Lymington to Bucklers Hard 2.11.13

To combine a walk with a visit to Beaulieu International Motor Museum, Damian and I are walking backwards – or rather eastwards today. We are woken early in our B&B by the noisy good natured banter of market traders – what a palaver! (“palaver” comes from the Portuguese “palaver” meaning “word” and later used by colonialists to describe the heated discussions of traders in West African communities. It later arrived on ships and was absorbed into Cockney).

It had been raining heavily during the night so when we arrive at the quay, a very deep puddle makes it impossible to follow the river bank, so we retrace our steps into town and walk along a road parallel to the river.

P1030664 Coming to the river we cross over a road bridge with signs warning motorists of crossing otters (how long must it take for an otter to cross a road? Answers on a postcard…….) and then turn right along the main road. Fortunately we soon spy a footpath sign off to the left which takes us up into a quiet wood. Acorns are strewn across the path and with eyes down I do not see the monument up ahead until we’re right underneath it.

P1030669Stretching up into the tops of the trees this impressive 75 ft obelisk was erected in 1842 in honour of Admiral Harry Burrard Neale. He was Mayor of Lymington and helped introduce gas street lighting to the town, he was also a close friend of George III and his sister modelled many times for Gainsborough. From now on it’s a bit of road walking but very soon we find signs for the Solent Way which takes us over fields and through woods and eventually out on to the road all the way to Bucklers Hard. P1030671P1030670

On the way we pass a private landing strip which used to be Lymington Airfield, home to  the American 50th Fighter Group just before D-Day, but now owned by a millionaire who likes to play war games and annoy the locals (according to the Daily Mail). A little later we pass a poster warning of a seasonal mystery dog illness – ME for dogs…….

P1030675…….and then we’re out on the road taking our chances with New Forest ponies (although they all seem to be sleeping as we walk through, me expecting a charge any minute).P1030682

Just before Bucklers hard the heavens open and it’s head down into the rain.

P1030584 It has been a short and now a very wet walk.

Lymington to Christchurch 30.10.13

Arriving late in the darkness of the Hampshire countryside I stumble around in the front garden of my B&B, trying to find the main entrance.

The concrete tower that rears up in front of me has a door which leads nowhere, so heading for the light to the left of the tower I find myself tapping tentatively on the big glass doors of what turns out to be the kitchen. Slightly startled, my host welcomes me in, leads me up to my room and on request provides me with an ice cold beer – wonderful!

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Waking early I cannot believe my eyes when I see another much higher tower rising out of the trees in front of my window and over breakfast I am told the intriguing story behind “Hampshire’s Finest Folly”. Both towers were conceived by Andrew Peterson (1813-1906), a retired barrister, who on his return to England from India decided to build the tower as a mausoleum for himself and his wife. In accordance with Indian tradition the plan was that he would occupy the top of the tower and his wife the bottom. Unfortunately, these grand plans were not to be, as English law prohibits any burial higher than four foot above the ground – he now lies in Sway village churchyard.

The two towers are also a testament to his belief in the value of cement based concrete as a building material and the doomed mausoleum remains the tallest non-reinforced concrete construction in the world. Here endeth the history lesson.

After a hearty breakfast using cutlery from the Raj somebody offers me a lift to Lymington which I very gratefully accept – there are no buses out here and taxis are expensive.

P1030622P1030624Soon I’m walking down the cobbled street which leads to the quay and turning right to walk past the Marina I find myself on a road which runs parallel to the coast but which eventually allows me back to walk by the water. The sky suddenly turns dark, and heavy drops of rain see me struggling into my waterproofs, worrying about my phone and camera. Five minutes later the sun comes out and I go through the same thing in reverse cursing british weather.

After a while the path opens up and I find myself walking through a magical landscape of beautiful lagoons. Fish puncture the surface of the still, crystal clear water. Creaky geese fly overhead and a startled bird flutters up in front me, hooting like a child on a penny whistle.

P1030625These are Keyhaven Marshes, an area which was an important source of salt in the MIddle Ages and later. I walk on a wide grassy path, content, it reminds me of the Essex estuaries only there are far more people around. Rounding a corner I’m surprised to see what looks like a dome ahead – surely you’re not allowed to camp here, I think, but as I get closer I see it is a sculpture of sorts and there is an information board which gives me its title – SHELTER – the artist Suzanne M  Winterling has incorporated a material called Aerogel into the struts of the structure – this is a luminous substance with the same properties as salt  – her reference to the previous importance of the area.

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Walking on, past clusters of twitchers I walk past the village of Hurst, ignoring the signs to the castle out on the tip of the peninsula – I have a long walk today and not much time – until I find myself on shingle (thankfully not for very long). P1030640P1030642

I choose the slippery sea wall to avoid the shingle and following directions up the stairs, through some pretty beach huts, I’m up on the cliff in a stiff wind keeping very close to the fence on my right – the path is littered with signposts with dire warnings of crumbly cliffs. P1030644

Eventually the path widens and after cutting through a private holiday camp I follow the path back down to the beach where I sit and watch a lone surfer struggling to paddle his board out to sea to catch a wave – he rides the wave for 3/4 seconds – all that effort! The path now leads me upwards through some sleek beech trees and out to the front of a very beautiful stately home. I can see table and parasols in the gardens and I’m tempted to go and have a cup of tea but time is of essence – hmmm……..I’m supposed to be walking to avoid stress…..

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I walk through the woods that now cut me off from the sea and stop to take a picture or two – here’s one of a bench, dedicated as they often are, to someone who loved to spend a lot of time in this spot. As I read the inscription I wonder when, if at all, I will get to that stage where I find myself a regular haunt to collect my thoughts and find a bit of peace – I never really feel settled enough.

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Walking on I come to some large metal gates and I realise I have been walking through an area known as Steamer Point Nature Reserve and looking at the map I see I am not far from Christchurch. Down by the sea again I walk past the usual faceless rows of holiday chalets, my indifference only tempered by the sight of someone being considerate enough to construct the decking around the trunk of an existing tree.

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I am hungry now and in need of a cold beer, but the pub at Little Haven looks unsavoury, so I catch a bus into Christchurch and get the train home. I am now in Dorset!

Porthcawl to Southerndown 12.10.13

Our taxi drops us at Rest Bay, a couple of miles west of Porthcawl, the scene of many a Richards family holiday.

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Memories of wet sand, crashing waves and damp cones of dripping Italian ice-cream drift up from the cobbled causeway leading down to the beach. Huge (well they were huge then) cratered rocks where I would test my scrambling skills to investigate rock pools full of tiny slimy creatures. The lifeboat station is new, as are the surfers, but not a lot has changed and despite warnings of rain the weather looks promising.

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Heading off left up the cliff we head towards Porthcawl and are soon sitting in the sunshine sipping tea outside a beach cafe on the front. A beautiful young black Labrador tied to the rail in front of us shivers with expectation at every approaching passer by and is intermittently comforted by a young boy whose parents are inside the cafe.

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Round the corner the harbour is undergoing renovation, pontoons already in place and a little further on I finally get to see inside Coney Beach funfair – always forbidden territory when I was a child.

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Moving down onto the beach the sky darkens and it looks like rain. A noisy flock of crows suddenly appear over the horizon as I struggle into my waterproofs.P1070503

Five minutes later feeling hot and bothered, I’m peeling them off again – a false alarm – I envy the two young girls galloping past – it’s been years……………………………… P1070498P1070500

It takes a long time to get past the massive sprawl of Trecco Bay holiday park and its acres of mobile homes – all in starched rows, each with its own flavour of plastic ornamentation. I can’t help comparing it to the lucky Danes with their beautiful wooden summer houses  sparsely spread through forests and empty coastline.

From here it’s beach walking on soft sand until we hit the Ogmore river and are forced to go inland. At low tide it is possible to cross here but for now we can only wave at the fishermen on the other side of the narrow estuary.P1070509

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Following the west bank of the river we walk towards Merthyr Mawr Warren – a protected area of sand dunes where it is easy to get lost. We decide to stay on the fringes and follow the river. Trading carefully over the spongy ground we disturb a large flock of squawking seagulls camped on the bank under an ugly concrete bridge that serves the sewage works just behind the trees to our left.

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Ignoring the sign on the bridge post, we find ourselves on a narrow path that winds up into a lush green woodland but which unfortunately ends up in someone’s back garden. Holding our breath we tiptoe up the side of the house to join the road that leads down to the pretty hamlet of Merthyr Mawr and its beautiful church.

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The Celtic crosses in the graveyard catch my eye, as does the bench in the sunshine, but it’s a little too early for lunch.

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Heading down the hill from the church, we cross a footbridge and join a path leading to the ruins of Ogmore Castle we can see in the distance. I’ve been told that to get to the castle there is a choice of stepping stones or a bridge further up the river – no choice at all really.

When we arrive at the river bank a small group of people are anxiously waiting to go across, with an equally enthusiastic bunch on the other side. The passage across has to be single file but with no sign of official protocol the operation has to be negotiated by a shared sense of fair play. Unfortunately for us there seems to be no stopping the steady stream of people crossing from the other side and some of the group are getting restless. Twenty five years of teaching has taught me a few things so to Damian’s horror I raise my voice and start directing operations. “Could you wait a moment please?” I shout across the river and immediately the cheeky response bounces back “Oh we thought you were just admiring the view!” We all chuckle good humouredly and the stones are ours for a short while.

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Horses from the nearby stables do not have the same problems, although they do have challenges of their own.

After all this excitement we are now ravenous and although there are plenty of horses around (ha ha) we plump for the pretty cottage teashop with its home cooked ham sandwiches and cream teas. I also manage to squeeze in a slice of Bara Brith in homage to my mother – the bowl of dried fruit soaking in cold tea was a familiar sight when I was a child. Coming out of the tea shop we stop to say hello to a beautiful horse – I give him my apple.

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Moving on we follow directions to take us up and over the Southerndown golf course where some joker has placed hundreds of yellow golf balls near the path, each one eminently traceable.

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After a while we are faced with a choice of a few different paths and as I have no signal on my phone it is difficult to know which one to take. Luckily we meet a couple out walking who give us directions down through a hamlet called Heol-y-Mynydd and eventually to Southerndown and the magnificent Dunraven Bay. This is where I started my walk to Llantwit Major some months ago.

P1030613P1070549 Sitting above the bay in the mellow evening light I realise that our route from Ogmore has left out a mile or two of coastline. So, with Damian’s encouragement we set off west along the cliffs towards the setting sun and the bus back to Cardiff. It has been a perfect day.

Lepe Country Park to Bucklers Hard 5.10.13

Sadly there are no cruise ships in Southampton harbour this time, but it’s business as usual for the clunky Hythe Ferry and rattly pier train taking me to a bus that will drop me a mile and a half away from Lepe Country Park: the summer beach bus to Lepe stopped running last month.

P1030552Waving goodbye to the friendly Polish bus driver I set off following a sign for Lepe and am  soon overtaken by a pony and trap sprinting down the road, the driver hurling abuse at a car trying to overtake at a narrow point. A little later I understand the concern when I come across one of those sad shrines to people killed in car accidents.

P1030553P1030554Soon I can see the tops of what I think are Monterey Cypresses, planted in the car park at Lepe and before long I am sitting with a welcome cup of tea facing the gentle waves of the Solent. Dragging myself away – it’s a been a while since I’ve seen the sea – I turn right up the road and walking over a small bridge spanning a narrow inlet I read a sign which asks “How long will there be a bridge here? Sea levels are rising” Just up the road a single house sits smugly on the shore and I wonder how long this house will be here……P1030555 P1030558P1030557

Lining the path further on are pampas grasses, their feathery fronds swaying in the beeze and up to the right the top of a lighthouse peeps out from behind the bank.

After a while the path starts to narrow and with no 3G on my phone I am uncertain as to where I am in relation to the road running parrallel, which I will eventually have to join. There is a path but it floods at high tide and on my right hand side is nothing but the usual threatening notices and barbed wire of private land.

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On the map a path up the bank to the road is marked, so I decide to chance it and carry on – the worst that can happen is that I have to come back.  Ducking under low trees and clambering over fallen tree trunks I eventually come to a standstill where the bank falls away and up ahead is water with a few large stones pushing up above the surface although I can see a strip of relatively dry land ahead. I stand and deliberate………………………………..and then tired of dithering, I take off my rucksack and slither down the bank, stumble awkwardly over the stones and get away with only one foot slightly wet. Relieved I walk on but rounding a bend is an absolute, definitive NO NO NO you cannot go any further without a swimsuit!

Disappointed I look around for options and am about to give up, when I spy a faint depression in the grass to the right of me which looks promising. Scrambling up the bank this sheep trail soon turns into a narrow path through brambles, taking me past the corner of the fenced off forest and up onto a country road. After a consultation with a passing cyclist I head off towards Exbury…….phew.

From now on the walk is head down – the road I am forced to walk on offering little in the way of entertainment, apart from the occasional glimpse of the water through the trees to my left. Eventually I reach Exbury Gardens and turn off the road to eat my lunch and take a look at the Rhododrendon Express. This is a well kept steam train, each carriage individually named, a few excited children are badgering their listless parents for a ride.P1030563Leaving the gardens I head off down the busy road, hemmed in by trees, a narrow verge is all I have between me and the speeding cars. Thankfully I make good progress on the tramac and the road soon opens up onto heathland with some New Forest ponies grazing freely. Passing a pub I catch sight of a few wandering donkeys and approach warily for a chat. They seem open to a bit of stroking so I stay a while….

P1030566 P1030569The theme of wandering animals continues further down the road when I reach Beaulieu and I find myself wondering why there are not more car accidents. I suppose it’s the same scene in India where the cows amble peacefully around, holding up the traffic and being respectfully shooed away from anything precious.

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After a cream tea in the bakery (I do like to take care of myself) I find the well signposted path through beautiful woodland and wild meadows to Bucklers Hard. At one point the path rejoins the riverbank and meanders prettily all the way to the pub.

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Getting up from the bench outside the pub I feel a sharp pain in my lower back which makes it hard to stand upright. I’m guessing this is the result of my earlier exertions along the shoreline at Lepe…………….none of us are getting any younger.

Waterloo to Southport 31.08.13

No ……… I haven’t just increased my daily mileage from 14 to 200 miles – this is Waterloo Merseyside, just north of Liverpool.

I am visiting my sister Lynda and family for the weekend so I grab an opportunity for a walk and set off on Saturday morning from the car park of Crosby Coastal Park. There is a stiff wind blowing and I’m forced to reconsider my wardrobe and put tights on under my shorts. On the lake a group of kayakers are bobbing up and down on the choppy water as I make for the beach, head down against the wind. Topping the dunes I am faced with the vast expanse of Crosby Beach and the 100 strong series of Anthony Gormley’s “Ironmen”. Lost in their thoughts they stare out to sea, some barnacled, some up to their chests in sand, some with clear features and others where the weather has taken its toll. A little further up the beach some joker has decided to improve on the original.

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As the statues come to an end at the coastguard station, a path appears running parallel to the beach. Thinking there may be less wind I follow the signs for the Sefton Coastal Walk, through bushes of beautiful pink wild sweet peas and many other wild flowers I am yet to recognise.

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At one point I come to a bend in the path marked by a sculpture called “Pebble”- the work of pupils from a local school – I struggle to see why.

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A while later I arrive at Blundellsands yacht club which leaves passers by in no doubt as to which way to turn, so I continue up into rough ground and dunes until I arrive at the estuary of the river Alt. On the headland a familiar red flag is flying, warning me of military shooting practice and just as I stop to ask for a few directions a volley of shots rings out just to confirm.

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Following the path through a bed of reeds swaying in the wind I am faced with the backs of houses on the fringes of Hightown. Needing a toilet and a cup of tea I head for the station but passing by Hightown Hotel I decide to sneak into the Ladies. The hotel has seen better days – threadbare carpets, fruit machines and a pervasive smell of hot cooking oil. Holding my breath I make my escape, without a cup of tea.

The next part of the walk runs parallel to the railway line along the edge of Altcar firing range. A few joggers and cyclists pass me by but otherwise there is nothing to distract me from the painful realisation that my new summer walking boots (bought at the end of the summer) are too small! When will I ever get it right? I need a personal trainer to buy shoes.photo-9

 

At the end of the fence the path divides and I take the left fork heading for Formby Point. At another junction where I’m almost certain I have to turn right, I find myself suddenly swallowed up by  a group of cheery ramblers, milling around adjusting various bits of their walking gear. I feel slightly overwhelmed by their noise and number and irritated by the fact that they are blocking the information board by the side of the track. I suppose I must have looked confused because a man at the back suddenly looks directly at me and says confidently “It’s straight on up” The authority in his voice is all it takes for me to meekly trot off in what I instinctively feel is the wrong direction but I do hate to disappoint. Thankfully I don’t have to wait too long for them to disappear from view and I can turn around to regain the path.

I am now heading towards the outskirts of Formby and that elusive cup of tea, but patience has its reward in the form of a fund raising tea party for the local church. I sit outside in the sun munching fruit cake, chatting to pleasant women doing good.

Reluctantly I drag myself away from the delicate chink of porcelain and head down through some very tall fir trees towards the dunes and the sea.

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The beach to my right stretches endlessly into the distance, the enormous blue sky reminding me of a trip to another sister in Australia.

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Mile after mile I walk, thoughts arise and drift gently away as my feet instinctively find the firmest patches of sand to walk on. Occasionally, I am caught up short by the strange formations of mud or the psychedelic flash of a kite surfer out to sea, but it is mostly just walking.

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I have really no idea where I am as my iphone has no signal and there are no landmarks peeking out from behind the huge sand dunes, but eventually I see some buildings in the distance which can only be Ainsdale. From Ainsdale it is another hour and half to Southport, my toes hurt, I stop to rest on a friendly looking tree trunk to dig out the plasters, foam pads and insoles that will take me through the last few miles.

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In the distance I can see the highest cables of a road bridge and the paraphernalia of Southport’s Pleasureland. The sand gradually turns a muddy grey and the sea recedes into the distance, a light grey smudge on the horizon. On the “beach” cars go through their paces – the driver of a Mercedes saloon car executes furious handbrake turns, whirling up flurries of sand, the air stinks of hot engine and diesel. Onlookers seem unimpressed, I guess they’ve seen it all before.

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Clambering over the sea wall I walk up to the pier with just enough energy to take a picture of the whacky street lights. The last section of the very long pier (1,100 metres) is closed for the day so I will not get my tram car ride to the pier head – I’m not THAT disappointed.

 

Hythe to Calshot 11.08.13

Today my partner Damian is joining me for a walk and as usual when I walk with other people I don’t take many notes so this will be a short post.

Once more we rattle along in the pier train to the start of the walk at Hythe. Just before we set off left up the High Street I pop into the public toilets and am amazed to see that behind the toilet is a recess marked “needles” – Hythe Town Council providing a dry, private space for junkies to shoot heroin? Very forward thinking…..

Anyway, after Damian has finished shooting his particular drug – a double espresso – we walk out of Hythe following the Solent Way. The first part of this route is on the main road past huge aluminium sheds housing glittering motorboats but there is not much else of interest.

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Walking on the right hand side of the road we come to a field which is home to two hairy black and white pigs, a llama, some fluffy footed chickens, ducks, geese and goats – a seemingly happy co-existence.

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Here we leave the road and turn left onto a narrower tarmac road that then turns into a bridleway taking us through fields and pretty woodland until we hit the main road at Hardley. We are a long way from the coast now but this is the only way to skirt the huge spread of Fawley oil refinery which lies off to the left.

Off we go down the busy road, me thinking I should have chosen a nicer walk for Damian as the cars roar past and the sun beats down. Luckily, the road walking is not so bad – there are wide pavements for pedestrians and we are not too close to the traffic.

Eventually, we turn off the road onto a footpath that takes us down to Ashlett Creek and a pretty pub where people are sitting enjoying the sunshine.P1030481

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There are a lot of small boats bobbing on the water and a frantic cocker spaniel entertains us all by leaping into the water from the harbour wall, clambering out and immediately diving in again – it must have repeated the trick at least 7 times. We watch fascinated but a silky grey Great Dane standing on the shore is obviously unimpressed – not even a paddle for him nej tak………

Leaving the pub we wander around an area of common land trying to find the path that will take us down and around Fawley Power Station. We follow a track through woods and open land until we come to the heavily reinforced fences that surround the plant. Ahead of us groups of people are strolling along in the afternoon sunshine, others out walking dogs, overlooked by the inhuman face of the plant and its chimney –  a strange contrast.

P1030484At the corner of the fence the map says right but in the distance we can see what can only be Calshot so we decide to walk straight on. As it happens we are lucky because the tide is out – otherwise the path would be flooded.P1030487Approaching Calshot we spend some time watching wind surfers fall off their boards and their attempts to get up again – I am secretly pleased to see the girls doing better than the boys. We then both collapse onto the shingle in front of a line of colourful beach huts and I attempt a paddle to cool off my aching feet.

Calshot to Lepe 10.08.13

I have planned a short walk today in order to be back to meet Damian this afternoon. He is coming to see the cruise liners and join me for a walk tomorrow – I’m told the best place to see the ships is Hythe Marina.

The electric train which rattles along the wooden boards to Hythe is the oldest pier train in the world dating back to the early twentieth century. I took it yesterday but today I decide to walk the length of the pier.

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Hanging at regular intervals on the handrails are information boards and one of them catches my eye – the Flying Boat Cafe I took refuge in yesterday is no longer a mystery.

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A more gentile era in the world of aviation but I’m still not sure I would like to spend 8 days in one.

Walking off the end of the pier I turn right and am lucky enough to catch a bus to Calshot. I ask the driver how I will know when to get off and he rather cheekily and without a smile, says it will be when he turns the engine off………hmmmmm. As it happens when we get to Calshot beach he is very helpful with instructions as to how to find the path inland, directing me through a housing estate, so he must have been feeling a little guilty.

Following the path through a stretch of worn woodland, I come to a minor road and turn left onto it. I know from reading blogs of other coast walkers that it is impossible to follow the coast along this stretch as private estates abound – disappointing. However, there is very little traffic on this road which winds through beautiful woodland and it is quiet enough for me to hear an unusual two toned bird call – a long fairly high whistle followed by a lower short one………I have tried.

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At one point I pass a lovely little sandy coloured gatehouse with a battered 2 CV in the garden, setting me off on a train of thought about my year as a student teacher in Perpignan. I must squeeze in a short trip to France soon, it’s just across the water.

Soon I can see the cypresses of Lepe Country Park. Families are picnicking on the grass behind the beach, windsurfers flounder in the waves and sea kayaks slide sleekly through the water – I am in need of a cup of tea.

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It has been an uneventful but pleasant walk despite the roads and I’m soon going to be bouncing along in the wonderful beach bus to meet Damian.

The three liners moving out of Southampton today are the Marina, The Independence of the Seas and the Queen Elisabeth. The row of wooden benches looking out to sea at Hythe Marina are not too crowded and we get a good view of the huge ships as they slowly but steadily slip by – a young child weeps inconsolably for the loss of her grandmother, a passenger on the Queen Elisabeth bound for Stavanger in Norway.

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