On New Year’s Eve eve I suddenly fancied heading off on a cycling and pram-pushing mission on New Year’s Day with any offspring game to come with me. Molly wanted to go and stay with gran for the week so that left Jack and Daisy keen to mount up. Last New Year us threesome left to circumnavigate (by bike and pram) the coast path of the Isle of Wight. So the conundrum was: where to go this year? It had to be somewhere that Jack (4) and Daisy (7) could ride their bikes without being flattened by thundering traffic; somewhere that was scenic and fun and that we could get to quite quickly from home; somewhere that preferably involved boats and the sea.

After a quick bit of pondering I hit upon The Solent Way – a 60-mile long-distance coastal walking route that stretches from Milford-on-Sea (near Lymington) to Emsworth Harbour. It sounded lovely: estuaries, harbours, shingle spits, marshes, beaches, creeks, lagoons, castles and forts all steeped in seafaring and maritime history. Then there was the odd little passenger ferry to catch across the watery parts which would add a bit of excitement for the younger members of the crew. The only thing that didn’t sound so lovely was the weather. The first storm of the year (Storm Eleanor) was due to come crashing in off the Atlantic with 100mph winds forecast to blow more away than just cobwebs. Oh well, never mind, I thought.  Storm Doris had hit us on the Isle of Wight with 90mph winds and we survived that one. And anyway, like the well-worn adage: There’s no such thing as bad weather, just inadvisable clothing. Though saying that, despite advisable clothing, Doris did throw some impressive clothes soaking rain and wind at us.

So on the morning of New Year’s Day Jack, Daisy and I battened down the hatches of our Velcro and storm zips, donned balaclavas and galoshes and sallied forth to do battle with Eleanor. As we didn’t have enough time before school started on the 4th to do the whole length of The Solent Way in one fell swoop I decided it best to do the first part of it backwards. We would start at Emsworth and finish Leg 1 at Southampton from where we could easily catch a train home.

Gary gave us a lift down the A3 in the camper. When we left home it was raining hard. By the time we hit the A3 it was raining even harder. Arriving at our set off point the weather was so bad (gales and sheeting rain) it had become almost laughable.  ‘Just a clearing-up shower!’ said Gary gaily as he sat in the heated cab of the van while I bailed out of the door into the cold wind-battering maelstrom to sort out packing up the bikes and pram. The good thing about starting an expedition in awful weather is that even though it may get even worse it will get better. So clinging to that catch-a-glimpse-of-the-sun-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel-hope I set out into the floods and hood-flapping wind with a surprisingly enthusiastic Jack and Daisy.

Jack was riding his little Islabikes balance bike (he doesn’t like pedals) while Daisy was riding her trusty off-road mount. By trotting along and pushing a pram instead of riding a bike it meant that I could travel at the same speed as my young outriders. Also, should Jack’s little legs get tired, he had a comfy reclining seat to sit and rest and eat and sleep.

Amazingly the weather did improve that first day (this awful bout of wind and rain was just a prelude to Storm Eleanor which was due to hit the next day) and as we skirted Farlington Marshes and headed down the east coast of Portsea Island the sun did actually try to show its face. We forged floods into a continuous headwind of a gale, sustained a puncture on the pram on Southsea seafront (a big roofer’s felt tack) and after 10 miles found a place to bed us down in Portsmouth.

Over the next 3 days we walked and rode through everything the weather threw at us (which was a lot and consisted mostly of wind and rain) averaging 10 miles a day until we reached Southampton. The trials of the weather added to the fun of it all (it wouldn’t have been so exciting in windless tepid conditions) and Jack and Daisy remained amazingly buoyant throughout – Jack scarcely paused for breath and only climbed into the pram for one short afternoon siesta. When we reached Southampton we were all keen to keep heading onwards and eastwards to Milford-on-Sea but unfortunately school was calling (we had already missed the first day back on the Thursday due to the blowy conditions).

The plan is to embark upon Part 2 of The Solent Way during February half term (starting next week). No doubt we will attract some other ferocious Atlantic storm so if you want good weather you are advised to steer clear from the south coast west of Southampton.

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If in doubt, crawl! A very flooded bit of path around Langstone Harbour.

Jack trying to throw himself over the sea wall on the east coast of Portsea Island.

Forging the floods.

Fuel-break before the next downpour.

Beach-riding, Langstone Harbour.

Wild winds, fast clouds, bright sun.

4pm sunset Southsea seafront.

Puncture! Pram wheel, Porstmouth.

The culprit – a big roofer’s felt tack!

Drying off with my arms full in B&B Portsmouth.

Storm Eleanor hitting us full force at Old Porstsmouth.

More wild wind and big waves, Lee-on-the-Solent.

Sunny, but blowing a gale – Lee-on-the-Solent.

Jack’s finally climbed into the pram for a slumber – farm track on way to Chilling (south of Warsash).

Waiting in pouring rain for the little pink passenger ferry across the River Hamble.

All aboard with kind and friendly Roy (Captain Birdseye). Due to the wild weather we finally arrived at the ferry an hour after the last sailing of the day. But Roy had waited for us specially and took us across. He has been a ferryman on the Hamble for 60 years (he got his license when he was 21) and is finally retiring this year.

Jack and Daisy watching Roy tie up the ferry for the night.

Stopping for a play on the playground in Victoria Country Park east of Netley.

Flood! I got very wet feet running through that.  Jack loved getting wetly in Netley.

More floods. Jack’s admiring the car park – now a choppy sea.

Sandwiched by floods. What was the car park is on the left, the river-of-a-road on the right. Woolston, Southampton.

Crossing The Itchen Bridge into Southampton in a helmet-rattling headwind.

The end of the road. Jack conked out at Southampton Central railway station waiting for the train home.