Friday April 9th 1999
Portsmouth – Hill Head
After a winter at home planning, we decided to take a day off from A-level revision (Jen’s not mine) and continue our new adventure.
We were still unsure about which direction to walk, but had come to the conclusion that we would try a walk westwards and see how it felt to have the sea on our left this time. So we travelled back to Portsmouth Harbour station and, after a brief stop for the loo and to buy lunch, we boarded the Gosport ferry.
These large green vessels ply back and forth across Portsmouth Harbour constantly. At busy times there are three or even four boats in service and they provide a shuttle which saves a 17 mile walk around the edge of Portsmouth harbour As well as being a long way, the route is fraught with difficulty as there is a need to negotiate motorways and naval dockyards along the way. The Gosport ferries carry about four million people a year and the company’s slogan; “It’s shorter by water” is very apt. The boats have standing room only downstairs and as the access is flat can carry all wheeled vehicles up to a motorbike. On the top however there are seats and it is always worth braving the steep steps as the views up and down the harbour are wonderful. The crossing usually takes about five minutes but this time was slightly longer as we were treated to the sight of a warship, being guided out of harbour by two tugs called Bustler and Powerful. The ferries give way to boats heading in and out of the port, which seems quite a good idea if an aircraft carrier or the Cherbourg ferry are in the way, but can be frustrating if a long stream of small, slow yachts is passing through.
At Gosport, the esplanade was closed because a “Millennium Promenade” was being constructed so we had to find our way inland past tall blocks of flats to a very narrow bridge over the entrance to Haslar Marina.
We also found our path to the sea blocked by HMS Dolphin, the home of the Royal Navy Submarine Service and location of the Royal Navy Submarine School. Our road ran between very high brick walls concealing HMS Dolphin on one side and The Haslar Hospital on the other.
Half an hour’s fairly unpleasant urban walking brought us to the entrance to Gosport and Stokes Bay Golf Course and a bridleway through the middle to lead us back to the sea at last. Nearby was Fort Gilkicker, a Victorian gun emplacement built to protect the deep-water anchorage at Stokes Bay
We were extremely pleased to have left the town behind and to celebrate we sat on the pebbly beach and ate our lunch.
Suitably refreshed we followed the path through the seaside nature reserve to Stokes Bay. Here are car parks, beach huts, and other attractions including a marked parking space for an ice cream van. The fact that we could read the writing on the road was enough to tell us the ice cream man had stayed at home. Very sensible. The weather was chilly and misty and there were surprisingly few people about.
Shortly afterwards, we found where all the people were hiding; in a lovely warm café alongside the beach with a coffee machine hissing and the smell of hot sausage rolls filling the air. We stopped long enough to stock up with some rolls and cakes for later and continued on our way.
Soon we come upon a rather pretty, pink tarmac path which wound along the back of the beach all the way to Browndown Camp, where we encountered a problem.
Browndown is MOD land and, according to the sign, is accessible to walkers as long as there is no red flag flying and as long as the walkers stick to the paths. There was no red flag, but no visible path either. We were somewhat reluctant to venture across off the paths as we had no idea what we might step on and whether it really was dangerous. Luckily, we found a pair of dog walkers who were going our way and we walked with them for a while. Browndown is a training site used mostly by the Territorial Army and is littered with buildings in various states of repair as part of the training centre. There is also a fearsome looking assault course. We took out leave of the dog walkers at the other end of Browndown, where we found ourselves on another good promenade and the beginning of Lee on the Solent.
It was pleasant to be walking on a hard surface again and we enjoyed the unfolding amenities of a proper seaside resort. Soon we were in the centre of the little town where we called in to a seaside café for chips and coffee to warm us up. The Penguin café had been suggested to us by the dog walkers and we were very glad to take up their recommendation.
After the break we continued along the seafront road and stopped again briefly near HMS Daedelus, which has a wide slipway for the hovercraft that are housed behind massive gates on the opposite side of the main road. The site is used to store the craft and it is hoped one day to open a hovercraft museum here. It is also an airfield and we enjoyed watching planes towing gliders taking off and letting go when they were well out to sea. The end of the runway is just a few yards from the road so the planes were very low overhead as they took off.
We walked on again to Hill Head, which was much quieter and much warmer because the sun finally came out. After a rest on the beach, which here is composed of tiny shells, we finished the walk for the day and caught a bus back to Fareham station and home.
Running Total 15.8 miles