Lets Start at the Beginning.
In the pretty Hampshire village of Milford-on-Sea.
Alas, we didn’t have time to explore the town on the day. Our brief walk through the town made a good impression , though. Set between the New Forest and the sea, the village is centred around a traditional green lined with shops, cafes and restaurants. Many of them independents- always a good sign.
If you’d like a virtual peek at the village and all it has to offer, I’ve included a link to the Visit Milford on Sea page here. I’d love to return with time to explore. But back to the walk…
The Actual Walking Bit.
This is a round walk… well more of a there-and-back-again, really.
The walk takes you across the shingle spit that reaches out into the Solent and leads down to Hurst Castle. More on that in a minute.
This is a coastal walk, but don’t think traditional seaside. On one side wild seas, views across to the Isle of Wight and the Needles. On the other, complete contrast: The calmer Keyhaven Marshes and the Hurst Lighthouse.
The spit is shingle, originally a natural bridge to the land upon which the castle sits. Now it’s maintained and enhanced artificially. Just as well, the original spit would be long claimed by the sea otherwise and the castle an island outpost.
The walking can become more of a trudge, the shingle makes it quite hard going at times. Also, there is the wind. I’m told it’s quite blowy here even on good weather days. Great for sailing, just an extra little something if you’re walking.
Sturdy footwear highly recommended.
Expect to See..
Sweeping views out to sea and across the marshes.
And at the end of the two miles or so shingle spit, Hurst Castle. It’s not a castle in the style of fairy tales and imaginings. It’s squat, sprawling and made up of layers of history and alterations.
The cheat sheet version : the heart of the castle is actually a Tudor fort built in the 1500s to guard the Needles Passage, which gave access to Southampton and Portsmouth. The original fort, one in a chain of defences, comprised of a keep, three bastion towers and a gated complete with portcullis.
By the 1800’s the British were worried about a French invasion and so began a programme of modernisation of coastal defences, including Hurst. Defences were strengthened and heavy weaponry installed. Lodgings were added for 150 or so soldiers, marking the change from a castle to a small garrison.
The castle was further adapted for use in the First and Second World Wars with additional searchlights and guns to defend the Solent from sea or air attack. It retained an active role until the 1950s. Today the castle is engaged in a different battle, one against the sea and the elements. Earlier this year a section of wall collapsed after the sea exposed and damaged the foundations. English Heritage is co-ordinating a joint effort to restore and secure this part of the castle.
Hurst castle today is a fascinating glimpse into the past, a twisting and turning maze of a place. It’s also keeper of some amazing views across surrounding land and sea and the focal point of a nice walk. The old place is doing alright for itself.
Additionally, this is a good walk for a bit of bird spotting. Even better if you know what you’re looking at, which I don’t. We saw a lot of birds but only via a quick google can I tell you that the latest spots along the spit include several types of geese, ringed plover and curlew. I did manage to get all my ducks in a row * . First time for everything.
*Admittedly, actually geese. And they put themselves in a row without any input from me. But it’s a start.
There are public toilets and lots of places to pick up refreshments in Milford on Sea. There is the ‘Hurst Mess’ a take away facility selling light refreshments outside the castle entrance. There are toilets within the castle, but you’ll need to be a paying visitor in order to access.
There is nothing in between Milford-on-Sea and the castle except that long stretch of shingle. It makes the walk feel like a bit of an adventure.
Yes. The Wolf had a great day out.
Lots of dogs and chatty owners about in the village. Plenty of bins for dropping the poo bags.
Dogs on short leads are welcome at the castle and nowhere is off limits to our four legged friends. There are even two resident castle dogs by the names of Poppy and Lilly although we weren’t lucky enough to meet them on the day.
And at the End of it All…
You walk (or trudge) back along the spit and end up back where you started. Like I said, it’s a there-and-back walk so you can’t really go off track. Even Mr THL and I followed this one to the letter, and that doesn’t happen very often. We did make one little error in that we parked up in the centre of the village. Which was fine, the parking there is plentiful and reasonably priced. But that did a bit more walking onto the day.
If you want to avoid the extra steps, use post code SO41 0PY to get to Hurst Road car park. Right at the end of the spit.
A Note About Hurst Castle.
Hurst Castle is now closed for the Winter season, but will reopen in March. It has been offering reduced admission whilst parts of the castle were closed for repairs. For up to date opening times and prices check here.