Southampton to Bournemouth

A perfect example of rural England, a county of great natural harbours, enchanting estuaries and a naval and military tradition. There are chalk downs and prominent cliffs, fertile farmland and the wooded New Forest. The name Hamtunscir was first recorded in 755, the name hamm being an Old English name for a water meadow.


Southampton Docks The First Day of our Round the Coast Project.

City HallWell this seemed as good a place to start as any, after all, it is the start point for the Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race and our enterprise seems minor in comparison.The Yacht Race begins in September and finishes here the following May. More to the point, daughter number one is currently studying for a degree at Southampton Institute.

Ocean VillageThe weather will always be uppermost in the enjoyment of any travel in Britain, a topic close to the heart of any Englishman and typically cold and rainy for our first day, but it is February.

Ocean Village is a recently built development around a small marina on the River ltchen. Just across the bridge, behind the sewage works, the Itchen Way meets the Solent Way that runs west along the coast.

Southampton WaterTo the North is the busy town of Southampton which has been an important port for centuries, now mostly containers but still Britain's major passenger port.

The harbour has been in use since Roman times and legend tells that in 1016 King Canute commanded the waves to retreat at Southampton. Armies embarked from here during the Hundred Years War to win the Battles of Crecy and Agincourt and the Titanic sailed on her maiden voyage on 15th April 1912.

Town wallsSouthampton is a natural harbours with double tides. The first high tide floods into the bay from the west followed by a second high tide from the east two to three hours later - a phenomenon that makes the harbour suitable for large vessels such as the QE2 and other liners.

The BargateParts of the City Walls remain and can be walked by following the 'Walk the Walls' signs. The 14th and 15th century towers have been restored, and God's House Tower is now home to a museum of local archeology. Several city gates can still be seen, Bargate is a fine example.

Tudor Merchants HouseThe Tudor House is a magnificent example of 16th century architecture, with a banqueting hall and Tudor garden. The Hall of Aviation tells the story of the Spitfire, designed by the local aviation pioneer R.J. Mitchell.

Dock gateWe travelled west along the main road past the docks; we saw gates numbering 1 to 20 but were unable to see more than gigantic cranes on the skyline over the railway and huge towers of containers.

Crossing the River Test at Totton Bridge, the road turned south with a nature reserve to the right and gloomy marsh to the left.

Eling Tide Mill

ElingWe left the main road and were pleasantly surprised. Eling is a pretty village with a little country church and it is hard to believe that just over the water are the awful freightliner terminals. To reach the village you cross a small toll bridge with its own tide mill, still making flour for the tourists.

Upstream at low tide are picturesque salty marshes of the Lower Test nature reserve. To the other side of the bridge our first view of the ubiquitous pleasure boats and yet more containers. We drove through Marchwood, a dreary housing estate and barracks, and over the railway leading to the military port.

Southampton Water

Hythe Marina Hythe was a surprise as well, the first stop was the marina; trendy housing around a central harbour with a lock leading to Southampton Water. Notices posted on a board showed passing times of the large liners and warn that they cause a 'large swell' - a sight I would love to see.

Hythe PierWe watched the somewhat smaller Hythe Ferry taking foot passengers back to Ocean village - now directly north of us. Some of the people were possibly walkers along the Solent Way, which appeared to stop at the end of the pier.

The first regular ferry was around 1575, and construction of the iron pier was started in 1879. It is one of the ten longest piers in the British Isles. In 1922 a railway opened to take passengers the full length of the Pier. This railway with its original engine and rolling stock is still operational today and an important part of the local transport system to Southampton

Hythe centreThe town centre was olde worlde and probably a 'day out' for Southampton dwellers. The views across the water were dismal tall buildings and hundreds of cranes.

FawleyAt the mouth of Southampton Water lies Fawley, a massive petro-chemical works. At night, the flames from the flare stacks can be seen for miles, but to be fair, they have made an effort to shield the ugly tanks from the road with some successful landscaping. Passing the large rectangular building of the power station you realise how much electricity a place like Fawley must consume. The road finally found the coast at the end of the estuary at a pebbly beach.


Calshot SpitWe had photographed a light vessel, named the Calshot Spit and now a museum piece, at Ocean Village.

Coastguard towerDriving north along this marshy nature reserve with the beach to our right, we came to the coastguard tower with radar turning on the top.


Next to the tower is an old round castle built by Henry Vlll in 1539, complete with cannons peeping out. It looked very out of place and somewhat overwhelmed by several large hangers that now house a museum of flying machines and an Activity Centre for outdoor types.

Beach hutsIt was once an RAF seaplane station that closed in the 1960s, but now has 100,000 visitors a year.

The road along the spit was lined with colourful beach huts and in spite of the cold there were those mad enough to be out surfboarding, no doubt watching out for the swell from the QE2.


LepeThe next part of the road was quite farmy and there was no view of the water until we reached the actual south coast at a pleasant country park called Lepe - pronounced LEEP. Emerging from the woodland road, we found a small beach with more windsurfers who had not been able to surf recently due to the unexpected calm weather. They were now making up for it in the icy wet winds. A family was wandering on the beach but the best place to be was in a warm car.

Along the coast to the west were Gravelly Marsh, Great Marsh and Gull Island which are bird sanctuaries at the estuary of the Beaulieu River and we had to drive several miles inland to the lowest crossing point at Beaulieu.

ExburyWe passed Exbury with its beautifully coifed woodland and decided the area looked 'boaty and horsey', with homes that could not quite be seen and names like Horsemoor Copse.

New Forest poniesWe entered The New Forest at last - more copses and grassy moorland dissected by straight roads with 40 painted in circles on the tarmac.

At a crossroads we came across ponies that seemed totally oblivious to traffic and wandered anywhere they wished.


Palace House We began driving along the Solent Way towards Beaulieu - home of the famous motor museum and Cistercian Abbey.

This was well worth the visit as you don't need to be a motor enthusiast to enjoy it; the house and gardens are lovely and there is plenty to do.

The village was originally called Bellus Locus Regis but the monks who founded the abbey in the 13th century changed it to Beau Lieu.

Bucklers Hard

Bucklers HardThe Solent Way took us back to the estuary at the pretty village of Bucklers Hard. Once a naval boat building community, the village began to suffer too many day visitors and has now finally been completely fenced off as a museum complex. It has been tastefully done and its grassy slopes no longer suffer ruination from car parking.

Bucklers HardRows of 18th century cottages on either side lead you down to the river where summer visitors can take boat trips. Some cottages are still residences but a few have been set up as the usual 'this is what it used to be like' museums complete with sound effects.

QuayThere is a chapel, maritime museum, hotel and an excellent 'yachtsman's bar'. We stopped here for lunch and emerged to a beautiful sunny afternoon.

In its boatbuilding era, from 1698 to 1827, sixty acres of timber were needed to build just one man 'o war. Down on the key were some splendid modern boats but very few were out on the water. On a fine bank holiday, this lovely quiet retreat must seem like a nightmare.


LymingtonWe carried on along the leafy lanes past more well heeled estates to Lymington, a market town with two marinas. The Saturday market lined the main street, Cobbled Quay Hil, lleading down to the quay and surprisingly - open to cars. The harbour is filled with yachts and there is a ferry to the Isle of Wight.

Lymington HarbourThere were some of the usual shops here and some more expensive boutiques with the odd smattering of touristy postcard shops.

The Yacht Club looked posh as did some of the boats, but the town away from the water was quite ordinary. It was busy and we saw enough in an hour.

Keyhaven and Hurst Beach

The Solent Way now winds around the coast as a footpath and another time would be lovely to follow but we drove on to Keyhaven. This is a tiny tidal inlet with a large visitor's carpark and it is not until you leave the village that you realise why it is so big. The first sight is a fine view of the Needles and lighthouse on the west point of the Isle of Wight. There's also a jetty with a ferry passage to Hurst Castle over the sandbanks.


The view of the Solent is shielded by what appears to be a sea wall. Between the road and the wall the marshes fill at high tide and become a pretty lagoon, which is a nature reserve.

A project has recently been completed which has restabilised the spit and there is now a wide, high, shingly 4 mile path to the castle. It is part of the Solent Way and has gorgeous views. I have decided that this place must definitely be revisited on foot in warm weather.

Milford on Sea

MilfordThis is probably the first of dozens of 'on-seas' that we will come across closely followed by .....Point, .....Head, .....Bay, and so on. Immediately facing the end of the road is a carpark with a concrete sea wall and on the other side the sea was right in and appeared very high and deep. We just stopped to take a photograph. At low tide you can walk west via Hordle Beach to Barton.

BartonThe road then began to climb and by the time we reached Barton on Sea we were at the top of cliffs driving along the start of the Bournemouth complex of resorts with typical small guesthouses, grassy clifftops and wind shelters.

This used to be the border with Dorsetshire. The cliffs here are clay, packed full of fossils, mainly shells, sharks teeth and bones. Behind us was a beautiful rainbow appearing to sink into the Solent.

Barton on seaTo the left, this stretch of sea is called Christchurch Bay and beyond, the English Channel. At Highcliffe, which was appropriately named, we stopped to look back along the coast towards the rainbow and the Needles. Steps zig zag down to the beach which is wonderfully smooth and sandy, with rows of groynes breaking the waves. The afternoon sun made the chalk cliffs a lovely creamy colour and there was a neat holiday village at the top.


MudefordAt the entrance to Christchurch Harbour is Mudeford. This is an idyllic park/harbour inlet with a pub and hotel and of course hoards of boats parked up (moored in technical terms) - it is a bit of a boaty person's paradise. The quay is used by fishermen who net salmon by old traditional methods.

ChristchurchChristchurch is a well-heeled town at the meeting point of the River Stour and River Avon. It started as a Saxon settlement at the head of Christchurch Harbour and lies in the shadow of the magnificent 11th century Priory Church and still retains its Saxon street layout.

It has become engulfed in the expanding urban area of neighbouring Bournemouth, but still retains its own identity.


Originally known as Twynham "the place betwixt the waters", Christchurch takes its name from the Priory Church, which was originally known as Christ's Church. It has a wealth of medieval carving and is reputedly one of the longest parish churches in England. It is famous for its 1094 Norman nave and turret, and the Lady Chapel's pendant vault.


We walked towards the harbour and came across a development of rather fine townhouses. As we turned the corner, we realised that they were not ordinary; these white buildings with their picture windows and double parking spaces were built around their own private marina. Each house had its own mooring with its own private sea going yacht and the marina had its own lock gate. The cars outside were the his and hers BMWs with personalised number plates.

Hengistbury Head

Hengistbury headDriving to the west of the harbour meant crossing the pretty Tuckton Bridge and a new footpath - the Stour Valley Way that ends at Hengistbury Head. The road ends where the nature trails begin and the headland with its sandy cliffs protects the harbour from the sea. The area is criss-crossed with footpaths, dotted with tumuli and almost meets the land back at Mudeford at low tide, where brightly coloured beach huts line the sand spit.

sand spitHengistbury Head is a sandstone headland that is subject erosion. The sea eroded the soft rocks to the south of the Head but it was slowed by hard iron stone boulders that were embedded in it. In the 19th century the Hengistbury Mining Company removed a great deal these 'doggers' from the beach and dredged thousands of tons of them from the waters. This caused serious instability but since the 1930's the council has been rectifying the situation by the construction of breakwaters and groynes.

SouthbourneFrom the headland, it is possible to drive along most of the overcliff all the way to Bournemouth pier with a few detours around buildings. Southbourne is neat, rows of small hotels and guesthouses on the right of the road and to the left there are clifftop greens dotted with shelters.

Steps down lead to 17 miles of smooth sandy beaches along Poole Bay, dissected by frequent breakwaters. High and low watermarks are very close together along this stretch.


You do not realise you have left Southbourne and entered Boscombe as the coastline remains the same and the area inland is very urbanised. Hotels along the overcliff are larger and there are more landscaped areas with zigzag paths down to the beach and even a cliff lift.

BoscombeThis is the beginning of an undercliff promenade and rows of beach huts - shallys - all painted dark green with white doors and looking extremely neat and tidy. There is an absence of the usual seaside tackiness of fun fairs, chip shops and amusement arcades.

Fisherman's Walk beachIt all looks perfect with the sun shining on the calm sea and people strolling along the golden sand. (Dogs are forbidden from May to September).

There is a pier at Boscombe and the promenade and shallys continue for a couple of miles to Bournemouth Pier.


Conference CentreContinuing along the overcliff road, the buildings get progressively larger until apartment and office blocks and big hotels culminate at the five star Royal Bath Hotel and International Centre at the Pier head from whence all roads appear to radiate.

Bournemouth sea frontNow in Dorset, Bournemouth is actually less than 200 years old – having 'started' as a single guest house by Captain Lewis Tregonwell in an isolated spot amongst the heathland dunes in 1811. The resort initially grew slowly until the 1870's when it was connected to the rail network.

PierNow the population of Bournemouth is about 160,000 and the town is now one of the premier holiday resorts on the south coast, becoming busiest during the summer months and when the political parties hold their annual conferences. More than 5.5 million visitors arrive in Bournemouth each year.

Pleasure gardensJust facing the pier, the lovely Pavilion Gardens are built around the insignificant Bourne Brook. The town is hilly and the road system is impossible, but there is a large shopping centre and plenty to do.

The BourneSeven miles of sand and sheltered waters make Bournemouth a firm favourite for beach and activity holidays and the daily average of summer sunshine is 7.7 hours. The pretty 'Chines' are pine clad valleys that cut through the cliffs to the sea and were once used for smuggling.

The first bearEven in February, the hotels are full as it is also a centre for business conferences, but we managed to book into the Royal Norfolk. The wardrobes had trendy chicken wire and gingham doors which I liked, but Andy's comment was 'chicken wire - at these prices!'

Bournemouth has a well-off middle class feeling - homely, clean, well preserved, and by no means brash or tacky. It was while we were here that we got our first mascot, Bournemouth the Bear. He accompanies us on all our trips and will be a very well-travelled bear.