Monday, 8 April 2013

Ports Down to Emsworth (Wayfarer's Walk 17)

Fort Nelson

About the walk

Having finally resumed the Wayfarer's Walk last week,  I was keen to finish the job and headed off to Ports Down to do so. Ports Down is notable for the series of polygonal red brick Palmerston forts built in the 1850s. There was thought to be a serious threat of invasion by the French and although Portsmouth could probably resist a direct assault, it could easily be encircled by land by a force which landed elsewhere. The Ports Down forts were part of the defensive strategy - others were built on the Gosport peninsula. En route to the start point, I took a quick look at Fort Nelson, now a Royal Armouries museum.

I passed Forts Southwick and Wibley and started the walk proper at the car park by Collier's Pit walking east along the B2177. Soon I came to Fort Purbrook, now an activity centre.

Further along the road, just as walking a road was starting to get boring, you come on Belmont Castle, a retirement. It is a most entertaining 18th century gothic structure.

Fairly soon after this, having crossed the high bridge over the A3(M), you turn right into Bidbury Mead, a very pleasant park which extends almost to the church of St Thomas a Becket. Like so many, its appearance is now mainly the result of Victorian restoration, but it does have a fine chancel arch of 1140.

The arch itself is slightly flattened, with typical Norman patterns. There are a couple of substantial Georgian houses nearby, but I was especially taken by the Old Grain Store of 1868 with its polychrome brickwork and preserved upper storey door.

At the end of the road past the Grain Store you double back under the railway bridge and head through a more industrial landscape (water works, light industry, sewage works, electricity station, gravel works) to eventually emerge at Langstone Harbour, glimpsed far afar on the last leg.

The next section follows the coast and was enlivened by a selection of sea birds on the shoreline (see below). You are forced inland to pass through the village of Langstone, entering the High St at the modern end, but soon reaching a very pretty group of cottages leading down to the harbour. Pevsner explains that it was once the port for Havant and is now "a small, self-conscious, impeccably preserved hamlet" - that was 1967, but at least in this corner still seems true.

You now enter the Emsworth section of Chichester Harbour and are immediately confronted by an intriguing lighthouse-like building. Pevsner explains that this was once a combined tide and wind mill.

Further along, these rotting pilings revealed by the low tide suggest a long-ago jetty.

Although it would have been possible to continue at sea level round to Emsworth, I followed the official path into Warblington, drawn first of all by the lonely ruined tower of Warblington Castle. It was built 1514-1526 by Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury (later martyred by Henry VIII and later known as Blessed Margaret Pole) and ruined in the Civil War. What remains is part of the gate house, in a style reminiscent of others of that date e.g. St John's College, Cambridge.

Nearby is another church of St Thomas a Becket. Its core is Saxon, but most of what you see dates from the 12th and 13th centuries. It is a lovely church.

In opposite corners of the churchyard are watchmen's huts dating from 1828, used to protect the newly buried from body snatchers. I saw a more elaborate, slightly older one, near St Bartholomew's hospital in London just recently

The route now leads across fields to rejoin the harbourside near Emsworth.

I followed the path to South St and then into the centre of the village, where I caught a taxi back to the start. I took some other pictures on a walk covering both Thorney Island and Emsworth in 2011.

Conditions: not too cold, maybe 8 degrees. Cloudy and hazy.

Distance: 7 miles or so.

Map: Explorer 119 (Meon Valley, Portsmouth, Gosport and Fareham) and 120 (Chichester).

Rating: four stars. Some dull bits, but overall a lot of variety and interest.


These two Black-tailed Godwits were the highlight, but I also saw Redshanks, Oystercatchers, Little Egrets, Shelduck, Brent Geese, a Heron, and what may have been three Ringed Plover.

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