Pedalling the Solent Way is a far cry from my fantastic adventure in the Atlas Mountains, but the Solent Way is on my doorstep.
The shore path in Netley Abbey and other sections of the Solent Way to the east of Hamble had been badly damaged in the February storms.
Parts of the route have been lost forever. One Sunday, Dan and I set off from Netley Abbey and headed west. Grey clouds swirled and streaked overhead and a chill wind blew. The path along Southampton Water was quiet. It was one of those days where heavy cloud threatened rain and there wasn’t as much as a hint of sunshine.
Mr Whippy, parked on Weston Shore sat in his lonely van gazing across the bay. The white stone benches inscribed with quotes and poetic words were empty. I wondered whose words they were. Information Boards showing pictures and words about the abundant birdlife sporadically line the way. At low tide, the shingle beach expands onto mud flats abundant with birds. That day, the tide was high.
I rode past the Art Deco shelters, which are lit by mood lighting at night and soon I was in Woolston. Tucked tight behind Dan, I climbed the Itchen Bridge easily, only when shaken by a gust of wind did I dismount and push along the footpath. Bright green markings have been added to the new crossroads which replaced the more recent roundabout.
I swung left towards the quay, then left again into the docks. We wanted the ferry to Hythe. On the pier, we found a ticket machine. Moments later, a diminutive man popped his weather beaten face around the door. ‘If you want tickets for Hythe, come inside.’ Inside, there was a table, nothing fancy, simply a space for the ticket man to sit. He explained that he didn’t take payment, but he could give change and could only take cash. At £5.50 return and £1.20 each for the bikes, I received five bags of change for my twenty pound note. The man in charge of the change told me to load the £13.40 as quickly as possible into the machine. He helped me by getting the money ready so I could drop each coin into the slot. ‘If you take too long, it spits out the money and you’ll have to start again,’ he warned. My hands were freezing and I began to fumble. ‘There must be about 800 pounds under these boards,’ he said. ‘People are always dropping coins.’ The machine, sufficiently fed and with the required haste produced a ticket. A one size fits all ticket which covered both us and the bikes. We did not intend to return but instead we wished to repeat the same journey again in the future. Our ticket was clipped once.
Great Expectations berthed and we boarded along with three other passengers. The wind always whips along Southampton Water and although it was a short trip to Hythe, I felt cold as I sat doing nothing.
When the ramp came down at Hythe pier, I realised we were a long way from shore. The pier is 640 metres (2,100 feet) long. It’s among the ten longest piers on the British Isles. But there’s more! The World’s Oldest Pier Train runs here and it doesn’t carry bicycles. There is also a sign that states ‘NO CYCLING’.
Reluctantly, we pushed our bikes along the boards, as the train driver walked from the front of the train to the back for the journey to land. The planks were engraved with messages of love and loss, happy memories and notable dates. Soon we were in the New Forest, except there was no shelter from the trees as it was heath land. I’m lazy when it comes to detailed examination of the routes as I kind of enjoy the surprise. Although the road was flat, it felt like it was uphill as the headwind was strong.
Food Stop when pedalling the Solent Way
We rode up the cobbled High Street of Beaulieu village in the New Forest, one of the UK’s National Parks, and parked in front of The Old Bakehouse Tea Rooms before the final leg to Lymington and the train home. Two giant slices of cake, one chocolate, the other ginger were ordered with a large pot of tea. I had cream with my cake, Dan didn’t. Now, almost everyone loves a cup of tea and a slice of cake, but not everybody has to earn it before they eat it. Although the Isle of Wight was barely visible, there were other curios on the road to Lymington.
At Needs Oar Point, a WWII airfield there was a poem. It’s called Forest Fields and was written by Michael Renyard. I paused.
Pause, when you see these fields of green where once a thousand men were seen. Some, flying off to war to see these fields of green no more. Some to stay, to pave the way for you to stand on these fields of green. Remember them as you stand so free gazing o’er the grass and the sea, where once a thousand men were seen. They gave for us these fields of green.
Michael Renyard (1996)
The words ‘fields of green’ flung my heart and soul across the sea to Ireland.
With a heavy heart, I rode onward, until I burst out laughing at the sight of this. Someone had left their knickers on the fence.
In the words of Jawaharial Nehru “There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” Adventure really can be found anywhere.