A wooded estuary where Nelson’s ships were launched
From Lymington to Southampton Water few roads lead down to the coast, which is broken only by the lovely Beaulieu River estuary. The western side of the estuary, part of the Beaulieu estate, is a nature reserve and -despite the river’s popularity – remains a peaceful rural retreat, with a delightful riverside footpath between Bucklers Hard and Beaulieu. Along Southampton Water, miles of docks and oil refineries line the waterside.
The River Lymington flows down from the high plains of the New Forest, and at its estuary is this pretty town with steep streets leading past Georgian shops to a harbour that is a mass of small boats. The harbour is also a main terminal for the Isle of Wight car and passenger ferries. The ferry itself offers particularly good views of the saltings, the grass-covered mud-flats that fringe this section of the coast.
A replica of the figurehead from HMS Gladiator, launched in 1782, is among the exhibits in the Maritime Museum at Bucklers Hard. The Gladiator never saw action, but served as a home for convalescent seamen at Portsmouth until she was broken up in 1817. The museum includes models of many of the ships built for Nelson’s fleet.
About 2 ½ miles south of Bucklers Hard, a signposted gravel road leads for 1 mile down to a gate where a few cars can park. From here, a walk of a third of a mile through fields leads to a long shingle-and-sand beach backed by a rough cement wall and a bank of grass and stones.
From this part of the coast, which is part of the Beaulieu estate, there is a fine view across the Solent to the Isle of Wight.
NEEDS ORE POINT
This nose of flat land at the mouth of the Beaulieu River, with its tidal inlets and sweeping views of coast and estuary, has a yacht club and a bird sanctuary, part of the 1,600 acre North Solent National Nature Reserve that covers the whole western shoreline of the Beaulieu River estuary.
The reserve has Britain’s largest colony of black-headed gulls – 14,000 pairs, many of which are on Gull Island set in the river’s mouth and can be seen only from the river.
Roman gladiator for a British ship
Needs Ore Point is approached down a private gravel road which starts 2 miles south of Bucklers Hard near the ruins of St Leonard’s, a grange that once served Beaulieu Abbey. The road is not marked, and entry to the bird sanctuary is by permit, for a small charge from the estate office.
Entrance to the foreshore of pebbles and saltmarsh is forbidden between March 1 and July 31, the height of the breeding season.
This shipbuilding village, part of the Beaulieu estate, is being restored to its 18th-century appearance. Bucklers Hard was originally planned by the 2nd Duke of Montagu as a base – ‘Montagu Town’ – for the import of sugar from the islands of St Vincent and St Lucia in the West Indies. In the event, the French seized the islands and the village became a shipbuilding community. It was ideally suited for that role, for the river is deep, well-sheltered and secure from coastal attack, with a firm, gently sloping beach. It was also encircled with extensive woodlands-a vital resource, since it took 60 acres of timber to build a man-o’-war.
The village consists of two lines of cottages leading down to the beach where, from 1698 to 1827, the wooden-walled ships were built. For almost a century, work was under the control of the family and descendants of master-builder Henry Adams. Among the ships they supervised were the Euryalus and Agamemnon for Nelson’s fleet.
The house in which Adams lived is now a hotel, but one room containing a tableau featuring Adams can be seen from the village street. Next door is the tiny chapel of St Mary, measuring only 25 by 15 ft. A Maritime Museum, open daily, recalls the past achievements of Bucklers Hard, and two reconstructed cottage interiors and an inn scene depict village life in the late 18th century.
There is a charge to enter the village and its displays, and there is a large car park outside the village. A delightful footpath starts near the boatyard and leads north, through woodland and along the Beaulieu River bank, with views of woods and fields opposite, to Beaulieu, 2 miles away. River cruises are available from the jetty.
This sheltered and wooded spot at the head of the Beaulieu River estuary was originally named Bellus Locus, ‘beautiful place’. When monks founded an abbey there in the 13th century they changed the Latin name to its Norman French equivalent, Beau Lieu. The abbey was destroyed when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, its stones being used to reinforce the king’s coastal defences at Cowes, Hurst Castle and Calshot. But it remains a ‘beautiful place’, for the estate is a masterpiece of conservation and restoration. The village itself, of mellow red-brick buildings, is set around an old mill at the head of the estuary, which is a favourite mooring for small yachts. Palace House, the home of Lord Montagu, and the remains of Beaulieu Abbey, with a display of monastic life, are open to the public daily. On the same site is the National Motor Museum, a modernistic building of glass and angular brickwork housing more than 200 historic vehicles, also open daily. There are large car parks and tree-studded picnic areas, while a monorail provides an overhead view of the grounds.
These 250 acres, comprising one of Europe’s classic gardens, are the creation of Lionel de Rothschild and an expression of his life-long passion for trees and shrubs, especially rhododendrons. Rothschild imported more than 1,000 species of rhododendron from Asia and by patient crossing created 452 new varieties. From this wealth of colours, Lord Rothschild and his 150 gardeners built an ever-changing mosaic of rhododendrons providing blooms the year round.
This small country park has picnic spots among the trees, and beautiful views across the Solent to the Isle of Wight. Bathing is possible, though the sand-and-shingle beach gives way to mud at low tide.
A pebbly beach lined with bathing huts leads to a spit of land that was once an RAF flying-boat base. Its four huge hangars and residential buildings now form a large centre for educational and sporting activities.
Calshot’s history as an airbase began in 1913, and by the 1920s it was the centre of almost all maritime air training. The Schneider Trophy international air races for seaplanes were held there in 1929 and in 1931, the year in which the trophy was won permanently for Britain.
The airbase closed in 1961 and now Hampshire Education Authority uses it to provide courses for some 100,000 people a year in sailing, canoeing, environmental studies and other activities.
Volunteer lifeguards patrol Calshot beach on Sundays in summer.
At this industrial and residential suburb of Southampton, flying boats were designed and built in the 1930s and 1940s. The town has a pier 700 yds long, along which a little blue-and-white electric railway takes passengers to the Southampton ferry that runs from the end.
At the head of Southampton Water lie the sprawling docks that made Southampton Britain’s major passenger port and the home of the Atlantic liners of the Cunard Company. But its history goes back more than 1,000 years; it was the site of the Roman port of Clausentumf it was William the Conqueror’s port for his ships coming from Normandy; and it was from Southampton that the Pilgrim Fathers set sail in 1620 -though they called at Dartmouth and Plymouth before crossing the Atlantic.
The 6 miles of quay include the Ocean Dock, where the Maureiania, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary once towered above the warehouses. In Mayflower Park on the Western Esplanade a memorial marks the spot from which the Mayflower sailed. Close by, near the old entrance to Royal Pier, there are regular ferry and hydrofoil services to the Isle of Wight.
Despite heavy bombing during the Second World War, Southampton still retains many of its old buildings, including the 16th-century Tudor House, the Norman Bargate and the towers of the old town walls. Wool House in Bugle Street, a medieval warehouse in which French prisoners of war were housed during the 18th and 19th centuries, is now a Maritime Museum, whose exhibits include a large model of the Queen Mary. The 15th-century God’s House Tower is an archaeological museum.
Another museum in the town is the Southampton Hall of Aviation. R. J. Mitchell, designer of the Spitfire fighter plane, was chief designer of the Super-marine Aviation Works at Woolston, now part of Southampton. The museum contains one of the last Spitfires built, and a Super-marine S6 seaplane from which the fighter was developed.
A pebbly shore, where swimming in the polluted water is not recommended, leads to the 220 acre Royal Victoria Country Park. At its centre stand the remains of the massive Royal Victoria Military Hospital, founded in 1856 for the victims of the Crimean War. It was largely demolished in 1956, but its chapel has an exhibition showing the hospital’s history. The park was taken over by the Hampshire County Council and is open for picnics, sports and nature walks.
Near by are the 12th-century ruins of Netley Abbey, its floors grassed over, its many stone-walled rooms open to the sky.
The village of Hamble is one of the most concentrated yachting centres in Britain. It has five yacht marinas, boats for hire and a passenger ferry across the River Hamble to
PLACES TO SEE INLAND
Broadlands, Romsey. Former home of Lord Mountbatten. Most days in summer.
Eling Tide Mill, Totton. 18th-century mill. Most days.
Mottisfont Abbey (NT), Georgian house, from 12th-century priory. Some afternoons in summer.
New Forest Butterfly Farm, near Ashurst, 3 miles W of Southampton, off A35. Daily in summer.
Winchester Cathedral; Castle Hall; Hospital of St Cross; Guildhall Picture Gallery: City Museum; Westgate Museum; Royal Greenjackets Museum; Royal Hampshire Regiment Museum. All open most days. Royal Hussars Museum; City Mill. Most days in summer.