I’m not looking forward to the walk today. Although I am on the edge of the famous ‘New Forest’, I am sticking to the coastline where the map shows a huge oil refinery and then a power station. These large industrial complexes lie between my route and the water’s side. Much of my walking today will be along roads. I am particularly dreading the A326; I anticipate this will be busy and, because it runs along the edge of the industrial area, I expect the scenery to be brutally unappealing. I don’t even know if there is a footpath.
It turns out that I am wrong.
I am unable to follow the coast and walk along a quiet road. But as I leave Hythe behind, the countryside opens out and I have a wonderful view across marshy land to the edge of Southampton Water. Beyond, across the busy waterway where the Isle of Wight Ferry is passing by, I can see the wooded shore I walked along on my previous day of walking.
The road turns inland and, reluctantly, I leave the shore behind. Over a railway line, I find a track leading off to the left. Here runs the official Solent Way.
The track winds through woods. To begin with, there are houses and the occasional vehicle. Further on, the track becomes a bridle way. There is a small bridge across a stream. Vehicles cannot pass along here. The woods are old, consisting mainly of beautiful oak trees. I hear a popping sound overhead and small objects are falling from the trees. At first I think someone is throwing stones. At me? Then I realise; it is acorns, falling out of the trees.
This is a beautiful walk. I enjoy it immensely. I meet a couple on mountain bikes and a woman with a horse, but nobody else.
From here, I join the main road – the dreaded A326. It is surprisingly pleasant.
There are tall trees lining the road – so tall and thick, I am unable to see beyond them. although I know that the sprawling complex of the Fawley Refinery lies just on the other side of the trees, I can’t actually see any sign of it – no chimneys, no flares, no smoke – nothing.
At the end of the road is a roundabout and I bear left, continuing to walk along the outskirts of the invisible oil refinery.
To my right is open ground with park land and playing fields. Men are playing football. Girls are watching them. It is sunny and warm.
Past the playing fields, I turn off the main road, heading for the coast. There is a footpath marked on my map, beginning at a place called Ashlett, just the other side of the village of Fawley.
I walk through Fawley village. It is one of those quiet places where no large chain shops want to set up and the main shopping street, if you can call it that, has a mix of local shops. There is something refreshingly different and unique about such places. It reminds me of Bourne, in Lincolnshire. For some reason, here there are two wedding shops.
Through Fawley, I head down a lane signposted to Ashlett Creek. I am not expecting much, but come to a part of the road where the land falls away and I have a view of busy Southampton Water – large commercial ships and small pleasure craft.
The road heads down and I reach the creek. This is beautiful. The tide is out and the creek is muddy, with ships and small tugs lying in the mud. There is an old mill. And a lovely pub, the Jolly Sailor.
Families are sitting out, in front of the pub, enjoying the late afternoon sunshine, finishing off their lunches and enjoying cold drinks. It is very scenic and I am tempted to stop for a drink. But I have arranged to meet my husband (and his mother) in Calshot and I don’t want to be late.
Beyond the pub is an area of common land. I am now, according to the map, within the New Forest National Park. I come across horses grazing – the first of many horses I meet in the New Forest, roaming free.
Here there are foals with their mothers and I worry a little. I am not fond of large animals. Well, to be honest, I am frightened of large animals and I wonder if the horses will be protective of their young and resent my walking across their pasture. They trot over towards me but they are just being nosey.
There are lots of small creeks and a motley collection of sailing boats are moored in the mud. I stroll around by the edge of the mud, taking photos, and trying to work out where the footpath is. Meanwhile, the horses follow me, close behind.
I find a path and walk through bushes and trees. Ahead, I see the single tall chimney of the Fawley Power Station, rising above the vegetation. The path runs along the outside of the power station, passing between it and the sea-shore. There are huge fences marking the boundary of the station, with warning signs and, apparently, CCTV cameras.
But the land in front of the station is open and flat, stretching down to the water. The golden afternoon sunlight falls on the marsh and the grassland, and on the bright blue water beyond.
I stop and take photographs. Today I am using a new lens on my camera, but it has no telephoto features and I am disappointed not to be able to use my zoom, particularly when I see, beyond Calshot Castle, the familiar white spire of Portsmouth’s Spinnaker Tower in the distance.
There is a haze in the air and the sunshine seems to bend around the structures of the Power Station – so it appears unsubstantial, almost transparent, in the weird light of this late afternoon. I experiment with different exposures on my camera, until I finally manage to capture the effect I am after.
There is a creek running up the side of the plant and I walk across a strange little bridge – with high fences and a covered top, creating a tunnel effect. From the other side, I can’t see any intimation that this is a footpath, but it is.
Beyond the bridge, the footpath turns inland, heading back towards the road. But ahead of me is a wide track, well trodden, leading towards the beach at Calshot. In the distance I can see a row of beach huts, marking the edge of the beach.
On the other side of the beach huts is the beach itself – shingle. Lots of people are parked along the sea front or walking up and down along the promenade. There is somebody in the water, attempting to teach a woman how to kite surf; difficult because there is virtually no wind.
I hear someone calling me. My husband and his mother are sitting in the car, facing the sea, enjoying ice creams.
I arrange to meet them a little further on as I want to walk the last half mile along the sea, as planned. I walk along the shingle for a while until, as I grow tired, I head through the line of beach huts and walk along the coastal road.
To my right, across the fields, I get my last good view of the power station. With the sun sinking lower in the sky, the building looks ghostly. I take more photographs and finish this blog with my final image from this beautiful day of walking.
Vital statistics: miles walked = 8