66j – Lee-on-Solent to Stubbington

Woah!  As we walked out of Lee-on-Solent and into Stubbington a bit of a weather front seemed to move in – time to head inside for some lunch!

Weather Front at Stubbington


The clouds threatened us with their dark despondency as we ate our lunch, but failed to deliver on their threat.  As we emerged from the pub with full bellies and renewed determination, the weather front dissipated and fled before us.

Leaving the Osborne View


At the far end of Stubbington we reached Hill Head Harbour.  A few dinghies played around within the confines of the harbour walls, but none seemed to venture out into the open sea.  I wonder why not?

Hill Head Harbour

There is surely an answer as to why these boats did not head out into open waters, but don’t ask me – for I am not a sailor.  The last time I went out in a boat happened to be in The Solent, the very waters we were now looking at.  It was about 18 years ago.  It was a day for entertaining clients and I was a graduate in my firm.  I went out with my team leader, Guy, who was a keen sailor and owned a yacht.  Joining him were couple of colleagues and a couple of clients.  I became tremendously seasick in the choppy waters.

“Nic,” said Guy, “You’re looking a bit rough.”

No kidding!

“Take the wheel and stare at the horizon,” said Guy.  “It will make you feel better”.

I am sure that this would have worked five minutes beforehand, but I had passed the point of no return.  Guy realised this.

“Nic!” he said, with slightly more urgency in his voice now, “If you are going to be sick then go over this side of the boat”. He pointed through his body which stood in the way.  “Don’t go over that side because the wind’s blowing in the wrong direction!”  He gestured in the opposite direction to the clear passage before me.

It was too late.  I couldn’t wait for him to get out of the way.  I dashed for the wrong side of the boat, reached the rail, shoved a client out of the way and violently threw up into the waiting wind.  With a grace and artistic beauty not usually associated with recently dispatched stomach contents it was picked up by the wind and thrown it into the client I had just barged out of the way.

The feeling of nausea left me and was rapidly replaced with the feeling of abject horror.  It was one of those career-defining moments.

My client looked down at his spattered legs and deck shoes.  He looked up and into my horror-stricken eyes.  Then he laughed.  Good old Dorrien!  We became quite good friends.  I moved on eventually and it occurs to me that I haven’t seen him now in ten years or so.  I should really give him a call.  It’s been ages since I had a good empty…

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • The Osborne View (Pub Lunch):  N 50° 48.999 W 001° 13.993
  • Hill Head Harbour:  N 50° 49.080 W 001° 14.593

Walk #66 Statistics (of which this post forms the tenth part):

66i – Lee-on-Solent

As we reached Lee-on-Solent we got our first look at the vast industry on the far bank of Southampton Water.  This would dominate our skyline for many miles, getting closer and closer.

Fawley Industry

But at Lee-on-Solent it wasn’t the heavy industry that interested us – it was the heavy machinery!

The Princess Margaret at the Hovercraft Museum

 This is The Princess Margaret, one of six SR.N4 hovercraft, the largest commercial hovercraft in the world.  It was The Princess Margaret which, on 30 March 1985, was blown into a breakwater at Dover during stormy weather.  The collision knocked a chunk out of the starboard passenger cabin.  Some passengers were thrown into the sea as a result and four died, including two teenagers.

Today, The Princess Margaret is an exhibit at Lee-on-Solent’s Hovercraft Museum, yet another place we would have liked to have visited had we the time.  But with 6,500 miles of our journey remaining we had to forgo our visit and carry on.  Besides, the tide was coming in and there was not much beach left to walk on!

The Encroaching Tide


Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Heavy Industry on the West Bank of Southampton Water:  N 50° 50.250 W 001° 20.500
  • Hovercraft Museum:  N 50° 48.470 W 001° 12.558
  • Narrowing Section of Beach:  N 50° 48.929 W 001° 13.879

Walk #66 Statistics (of which this post forms the ninth part):

66h – Browndown to Lee-on-Solent

There was something a bit Planet of the Apes about Browndown.  Strange objects of a bygone era protruded from the sand.

Browndown Old Walls

It wasn’t these objects that drew our attention, however, it was the beautiful sky!

Beautiful Sky

Browndown exits into Lee-on-Solent.  We exited the gates from the Browndown Military Training Area and made our way into the town.

Poor old Lee never quite hit the big time it aimed for.  From the 19th Century onwards attempts were made to develop it into a resort.  In the late nineteenth century it even received its own pier – the ubiquitous mark of a Victorian seaside resort.  By the 1930′s it had an art-deco seafront complex, including a 120-foot tower and viewing platform.  Noel Coward performed there!  Its popularity declined, however, and in 1958 the pier was demolished.  The foreign holiday boom of the 1960′s and 1970′s was the final nail in the coffin; the tower was demolished in 1971.

Today, there is just about enough of a seafront to allow you to sit and imagine what the pier may have looked like.  Mind you, I quite like that view without the pier…

No Pier at Lee-on-Solent

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Ruins in Browndown Military Training Area:  N 50° 47.282 W 001° 11.089
  • Lee-on-Solent Ex-Pier:  N 50° 48.089 W 001° 12.258

Walk #66 Statistics (of which this post forms the eighth part):


66g – Browndown Part I

What on EARTH is that giant mushroom?????????

The Browndown MushroomThe fact is, nobody seems to know.

Hmmmmm.  It is probably safe to say that it is a vent to some sort of underground facility.  Given that it is slap bang in the middle of a military training area, it is probably not safe to speculate any further for fear of besuited men in sunglasses pulling up outside your house in dark sedans.

Known as the “Browndown Mushroom”, it is a well-known local landmark.  Everyone knows where it is; it’s just that nobody knows exactly what it is!

One section of non-military society has at least found a use for it:  it marks the western boundary of a nudist beach, or, to be politically correct, an “Optional Clothing Beach”.

Nudism has become politically correct!  I love it!


Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • The Browndown Mushroom:  N 50° 47.212 W 001° 10.566

Walk #66 Statistics (of which this post forms the seventh part):

66f – Stokes Bay to Browndown

Browndown, at the far west of Stokes Bay, hosted the last ever recorded fatal duel on English soil!

Today it is the Browndown Military Training Area.  It is surrounded by a barbed wire perimeter fence and gates but there is a right of way along the coastline.  We went through the gates and entered the realm of the duelists.

Browndown Military Training Area Entrance

 James Seton was a wealthy Captain, formerly of the 11th Dragoons.  In 1845 he set about seducing Isabella Hawkey, the wife of Lieutenant Henry Hawkey of the Royal Marines.  He would visit Mrs Hawkey’s residence in Southsea when her husband was away.  Rumours of these indiscretions soon reached Lieutenant Hawkey and he forbade his wife to see Seton again.

Alas, at a ball not long afterwards, Isabella partnered up with Seton for a dance.  This was too much for her husband.  He strode over to Seton, called him a “…blackguard, a scoundrel and a rascal…“.   He demanded a duel, failing which he threatened to have Seton horsewhipped down the High Street!  Seton declined both alternatives and turned for the refreshment area, at which point Hawkey kicked him (no horsewhip being immediately to hand, I presume).

After more heated words, Seton accepted the challenge.  It was agreed that the two would meet on the following 20 May.  The place was to be Browndown, then a secluded common.

As the sun was setting the two men and their seconds met.  Fifteen paces were measured out and the duelists handed their pistols.

On the first exchange Seton missed his opponent, whilst Hawkey failed to fire at all; his pistol had been handed to him half-cocked.  Hawkey demanded a second shot, whereupon both men fired.  Seton missed again, however, Hawkey’s shot found its mark.  It struck Seton’s hip bone, travelled through his belly and exited his groin.

Hawkey, with astonishing gallantry, immediately exclaimed, “I’m off to France!” and disappeared without even waiting to see how Seton was!

Poor old Seton went through quite an ordeal.  First of all he lay bleeding and had to wait for two surgeons to come out from Gosport.  They pulled off a window shutter from a house and carried Seton onto a yacht, which took him to Portsmouth.  He was taken to a hotel and had to wait for another surgeon, all the time bleeding.  The three surgeons did what they could to stop the hemorrhaging, but failed to stop it altogether.  Thus, they decided to go further and operate on the iliac artery in Seton’s pelvis.  Unfortunately, the three surgeons felt rather out of their depth in this, and so summoned a fourth surgeon – all the way from London!

The operation was a success and the bleeding stopped, but then “unfavourable symptoms” appeared.  According to the Annals of Portsmouth (1880), “the unhappy man, being of a vigorous constitution, slowly and painfully fought with death, which at length ended the dreadful scene”.  His wife never left his side, which given the source of his troubles in the first place, seems very sporting of her.

Hawkey and his second were both charged with wilful murder and warrants issued for them.  They eventually surrendered in March the following year.  Their defence was that it was not the shot that caused Seton’s death, but rather the “meddlesome operation” performed by the poor surgeon who had some all the way down from London to try to help.  The jury, swayed by the “powerful appeal” of Hawkey’s counsel, and taking into account that Hawkey had received significant provocation from Seton, returned a verdict of not guilty.

A few years later Isabella had an affair with another officer whom Hawkey then attacked.  He was court martialed and removed from his post.  His wife left him, he fell into debt, and died seven years later of TB.

He should have horsewhipped Seton down the High Street and been done with it.


Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Entrance to Browndown Military Training Area:  N 50° 47.145 W 001° 10.208

Walk #66 Statistics (of which this post forms the sixth part):

66e – Stokes Bay Part III

As we walk around the coast of Britain we come across quite a few places where we would like to stop for a while.  In most cases there is no time; we have an entire country to walk around and need to push on.  The Diving Museum at Stokes Bay anticipated our quandary, however, and was kind enough to place some of its exhibits outside where we could see them as we passed.

The first item on show was a diving suit which surely also acted for the inspiration behind Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet?  Can you imagine being sealed shut inside that suit and dropped into the middle of the ocean?  No thanks!

Diving SuitNext to Robby was an observation bell – a record-breaker!  In June 1956 this very bell carried George Wookey when he became the first person to descend to 1,000 feet in an observation bell.  Robby the Robot and now someone called Wookey – this is all very suitably sci-fi, don’t you think?!

Observation BellNext to the observation bell was a deep compression chamber – also a record-breaker!  In 1970 it carried the first men to achieve a depth 1,500 feet using an oxygen-helium mix, and in 1980 it achieved the world’s deepest trimix dive when divers reached a depth of 1,968 feet breathing an oxygen-nitrogen-helium mix.

Deep Compression Chamber

In 2001 I had to do some hypoxia training in a contraption which was not dissimilar to this.  But I was not going down to the depths.  I was being taken up to the heavens, or at least that was the simulation.  Rather than air being pumped in it was sucked out; we were “taken up” to a simulated altitude of 30,000 feet.  There I was, sitting with a military test pilot, a Tornado fighter pilot, an information officer from a Nimrod spy plane and others – feeling very out of place, but at the same time enjoying a little boy’s dream come true – what company this was!  We paired up; I buddied with the Tornado pilot.  Off came my oxygen mask whilst he observed.  I took a gulp of air.  I had been wondering, in my naivety, if I would have to gasp for breath in the thin atmosphere, but actually breathing seemed perfectly normal.  Then we were then given some simple tasks to do.

“Nic, write your address down,” said the course director whose name I recall being John.

I wrote my address down on the clipboard I had been given.

“Now write down your old address,” said John.

I wrote down my old address.  I was sure that the small delay in recalling the postcode was because I hadn’t lived there for a few years.

“Now write down 105, and start taking away six at a time.  Just keep going,” said John.  It was when I had to deduct six from 81 that I realised this was a little harder than I thought.  Was I getting slower?  I looked up.  The red plastic warning siren opposite me looked distinctly foxy in colour and not the bright red I was expecting.  No matter.  I looked back down again and tried to carry my sums into the 70′s, but almost immediately the clipboard was pulled away from me and John thrust a tray onto my lap.  It had a jigsaw on it.

“See if you can do the jigsaw, Nic!” said John.

Easy!  It was only nine pieces – one centre piece and 8 edge pieces – a child’s jigsaw!  I could tell that it was of two yellow jets against a bright blue sky.  I picked up an edge piece and hastily put it in the centre of the tray, looking for another edge piece to connect it to (always start with the edge pieces).  I realised almost immediately that the edge pieces were all bright blue sky and therefore difficult to piece together quickly.  I know!  Start with the centre piece and fit the edge pieces around it!  I placed the centre piece in the middle of the tray and was just about to start looking for an edge piece when John pushed my mask back onto my face and whisked the jigsaw away from me.

I was furious!  And embarrassed!  Not a single piece completed!  A few minutes earlier, when he had to take his mask off, the Tornado pilot opposite me had finished the entire puzzle!

“How do you feel Nic?” asked John.  “Tell me what emotions you are experiencing and how you think that went”.

I told him that I felt a bit put out that I hadn’t been allowed to finish the jigsaw; in fact I was quite angry that he had stopped me.  I’d hardly had it when it was taken away again.

“Interesting,” said John.  “How long would you say you’d had it?”

I told him a couple of seconds.

John told me he’d timed how long I had been holding the jigsaw.  It was about a minute and a half.  For the last 45 seconds or so, after I had put the centre piece down in the middle of the tray, I had just stared at it catatonically and done nothing.  John, who was a very amiable man with a friendly smile, told me that I had passed the point of no return.   I had been completely unresponsive when he had called my name.  My lips and fingernails had turned blue.   Had he not put the mask back on I would have died without even knowing it.

He also told me that high emotions and the dulling of colours were also signs of hypoxia, and easy to miss if you are not looking out for them.  When I had noticed the dulling of the siren and my slowing at doing simple maths, that was probably my only chance to realise that hypoxia was setting in and do something about it whilst there was still time.

Have you ever wondered why they tell you to put your own oxygen mask on before helping others on a commercial airliner?  Hypoxia is why.  It sneaks up on you and you don’t even realise it.

But enough of all this reminiscing!  We’re supposed to be walking!  I told you we had no time for stopping off, didn’t I?!  Onwards!

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Diving Museum Exhibits:  N 50° 47.194 W 001° 10.135

Walk #66 Statistics (of which this post forms the fifth part):




66d – Stokes Bay Part II

Stokes Bay once had a pier.  Built in 1862-3 it acted as ferry terminal and took passengers to the Isle of Wight, with ferries running five times a day and with a journey time of 15 minutes.  It even had a double-track railway on it, running passengers from the local branch line up to the embarkation point.  The last train ran in 1915, and the Admiralty then rented it and used it as a torpedo testing station.  In World War Two the pier was damaged from air attack, never recovered, and was eventually demolished in the 1970′s.  It is said that when the tide is exceptionally low the pier bases can be seen.  For us, the tide was in an we could see nothing but sea.

Stokes Bay, it is said, has a fine shelving beach.  What is a shelving beach, you ask?  A steeply shelving beach steps down rapidly, meaning you might want to roll more than just your trouser legs up if you fancy going for a paddle.  Steeply shelving beaches are not considered good for allowing small children to bathe in, but they are considered excellent if you want to race in with attack craft, land, gain a foothold on dry land and from there take over the whole of the UK.

Stokes Bay is close to Portsmouth.  It was considered unfortunate, therefore, that Stokes Bay presented such a good opportunity for the casual invader to run aground, attack Portsmouth and still be home again in time for tea and scones (or, more likely, cafe au lait and a pain au chocolat).

In 1708 it was proposed that seven gun emplacements be constructed to defend this stretch of coastline.  Nothing was done about this proposal until 1782, when seven redoubts were built on the high ground alongside the River Alver.  The area was beefed up with a series of moats, ramparts and batteries in the 1840′s and 1850′s when the threat of invasion was considered to be imminent.  These are known as the Stokes Bay Lines.

When walking along the coast today little can be seen of the Stokes Bay Lines, but here they are, hidden away in the treeline:

Stokes Bay Lines

 Right in the very distance you can just about see Battery No 2.  Can’t see it?  Here it is closer up (it’s the one in the background, not the WC block in the foreground):

Stokes Bay Lines Battery Number 2

Battery Number 2 is home to a Diving Museum today.  Can you see all the diving bells to the left of the photograph?  Let’s go take a look…

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Approximate Position of Stokes Bay Pier:  N 50° 47.070 W 001° 09.730
  • Stokes Bay Lines:  N 50° 47.145 W 001° 09.850
  • Battery Number Two:  N 50° 47.200 W 001° 10.115

Walk #66 Statistics (of which this post forms the fourth part):


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