Emsworth To Hayling Bay Hampshire
It’s the 9th May 18, and an early start on one of the hottest days of the year, sees myself and Daniel Storey heading down to Hampshire to walk the coastline from Emsworth to Hayling Bay, which is at the tip of Hayling Island. Having never been to Hayling Island I am really looking forward to seeing the place and after a short walk from the train station we soon arrive on the seafront at Emsworth. However before setting off we must first grab a bite to eat at the delightful Flintstones tea rooms right on the waterfront at South street. Emsworth, nestled within Chichester Harbour is a lovely town, with its narrow streets, Georgian houses and walled gardens, it’s a picturesque fishing village popular with sailors, artists, naturalists and walkers. The village is built between two natural inlets which were dammed to power tide mills, sadly long gone. A tide mill is a water mill driven by tidal rise and fall. A dam with a sluice is created across a suitable tidal inlet, or a section of river estuary is made into a reservoir. As the tide comes in, it enters the mill pond through a one way gate, and this gate closes automatically when the tide begins to fall. When the tide is low enough, the stored water can be released to turn a water wheel. After a nice bacon roll we set off for the foreshore and our starting point. Ironically the starting point is also the ending point of the Solent Way footpath and we must first walk around the delightful seawall, built in 1760 to contain the Western Mill Pond, known locally as ‘the Promenade’. Halfway along the Promenade sitting on brick pillars is the racing hut for the Emsworth Slipper Sailing Club.
Once around the seawall the footpath returns to the tidal foreshore. This area could be a tricky place to walk at the highest tides of the year, but the Solent Way just inland is there if needed. It’s easy walking and pleasant underfoot on stone and gravel, without much mud. We have just under two miles walking to Langstone Bridge (or Hayling bridge) our crossing point onto Hayling Island, which is separated from the mainland by a narrow channel known as Sweare Deep.
The distinctive black tower of Langston Mill, now a private residence, was a working mill until WWI. It is made up of three distinct parts, the mill itself built across a creek, built in 1800 – 1832, the mill store, built in 1800 – 1832 on brick piers and the oldest part, an attached windmill, built in 1720 – 1740. Barges could be brought right up to the mill for transporting the milled goods away around the coast. While looking for information about the mill, I came across this lovely old picture of the mill, when in 1895 the sea froze and then left huge chunks of ice floes around it on the foreshore, when the tide started to recede.
Old timber remains of a barge in front of Langstone Mill.
The Royal Oak Langstone Harbour is a waterside pub with plenty of old world charm. Dating from the 15th century, it is a lovely place to sit outside, looking out over the saltings with it’s abundance of birdlife and watch the world rush by on the nearby busy A3023 road over Langstone Bridge. The inn is known to have had a checkered past with connections to smuggling in and around the Hampshire area, copying this piece from the Chichester Observer.
Inns around the Sussex and Hampshire coast and countryside were often used as resting places by smugglers, and back in the 18th century what is now known as the Royal Oak at Langstone was one such establishment. During this period of time, the South Coast was harassed by smugglers who plundered the endless fleet of ships which passed up and down the Channel. Their cut-throat business done, they would then turn for their own safe harbours. These were found in ample supply in the hundreds of small waterways which penetrated the coast from Dorset to Kent. Sussex and Hampshire were perhaps the most plagued counties, for here the dreaded Hawkhurst Gang rested on its long journeys; here members congregated and made plans to distribute their booty. Thick woodlands and tiny villages provided many hiding places for contraband, and many an honest man, finding goods hidden in his outhouses and barns, turned a blind eye, praying that during the hours of darkness the unwanted goods would disappear. More than one parson hastily re-locked his church when he caught sight of sacks, or brandy advertisement, or rolls of silk stacked between the pews. On January 16, 1749, most of the smugglers in the notorious Hawkhurst Gang were condemned to death.Some were taken to Selsey Bill and hung in chains on the seashore where they had spent so many hours as Smugglers. Gradually, the terror of travelling through thickly forested areas in Sussex and Hampshire receded. People relaxed, secure in the knowledge that the King’s Men were at last clearing the South Coast of these cruel marauders. The roads from Portsmouth and Chichester to London were at last being used with confidence.
Before the first wooden bridge was built in 1825 at Langstone Bridge, it was either a ferry or you could cross at low water on an ancient crossing by foot or cart called the Wadeway. This ancient trackway can still be seen at its start not too far from Langstone Bridge, but is no longer walkable, despite it still being on Ordnance Survey maps. Excavation of the Wadeway, constructed on a natural high point in the harbour, put its date in the Roman to Mediaeval range but found no evidence to be more specific.
Langstone Harbour is a beautiful village seen here at low water, the only downside being that awful road onto Hayling Island. However having said that it is still worth a visit to the area, for a walk around the foreshore or to enjoy a meal or drink in either the Ship Inn or Royal Oak on the Havent side of Langstone Bridge. Personally, having been in both pubs, I can recommend The Ship Inn for a meal and The Royal Oak for pure nostalgia. Also look out for the annual charity raft race held here on Langstone Harbourside.
What can I say positive about the modern Langstone Bridge? well, on a positive note you can see fish (mullet) from the paths either side of the bridge below in the water channels at low water and the views into Chichester and Langstone Harbour are really nice. Also you get a great view of the old railway bridge footings for the old Hayling Island branch line which closed in 1962. I know the road is needed and it’s a vital lifeline to the people on the island, but it’s just not nice in anyway, with cars travelling at speed and lorries thundering past inches from your arm, it’s not for me. If crossing the road here, take special care as it’s a death trap. There are no traffic lights or pedestrian crossings, despite the coastal path crossing here.
Hayling Island Branch (also known as the Hayling Billy) used to cross here at Hayling Bridge over the Sweare Deep river channel. The line was opened by the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (LBSCR) for goods on 19 January 1865, and for passengers on 16 July 1867. It ran from Havant to Hayling Island station and there were two intermediate stations at Langston and North Hayling. Sadly it closed in 1963, the reason being that the timber swing bridge which crossed Langstone needed to be replaced. The line was operating at a small profit at this time but, despite protests, British Railways took the view that the cost of a new bridge was an unreasonably large investment. The lifting of the track finally took place in the Spring of 1966, and included the demolition of most of the structure of the railway bridge at Langstone. A significant amount of the bridge remains, including the base of the swinging section, and what seem to be bridge piers. The bridge piers are, in fact, the lower parts of the wooden bridge structure which were enclosed in rectangular columns of concrete by the Southern Railway in the late 1920s, early 1930s. The columns stand on the bridge foundations, which were specially strengthened to deal with the tidal scour at this location.
Seen here is a water depth gauge marker for floods on Hayling Island. The risk of flooding on Hayling comes when high tides, low pressure and onshore winds combine to form surges that overtop the coastal defences or on the outlying reclaimed marsh land, such as here near the Langstone Bridge. This type of flooding is usually easier to predict and thankfully tends to be shorter lived as water drains away again once the high tides subside a few hours later. The people of Hayling normally receive 2 or 3 warnings a year, but thankfully in most cases these floods never materialise. However being an island the risk of flooding never completely disappears.
The lovely Church of St Peter’s North Hayling. This church, started to be built in about 1140 after a charter from William I in about 1067, is the oldest church on the island . The abbot and convent of Jumièges in France sent a colony of monks to the Island after William the Conqueror who described himself as Lord of Normandy and King of England by hereditary right had taken Hayling island from the monks at Winchester and given it to the monks in Jumièges, a valuable gift in the day. Jumièges abbey had became a centre of religion and learning and by the eleventh century it was regarded as a model for all the monasteries in the province. Henry I later confirmed Jumièges in possession of Hayling by a charter dated between 1101 and 1106. It is believed that St Peter’s three bells are one of the oldest peals in England, on suspended wooden axles and half wheels. The tenor bell has been dated by the Whitechapel Foundry as from about 1350. Among those buried there is Princess Yourievsky (1878-1959), a natural daughter of Tsar Alexander II of Russia who was legitimised by her parents’ marriage and who spent the last 27 years of her life on Hayling Island, sadly dying in relative poverty.
Much of the foreshore on the east side of Hayling can not be walked so following the road south of North Hayling we eventually arrive at Lower Tye Farm. Tye Farm is a caravan and motor home site and after a short stroll we find the foreshore briefly before having to walk back in land on the main A3023 into South Hayling.
Grade II listed, Old Fleet Manor, Stoke, which is the oldest house on Hayling Island.
Eventually arriving at Mengham, South Hayling we eventually find the foreshore again at Mengeham Rythe Sailing Club and Mengham Salterns. The Mengham Salterns are relics of the ancient industry of salt making dating from the Norman Conquest, for in 1086 the lord of Hayling had a salt pan here on the island.
A very large admiralty pattern ships anchor at Eastoke, South Hayling, towering above Dan. A large ship normally had several anchors of different sizes for use in various circumstances, but the main ones used were the two ‘bower anchors’ which hung either side of the ship’s bow. This bower anchor could date to the 18th century and weigh over three tons.
After walking through Eastoke we eventually arrive at the spit of sand which sits at the entrance to Chichester Harbour, Black Point. Now I have to admit I spotted the signs saying that the beach at Black Point was private and belonged to Hayling Island Sailing Club, but with much of the coastline around Hayling Island out of bounds, I really wanted to walk it. Having no way of finding out if there were any exceptions to this, I decided that with it being low water we could walk at the bottom of the beach between high and low water around the spit and hopefully nobody would even mind. Luckily for me no one noticed us and we were soon long gone! What a lovely place it certainly was and hopefully if anyone does read this from the club, they will understand my need to walk it and the bigger picture.
Now with the heat starting to get unbearable in the mid afternoon sunshine, our thoughts turn to finishing for the day at Hayling Bay. So we continue walking further south away from the sailing club on the beach toward Eastoke Point, passing several dog walkers and fisherman on this lovely stretch of beach. Just across the tiny stretch of water at the entrance to Chichester Harbour you can see on the other side, the sand spit at East Head, West Wittering.
At Eastoke Corner, the beach has had about 70,000 tonnes of rock imported from Norway placed on the beach, to create 650m (2,132ft) of revetment and four new groynes. The £5m scheme to replace this stretch of eroding coastline will protect 1,800 homes on Hayling Island from the threat of flooding, mentioned earlier. Heavy machinery has worked on the beach for six months, shifting the rock and 25,000 tonnes of shingle into place and the beach was closed for most of the summer in 2013. This coastal protection will also help protect Sandy Point Nature Reserve and a mosaic of habitats. This mosaic is made up of sand dunes, heathland, shingle, grassland and scrub. These fragile habitats offer a glimpse into how Hayling Island’s southern foreshore would have once looked. Sandy Point is not a pubic nature reserve, but an important area for birds, rare plants and insects. The beach around the nature reserve can still be walked for anyone wishing to visit Eastoke Point.
Beachside property resident’s are an eccentric bunch normally collecting bits of driftwood, a boat boy or ten or the old plastic toy, but here at South Hayling someone has gone all out to collect these near life sized plastic zoo animals for display. It’s an interesting lot and brought a smile to my face for sure.
Literally moments later the plastic toy collection, probably all collected from the shoreline and I have to say with micro plastic concerns in our oceans, maybe it will make people think when seeing this small collection.
With the end in sight for today’s walk it’s hard to imagine that this quiet beach at Hayling Bay was the location of a mock invasion by the 50th Infantry (Northumbrian) Division during the military exercise Fabius Pt.2 in May 1944. A formal exercise for the Allied Operation Neptune in World War II, rehearsing for the preparations for D-Day. I have now walked all beaches involved in Exercise Fabius except one (Slapton Sands) and you have to remember that many of the brave men taking part in these exercises would never see these shores again. Today it’s a normal beach and people are going about their business as normal, but I leave this section of the foreshore in a reflective mood, we can never thank them enough. RIP.
Please watch this war time footage of Exercise Fabius on Hayling Island.
This railway shed for the Hayling Seaside Railway marks the end of today’s walk. Formerly East Hayling Light Railway (EHLR), a 2 ft (610 mm) narrow gauge railway, formed by Bob Haddock, a member of the society who in the mid-1980s attempted to reinstate the “Hayling Billy” Line to Havant. Sadly however Havant Borough Council had already decided to turn the disused railway line into a cycle-way and footpath which precluded any chance of rebuilding the line as standard gauge. Just imagine a steam railway line running today from Havant to Hayling Bay, it would prove very popular. Today it is mainly a diesel operated railway, though from time to time the railway hires steam locomotives from other narrow gauge railways. It operates passenger trains between Beachlands and Eastoke Corner. Lastly I would like to thank Dan for his company on today’s heat exhausting walk. 14.78 miles.