Monday 8 August 2016
Hamble-le-Rice to Hayling Island
West Town Inn
I was up and away in time to catch the first pink ferry across the River Hamble at 9 am. I was too early for cafes so made a brief stop at co-op for a bit of breakfast.
Hamble was chocolate-box pretty and I saw lots of expensive cars in driveways. I didn’t know that the RAF has its yacht club base here; if I had I might have joined!
The pink ferry navigated its way through the hundreds of moored boats and dropped me at Warsash. I walked up to the main street and found somewhere to get a coffee. Chatting to the lady in there I discovered that Hamble was considered the more pretentious, boaty town than Warsash, but these Hamble Valley neighbours do get on. Warsash has a world-renowned maritime academy.
The sun was shining as I made my way past Warsash’s old strawberry fields (strawberries are no longer grown here), around the edge of the River Hamble and back onto the banks of Southampton Water.
I was following The Solent Way, which seems to be Hampshire’s coastal path. Unfortunately it is very badly signed and I had to backtrack a few times today as it was at times difficult to discern the route on the map and there were very few signs to help me out.
There was a lot of open ground, a mixture of grass, mud and shingle, along the edge of Southampton Water. The path ended up on a small cliff top and there was significant erosion that had closed a section of the Chilling Coast. What a shame no one bothered to put any diversion signs up. Fortunately some holiday home owners gave me directions.
I reached Lee-on-the-Solent and had a promenade to walk along, past the old Naval airfield where I once spent a University Air Squadron summer camp.
I had reached Gosport and I passed The Diving Museum, next to Browndown Army Camp and kept going, around Stokes Bay, to Gilkicker Point.
The 1860 Grade II* listed Palmerston Fort at Gilkicker Point was boarded up and fenced off; not that this seemed to bother the kids who were scaling its roof. It did look in a sorry state and certainly no longer capable of defending the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour.
To get to the narrow harbour entrance I had to pass HMP Haslar, now an immigration detention centre, and the old Haslar Military Hospital. The hospital had been turned into luxury apartments.
Portsmouth waterfront looked impressive, particularly Spinnaker Tower.
I also picked out the BAR team shed but no sign of the America’s Cup yacht.
There was an interesting contrast of the old Naval warships berthed alongside the new.
I walked straight onto the Gosport Ferry, which reminded me a bit of the Mersey Ferry; it was a big boat and a slick operation. They don’t sell single tickets so I need to go back sometime.
I have been to Portsmouth many times, but never to the old part. Once out of Gunwharf Quays, the busy, updated shopping precinct, I found myself in Old Portsmouth. Just like Plymouth, there were lots of memorials and commemorations of various sailings from the historic docks. I could have spent a day here looking around.
Instead I walked along the Millenium promenade, past Southsea Common and all of its memorials (including the main Naval one that is the equivalent of the one in Plymouth), to Southsea Castle. This castle complements Gilkicker Fort on the other side of the harbour entrance.
The path followed the long beach, past South Parade Pier, past the Royal Marines Museum, and all the way to the entrance to Langstone Harbour.
I had decided not to walk up the the East side of Portsea Island (the island that Portsmouth inhabits) but instead to get the ferry across the mouth of Langstone Harbour to Hayling Island. Both Portsea Island and Hayling Island are a bit bell-shaped so they present a long south coast to the sea and then the harbours of Portsmouth and Langstone open up considerably after a narrow entrance.
On my way to the Hayling Ferry (which only re-opened a few days ago after a couple of years with no operator) I passed a campsite. I was tired and there was a bar so I changed my mind and went in to see if I could stay. After waiting 15 minutes to speak to someone at reception I was told there was room for me…at a cost of £30. I left. It was another one of those holiday parks.
I had to rush to catch the ferry after that as they only ran every 40 minutes and I didn’t want to miss the 5.40 pm crossing. I just about made it and walked straight on…and then straight off the other side. I was so preoccupied with wondering where I was going to stay that I didn’t notice I hadn’t paid. I asked some cyclists and they said that, just like the Gosport Ferry, this one only sold return tickets so the operators must have assumed I was on my return journey. No wonder they went out of business for a while!
It was almost 6 pm and I had nowhere to stay. I was very tired and wanted some luxury so I phoned a guest house in West Town and splashed out. It seemed every type of accommodation, from campsites upwards, had suddenly jumped up in price. As I was about to find out, that did not reflect a jump in quality or standards.
The bed was clean and there was a Tesco nearby so I was alright for the night. However; there were people screaming at one another in the street from midnight for an hour and the accommodation was awful: window blinds that wouldn’t open and fell down, dirty floor, no hand soap, and the list went on. I was unhappy at being ripped off and more would follow in the morning.
A disappointing end to a long and interesting day.