The Solent Way is a long-distance walk that explores the picturesque coastline and diverse countryside of Hampshire. Expect wildlife displays, breathtaking views, historic sites, port cities, pretty harbours, and golden beaches.
Starting from Hurst Point, the Way crosses coastal marshes to Lymington and heads inland through the New Forest to Hythe. You catch a ferry to Southampton and follow the shoreline before crossing the River Hamble on the Gosport Ferry to Portsmouth. The Way then heads through Southsea and the coastal marshlands of Langstone Harbour to Emsworth.
The official route is 60 miles (97 km). However, with a few detours to some worthy sites this Collection is 70 miles (113 km) in total. All detours are clearly marked.
For most of the hike, you are treated to fabulous views of the Isle of Wight and magnificent birdlife displays amid diverse coastal scenery. There are also plenty of interesting towns, villages, and cities to explore en route, with ‘catch of the day’ and plenty more to tempt you.
Highlights along the Way include: Hurst Castle, which was the most advanced artillery fortress in England when completed in 1544; Lymington Nature Reserve, a great bird-watching spot; Beaulieu Abbey, a breathtaking 13th-century ruin; Netley Abbey, the most complete surviving Cistercian monastery in southern England; HMS Warrior, Britain’s first armoured warship; Portsmouth Cathedral; Southsea Castle; as well as Farlington Marshes Nature Reserve and West Hayling Nature Reserve, both internationally-important habitat for birds.
In this Collection, I split the trail into five stages; 8.5 miles (13.7 km), 17 miles (27.4 km), 17.2 miles (27.7 km), 14.3 miles (23 km), and 12.5 miles (20.1 km). As stages 2 and 3 are considerably longer than the others, I have made suggestions on how you can split the hikes. Of course, you can divide the Collection into as many days as you are comfortable with or walk any single stage.
With minimal hills, the trail is level and leisurely throughout. Following waymarked paths and never straying too far from civilisation, the Solent Way is suitable for walkers of all abilities. There is a good choice of accommodation along the route. Although, as ever, scheduling in advance is recommended.
To get to the start of the trail, you can catch a train to New Milton station, and then catch the X1 bus service to Milford on Sea (for more information, visit: morebus.co.uk/services/SQ/X1). There is a train station at the end of the trail in Emsworth.
The first stage takes you from one of the mightiest forts in England and winds through a coastal landscape with magical sea views and abundant nature. Easing you into the itinerary, Stage 1 is 8.5 miles (13.7 km) long with an equal 50 feet (15 m) of uphill and downhill. The hike begins at Hurst Point, which is located at the narrow entrance to the Solent and affords stunning panoramic views. You immediately hike past Hurst Castle, which was established by Henry VIII in the 1500s as one of the most advanced artillery fortresses in England.The trail then heads along the Spit, winds around Keyhaven Harbour, and follows the coastline through Keyhaven and Pennington Marshes Nature Reserve. You continue along the coast through pleasant countryside to Lymington Nature Reserve, where you can observe birds of prey such as marsh harriers, peregrine falcons, and merlins.A short-step later, you reach the pretty Georgian market town of Lymington, which has two large marinas and charismatic narrow streets filled with shops, restaurants, bars, and cafes. There is a good choice of accommodation in the town.
You depart from the coastline on this stage to explore historic buildings, breathtaking ruins and wildlife-rich countryside.Upping the ante, Stage 2 is 17 miles (27.4 km) long with an equal 400 feet (122 m) of uphill and downhill. (For a suggestion on how to split the stage, read on).You leave Lymington to the west, cross Lymington River, and enter the New Forest ahead of Sowley Pond. A short-step later you pass St Leonard’s Grange Barn, a vast Grade I-listed structure that was built in the 14th century. The trail heads north and soon follows the Beaulieu River to the village of Beaulieu, where there is a lot to see, including Palace House and the breathtaking 13th-century ruin of Beaulieu Abbey. If you wish to split the stage, there is accommodation here.After crossing Beaulieu River, a short section on the road follows, which takes you to the Royal Oak pub, a good place for a pit-stop. You then head south through Fawley Inclosure to Hardley village. The trail heads northeast, joins Southampton Water, and follows it to Hythe, where this stage finishes. The village has a good choice of accommodation, places to eat and drink, and a few shops.
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Stage 3 takes you on the oldest continuously-operating pier train in the world, through the historic city of Southampton, and visits the most complete Cistercian monastery in southern England. With 17.2 miles (27.7 km) of distance, this is another lengthy hike. However, with just 250 feet (76 m) of elevation gain, of which there are no hills of note, it is manageable. (For a suggestion on how to split the stage, read on).You begin by taking a ride on the historic Hythe Pier Railway before catching the Hythe Ferry to the port city of Southampton. (For more information, visit: hytheferry.co.uk).It is worth spending some time to explore Southampton. Highlights include: the 14th-century ruins of Holyrood Church; the Bargate, which was the main entrance to the old walled town; and South Western House, the hotel where first-class passengers spent the night before sailing on the ill-fated Titanic.You leave Southampton to the east, cross over the River Itchen, and follow the shoreline to the spellbinding ruins of Netley Abbey, one of the best-preserved Cistercian monasteries in England.The trail continues along the eastern shore of Southampton Water through Netley village and into Hamble-le-Rice village, which has plenty of places for food and drink and shops. If you wish to split the stage, there are places to stay, too.You then catch the Hamble to Warsash Ferry across the River Hamble (for more information, visit: hambleferry.co.uk) and follow the shoreline southeast to finish in Lee-on-the-Solent, which has a good choice of accommodation, restaurants, cafes, pubs, shops, and other attractions.
Magnificent maritime history and glorious coastal views combine on this hike, which takes you through the heart of Portsmouth.The Way eases into its leisurely conclusion on this penultimate stage, which is 14.3 miles (23 km) long and is near level.To begin, you hike along Lee-on-the-Solent Beach to Browndown Point, where you find Browndown Battery, a former military coastal fort that was built in the 1840s.You follow the beach-side promenade before taking rough tracks around Gilkicker Point. The trail then heads inland to Gosport. Here, you need to catch the Gosport Ferry to Portsmouth. (For more information, visit: gosportferry.co.uk).It is worth spending some time in Portsmouth as there is lots to see and plenty of pit-stop opportunities. Some highlights include: HMS Warrior, Britain’s first iron-hulled, armoured warship; Spinnaker Tower, which affords a breathtaking panorama; and the stunning Portsmouth Cathedral.The trail crosses Southsea Common to Southsea Castle, which was built in 1544 on the orders of King Henry VIII, and continues along Southsea Beach. You then head north along Langstone Harbour to finish in Hilsea.Whilst there are places to stay in Hilsea and options for food and drink, there is not an abundance. If you are struggling, Hilsea Station is only a short walk away and has regular trains to Portsmouth.
Expect breathtaking displays of nature and charismatic coastal towns on the final stage of the Solent Way.If you follow the official route to Emsworth, the finale is 8.5 miles (13.7 km) long. However, with worthy detours to Hayling Island and the town of Havant, this stage is 12.5 miles (20.1 km) long. The walking is entirely level throughout, too. From Hilsea, you cross Broom Channel, follow the footpath near to the bypass, and then head south into Farlington Marshes Nature Reserve. Covering 308 acres of grazing marsh and saline lagoon, the reserve is an internationally-important habitat for migratory wildfowl and wading birds. As such, you are treated to stunning displays at all times of year. You wind around the marsh back to the bypass and follow the road through an industrial estate before emerging into fields to Langstone village. Here, it is well worth following the Shipwrights Way across the water to Hayling Island. On the island there is another internationally-important haven for birdlife, West Hayling Nature Reserve, where you can observe many species of bird at all times of year. This detour adds miles 2.9 miles (4.7 km). Soon after rejoining the trail, it is worth taking the 1.1-mile (1.8-km) detour shown here to the bustling market town of Havant. Characterised by Georgian buildings and narrow weaving paths called ‘twittens', the town has many places to eat and drink, making it a good choice for a pit-stop.The trail cuts through fields to St Thomas a Becket Church, a striking 12th-century place of worship, and continues along the shoreline to Emsworth, where your journey finishes. There are places to stay, eat and drink in the town, and there is also a train station.