Salt marsh, floods and road walking: The Solent Way

This is a belated post, due to a busy work week – I did this walk last weekend whilst visiting my in-laws for the weekend (a busy weekend, combined with caravan training and fitting the car with a towbar). I decided to walk the Solent Way from Barton Cliffs (near my in-laws) north towards Beaulieu. I’ve deliberately not been measuring distances too precisely but from the website (http://www.solentway.co.uk/) it looked to be around 20 miles, which is the target daily average for LEJOG.

Of course, as with all my training walks, it didn’t go entirely according to plan. I started off alright, walking from about halfway between Barton and Milford on Sea – a nice fresh morning with a brisk sea breeze and not too hot. Other than the odd dog-walker, there were very few people around. I was feeling energetic and happy to be outside in the fresh air, helped by the sunshine and cliff views. (Apologies for the quality of the photos in this post as in the last one, blame it on the Blackberry!).

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Unfortunately, when I got about halfway along the golf course I was stopped by a big sign telling me the cliff path had been closed due to erosion because of the winter’s storms, and diverting me through the golf course – onto the busy B3058. I’m not a great fan of walking through golf courses, and particularly not driving ranges – it’s nice underfoot but I always feel like I’m at risk of getting a golf ball in the head – and I was deeply unimpressed when the diversion simply brought me out onto the road and stopped. There was nothing for it but to walk nervously along the edge of the road, pressing myself into the hawthorn hedges each time a car or truck came roaring past at 60 miles an hour (way to kill off the tourists, New Forest). After about 15 minutes of this I was beginning to wonder whether I would live to make it back to the coast and so I was deeply relieved when my partner and father-in-law appeared in the car, like knights in shining armour, and gave me a lift back to the cliff path just before Milford on Sea. Now I could get on with some proper walking.

As large banners put up at the side of the path tell you, this winter’s storms have wrought terrible damage on this bit of the coast, and the council is doing its best to repair the path and access to the beaches. In some places, whole chunks of the path had simply fallen into the sea, and when I reached Hurst Castle there was just a large lake where previously there was a road:

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I walked some of this route just after Boxing Day and it was sad to see how much it had been damaged. Still, once the path turned further inland towards Keyhaven and the salt marshes, it was hard not to feel exhilarated in the breeze, with birds wheeling overhead and the sun glinting off the water.

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The Keyhaven marshes are a nature reserve and part of the New Forest National Park – it’s one of my favourite parts of this walk. This was once an industrial landscape – windmill-powered pumps would draw brine out of the salt water into boiling pans, with the resulting salt taken by barges inland via canal or round the coast. There is the odd sign explaining how the process worked and showing a bustling landscape of cottage factories and barges which is very different to the peaceful nature reserve you now see.

Once through the saltmarshes you arrive at Lymington, a town where the stunning landscape and boats are matched only by the unfriendliness of the locals. After a quick lunch, I headed out of town with some relief, across the river and uphill. There is a monument in the woods to Sir Harry Burrard Neale, MP for Lymington in the early 19th century, which is surprisingly impressive, and the path then heads inland across a golf course and farmland. There are two memorial signs marking the sites of temporary airfields set up during World War II, and a slightly comedy warning to watch out for planes crossing the path:

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The path was very wet in lots of places going through Pylewell Park, and provided a good opportunity to check that the new boots are completely waterproof! After threading through the Sowley woods, the path then emerges onto the road. And continues on the road until Buckler’s Hard, which I estimate to be a distance of about 5 or 6 miles. Not much fun at all – although there was little traffic and wide grass verges, it was tedious and hard on the feet, and with none of the wide coastal views that made the first part of the walk so nice. I eventually got to Buckler’s Hard just as the rain began, having decided to call it a day after a cup of tea. I was a bit regretful about missing the last part of the walk – the few miles up the river to Beaulieu – but there’s always next time.

I’m definitely getting fitter – admittedly this wasn’t a hilly walk by any means, but I was still feeling energetic at the end, which is a good sign. Oh, and for those of you worried I’m a fair-weather walker I got caught in a freezing downpour in the middle of a field – good to know the jacket’s still waterproof too. Just over a month to go!

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Snapshots: Salt spray in my face while taking photographs of the Needles; a husband and wife out for a walk together, both wearing headphones; excited children in multicoloured lifevests having a sailing lesson in mini dinghies; crunchy chips in the pub garden; larks, swans and wading birds in the nature reserve; handwritten dedications on photographs of ex-servicemen at the memorial sign; the sound of hounds and hunting horns in the woods near Sowley Pond.

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One thought on “Salt marsh, floods and road walking: The Solent Way

  1. Hi Leonie … I’m enjoying reading about your preparations and look forward to the start of your LEJOG in 4 weeks time! Cheers, Steve.

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