When my husband drops me off at the car park, there is great activity around the lifeboat station. It looks as though they are about to launch the lifeboat. I stay for a while and take photographs. But I can’t hang around. There is walking to be done.
Here I found a plaque to commemorate the Canadian embarkation.
Across the water – The Solent – I can see the Isle of Wight and the unmistakable two towers of Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s seaside ‘cottage’.
[Warning! Non-photographers can stop reading now!]
I take this photograph using the Canon 18-55mm lens that came with the camera when I bought it. It has some telephoto zoom ability, but not much. You can tell from the quality of the photograph.
I resolve to buy a new telephoto lens. A better one. But a cheapish one. If I can find such a combination! And, maybe some filters. I think an ultraviolet filter would cut down the blue haze that obscures details and fades the colour in the distant shots. Also worth exploring is a polarizing filter, to cut down glare from the sea. Or perhaps a graduated neutral density filter, to enhance and darken the colour of the sky ….
[It’s OK, non-photographers – technical mumbo jumbo has stopped. You can start reading again!]
I come to an area of shingle beach called Browndown. This is a ‘Danger Area’ on my map. It used to be a military training area but is rarely used for such purposes now, it seems, and its main importance is as a nature reserve. Apparently, this patch of shingle hosts the incredibly rare Gilkicker Weevil.
I have learnt to respect and enjoy these areas of vegetated shingle, where unusual plants struggle to maintain a foothold in the inhospitable surface of dry, shifting, shingle stones. This unique habitat seems to represent both the extreme fragility and the incredible tenacity of life.
While walking across this stretch, I am passed by two men running. One of the men is lean and ‘fit’, in every sense of the word. The other is podgy and is sweating heavily. They stop ahead of me and begin running backwards, stumbling on the shingle. I realise one is a personal trainer. The other man is his pupil. It looks like hard work.
Ahead is a shingle bank. The stones are a different colour to the beach and seems to have been constructed artificially and deliberately; maybe in an attempt to prevent erosion or to prevent flooding of the low heath land lying immediately behind the shingle.
The two men disappear up the bank. I don’t see them again.
I continue walking into Lee-on-the-Solent. The sky darkens and I see rain clouds in a band. The tiny sailing ships, close to the Isle of Wight, disappear in the grey of a distant downpour. Meanwhile, the chimneys and structures of the power station and oil refinery at Fawley are lit up by the sun’s rays, slanting beneath the dark clouds.
Large drops fall on me. I have been so used to the threat of rain, but without any real drenching, I am taken unawares. Quickly I get out plastic bags and my rain jacket. My main concern is to protect my electronic equipment – my iPhone and my camera.
I find old-fashioned sea-side shelter and sit on a bench, waiting for the rain to pass. In the sea, jet skiers roar to and fro, undaunted by the rain.
When the rain lightens, I continue walking. This is a mistake. As soon as I am a distance from any shelter, the heavens open and huge drops thunder down. On the beach, people leap up and run in one of two direction – either to the their cars or straight into the sea.
I stop in the lee of an ice-cream van. My jacket is wet and, I realise, not very waterproof. The rain soaks straight through. This is miserable. Just when I want to abandon the walk, the sky lightens and the rain begins to ease off. In a few minutes it is dry. I am grateful for my light weight walking trousers – drying very quickly in the stiff breeze.
The promenade disappears and I walk across shingle with private gardens lining the beach. Just when I think the way ahead is barred, I see people walking around a distant wall and realise you can walk through. I reach Hill Head and walk up to the road to find the cafe where I meet my husband for lunch.
Windsurfers and kiteboarders are arriving. The road gives them access to the beach. I watch them unpack their boards. But I can’t wait to see them launch. I have to keep walking…
To me, this phrase is like a red rag to a bull. ‘Private Beach’! Huh!
I have joined The Ramblers recently. Not because I like rambling with others, but to add my weight to their ‘Claim the Coast’ campaign; to secure a coastal path around the coastline of England. Unfortunately, despite the fact that legislation has been passed to allow the path to happen, it would not seem to be a matter of priority in these difficult economic circumstances.
So, of course, I walk in front of the houses, along the shingle. (I have to confess this is difficult going, but I have to make a point, don’t I?) So does everybody else. People ignoring the signs, walking along the shore with their dogs and their families, enjoying the intermittent sunshine of this lovely day.
The next section of walk is lovely. On the map, no name is given to this part of the coastline, just the warning phrase ‘mud and sand’. In fact, there are low-lying cliffs (with erosion) and a narrow, empty, shingle beach. Later I learn the locals call this the Meon Shore, after the river Meon that empties into the sea at Titchfield Haven.
I see a group of lady dog-walkers, with golden retrievers bouncing into the sea. The sun flits in and out of white clouds against a blue sky. Lovely.
After a while I come across a slipway. A man with a kite is coming down the slipway – perhaps a bit faster than he intended. The wind is blowing strongly. The kite seems enormous. Then I realise. Ahhh. A kite surfer.
Beyond the slipway, the shingle turns to mud, so – after hesitating a little, but realising I am wearing soft shoes, not boots – I turn inland, walking through a holiday park. Actually, I walk around the internal perimeter of the park, trying to find a way along the coast. But am forced to leave the park along the vehicular access road, before I find a track leading back down to the shoreline.
Back on the sea wall, there are signs warning of mud. I am glad, despite the detour, that I didn’t try to walk along the shore to this point. It could have been very sticky. And, if I got stuck, highly embarrassing.
I come to an area called Hook Park, a nature reserve. Here, The Solent is about to merge into Southampton Water and the River Hamble empties into the sea. Across the water is Fawley Power Station and tall towers of Fawley Oil Refinery. Small, fragile sailing ships cross the water in front of this huge industrial scene, returning home to harbour. In the late afternoon sunlight, with the light coming through clouds from behind the chimneys and towers, there is something magical and surreal about the view.
I stop and take too many photographs.
Somebody has written this warning graffiti on a piece of concrete wall, probably part of an old military fortification: ‘Fair weather a skilful sailor never made’. I suppose this is true.
I turn inland, following the River Hamble, past an area where many ships are moored and past a long jetty. The tide is going out, exposing gleaming mud.
Now I am in Warsash. Here is a pretty harbour with a light house. I sit and have a snack, waiting for my husband to arrive to collect me. It has been a great day of walking.
Vital stats: miles walked = 10
Rain storms: two.
Just in case you are interested in vegetated shingle, here is some additional reading:
1. Natural England: MAR05-03-002 A Guide to the Management and Restoration of Coastal Vegetated Shingle.
2. Natural England: NECR054 Coastal Vegetated Shingle: Development of an evidence base of the extent and quality of shingle habitats in England to improve targeting and delivery of the coastal vegetated shingle HAP
3. DEFRA: Coastal Vegetated Shingle Structures of Great Britain