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.
Waving 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.
Soon 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……
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.
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.Leaving 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….
The 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.
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.
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.