Enjoy a Hampshire walk around Lymington and Keyhaven Nature Reserve

Hurst Point Lighthouse

Hurst Point Lighthouse - Credit: Fiona Barltrop

Enjoy some easy walking around the Lymington to Keyhaven Nature Reserve says Fiona Barltrop

There’s more to the New Forest National Park than just woodland and heath, notably a fine stretch of coastline which affords excellent views across the Solent to the Isle of Wight. This is a lovely walk around the Lymington to Keyhaven Marshes Nature Reserve, a beautiful stretch of coast between the mouth of the Lymington River and the village of Keyhaven. It’s very easy walking along the sea wall, and superb for bird watching - take your binoculars. There are birds to be seen throughout the year, including, in particular, large numbers of brent geese in winter.

Following the Solent Way waymarks, you’ll pass the oldest open-air seawater baths in the UK, then walk along the sea wall beside the nature reserve, where salt was produced in the past in the shallow lagoons, known as salterns. Until the end of the 18th century, the area from Lymington to Hurst Spit was the site of the biggest sea salt industry in the country. Salt was made by impounding seawater in the salterns where it was left to evaporate. Wind pumps were then used to draw off the brine solution into large metal pans where it was heated until only the salt remained.

Lymington’s wealth was built on salt-making, as well as smuggling and shipbuilding. Today it’s a major sailing centre – a yachting mecca – and indeed views of yachts dominate the initial stage of the walk. There are lots of information panels along the route, including those showing colour-coded trails named after birds, which indicate options for shorter circuits.

The main walk turns back at Keyhaven, but if you have the time, it’s well worthwhile visiting Hurst Castle (built by Henry VIII as one of a chain of coastal fortresses) and the lighthouse at the end of the shingle spit. From Keyhaven you can either take the ferry out to Hurst Castle and back, or walk one – or both – way(s). It’s only just over a couple of miles, although walking on shingles can be a little tiring. When the tide is out you may find firmer ground to walk on along Hurst Beach.

The return route goes along the landward side of the nature reserve, following tracks and quiet lanes back to the start. After the walk, on your way through Lymington, you might like to call in at the recently opened Gilded Teapot on the High Street, a lovely specialist tea shop, where you could pick up something for a cuppa later.

Keyhaven Marshes Nature Reserve in Hampshire

Keyhaven Marshes Nature Reserve - Credit: Jim Champion / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)


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• Start/finish: Bath Road car park, Lymington (SZ333951) - large car park at the southern end of Lymington at the entrance to the Lymington River.

• Map: OS Explorer OL22

• Distance: 7½ miles (12 km). Keyhaven – Hurst Castle extension 2? miles (3.7km)

• Terrain: Very easy walking entirely on the flat, much of it along the sea wall. No stiles. Stretch of shingle out to Hurst Castle, ferry option between Keyhaven and Hurst Castle.

• Time: 3 - 3½ hours (allow extra time if visiting Hurst Castle, by foot and/or ferry)

• Refreshments: Plenty of choice in Lymington.

• Public transport: Trains and buses to Lymington

The walk

1) (SZ333951) Within the car park you’ll find the Lifeboat Station and facing it the slipway. The walk goes along the sea wall from here following the Solent Way waymarks. On your right, you pass the Lymington Sea Water Baths, the oldest open-air seawater baths in the UK, dating back to 1833.

2) Continue along the gravel path beside marina berths to Lymington Yacht Haven boatyard. Keep ahead along the tarmac a short distance, then turn left along a signposted roped path between the boat hulls. Leaving the boats, continue along a narrow path.

3) (SZ334944) Turn left at the junction. Before long you’ll reach a New Forest National Park sign. Continue along the sea wall path. On your right is the Normandy Marsh Nature Reserve, where salt was produced here in the past. Continue along the seaward side of Eight Acre Pond, across a sluice and alongside the Keyhaven and Pennington Marshes Nature Reserve – in the distance Hurst Point Lighthouse, and beyond it, the Needles can be seen.

4) (SZ308916) On reaching a lane the main walk turns right. But if you want to visit the pub and/or Hurst Castle, turn left to Keyhaven, and continue following the Solent Way waymarks, turning left at the car park past Keyhaven Yacht Club to the Hurst Castle ferry departure point. If you want to carry on walking, the route runs alongside a lane (path above it) for a short distance to where the lane turns right.

5) Cross the footbridge and walk along the shingle to the end of Hurst Spit. There are great views of the Needles and the western end of the Isle of Wight. Fort Albert is directly opposite Hurst Castle, both guarding the narrow western entrance to the Solent. Continuing on the main route from point 3, turn right and carry on along the road to its end. Go through the gate and follow the cycle track (right fork). Join a lane.

6) (SZ321930) Just after the lane bends left, turn right along a footpath to another lane. Pass a right turn just before Oxey Barn, and carry on to the next footpath on the right, opposite a rough layby. Go through a gap in the hedge and then bear left. Carry on along the footpath to the Salterns and continue on a private road to Five Acre Pond, passing the Salterns Sailing Club.

7) Ignore a turning on the right and at the T-junction turn right along Normandy Lane. Pass Normandy Farmhouse and Little Normandy, then turn right along a footpath named Pinckney Path. When you reach the road turn right along the pavement back to Lymington Yacht Haven, keeping ahead to retrace your initial steps.


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