by Katie Isham.
Somewhere in a nearby magical land, in a kingdom behind a Co-Op, where the grand towers of industry watch over the landscape, there is a pathway from the suburbs to the shore. It may not have grand beginnings but it opens out onto one of the greatest escapes along Southampton Water.
Head south along Hamble Lane, but before you hit the bustling metropolis of the village, hook a right just past the parade of shops on the corner. Follow Coach Road past the tree-lined driveways and red-brick bungalows and let your nose lead you towards the sea. Just as Fawley draws into view across the water, a slight signpost will point you through a leafy cutway.
Join the footpath through the undergrowth as it leads you into wonderful coastal woodland. The thud of footsteps on the soft earthy floor welcomes all into an adventure. Sea salt combines with the newly photosynthesised breath of trees to infuse into your lungs as the trekking exertion begins.
Soon the path offers a forking choice. Left or right. Neither decision is bad. Left takes a direct route to the beach whereas the right route drives you along the woodland paths first, tempting you with glimpses of the sea to the left. A sucker for a tease, the right path always entices me.
Deeper into the canopy, follow the path as it narrows; forget single-file, it’s half-file in places. The route runs alongside the shore, dipping down and rising up reflecting the nearby waves. The summer sun seeps through the forest trees that have weathered the storms of many winters; dappled light illuminates the path through the woodland.
Pass a great concrete cube, a relic of past conflicts, now a canvas for disillusioned youth. Littered along the path are carcases of brick walls, long fallen. Step over them and be glad to still be standing.
Pause to appreciate the range of flora on offer in this miraculous slither of nature between the industry of Aerostructures and the churning channel of nautical activity. Great lumbering trees gnarled by time; oaks standing up to the bullying wind; gorse bushes peppered incongruously by cheery yellow blooms; ivy colouring in all the gaps; and the lush explosions of ferns everywhere, enough to make a rainforest jealous.
This walk becomes a real safari if you pay attention. The branches and bushes are full of life. Hark at an echoed call from a feathered friend; pause as a scrabbling squirrel darts across the path; you may even be lucky enough to notice a stag beetle procrastinating on the tarmac once you reach the slipway down to the sea. And of course, there are the dogs. A popular spot for walking: watch out for sticks being dragged along the path by the unwavering spirit of a dog on their daily constitutional.
Once upon the slipway used as a stag beetle runway, another choice awaits. Upstream, along the coast lies Netley and the beaches of the country park. The more energetic of us may wish to trek northwest to follow the water further. Alternatively, head downstream, back along the beach that provided such temptation glimpsed through the trees.
Gaze across the shipping lanes and wave at the tankers, liners, ferries, speedboats and gulls all using Southampton Water as their highway. Tramp along the shingle and beachcomb for sea glass and gifts of cuttlefish and shells. The deafening crunch underfoot is a world away from the soft woodland carpet we started on. But that’s the wonder of this random strip of existence. It’s a world of contrasts. Beach and woodland. Shingle and soil. Peace and industry. Diversity enhances everything. Enjoy not having to make the choice: wander at will and enjoy all the elements at once.
Cost: Free parking and free walking. Free expression to be found by the shore.
Accessibility: Reach the site by turning off Hamble Lane by the parade of shops at the corner by the plane. Parking available. Hamble train station is about a mile’s walk. The paths down the track are woodland surface with roots and stones and can narrow as well as undulate. The beach is all shades of shingle fun.
Facilities: Basic amenities on site. A few bins and a few benches. A small car park down the lane and more residential parking nearby. Slightly further afield, back on the main drag to Hamble Lane, you’ll find some shops, takeaways and drinking establishments to procure some refreshments if needed.
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