Things to see and do in Dibden and Hythe
- Credit: Archant
With seafront views and a heritage and history to rival our larger towns, this lovely New Forest parish is well worth a visit
A potted history
It officially became a civil parish in 1894 but the origins of this fascinating collection of settlements go back to Roman times.
Like many things in this part of Hampshire, the clue’s in the name. Roman Road, which runs parallel to the A326 was built by the invaders to connect with their port near Lepe. Later, another set of invaders added the word ‘Purlieu’ – French for ‘outskirts of a forest’ to the Saxon settlement of ‘Deepdene’ or Dibden – and recorded its details in the Domesday Book.
Dibden Purlieu village was removed from the forest boundary in 1300 but that didn’t stop Royal foresters enforcing unpopular laws, to much local resentment!
As the parish grew during the last century, its name was changed to reflect Hythe’s growing importance as a port. The word Hythe means landing-place and there has been a ferry crossing between Hythe and Southampton since at least 1575.
Hythe’s 640 metre pier was completed in 1881 and its electric railway – the world’s oldest pier railway – was introduced in 1922. Ferries leave every half hour and are especially popular on match days when Southampton FC is playing; but they are also perfect for those who want to get closer to the iconic cruise liners that steam past on the famous double tide, including, on April 10 1912, the Titanic, leaving on her fateful maiden voyage.
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Much of the employment in the area comes from the nearby petrochemical industry but in the past Hythe, especially, was a place of technical innovation. Flying boats were built and operated from what is now Hythe Marine Park and the area also produced power boats – T E Lawrence ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ worked on these and his former home, Myrtle Cottage, is marked by a Blue Plaque.
In 1967 the architectural historian and writer Nikolaus Pevsner visited the area while researching his celebrated ‘Buildings Of England’.
“Fields and woods across the water form the precious, still rural backcloth to Southampton’s central quays and waterfront; an interlude between the recently industrialised areas of Fawley and Marchwood,” he wrote. “They ought to be kept that way.” It hasn’t quite happened but there is still a friendly, bustling charm about the area and plenty of those mighty trees.
Former parish and district councillor, Brenda Smith, arrived in Dibden Purlieu with her husband, Christopher, during the 1970s. “There was a property boom on and it was the only place we could afford,” she remembers.
Now, she says, one of the things which has always struck her is the large number of mature trees in the parish, a hangover from ancient days, when the New Forest crept up to the water’s edge. “Historically we’ve been protected from sprawling development because we have the water on one side and the New Forest on the other,” she explains. “However, when I was a councillor back in the 1980s we did work diligently to safeguard the green spaces in between our communities.”
Another parish plus, she says, is the decision taken following the sale of the ‘allotments for the labouring poor’ to Tesco to use some of the return on the protected investment of more than £5 million to provide a dedicated youth worker and facilities for young people in the area. “The cost of providing that was always going to be less than the cost of a misguided youth finding themselves in the justice system,” she says.
Brenda enjoys the local facilities, which include the library, plus a variety of sports and fitness opportunities available at Applemore Sports Centre and Calshot. She’s one of the contacts for the active town twinning association, which is partnered with Mauves sur Loire in Brittany, and is a big fan of the parish’s transport links; “Southampton’s just a hop on the ferry and we get three buses an hour.”
The new hospital at Hythe, due to open in 2019, will be another boon for the area, she says, “I think people will be amazed at the treatments they’ll be able to receive.”
Food and drink
Hythe has plenty of places to enjoy a spot of lunch and dinner, or a quick drink. For watery views and contemporary dishes, try The Boat House hotel and restaurant on Hythe Marina. For yet more coastal views, try Seashells Lounge Bar and Restaurant in the High Street. From the Full English, starting at £7.95, to spicy prawns at £8.95, there are plenty of choices with fish dishes firmly to the fore, including cod loin wrapped in Parma ham at £15.95, and classic moules frites in white wine and garlic sauce at £12.95. The historic Lord Nelson pub offers views of the pier and also a selection of ales as well as a classic pub atmosphere.
Dibden Purlieu is quieter but make like the locals and head to The Coffee House for teas, coffee and cakes. Run by St Andrew’s Church Centre with the help of a team of volunteers, you can enjoy freshly-ground Rwandan Red Bourbon Arabica coffee or full-flavoured decaffeinated Brazilian Red Catuai Arabica, plus a delicious range of homemade cakes and bakes. Or try the new ‘specials’ menu with a delightfully clear conscience; profits are reinvested to support families and individuals in need in the parish, and in their twin parish in Rwanda.
What’s going on
Dibden Purlieu’s vital hub is the Community Hall in Lunedale Road, home to a variety of activities for all ages, including community art, badminton, Brownies, yoga, Scottish dancing and puppy training! Movie buffs don’t have to travel far as Hythe has its own cinema, in partnership with Moviola, which screens films in Blu-ray and stereo in the Parish Hall, complete with comfy chairs and an intermission where drinks and New Forest ice cream are sold. In keeping with its tradition of caring about the young people of the area, the parish recently opened its new skate park at Forest Front Open space. 2018 also sees the Silver Jubilee of the popular Waterside Arts Festival which takes place in July. Previous festivals have seen craft sessions, Punch and Judy shows, and workshops, displays and exhibitions.
Four wheels to film reels
The old roller-skating rink at the bottom of South Street in Hythe became Hythe cinema. Small, like a bungalow, it attracted many visitors although they frequently complained they couldn’t hear the films’ soundtracks because of the rain on the tin roof.
Despite its location down the long, New Forest side of Southampton Water, Dibden Purlieu and Hythe are easy to access by car, bus or even water. The Hythe ferry takes visitors to Southampton and back – handy for work or for shopping – and the village is served by the Bluestar Number 9 bus service, which leaves Southampton’s WestQuay roughly three times every hour, taking just under an hour to arrive at Dibden Purlieu’s St Andrew’s Church.
The M27 is 10 miles north, providing direct access to the motorway network linking to London and Birmingham, while the rail link from Southampton gives a 70-minute journey to the capital. And for flying visits or escapes, the airports at Southampton and Bournemouth are within a 30-minute drive.
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