Daisy and Jack waiting for the train to New Milton (near Milford on Sea) with a pile of bikes and pram to cram into a carriage.

In February half term I set off on another wet and windy cycling and pram-pushing mission with Jack and Daisy (Molly saw sense and opted to see her friends and stay the week with gran; Gary made sure he was working to save being dragged along for the ride). This was Part 2 of The Solent Way (a long-distance coastal walking route that stretches from Milford-on-Sea to Emsworth Harbour). On New Year’s Day our cycling and pram-pushing threesome had set out on Part 1 of the Solent Way. Jack and Daisy rode their trusty steeds while I pushed and pulled and dragged and carried our 4th-hand pram which acted as a glorified shopping trolley to carry food and clobber and sleeping bags and, when his legs got tired, Jack. We had four very fun and very wet days (Storm Eleanor struck us with torrential rain and flooding and impressively lively 70mph winds) but we managed to splash and aqua-plane our way 38 miles from Farlington Marshes to Southampton.

This time, after walking and cycling 89 miles we finished off The Solent Way (averaging 11 miles a day over 8 days) making it home just in time for school – which was a bit of a revelation as normally we don’t. The Solent Way is about 60 miles long if you don’t divert off course or 127 miles if you’re us and you do (we did a few sections twice, went sightseeing plus diverged off route to find food and lodgings).

Milford on Sea in the sun

Milford on Sea in the rain (Daisy with Jack’s bike and the Needles behind).

Heading along the shingle spit to Hurst Castle.

Arriving at Hurst Castle in high winds. (The castle is an artillery fort established by Henry VIII). The Isle of Wight (on the horizon) is a stone’s throw across The Solent from the castle.

From New Milton we cycled (Daisy) scooted (Jack) and pram-pushed (me) to Milford-on-Sea, Hurst Castle, Keyhaven, Lymington, Bucklers Hard, Beaulieu, Hythe, Southampton, Portsmouth, Hayling Island, Emsworth. We wound our way around and across a multitude of estuaries, harbours, shingle spits, marshes, beaches, creeks, lagoons, castles and forts all steeped in seafaring and maritime history.

My mini cycling brigade heading out along the Keyhaven to Lymington Nature Reserve.

Pausing for breath mid nature reserve.

Jack having a drama queen moment.

Normal service resumes.

Cycling heaven: in the over-populated south of England and not a car to be seen.

The Lymington to Yarmouth (Isle of Wight) ferry sandwiched between Daisy and a weighty pram full of kit and a sleeping Jack.

And then the rains came (near Norleywood, New Forest).

Mud. And…

… more mud.

The Keyhaven to Lymington nature reserve was a particularly amazing area of salt marsh and mudflats and a haven for busy birdlife. Everywhere were gulls, terns, egrets, cormorants, oystercatchers, ringed plover, redshank, Brent geese and little grebe, also known amusingly as dabchick (always a good thing to strive to be). We spotted some fine wildfowl too – teal, wigeon, shovelers and eiderdown ducks as Daisy calls the eider duck.

Another unusual species to hover over my head was not quite such a welcome sight. With no one around I had taken the opportunity to climb down the sea wall to have an al fresco pee. I ‘whipped down me trollies’ (as Jack calls it) and was in position on my haunches admiring the view (bird-teeming mud-flats, the wind-whipped Solent, the hump-backed mound of the Isle of Wight, the-out-on-a-limp-lump of wave-lapped Hurst Castle — 5-star hotel toilets are never this good) when blow me, what should appear above my head but a flashing blinking buzzing drone. My trollies were whipped up faster than you could say dainty dabchick and I clambered back up the seawall to see who was flying this airborne Peeping Tom. Ah ha. Up ahoy, further along the seawall, were two figures of high-viz-coated men. As we approached I saw one of them had a control panel in his hands. We got chatting and it turned out they were from the Environment Agency and in the midst of surveying not just toileting pram-pushers but the whole of the nature reserve’s sea wall to watch for flooding weaknesses and breaches in the sea wall etc. Their former method was with tripods and levels. Now it’s by UFO-like flying camera which means it’s a much faster process that can also give them a 3-D image of the whole area. It was all very interesting stuff but a bit concerning that they might have a few snapshots of me tending to the call of nature. The upshot was it made Jack and Daisy’s day, such was their height of amusement, so I suppose being caught with my pants down was worth it in the end. The lengths we go to in order to make our offspring happy.

And so onward we went. We had sunny moments, freezing cold moments (a strong easterly blew throughout), wet moments (it rained for 3 solid days) muddy moments, swampy moments, plentiful funny moments, slightly lost moments, brake-exploding moments (Daisy’s) and wild cattle and pony-jam moments (we crossed the New Forest off piste).

I seemed to spend a bit too much time wearing the pram in order to cross soggy and boggy areas…

…and to climb over multiple stiles and squeeze through pram-unfriendly kissing gates.

A very wet Bucklers Hard.

In fact it rained so hard at Bucklers Hard that it didn’t make much difference to the wetness of our clothing whether we were standing on land or in the sea.

 

Crossing the New Forest off piste to get away from a busy strip of the Beaulieu to Hythe road.

A bit of waterlogged New Forest near Dibden Purlieu.

Hythe pier from where we caught the ferry across Southampton Water to Southampton.

Portsmouth!

In poll position on Southsea seafront.

All aboard the Hayling Island ferry.

Daisy in full flow – Hayling Island.

Daisy looking downcast as we approach the final destination of Emsworth. She liked ‘life on the road’ and didn’t fancy going back to school.

Emsworth and being met at the end of The Solent Way by Gary (the husband).

 

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