The Solent Way to Hamble

A guest post by Ordnance Survey’s Richard Cully

I tend to go with the widely held thought that everywhere ‘else’ is interesting to visit.

Across the globe, residents of majestic mountain sides and daily viewers of palm fringed beaches all spend hours planning and then travelling somewhere ‘different’ for leisure and pleasure.

The landscape within walking distance of my home in Southampton is not normally renowned for its majesty and elegance, but on a chilly day with a slightly too-bright sun in my late morning eyes I set off from Woolston and walked the Solent Way to Hamble. Using the OS Explorer Map – OL22  which is more normally used for its New Forest coverage, I set off.

Once the home of the Vosper Thornycroft  shipyard, a large waterside swathe of Woolston is now named Centenary Quay and is being refurbished with smart housing, retail and community improvements which when finished is promised to lift the area and show a shiny new face to the long established Ocean Village across the River Itchen.

Five minutes walk from home and the waterfront is heralded by the familiar mast clanging chimes of the sailing club and my equally familiar question to myself – how do the people in the nearby houses put up with the racket?  The path here is wide and welcoming and follows the original plan of the road to Netley which had been re-routed many decades before to allow the building of a now vanished naval supply depot. Cyclists, dog walkers and kite flyers love the breezy open space and helpful sign boards inform about the wild birds viewable on Southampton Water.  The beach of shingle widens significantly into bird-attracting mud at low tide and further along the walk at the end of Weston Shore I watched fascinated as gulls stood silently eyeing an entire murder of crows in a slightly unsettling tableaux at the shingled fringes of ancient Westwood.

Weston Shore, always popular for viewing ships is backed with a long promenade, some lovingly refurbished (and lovingly re-vandalised) Art Deco shelters and several residential towers which rise through trees to gain what must be fantastic and distant views of the New Forest. Having re-joined the main road, it seems the shore is an always popular place to park and watch the water.  Even on the coldest day there is an appetite for ice cream at the seaside and the man in the van had a queue at what seemed like minus 2….

The Solent Way leaves the beach near Netley Castle and follows a new path cut through woods to meet the road again a short while later.  Both the castle (private) and Netley Abbey (English Heritage) are lovely to view but you will have to remain on the beach path to glimpse the former. The castle, largely built from stones taken from the abbey, has been carefully extended in recent years and converted to apartments. The ruined abbey and nearby Westwood have a gorgeous melancholy and both are worth a visit.

For me a small sense of the sadness of lost beauty continues at Netley at the Royal Victoria Country Park, its centrepiece is the former chapel of the once vast Military Hospital. The chapel, shorn of its surrounding pillar’d and pedimented quarter mile of facade sits uncomplaining but is to me a sad reminder of how many great buildings were demolished in the second half of the last century before preservation became the norm.

Most months of  the year, cruise ships are constant visitors to Southampton Water and while you would have to be up early to see arrivals, most ships leave port between 5 and 6 pm and the shoreline at Netley is a great place to view them (and to wave at the departing)!  The shoreline is also the route of the final part of the walk. As you head south, the huge oil refinery comes in to view across the water at Fawley, to me it has a strange grandeur and when the sun is on the wane, the many storage tanks and chimneys can look oddly beautiful. More oil storage is evident alongside the beach approaching Hamble – if you are inclined to dislike industry invading your walks don’t be too put off by this as at this point the views lengthen toward the Solent and Isle of Wight.

At Hamble Common the path leads inland to the village of Hamble-Le- Rice, famous for its marinas and boatyards. There is also the happy benefit of quite a few places to eat and drink. With a very nice takeaway sandwich and coffee I spent some time looking (not at all enviously!) at the yachts noiselessly heading in and out of their berths. My walk ended here, but if you take the bright pink ferry to Warsash, the rest of the Solent Way becons….

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