YESTERDAY saw what I now consider a ‘short’ walk even though not that long ago I would have considered it a sizeable distance, i.e. twelve miles. The length of the walk was determined by a moment of unexpected synchronicity – it just so happened that I would reach a handy station (Portsmouth Harbour) twelve miles on from Emsworth and that twelve miles from Emsworth would, quite coincidentally, also be my three hundredth mile.
Well, I practically had to stop there didn’t I?
I was accompanied on this walk by my good friend Simkin, whose camera shames my phone. All pictures from yesterday’s walk are therefore his.
Having introduced Simkin to the great walking tradition of missing one’s train by minutes, we traversed the rail network to arrive in Emsworth an hour later than planned.
Once there, we headed directly south to pick up the path again, our simple logic being that we could only go so far south before we’d encounter Chichester Harbour. As strategies go, it was pretty successful.
Emsworth Mill Pond
The path continued along the foreshore for a bit and then swung out atop a narrow wall that separated Emsworth Mill Pond from the harbour. The mill pond was created in 1760 by damming a tidal creek; although the mill no longer operates, the pond appears to remain pretty popular with Emsworth’s swans.
Once we reached the outskirts of Emsworth the Solent Way footpath, on which we were walking, cut inland but we ignored that and stayed at the water’s edge. Or rather the mud’s edge; the water was still a long way off – the tide advances and recedes quite a distance across the flat muddy harbour bed.
The sun was hot, the sky was a vibrant blue and we’d both remembered to apply some sunscreen. It was pretty glorious.
Gradually, we moved to a point where Hayling Island blocked almost our entire view, it being to our south and shaped like an inverted T. Our path swept us along towards Langstone and we passed Langstone Mill, which was built circa 1730 and is unusual in having combined both a windmill and a tide mill.
These days, the windmill tower has no sails and the mill has been converted into a private residence. Unsurprisingly it is Grade II listed.
The mill pond was teeming with mallards and black-headed gulls, among which a lone moorhen was gracefully picking her way, and as I looked at the cool water I thought to myself ‘I’m thirsty.’ Somewhat serendipitously there was a pub right next door.
Once suitably rested and watered, we left the shade of the Royal Oak, and continued our journey westwards, with me swearing slightly as the bag in which I was carrying the map decided it would never zip again.
We looked out towards the island and spotted the Wadeway, a causeway that linked Great Britain and Hayling Island from pre-Roman times until the 1820s when the builders of the Portsmouth and Arundel Canal cut a deep-water channel right through it.
Curiously, it is still shown as a footpath on my OS map and was even declared a bridleway in 1988!
Replacing the Wadeway was Langstone Bridge, a wooden toll bridge built by the canal company and opened in 1824. This was replaced in 1956 by a dull-looking modern bridge which enjoys some considerable traffic – it carries the only road in and out of Hayling.
Simkin and I crossed the bridge, leaving the island of Great Britain, and only almost got run over by traffic when we decided that we were on the wrong side of the bridge.
Hayling Billy Line
Hayling Island, which is a popular holiday destination with lots of sailing, kayaking and other watery pastimes, used to be served by its own branch line railway, officially (and boringly) the Hayling Island Branch Line but known to one and all as the ‘Hayling Billy’ on account of its small 0-6-0 configuration locomotives, known popularly as ‘Puffing Billies’.
The line was opened by the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway in 1865 and survived for almost a century through amalgamation, nationalisation and two world wars.
It finally came to an end when its wooden swing-bridge required replacing and was deemed to be too expensive. The last train ran in 1963 and the track was ripped up and the stations demolished. The only remaining building is a goods shed, which is now the Station Theatre in South Hayling.
Hayling Billy Path
Having crossed onto Hayling Island, we now left the road to join a combined footpath, cyclepath and bridleway that runs down the west coast of the island along the old Hayling Billy Line trackbed. This was about a million times more pleasant than walking along the A3023 would have been.
Hayling Island Station
The Hayling Billy Path came to an end, naturally enough, at the old terminus of Hayling Island Station, as represented by a helpful sign that had clearly been written by a child of the word processor generation.
Plurals infected with the grocer’s apostrophe were bad enough but whoever had written the information sign, which was admittedly quite informative, clearly also believed that closing quotes and opening quotes are the same thing. In an effort not to scream ‘sixty-six and ninety-nine you idiot!’ at the sign, I came dangerously close to biting through my tongue.
I decided that drawing blood in such a way would be excessive; I’d already managed to cut my finger open just using an OS map.
A short amble through the streets of West Town, which is part of South Hayling, ensued followed by a stretch of road with Sinah Common to our right.
This is apparently a site of special scientific interest (although along this coast you couldn’t trip over without landing on one of those). It is also absolutely covered in gorse, which was enthusiastically blooming, filling the air with the aroma of coconut. I suddenly felt rather hungry.
Shortly thereafter we found ourselves at Ferry Point, from which – shocking, I know – a ferry can be caught to Portsea Island, just a few hundred metres away. The ferry, which is only a small passenger boat, was threatened by a proposed replacement bridge in 1903 but Hayling Parish Council decided to stick with the ferry.
Near to the jetty from which it leaves is the Ferry Boat Inn, which is partly built from the timbers of HMS Impregnable, which sank off the Hayling coast in 1798.
We wandered up to the jetty to check the ferry times, only to find the time of the next ferry was ‘Get a move on if you’re boarding, we have to match up with the bus times on the other side!’ We thus hared it down the jetty and leapt aboard with the crew raising the ramp the moment we were over it.
Despite what Simkin had earlier pointed out was Chris de Burgh’s famous advice, we did in fact pay the ferryman (and the price was already fixed).
Portsea Island, on which we were now standing, is the third most populated island in the British Isles, with about 147,000 inhabitants. This puts it just ahead of the Isle of Wight with 140,000 and considerably behind Ireland with 6.2 million and Great Britain with 60 million. For comparison, Hayling Island has about 17,000 inhabitants. Portsea Island’s considerable population is accounted for by it comprising the heart of the city of Portsmouth.
We mused over these things while enjoying bacon rolls from a handy purveyor of such things. As I have said before, bacon rolls are the Ultimate Food of Walking. They are also the Ultimate Food of Seagulls (as is anything else vaguely edible and indeed some things that aren’t) and our feathered friends were never far away.
The ferry had deposited us in Eastney, a part of Portsmouth that grew up from a hamlet around some Royal Marine barracks that were built in 1867.
We completely missed spotting a fort – one of many fortifications defending Langstone Harbour, although we couldn’t have looked inside it anyway as Fort Cumberland isn’t generally open to the public. It is however the headquarters of English Heritage’s archaeological team.
We did our ‘head south until you run out of land’ trick again to find the beach and promenade – ooh! Shingle my favourite! I thought – and headed west.
At first, it was lovely. Then it was merely ok. Then it became a bit all the same. And then it was dull. We remedied this by buying ice cream, a tried and tested cure.
By this time we could see some of Portsmouth’s landmarks, such as the naval war memorial and the Spinnaker Tower and it was increasingly clear that we were now well within in Hampshire’s second largest city.
Portsmouth has a long and complex history which can largely be summarised thusly:
- King Richard I, known to history as the Lionheart, returned to England – which was frankly rare for him; although a great soldier and adventurer he was actually pretty rubbish at being a King – in 1194, having been a hostage in Austria, and set about building a fleet here, which would become part of the Royal Navy.
- Navy, navy, navy, navy and navy.
- Also, the navy.
Portsmouth is the home of the Royal Navy, to whom it is nicknamed ‘Pompey’, a name also taken up by the local football team. It is thus in some ways a great rival to Plymouth, another of the navy’s principal ports and home of the Royal Marines. Both Simkin and I went to university in Plymouth.
This caused us some odd moments of déjà vu on account of their basic similarity. Both are naval towns with strongly defended harbours. Both have the same design of naval war memorial (also identical, you may recall, to the one in Chatham) and a lighthouse on the shore. Plymouth has nothing like the Spinnaker though.
Isle of Wight
While Portsmouth spread out across the island to our right, on our left another island – the Isle of Wight- dominated the view. There are regular ferries and hovercraft services from the one to the other.
We passed by Clarence Pier, which is covered in amusement arcades and the like and is of a very strange design, running along the coast instead of out to sea and then through Old Portsmouth, heading for Portsmouth Harbour. Now sensing that our destination was close, we headed determinedly towards it, absolutely not getting a bit lost or walking around in a circle. Oh no, not at all.
Portsmouth Harbour Station
As we followed the coast around, Simkin suddenly spotted a railway bridge over a road, which was a pretty obvious clue as to where we could find Portsmouth Harbour Station. We opted to forego the mooted three hundredth mile celebratory drinks in favour of just jumping on the train, which soon whisked us back to London.
And thus, I completed three hundred miles since Gravesend.
This time: 12 miles
Total since Gravesend: 300 miles