XXI – Southampton to Lymington

Hasteful MammalMONDAY’S walk is perhaps best characterised by ‘fun and failure’, which, if it wasn’t a phrase before, might well become my walking motto.

Failure number one was on the part of South West Trains, whose service over the bank holiday weekend was looking to be less than Sterling.

In particular, trains into Waterloo East appeared to have metamorphosed into buses early on Monday morning, and anyway wouldn’t start until quite late. This meant there was no chance of catching a really early train back down to Southampton.

But then it occurred to me that if my local trains were to be replacement buses, why not just catch a bus anyway? Which was why I came to be catching the night bus at five to four in the morning. This worked a treat, depositing me in central London just in time to watch the sun come up, accompanied by a raucous chorus of crows.

Southampton

Southampton Central

Waterloo station was suitably deserted at this mad hour and I soon found myself racing south to arrive in Southampton a couple of minutes after seven.

Unfounded Optimism

At this point things were looking pretty good – I had all day to walk my twenty miles to New Milton and I should arrive at Keyhaven in time to catch the ferry across to Hurst Castle, thus obviating the need to walk the length of Hurst Spit twice. The sky was a bit greyish but had the promise of blue skies later. All I had to do to start my walk was catch the free bus down to Town Quay and hop across on another ferry to Hythe.

So I waited for a bus. And waited. And waited. And then walked…

Civic Centre

It was only a mile to Town Quay but it was an extra mile that I’d not figured into my plan. Still, I figured I could easily absorb that. Also, it took me past Southampton’s magnificent civic centre, which is built in an imposing 1930s neoclassical style and wouldn’t have been out of place in Berlin at the time of its construction.

Town Wall

Actually, it was more of an interesting mile than the initial appearance of shopping malls and offices suggested. For instance, it took me past more of the ancient town wall, which is surprisingly intact.

Mediaeval town walls
Rebuilt and improved on the orders of Edward III, about half of the old town wall is still standing. This is impressive and it’s sobering to realise that were they to be built today this longevity would be considered ‘over-engineering’ and the structures downscaled for cost.

The stone used to build these walls did not come from the Southampton area, as it lacked any that was suitable. Instead, all the limestone needed was carried over from the Isle of Wight. To facilitate this, the duty fees for ships arriving in port were reduced if they ferried across some of the stone.

Southampton Castle

Just past that section of wall lay the remains of two drum towers that flanked Southampton Castle, although the site of the actual castle was occupied by a modern office block. Then, slightly further still, I passed this:

Merchant’s House
A half-timbered mediaeval merchant’s house
This is a mediaeval merchant’s house, built in 1290. It is a grade I listed building. Its neighbours are all twentieth century buildings, which gives it a certain incongruous charm.
Hythe Ferry

My next task was to buy a ticket for the Hythe Ferry, the website of which assured me that it would be running over the May Bank Holiday. And it was. Although not until ten o’clock.

I may have said some rude words.

So I grabbed a coffee or several and sat and read a book for two and a half hours, in the full knowledge that I had now lost the entire advantage of catching the four o’clock night bus and that I’d have been at Town Quay at exactly the same time even if I’d waited for my first local train.

Also, the likelihood of reaching the ferry at Keyhaven before it stopped running was now low. This would mean either adding three miles to my walk or missing out Hurst Castle altogether. Although, as it ultimately transpired, neither would be the case…

RMS Queen Mary 2

While I was waiting, I could hardly help but notice this awesomely massive shape, sitting majestically in her dock in Ocean Terminal:

The QM2 docked in Portsmouth
This is the transatlantic ocean liner RMS Queen Mary 2, flagship of the Cunard Line.

Launched in 2003, the QM2 (as she is generally known) is named for the previous RMS Queen Mary, which sailed between 1934 and 1967 and was named in turn for the consort of George V. The QM2 is massive, displacing 76,000 tonnes of water. She is 345m in length and carries up to 3,056 passengers and 1,253 officers and crew.

The prefix ‘RMS’ indicates a Royal Mail Ship, indicating she also carries post under contract from the Royal Mail. Most of the great liners did this, including the White Star Line’s doomed RMS Titanic (her home port was also Southampton).

Hythe & Dibden

Hythe Pier

Eventually, the Hythe Ferry showed up and carried me on the twelve minute journey across Southampton Water to the town of Hythe; there has been a ferry crossing here dating back as far as 1575.

The modern ferry docks at the end of the 640m long Hythe Pier, opened in 1881, which has a narrow gauge electric railway running its length. This is claimed to be the oldest pier railway in the world, although one wonders how many others there actually are (I know there’s one in Southend).

In 2003 the pier was unexpectedly cut in half by Andrew Cameron Bartlett, who was drunk in charge of a dredger and spent the next eight months in prison for it. The pier was quickly repaired and reopened in 2004.

The Hythe Pier train
This is the Hythe Pier train, about to save me a windswept walk along the pier. It’s included in the price of the ferry crossing. Sudden dredger collisions are a potential free bonus.

I felt ambivalent about taking the Hythe Pier train but ultimately reasoned that the pier was not dry land and, accordingly, the train was really a special type of ferry by which to complete the crossing of Southampton Water.

Hythe

Hythe is a pleasant enough small town and its streets near the pier are quite picturesque. This was the home of Sir Christopher Cockerel – inventor of the hovercraft – from 1960 until his death in 1999.

Another famous – though brief – inhabitant of Hythe was T. E. Lawrence – the famous ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ – who lived in Hythe from 1931 to 1932, when he was seconded by the RAF to the British Power Boats factory. The village’s link with small powered vessels endured into WW2, when it served as a port for the ‘Royal Navy’s little ships’ such as the Motor Torpedo Boats.

Pedestrianised street in Hythe village
A street this flat would be absolutely ideal for a hovercraft.
Dibden Purlieu

My original plan was to continue onwards from Hythe along the Solent Way footpath. A quick look at the map showed that this headed directly south and then north-west, describing two sides of a triangle around the edge of Hythe and neighbouring Dibden Purlieu. However, since the path didn’t actually go anywhere near the coast, blocked as it was by Fawley Oil Refinery (which I had no great desire to see close up), I decided instead to cut straight through the middle of the village.

There followed a couple of miles of fairly typical suburban main road during which Hythe gave way to Dibden Purlieu, which is one of the wealthier villages of Hampshire (it was the 247th richest ward out of 8,414 in 2000) and has an unusually high rate per capita of yacht ownership.

Purlieu (‘pur-loo’) is a Norman-French word meaning ‘the outskirts of a forest’ and indicating a place free from forestry laws in an age where ‘forest’ signified a Royal deer-hunting area in which a whole host of very particular laws and rights applied (some of which still do). The Dibden part of the name derives from Deepdene, as the village is noted in the Domesday Book, dene being an Anglo-Saxon word for valley.

Nowadays the village is chiefly a commuter satellite of Southampton.

The New Forest

Crossing the Boundary

On the far side of Dibden Purlieu I crossed the boundary of the New Forest, which includes the largest remaining tracts of unenclosed pasture, heath and forest – in the sense of ‘a lot of trees’ – in the heavily-populated south east of England.

Neither New nor Forest

Quite a lot of the New Forest is not forest in the ‘trees’ sense but was so designated in the legal sense of a place where only the King could hunt deer when the New Forest was created as a royal forest by William I in 1079. It is very typically English that a forest labelled as ‘new’ in 1079 should still be labelled that today, 932 years later.

The Conqueror called it the New Forest – Nova Foresta – because it was new, having been stitched together from the land of more than 20 small settlements/farms and great swathes of what had hitherto been called the Great Ytene Wood (where ‘Ytene’ is an archaic form meaning ‘Jutish’, as in pertaining to the Jutes, who settled post-Roman Britain alongside the Angles and Saxons).

Court of Verderers

A court of verderers was appointed to administer the forest laws and still sits to this day, holding its court in Lyndhurst. The verderers upheld the King’s laws – essentially anyone other than the King who hunted deer could be executed for poaching – and administered the rights of common held by those who lived in the forest.

These included the right to turn horses and cattle out into the forest to graze (the right of common pasture), to gather wood or cut peat for fuel (estovers and turbary), to dig clay (marl), and to turn out pigs between September and November to eat fallen acorns and beechnuts (pannage or mast) which would otherwise poison the ponies and cattle.

While the executions for poaching have long since ended, the other rights remain in force and are legally attached to ownership of certain houses within the forest.

New Forest Ponies

I hadn’t been in the New Forest more than five minutes when I was immediately confronted with evidence of the right of common pasture, in the form of a New Forest pony, one of thousands that roam the forest, each marked as belonging to a forest commoner but essentially roaming wild.

There are written references to New Forest ponies going as far back as 1016 and the ponies are strong, hardy and not nearly as barkingly mental as the ponies on Dartmoor in Devon.

I would see a lot of ponies munching grass by the roadside as the day wore on. They paid me no heed whatsoever, and why should they?

A New Forest pony
We’ve lived here since before the Norman Conquest. You’re here for the day. Why on earth should I pause grazing to acknowledge you? You’ll be gone before I look up anyway.
Gorse

I merrily wandered alongside the B3054, enjoying the sunshine, which was breaking through the cloud, and breathing in a heady aroma of coconut that seemed to be omnipresent. It was lovely.

Gorse bushes growing on open heathland
If you want to recreate the effect of standing in a heath of gorse bushes that stretch as far as you can see, just snort creamed coconut directly up your nose.

As I approached the imaginatively named Hill Top, located at the top of a low hill, I passed through a rather less coconutty part of the heath.

Gorse bushes burnt by a wildfire
Burnt Gorse does not smell of toasted coconut.
Hill Top

I would have quite liked to have spotted an adder but it was still quite a cool day and about a week too early for them to be mating so they kept themselves hidden. My attention was hijacked in any case by the welcoming sight of the Royal Oak, a pub sitting in isolated splendour at the road junction that marks Hill Top.

I popped inside to enjoy a cold drink just moments before the whole of Hampshire appeared to decide that lunch at the Royal Oak was just the thing. It was, I remembered, the May bank holiday.

Beaulieu

The road onwards from Hill Top was quite different in character, as open heathland was replaced by woodland on either side of the road, as it passed through the top edge of Moonhills Copse. A sign at the junction also announced that henceforth I was on the Beaulieu Estate, which covers 9000 acres. A mile later I arrived in Beaulieu village.

Beaulieu (pronounced ‘byoo-lee’) is a rather lovely little village which once housed a powerful and important abbey. In 1538, when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, its gatehouse was bought by the Montagu family who turned it into their magnificent stately home, Palace House.

Part of Beaulieu, including the Beaulieu River
Part of Beaulieu looking upstream along the Beaulieu River towards the bridge. The abbey lay to the right of this photo.

Extended several times, Palace House is now a magnificent Victorian gothic structure and large parts of it are open to the public.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu

The house remains the home of Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, an eighty-four year old peer who founded the National Motor Museum (in the grounds of the house), was imprisoned for homosexuality in 1954 (when it was still illegal; Lord Montagu is bisexual) and who still sits in the House of Lords as one of the 92 hereditary peers elected to remain in parliament following its 1999 reform. Lord Montagu is a Conservative peer.

National Motor Museum

I’ve visited Beaulieu before, in 1985 when I was all of fifteen, and was deeply impressed by the house, the grounds, the National Motor Museum and the fact that they have a monorail (the first one in England). How cool is that?

Lord Montagu founded the motor museum in 1952 as a tribute to his father, who had been the first person to drive a motor car into the yard at Parliament, and who introduced the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) to motoring in the 1890s.

It includes among its 300+ exhibits Malcolm Campbell‘s 1925 350HP Sunbeam, Henry Segrave‘s 1927 Sunbeam 1000 hp and 1929 Golden Arrow and Donald Campbell‘s Bluebird CN7 all of which broke the then-current land speed record.

Beaulieu Abbey

Of course, there are also the ruins of the abbey.

Gateway to Beaulieu grounds
All of these things were hiding behind this gate.
The Village

Reluctantly I turned my back on Beaulieu’s attractions and headed through the village, amused to see that the arms of the Montagu family – argent, three fusils in fess gules, a bordure sable – are everywhere on the Beaulieu Estate, using heraldry as modern corporate branding.

The road through Beaulieu village with red brick cottages.  Wooden bollards display the fusils of the Montagu coat of arms
The Montagu arms? ‘Bollards,’ I say!
Keeping Copse

Having obtained an ice cream from a little shop, I headed south from Beaulieu towards Bucklers Hard, a picturesque village built by the Montagus – they originally called it Montagu Town – at the highest point on the Beaulieu River that was navigable at all tides (the final four miles of the river, which rises near Lyndhurst, are tidal).

The path headed out across open fields before plunging into Keeping Copse.

A broad track through green, leafy forest
At least some of the New Forest is actually made up of forest.

After a while it gave me two choices, to either follow the path as marked on my map (the ‘direct route’ to Bucklers Hard), or to take a scenic, riverside route. I chose the latter.

The Beaulieu River, glimpsed through trees
And here, to prove it, is a view of the river through the trees.
Bucklers Hard

Eventually, after much meandering, the path spat me out in Bucklers Hard, which was built by the second Duke of Montagu (1690-1749) as a free port for trade with the West Indies.

This tiny hamlet went on to provide timbers for many Royal Navy vessels and was where Sir Francis Chichester began and finished his single-handed voyage around the world in Gipsy Moth IV in 1966, becoming the first person to sail single-handedly around the world, following the clipper route.

Part of the hamlet of Bucklers Hard
Part of the hamlet of Bucklers Hard

Bucklers Hard is largely given over to a maritime museum and accordingly there is a tea room, where I availed myself of the opportunity to fuel my walk with tea and Victoria sponge cake.

I then navigated my way through the car park, had an unexpected chat with a talkative (and possibly bored) man at the gate about where I had walked from and where I was heading next and then I set off along the massive, thunderingly traffic-heavy highway towards St Leonards Grange.

A single-track road
I may have exaggerated the massive and thunderingly traffic heavy aspects of the road.
St Leonards Grange

The tiny hamlet of St Leonards Grange was one of four granges (the outlying farms of an abbey) belonging to Beaulieu Abbey and its tithe barn was one of the largest in England. Its remains are visible from the road.

The ruins of a large stone barn
The remains of the giant tithe barn. Whatever other vows the monks of Beaulieu may have taken, starvation certainly wasn’t intended as an option.

A deafening cacophony of crows accompanied my walk through St Leonard’s Grange, although what had disturbed them I have no idea. Perhaps they just didn’t like me? Anyway, I left them to it and headed west, now walking parallel to the coast. I passed a number of small farms and several more ponies and suddenly a vista opened up on my left, allowing me to see across the forest and the Solent all the way to to the Isle of Wight.

The Isle of Wight seen (distantly) from the New Forest near St Leonards Grange.
It may not look it but that’s one mile of land and three of water between me and the Isle of Wight.
Sowley

After a while, I turned left down another road, which the old-fashioned fingerpost indicated was taking me to Sowley.

I passed by Sowley Pond, which was created by the monks of Beaulieu in the fourteenth century (they dammed a stream) and was approached ther by an elderly couple walking the other way, who asked to look at my map to see where they were going next. Only when we were all suitably confident about where our feet were taking us did we part company, they heading towards St Leonards Grange and me along a footpath that departed the roads and set off across field and copse alike.

New Forest bluebells
In the middle of one copse I found a carpet of bluebells. The photo really doesn’t do them justice at all.
South Baddesley

The path emerged from the trees to carry me through the tiny village of South Baddesley and on through what was probably the most tunnel-like leafy tunnel path I’ve walked down yet.

A surprisingly tubular leafy tunnel
It’s a bit like the title sequence time vortex from Doctor Who, only made from leaves.
No Sign of Lymington

At this point I started to be a bit confused, because if I’d measured the distances correctly, I should have reached Lymington a good hour earlier than this. As it was, I was ambling along through fields and copses and past ponds with no sign of Lymington in sight.

The truth was, of course, that I had managed an epic fail when working out my distances. I must have got distracted and then forgotten where I was measuring from or something because I had marked down a six mile distance as two miles. I definitely wouldn’t be getting to New Milton before sunset, and even if I made it I’d probably just collapse, since my twenty miles had just become twenty-four. Plus, I wasn’t sure how late the bank holiday trains ran, on account of not intending to still be walking at sunset.

No, I reluctantly realised, I was going to have to end my walk at Lymington. It was annoying but necessary, besides, it was already five o’clock and I was already too late to catch the Maypole dancing in Milford on Sea.

A modern 'give way' sign on a pre-Worboys stripy pole
Just as I was feeling quite grumpy and annoyed – with myself for being a numpty – I found this unremarkable ‘Give Way’ sign, identical to thousands across the country. Except it has a black and white striped pole, although almost all the paint has flaked off. This was a pre-Worboys ‘Halt’ sign and when they changed it over in 1964 they failed to paint the pole grey in line with the new standards, leaving it as stripy as a Belisha beacon. Just knowing that hardly anyone else would spot that or know what it meant, or care, cheered me up no end.
Walhampton

As the footpath approached Snooks Farm on the outskirts of Walhampton, near Lymington I happened across a sign identifying it as the site of Lymington Airfield, built as RAF Lymington in 1943 and from which the USAAF flew P-47 Thunderbolts for the remainder of WW2. It is now a private airfield, with the footpath crossing the runway (and vice versa). Signs warn you to look both ways before crossing the field.

WW2-era aircraft hangar
Some of the WW2 hangars are still in evidence
Walhampton Monument

After the airfield the path led along a narrow road and into yet another bunch of trees, almost completely hidden amongst which was an unexpected obelisk.

Erected in 1842, it commemorates Admiral Harry Burrard Neale, Mayor of Lymington, who introduced gas street lighting to the town. The admiral was a close friend of George III and his sister modelled for Gainsborough.
Lymington

I followed the path past the obelisk to a road running alongside the Lymington River. There I swore quietly to myself, retraced my steps to the obelisk, picked up my map and tried again. Back at the river I headed over the bridge, which carried this terrifying warning:

Sign: Otters Crossing Drive Slowly
I bet they do. But how do they see over the dashboard?

Having crossed the river, I admitted defeat and headed straight for the station where, in complete contravention of British passenger rules, I had a chat with a bloke who’d been sailing and another who’d been out riding his bike. Sailing Man informed me there were gale warnings so I didn’t feel too bad about not continuing along the coast after all.


Distance Summary

Hasteful Mammal This time: 15½ miles
Total since Gravesend: 335 miles

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