Wednesday 29th August 2001
Glorious weather this week called us back to the sea and we decided to head south for a final summer walk. As it was mid-week and as the journey would be quick, we went for a slightly later start with a Cross Country train direct from Reading to Brockenhurst. We had decided to do this walk in reverse as the transport options made it easier to walk west, finishing once again at Hordle Cliff.
At Brockenhurst we changed onto the branch line train to Lymington Town station where we began the walk. The first section was through the coastal edge of Lymington town, some of which was walk-able along the sea front, though we had to divert inland around various buildings which had private access to the seafront here, including a yacht club. The seawater swimming pool was full of bathers and looked inviting. Soon after this we emerged through a gate onto the sea wall and immediately left the town behind.
The path for most of the day was to take us along this sea wall, which protects the land from the sea and is part of an elaborate drainage system. The whole area is marshy and there were sandbanks out to sea as well as in the pools on the landward side of the wall. We sat down to eat our lunch where we could still watch the yachts and ferries moving in and out of Lymington Harbour then moved on along the wall. As we walked, we could see the remains of the salterns for which Lymington was once famous and of which the drainage channels had been an important part. Salt was a vital commodity – as well as preserving and improving the taste of food, it was used for tanning hides to make leather and for treating wounds. Salt here was made through a process of first drawing sea water into clay-lined pans where some of the water evaporated. The concentrated brine was then pumped by windmills to tanks outside the boiling houses. The salt boiling houses are still standing and are now Grade II listed buildings. Once the brine arrived at the boiling houses, it entered large copper or iron boiling pans which were fired by coal brought by barge from the Newcastle area. As the water was evaporated, the salt crystals could be skimmed off to be dried and stored before being taken out again by barge to ships for transportation.
Evidence shows that at its peak in around 1730 there were 163 pans in the Lymington area.
The contrast with previous walks was very marked as we were definitely away from any civilisation although frequent footpaths heading inland meant there were always dog walkers coming and going for company.
We were forced to turn inland ourselves when we came across a sluice gate, which should have been closed to take the path across the top. However, it was open and the bar to close it was on the other side of the water! We followed the watercourse for a while until we came to a house and a junction of paths. The footpath we needed to follow in order to cross the steam appeared to go through the front drive of the house so we were not certain. Luckily, a man with two golden Labradors came along and assured us that it did indeed go through the house drive and out on to the road. From there, he showed us another path that would take us back to the sea. We soon regained the familiar sea wall and continued on our way.
As we neared Keyhaven, we met an elderly lady and an equally elderly dog who were bird watching. She told us there were oystercatchers, curlews, little egrets, greenshanks and various other exciting birds on the marshes but sadly, we were not knowledgeable enough to spot any, although we heard several unfamiliar calls.
The sea wall ended at Keyhaven where we crossed a bridge over the Avon Water and made our way to the ferry for Hurst Castle. The village is small with just a few houses and a boatyard as well as the ferry landing. It is possible to walk the one and a half miles along the Hurst Spit to the castle but it is shingle and quite hard going so we opted for the easy way.
We did not have too long to wait for the ferry and enjoyed the short journey between sandbanks and moored boats. On the ferry were six very well behaved little boys who, we later discovered, were cubs. Much later, we saw a company of Rangers walking along the spit.
We were amazed at the size of the castle as we approached because we had been expecting just a small tower. It was enormous, having been originally built by Henry VIII in the same way as Southsea Castle and expanded by the Victorians. As it commands the entrance to the Solent and is really just a few feet from the Isle of Wight, it was probably a very sensible thing to do. Unfortunately, our time was limited and we only had half an hour to explore as well as have a much needed coffee and loo break. We decided to come back again one day and have really good look.
We caught the 4.30 ferry back to Keyhaven, enjoying not only the views but also a chat with an elderly lady and gentleman whom Jen had encountered while exploring. They lived at Gosport, near Gilkicker Fort and they were delighted that we had heard of it and very amused when we worked out that we had walked past their house a couple of years earlier!
From the ferry, a proper path continued along the seafront to the end of Hurst Spit, where we crossed a stream then followed it to emerge on Milford on Sea prom. From there a good promenade path took us all the way to Hordle.
The last half hour as always, was hard work but we arrived just in time to get a cup of tea and the 6 o’clock bus back to Lymington.We just missed a train at Lymington, which meant we missed the last through train of the day north and had to change trains at Basingstoke as well as Reading. However, we were very lucky with trains at both places and were home at 9.30.
Running Total 58.7 miles