diamond geezer

 Sunday, October 25, 2015

Week off (Friday): Hamble
On Friday I went on a day trip to Hamble - not the Play School character but a village overlooking Southampton Water. [Given that very few of you have ever been, or will ever visit, there will be more of a running commentary than usual.]

[I didn't have a special urge to go to Hamble, I just fancied a day out of London. And a cheap day out at that, so I thought I'd take advantage of South West Trains current special offer for a £15 go-anywhere off-peak return, which runs weekdays only until the end of the month.] [It's not quite go-anywhere, so I couldn't get to Exeter, and I've already been to Dorchester and Bournemouth this year, and the weather wasn't looking anything special, so I thought I'd blow my £15 on a travelling to a tiny station between Southampton and Fareham.] [Incidentally, if you want to keep tracks on the latest cheap rail ticket offers, keep an eye on this moneysavingexpert page.]

[I'd decided Hamble was worth visiting by looking at a map, a proper Ordnance Survey map rather than some empty Google Maps travesty. I noted several points of interest in the area, not least the rivers and the coast, and researched all of these before I arrived. An abbey, a castle, two country parks and a ferry sounded like they'd make a proper day out, plus a brickworks museum and a famous TV location - result! Always check somewhere properly before you arrive, I say, never rely on 3G in the field because you're bound to miss something interesting. I used my map to trace out an approximate route that linked together all the points of interest, checked it wasn't too long to walk in a day, and set out. It took two hours to reach the Hamble Valley, via Southampton. And I got off one stop early, at Netley, because that saved a mile's walk.]

Netley is a pleasant village on the edge of Southampton Water, most famous for its Abbey, which is one of the best preserved medieval Cistercian monasteries in southern England. [It was also closed. It only opens at weekends between October and March, so I could only look through the railings. And yes, I knew this before I came, because I'd done my research, but best not visit on a Friday in October.] Netley also has a castle, built by Henry VIII to guard the approach to Southampton. [It was converted to flats in 2000, and is surrounded by unfriendly notices, so is best seen from the other side of the estuary, not the footpath in front. Best not go out of your way to visit.] Downstream is the site of the Royal Victoria Hospital, built after the Crimean War, and in its day the longest building in the world. Alas it no longer stands, only the chapel and a YMCA hut remain, the former now a heritage centre and the latter a cafe. But its extensive grounds are now a much-loved country park, and contain a narrow gauge railway with its own 1 mile circuit. [The Heritage Centre was closed so I couldn't go up the tower and enjoy great views - that's Sundays only apparently. The cafe looked popular, but the railway alas only opens at weekends, so best not visit on a Friday in October.]

It takes a while for the footpath to break off and properly follow the edge of Southampton Water. [You need to follow the signs for the Strawberry Trail, which is a 15 mile waymarked walk hereabouts, and well signed. If I were more institutionalised I might have followed it throughout, but I wanted to see better stuff, so I only followed the good section.] The estuary is flat and wide, and more industrialised than most, with the deep water unusually ideal for container ships and tankers. Fawley oil refinery dominates the far side, a mass of chimneys, pipes and tanks, while Red Funnel ferries come steaming out of Cowes at regular intervals. [Trekking past interceptor outlets and seepex tanks isn't everyone's idea of a great walk, and the grey overcast day didn't help the ambience. But I loved being out on the edge, and the birds strutting across the tidal mud - look, a curlew! - and the opportunity to experience this key infrastructure hinterland.]

The River Hamble is a waterway of a more manageable size, and full of yachts. [No really, I've never seen so many yachts and motor cruisers all berthed together, at piers and pontoons along the entire lower length of the river. It being a dull Friday there weren't so many out on the water, but my word this inlet is perfect for the Solent and a nice sail out to Cowes, and probably a bit of a millionaires' playground into the bargain.] Near the mouth of the river is the charming village of Hamble-le-Rice, its steep curving high street lined with desirable food and drink options for yachtspeople. [I was hoping for fish and chips, but went hungry. The main square seems to be mostly bus turnaround and car park, but boasts its own gold postbox, so that's all good.] This is also the departure point for the Hamble Ferry, an exceptionally pink craft which runs on demand from the pier on The Hard. A continuation of a service known to have run in medieval times, a crossing costs little more than a guinea and seats twelve. There were two of us on my voyage, which I think counts as rush hour, as we weaved between masts and buoys to the exceptionally pink Ferry Shelter on the opposite bank.

Warsash is nothing special [other than as a D Day departure point, and the fact it has proper shops. I spotted two blokes eating fish and chips by the harbour, so got excited, but by the time I got up to the main crossroads the frier had closed for the afternoon. By this point I was far enough off my pre-planned route to skip the riverside path and continue up suburban streets to the far end of my next destination.] Holly Hill Woodland Park covers the estate of a former mansion, landscaped with trees and lakes and waterfalls, and tumbles gently down towards the river. It's popular with mums tiring out children, and retired couples with dogs, but quiet enough that I scrunched along some of its more remote paths meeting only squirrels. [A totally different landscape to the the rest of my walk, and all the better for it.]

Back at the River Hamble I turned and faced inland, and strode along the river wall past salt creeks and hundreds more moored yachts. [I bet it looks very different in sunshine and/or at high tide, but I appreciated the expanse of mud to either side, as did several wading birds, and yes another curlew.] At one point the path passed through a boatyard with huge cruisers raised up for repair, at another past the skeleton of a wooden boat wrecked in the shallows. [It also passed Hard Cottage, which made me smile, but I assumed 'Hard' was coastalspeak for quayside, rather than anything particularly dodgy.] My final destination was Bursledon, a major chandlery hub on a bend in the river, and home to a Brickworks Museum. You'll know Bursledon if you watched Howard's Way in the 80s, the main characters were based here, with much filming at the Jolly Sailor pub and Elephant Boatyard. [It still feels enterprisingly maritime, even if the days of big hair and Laura Ashley power-dressing are long gone. Oh and the brickworks museum only opens on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, so best not visit on a Friday in October.]

[It was two hours back to London, this time via Fareham. This meant I never actually got to see Hamble station, despite it being the destination on my ticket.] [I'd walked 12 miles altogether, without ever finding fish and chips.] [If you'd like to see what my walk looked like on a map I've drawn it here, in all its illogical deviant glory. I don't necessarily recommend you ever follow, but Jan Howard and thousands of boat people can't be wrong, just best not visit on a Friday in October.] [15 photos]

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