. It was required viewing despite the nuisance of the difficult walk along the shingle, only to have to return the same way. Eventually I made it after feeling as if I had been walking on a conveyor belt for half an hour and I took the time to have a good look around the outside of the castle. I was a bit short of time and a bit skinflint to want to go inside, but will bank it for another time when I’m next down this way. Even from the outside the place looked very impressive and certainly looked as if it offered plenty of protection against would be invaders thinking that the Solent would be an easy way in. While there I tinkered with the idea of heading back using the small ferry that was calling my name, but as the overall mileage of the day was relatively short I resisted the temptation and headed back along the spit.

Hurst Spit Lighthouse
On the way back I decided that the front edge of the spit was not for me and found much easier going inside on the way back. As I headed back towards the Keyhaven shore I watched various seafood collectors out on the mudflats collecting cockles and whatever other treats lurk beneath. It wasn’t surprising that the shoreline road was pretty chock full of cars, partly because of visitors to the castle and the rest from the various fishermen.
Keyhaven Ferry

Now that I had returned from the spit and castle the rest of the walk wound around the sea wall that protected the Keyhaven Marshes from incursion by seawater in the Solent. It was a path that was very frustrating as it never seemed to get any further forward! Luckily the views across to the Isle of Wight and back to Hurst Castle and Lighthouse helped somewhat and on the landward side many of the marshes and flooded areas were teeming with a massive array of birdlife with various gulls, wading birds, ducks and swans all sharing the same space. It was easy to see why this is well known for being a birdwatchers paradise.

Keyhaven Marshes
As I neared Lymington I saw the strange sight of the Isle of Wight ferry seemingly crossing fields! It was an optical illusion of course, as it was actually weaving its way through various vegetated muddy islands in order to get into port after its short crossing from Yarmouth, quite visible to the naked eye on the Wight shore opposite.

Lymington Ferry
Eventually I reached Lymington, a lovely little port that is probably by-passed by many visitors heading to the Isle of Wight. That’s a shame because it deserves a few tourists in its own right. For me this was the perfect introduction to the Solent Way – a bit wild and whetting the appetite for more to come.

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