Saturday April 15th 2000
Hythe – Netley
In April 2000 the tall ships were due to visit Southampton and we decided to do this walk today as the ships were in port for a few days. We also decided to walk in reverse because the public transport options worked better in that direction. The walk would be a short one to join up Hythe on the edge of the New Forest with Netley where we had finished the previous walk. Jen was home from university for the Easter holidays and it seemed like a good opportunity to see the sea again.
The weather was unpromising early on. It was pouring with rain as we left Winnersh. The rain turned to sleet as we journeyed south and by Basingstoke had changed to snow. For a few miles beyond Basingstoke, everything was white but by the time we reached Southampton it was dry. It stayed dry all day, although there was a sharp wind and we were very glad of our hats, scarves and gloves.
From Southampton station, we caught the South West Trains bus to Hythe, just the two of us and the driver. This is one of those odd services that have survived for years, having been the sop to locals when their railway line was closed. There had been a branch line from Southampton to Fawley along the edge of Southampton water until 1967 and a bus operated by the various train companies had replaced it permanently ever since. The driver was very surprised to have any passengers at all as the bus is barely used. At least it was quick and included in the train fare!
At Hythe, there was a queue for the ferry so we decided to look at the shops before catching the next one. When we arrived back at the ferry terminal two Goldline coaches from Reading had appeared and were disgorging their load of day-trippers onto the ferry pier. Luckily, they had a chartered boat and although we had to wait for a ferry to arrive, there were not many in front of us. We rode along the pier in the little electric train, which appears to hold on to the rails by will power alone. Every time I ride it I put my trust in the fact at it must surely be inspected frequently and by competent people.
When the ferry arrived it filled up rapidly and we were amused and a little uneasy to see the staff bringing on extra life jackets. Apparently the service is not usually so well used on a Saturday morning but word had got out that the boat was the best place from which to view the tall ships at their berths. The word was true and we had a magnificent view of the ships as we crossed to Town Quay in Southampton.
From Town Quay we picked up the Solent Way along the edge of Southampton Docks. The entrances to the docks containing the tall ships were along our way and there were people streaming into them. Eventually we left them behind as we approached the Itchen Bridge. The bridge is a beautiful one to look at but is very high and with a cold wind blowing, not a pleasant crossing. However, we eventually reached Woolston on the other side and had a brief loo stop before continuing. The path led along the main road behind the giant Vosper Thorneycroft shipbuilding works and finally out to the water again at Weston Point.
We followed the path along the shore. It was tarmac for a lot of the way and well provided with seats and bins being a well-known place for locals to watch the shipping on Southampton Water. The wind had dropped and the sun came out so we stopped for lunch and chatted to a man and his dog who came along and shared our bench. He told us that the tall ships were due to leave Southampton the next day and that thousands of visitors were expected on this esplanade. Although we were sorry we had missed the spectacle, it would have made the walk difficult with crowds of people around. We bade farewell to him and followed the path along the side of the water. It was very quiet; the only sounds we could hear were distant fairground music from the tall ships’ docks.
The tarmac path ran out after a while and we had to jump a stream and walk along the beach. When the beach ran out, we walked up a lane into Netley village and along the high street to the main entrance to the Royal Victoria Country Park. Here we found loos and visited the exhibition in the old chapel. We even climbed the bell tower to look at the view. After a sit down on a bench and an extra morsel of lunch, we made our way back to Netley station and came home.
Today’s walk was short but it filled it the gaps and means that we have now walked the full distance between Hythe and Hayling Island. From now on we are going to walk east, so will begin again in the summer from Hayling Island, where we ended walk 2.
Running Total 27.8 miles