After a little searching I find my way down to the Promenade, a wide path circling a pond. Known as Fisherman’s Walk, the information sign tells me that it was originally built to enable fishermen to gain access to the oyster beds off Haying Island.
Well I hope they had better luck than me at “gaining access” as my path soon narrows down to a faint passage through long grass and mud and stops at a fence with cows on the other side. I am obviously not meant to go any further so I turn round, walk back in the direction of town, ask a few locals and eventually end up on Mill Lane. The serenity of Mill House calms my irritation and soon I am out on the sea wall heading for Langstone which I can see in the distance.
The tide is out so I am able to walk on the shore, trying not to slip on the slimy seaweed – I pass a few boaty people in wellies and am treated to a string of cheery greetings. My next stop is Langstone Mill, a tide mill derelict by 1934 and restored as a private residence in 1939. and a little later I stop at a pub for a cup of tea.
Refreshed I pick up the sea wall again, the entertainment being provided by scores of men energetically digging in the mud. I assume it is for fish bait – ragworms I’m told.
I also come across the big wire parcels of stones that were everywhere on the coast around Brighton – used to protect the sea bank from erosion.
In the distance I can see and hear the traffic rushing over the bridge to Hayling Island – this is the road I will have to cross to get me back onto the Solent Way. I get to it soon enough and about a mile later the path turns inland to circle a large recycling plant where two very sunburnt workmen stop what they’re doing to stare at me, probably wondering what on earth I find of interest in this part of the coast.
The path takes me through flowering bushes, busy with bees and butterflies and then plunges me into the gloom of a copse of evergreen trees, some of which look very dead.
The path is soft with fallen pine needles but it finishes too soon and I am soon out again on the baking tarmac of a road running through an industrial estate. Having trouble finding the path I ask a truck driver who sends me down the next turning left and back to the shore. From this point on nothing really happens. I trudge along a cycle path running parallel to the A27, realising that I am bound for Farrington Marshes with no food in my rucksack and no sign of any cafe or shop for miles. Searching in the dark corners of my rucksack my fingers close around a forgotten withered apple – amazing how good things can taste when you’re hungry.
The marshes are beautiful, the bird song and sunshine momentarily taking my mind off my hunger but closing the gate of the nature reserve behind me I see where I now have to go………..an intimidating motorway intersection looms in front of me with a complex pattern of cycle paths and pedestrian crossings.
I eventually make it to a service station and stand transfixed in front of the sandwiches in the cooler. Feeling just a little out of place I find a small piece of grass and eat my “lunch” vowing to plan my provisions a little better in the future.
Onward ever onward, thinking it can’t be far to Portsmouth, I cross a bridge over Broom’s Channel and back to the sea wall, a sign on the fence of a sailing club making me chuckle.
I am now on Portsea Island, marshes on my left and the outskirts of Southsea on my right. I walk through Milton Common, stopping to read the sign encouraging a moment’s thought for lost servicemen. Next to the sign is a shrine to leave a flower or some other form of recognition and thanks – I give it a few moments’ thought.
I then come to a stop at a pub where the path seems to go no further. A local drunk tells me I can walk along the shoreline so round the back of allotment gardens I go, picking my way through litter and mud until I climb up into a housing estate with no redeeming features and completely devoid of colour. My heart sinks as by now I am feeling very tired and still no sign of Portsmouth proper. Limping along the pavement I barely manage to overtake a bowed old gentleman shuffling along, his lottery ticket clutched tightly in his right hand. Just as I am beginning to despair I round a corner and there is the sea, the real sea with the very long Southsea Promenade stretching into the distance. I am on the home stretch, past the Royal Marines Museum and the bike racks with their knitted covers (no idea!) and on to where I can see the Britanny ferries edging their way into the harbour.
I finally reach the glitter of Clarence Pier and desperately ignoring the wonderful smell of fish and chips I turn inland to find my B&B.