The Solent offers a variety of ways in which to enjoy its landscape and seascape. You could relax in one of the country parks, stroll on one of the many footpaths, take a boat trip or visit a nature reserve.
Regions of the coast that are particularly spectacular are designated as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), Heritage Coasts or National Parks. An AONB is a precious landscape whose distinctive character and natural beauty are so outstanding that it is in the nation's interest to safeguard it. AONB's around the Solent include Chichester Harbour and parts of the Isle of Wight. Heritage coasts are special coastlines that are managed so that their natural beauty is conserved and, where appropriate, the accessibility for visitors is improved. The Hamstead and Tennyson coasts on the Island are Heritage coasts. Much of the New Forest coastline is within the boundary of the New Forest National Park.
Walking is perhaps the most popular form of recreation taking place around the Solent. Whether it be a Sunday afternoon stroll or some serious long distance hiking the Solent has much to offer. Walks in the AONB or along the Heritage coast are particularly attractive for their scenic views. Other walks, such as by the edge of Southampton Water, are excellent places to view the commercial activities going on in the Solent such as the arrival of container or cruise ships at the Port of Southampton.
The Solent Way is the main long distance path around the Solent and is sixty miles long. It begins at the seaside town of Milford-on-Sea runs past the hustle and bustle of seafronts, quiet yachting harbours, deserted marshland and saltings to finish at Emsworth Harbour.
It has been divided into eight sections, each providing a really good day out. Choose from deserted coastal marshes, promenades and candy-floss, seaside picnics, cosy riverside pubs, or shingle beaches with exhilarating views. There are castles and forts to explore along the way, and ships, submarines and museums to visit. The route is waymarked with a Tern on a green arrow and is shown on Ordnance Survey Explorer maps 22, 119 and 120. It is indicated on these maps with a green diamond and the name of the route (Solent Way).
Additionally, there are shorter self-guided circular and linear routes around many of the Solent's harbours. Hampshire County Council provides information on paths, guided walks and walking events, including accessible walks for the less mobile.
The Isle of Wight has a wealth of footpaths and bridleways and is reputed to have more footpaths per square mile than any other English county. From a sixty mile coastal path, to easy circular routes, and short town trails, there are over 500 miles of well maintained paths on an island that measures twenty three by fifteen miles. The Coastal Path can be walked in four days at a leisurely pace. The coastline varies from white chalk cliffs to quiet estuaries. Almost half of the coastline is designated Heritage Coast, a definition applied only to coastlines of the highest quality and unspoilt nature.
The Isle of Wight Council's Countryside Service produces a free leaflet every April and September called 'Wight Summer' and 'Wight Winter' respectively. Each one has between 50-100 walks as well as other events. You can obtain a copy by emailing your name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject title 'Island Walks Leaflet' or telephone 01983 823893. Copies of walking routes around the Island can also be downloaded from www.islandbreaks.co.uk.
The Isle of Wight offers the cyclist many dedicated cycleways. These follow the course of disused railway lines, signed routes, miles of bridleways and quiet country lanes as an alternative to busy main roads. Cyclewight, which promotes cycling on the Island, produces a cycle route booklet containing twelve circular on-road and cycleway trails. It is available at Tourist Information Centres, or visit www.cyclewight.org.uk or telephone 01983 615347. Hampshire County Council has a cycling section on its website giving information on maps, routes and events.
With its views over the Solent to the Isle of Wight, Lepe Country Park and beach attract between 300,000 and 400,000 visitors each year. The 52 hectare park is a popular site for barbecues, walks, fishing, windsurfing and bird watching. Lepe was part of the tin trade in Roman times and one of the main launching points for the D-Day invasion of Normandy in 1944. But the site is currently losing its own war against the sea from coastal erosion.
Royal Victoria Country Park, overlooking Southampton Water, provides ideal facilities for children and peace of mind for parents to enjoy a safe environment. The relaxing and happy atmosphere is complemented by a calendar of events, exhibitions, barbeque sites and walks. The park was once the scene of a bustling military hospital. As the British Army’s first purpose-built hospital, Royal Victoria was a unique and ambitious project which would help change the face of the medical world.
Titchfield Haven is a nationally renowned nature reserve, celebrated as a winter refuge for a large variety of ducks, geese and wading birds, and as a summer breeding ground for the rare Avocet. The site includes the Haven Tearooms and hands-on displays in the visitor centre to help you learn more about the wildlife on the reserve and the wider countryside. There are special exhibits for children.
Built on the north shore of the Isle of Wight to guard the Solent the remains of Fort Victoria now house a Marine Aquarium, a Underwater Archaeology Centre, a Planetarium and a Model Railway. The surrounding Country Park offers Seashore and Woodland walks and the site is one of the best vantage points for watching the Solents boats and shipping.
If you prefer something a bit more relaxing then there are numerous cruises that you can take around the Solent that will enable you to enjoy the Solent's seascapes and coastal views. These range in distance and duration and include cruises down the Hamble and Beaulieu Rivers, harbour tours or viewing the ships of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth's historic dockyard.
Cruise companies operating in the Solent include:
As their name suggest viewpoints are a particularly good place to obtain spectacular coastal views. Some can be reached by walking and others have dedicated car parks or lay bys adjacent to them. Tourist information guides often have them marked or they can be located on OS Explorer maps. For the less mobile one way to enjoy the seascape is to drive to a car park overlooking the sea but to remain in the car. The locations of appropriate car parks can be found on the OS Explorer maps or by contacting the leisure department of the appropriate local authority.