Portsmouth to Lymington, via Calshot

Day 87  Weds 15 June: It’s a long time since I last woke up in Southsea. Some time in the late 1970s.  No, I haven’t been sleeping all that time. My mum had a big old Victorian house here for a few years. Today, cycling through Southsea towards the Portsmouth > Gosport ferry, I suddenly recalled one of those huge gatherings at Christmas, when brothers & sisters, scattered far and wide around the country, converged on the Victoria Road North house, bringing children & in-laws.  The most memorable moment being when my fun-loving father-in-law lifted my brother’s kindly, good humoured mother-in-law and stood her in a tall, narrow pedal bin. As one did in the 1970s. Sadly, the unstable bin toppled. Poor old Win. Never one to complain, she wondered if, the next day, someone would be kind enough to take her to Casualty to have her broken wrist attended to.

Today, even if I’d been a complete stranger to Portsmouth, finding my way to the Gosport Ferry couldn’t have been easier. The ‘new’ Spinnaker Tower, now 11 years old, 2.5 times taller than Nelson’s Column, was built on the quay alongside the Gosport Ferry. Quite easy to spot from miles around, easy to negotiate with a bicycle.

Just 20 (mostly urban) miles later, the second ferry of the day, departing from Southampton Town Pier, was also quite easy to locate. Disembarking at Hythe, on the western shore of Southampton Water, was a little more exciting. Pushing Fondo up the steep metal ramp to the pier deck level, wearing metal cleated cycling shoes was the first challenge. That done, the realisation that I had landed at the end of another very long (700 yards) pier dawned when I saw an ancient electric locomotive and several tiny carriages on a narrow gauged railway, rapidly filling with my fellow foot passengers, unencumbered by bicycles. Discovering that this railway is the oldest continuously operating public pier train in the world reminded me of that other World Record Breaking Pier in Southend. The longest pier in the world, but with an interrupted railway history. The 1.34 mile long one that I wasn’t allowed to cycle along. Thankfully, there were no obvious NO CYCLING signs here. Just as well, as there’s no way Fondo would fit into one of those sweet little carriages. Even so, I daren’t ask. Just get pedalling. Apart from the average gap between the long pier planks being almost as wide as my skinny tyres, it was plain pedalling. As long as I kept focussed on the centre line of each 9 inch  plank, I should arrive safely in Hythe (the town at the far end of the pier) without incident. A bit scary, but I did.

Just 7 more leafy, gently undulating miles to the next Lifeboat Station at Calshot. Hidden behind the trees for most of this section of the ride is one of Europe’s biggest oil refineries. The highest structure at Fawley is the redundant old oil-fired power station’s huge (198 metre) chimney, now more useful as a navigational aid than anything else. Calshot ILB Station is sited at the end of The Spit at the mouth of Southampton Water. This site has a rich history of other strategically placed structures. Calshot Tower, next door to the Lifeboat Station, is now used by the National Coastwatch Institution. Amongst the few other neighbours are Calshot Castle (Henry VIII’s original artillery fort) and the huge old Short Sunderland WW2 Flying Boat Hangars. This was once RAF Calshot. The current Atlantic 85 and D Class Lifeboats are launched via one of the old Sunderland slipways. Thank you Tim (DLA), Paul (Lifeboat Mechanic and crew), Damian (crew) and the local painters & decorators for the good company and informative conversations over a decent cup of tea & biscuits.

A moment to pause, before setting off on the final leg of today’s ride, to soak up some of the atmosphere and imagine the sights & sounds from the early & middle parts of the last century. The sound of the world airspeed record breaking, Schneider Trophy winning Supermarine S6B’s unsilenced RollsRoyce engine. This, the forerunner of the Spitfire, was developed, tested and flown from this spot, on this Spit.   The mass of an enormous Sunderland Flying Boat being slipped into the water, the throb of four huge engines as it slowly picked up enough speed on Southampton Water to eventually defy gravity and take to the air.

Meanwhile, back in present day Calshot, it’s probably time to slip onto the leather saddle, click into the pedals and start cranking Fondo’s pedals until man and machine pick up enough momentum to defy the headwind and roll on, through the New Forest and down to Lymington. The New Forest is not all trees. On a day like this, I wish it was. Just beyond the idyllic setting of Beaulieu village, the road gently winds up to an exposed, raised plateau with a long, straight stretch of road. The strong westerly headwind would have been ideal as an aid to becoming airborne if I’d been waiting for clearance to take off from the now adjacent, long time abandoned runway, once the site of RAF Beaulieu. Today, the conditions are just an aid to early exhaustion.

Just enough left in the legs to get through the forest and over the top of this unwooded stretch of the New Forest National Park. A bit late in the day for dragging out ILB crew volunteers here in Lymington. A shower, change of clothing and big bar meal at The Mayflower was the greater need. Many thanks to Richard, one of the Lymington  ILB volunteers, for agreeing to the revised plan. And many thanks to Will and the rest of the staff at The Mayflower for the fantastic three course meal “on the house”. There was still enough daylight left for an evening tour of the Lifeboat Station, right next door.

If you’d like to support my fundraising challenge, please click  here , where every pound raised will go directly to the RNLI, the charity that saves lives at sea. Thank you. Steven.

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