You can’t mistake the Hamble Ferry. It is coloured pink. Not a wishy-washy pastel pink. Bright pink.
There is no ferry waiting when I arrive on the east bank. But I know I am in the right place because there is a pink shelter and pink signs on the jetty. I wait. After a very short time, I see a pink boat making its way across the river, threading its way through moored sailing ships, to meet me.
The ferry is tiny and I think it is called Claire (there is another ferry-boat, slightly larger, called Elaine). The trip across the river takes 7 mins. I am the only passenger. The ‘captain’ is friendly but not a talking kind of man. I pay him the ridiculous fee of £1.00.
When we arrive on the west bank – at Hamble-le-Rice – a family is waiting to cross back towards Warsash. I watch them set off. Just as they leave the jetty, another couple of passengers arrive. The ferry turns back to pick them up.
From Hamble-le-Rice I am unable to follow the bank of the river around towards Southampton Water, as my way is barred by a marina. I walk along a street and then take a footpath through a wooded area. This is Hamble Common. There are families, joggers, dog walkers – all enjoying this bank holiday Monday.
Through the woods, the landscape changes to inlets and pools, set amidst scrubby land. I walk along the edge of the water where, looking past moored ships, I can see the pink ferry shelter across the Hamble.
In the distance, across the water, I can still see the Isle of Wight and the sailing ships around Cowes.
Later, this scenic view gives way to the industrial landscape of Fawley, with its oil refinery and power station. And the path passes under a huge pipeline, stretching above my head and out along a jetty. To my right, on my side of the shore, I walk past high industrial fences. I love this juxtaposition of nature and civilisation.
At one point I come across an impromptu campsite. Three small tents are pitched on the path with their guy ropes stretching across my way. I have no choice but to climb over the ropes and walk past the tent entrances, where I glimpse sleepy young people looking out at me in apparent bewilderment through open flaps.
I wonder if they arrived here last night and did not realise they were camping on a public footpath.
Now I walk along the shore itself. The going is difficult – the path gives way to rough shingle – and there is nobody around except the occasional lone fisherman.
Ahead I see a large passenger liner ship. That must be Southampton Docks. As I draw nearer, I realise this is Queen Mary 2. It is huge.
I walk past a small sailing club and arrive at a point where I am forced to detour inland.
Suddenly, I am in parkland. There is a large, brick, building with a tower. I mistake it, initially, for a church. Families are running around on the green spaces, playing football, flying kites, setting up picnics. This is The Royal Victoria Country Park.
The ‘church’ turns out to be the old chapel of a former, large, military hospital – Netley Hospital – built in Queen Victoria’s time and actively used during the 1st World War. The original hospital was huge, with one of the longest corridors in the world.
Below the old hospital chapel, there is a pleasant area of green space with large, mature trees, opening out to give a wonderful view across Southampton Water.
Walking through the park, I emerge in Netley itself. The first thing I come across is a hard slipway. This was built to allow Queen Victoria to come ashore when she travelled across from her residence on the Isle of Wight to visit Netley and the hospital.
I sit on a bench and eat a snack, while contemplating the way forward. From here there is no walkway along the water and I am forced to follow the road through Netley.
On the other side of this detour, I find my way back to the shore again and walk along a firm promenade, heading for Southampton. This is a very pleasant walk – The Solent Way. The area has been newly renovated and, in front of me, is the slowly enlarging bulk of the Queen Mary.
Just as I turn inland, at the mouth of the River Itchen, I pass the end of a very long pier, stretching out into the mouth of the river with a T shaped end. It is open to the public and I am tempted to go along it. However, I think it is about 1/2 kilometre in length and time is pressing. I need to find a pub for lunch and arrange to meet my husband.
Alongside the pier, in rough grass by the water’s edge, I see a young man. He is stripped to the waste and is scooping water (I think) in cupped hands over his torso and hair. He takes out a comb and begins to comb his hair, very methodically, while remaining crouched over. He looks up and sees me. I am momentarily embarrassed and look away.
When I look back, he is still there, systematically combing through his hair. I wonder who he is and if he is living rough.
I walk along a road, heading towards the Itchen Bridge. This was opened in 1977, while I was at University in Southampton, and was a major feat of engineering. The road I walk along is grim, with one side fenced off and building works beyond, run-down houses and shops on the other. I think I can smell a sewerage works.
Then I see a cyclist coming towards me. My husband. There is a pub ahead. It does food.
What a pub! It looks like nothing has changed since the 70s. Sticky floor. Chipped tables. Stained chairs. And a man smoking in the bar. To be fair, he is the only customer and, seeing us, he moves outside to finish his cigarette. But the landlady is friendly and the food is cooked fresh to order and is very cheap – burgers and salad for me.
After lunch, I walk past newly built, smart apartments. They are just being populated and there are more buildings going up along the water’s side. I think of the tatty pub we have just left. It will need to change to attract the new people moving into the area. How will it survive? Should it survive?
I am unable to take photos of the bridge. One minute I am walking through a building site, the next I am at the foot of the bridge itself. So, I have to content myself with taking photos of the view from the top. The photo above is of the east shore with the new buildings going up.
The bridge soars above the water below. I take photos of the west bank, already populated with new buildings and a new marina beyond, at the mouth of the Itchin.
On the pedestrian approach to the bridge, I notice a sign advertising The Samaritans. On the bridge itself, there is a help point, where you can speak directly to somebody who will, presumably, attempt to talk you out of throwing yourself off.
As with Beachy Head before, I am disconcerted by the realisation that every high structure carries the risk of becoming a suicide site.
At the other end of the bridge, I am tempted to walk along the shoreline, along the walkways at the foot of the new buildings. But I am not sure if I will be able to get through. And I am growing tired. So, reluctantly, I decide to stick to the road and I follow signs for the docks and for the ferry port.
I pass the berth of the Queen Mary 2. Magnificent. Two young european men ask me to take their photograph with this impressive ship as a backdrop.
The Hythe Ferryis hard to find. I have to ask at the Red Funnel Ferry office. This is the place where you buy tickets for the Isle of Wight ferries. Where do I wait for the Hythe Ferry?
When I do find the right place, there is no ticket office, just ticket machines. As I pull out my coins, a man approaches me and asks if I need change. He is the Hythe Ferry ticket man but is, bizarrely, not allowed to sell tickets, only to hand out bags of change for the ticket machines. I exchange a fiver for a bag of change, buy my ticket and chat to the man while I wait.
We have to wait by an A board. I look down the walkway to the disembarkation point for the ferry. Framed in view, at the end of the walkway, is the Queen Mary. For one surreal moment, it looks like I am waiting to board this towering ship. (Afterwards, I wish I had taken a photo of this view.)
Having been first in the queue, quite a crowd collects by the time the ferry arrives. This is a popular route – used by tourists and by regular commuters alike. The alternative route across Southampton Water is by road and takes much longer.
Considering this, it is strange how poorly signed the Hythe Ferry is.
Looking back, towards Southampton from the ferry, the city looks almost scenic. I spent five years living here as a medical student. I expected to feel some nostalgic attachment to the place. But I don’t. Maybe that’s because this dockland area, and the ferry, were not regular parts of my life when I lived here.
Hythe is not directly across the river. The ferry heads downstream to reach it. Looking back, I snap a final photo of the magnificent Queen Mary 2 and the industrial dockside of Southampton Water.
We dock at the end of long pier. I had not expected this. The pier is the 7th longest pier in Britain. 700 yards long.
A train track runs along the pier and I am tempted to take the little train. But that would be breaking my walking-round-the-coast rules!
Another fantastic day of walking through interesting and varied scenery!
Miles walked = 8
Ferry crossings made = 2
Bridge crossings = 1
High points = seeing Queen Mary 2 and crossing the Itchen Bridge
Low points = trying to find the embarkation point for Hythe Ferry