The Hythe Pier train clatters empty at 6am preparing for the first passengers. My legs are having difficulty bending this morning after the previous days exertions. On leaving the street lights I attach a torch to my backpack chest strap so I can see the path as it’s inky black in this wooded area. The ancient track slopes up on both sides feeling like it would have been the perfect place for highwayman to pounce from.
It’s a beautiful thing to walk as dawn emerges, something I started on this walk out of necessity in order to cover the distance and now come to relish. The dark misty sky glows orange with the lights of the Fawley Oil Refinery. Emerging from the forest past a depot of fuel trucks a large crucifix glows outside of Hardley Methodist Church.
The dawn sky streaks with orange and violet but the screen of trees around the refinery prevents me getting a photo of chimneys silhouetted against this spectacle. One of Europe’s largest oil refineries denies it presence to the public throughout its five kilometre wooded perimeter fence. Lost tortoise notice handwritten on a telegraph pole.
The Esso Refinery main gate is busy with workers arriving carrying their safely boots. A cartoon drawing of a worker is captioned with “We believe in Support a Mate’
I boil water for coffee and eat breakfast as the sun rises over Southampton water in the tranquility of Ashlett quay. Later, brown horses startle me suddenly appearing at close quarters in the woods by the marsh.
A friendly dog walking couple tells me that scenes from the latest Mission Impossible Film used Fawley Power Station as a location “Tom Cruise came here for a while and everything!”
Mesmerising view of tankers passing by at Calshot. The historic flying boat hangars now contain a ski slope, climbing wall and velodrome.
Stopped at the shore near Lepe to trim toenails, change socks, tape toes and apply Body Glide to the sore spots on my feet, which at this moment in time is all over them!
At Exbury gardens, the car park is full as is the ultramarine miniature steam railway replete with silver haired clientele slowing taking their seats. Sweet chestnuts fall to the ground and golden autumn leaves arch over Summer Lane.
The wild horses of Beaulieu Heath seem to have the happiest expressions and I can’t help but smile back in return. This could be Exmoor if it wasn’t for the refinery chimney flaring in the distance.
Approaching Beaulieu many building signs carry three red diamonds denoting the Montague coat of arms. At the store I enquire if the big house I’d just passed is where the estate is run from,”Oh you can’t go there that’s where Lord Montague lives… though he died two months ago, now it’s his son”.
Outside the Montague Arms a truck with the Montague crest is parked, I open a gate into woodland carved with the same crest. This is all starting too feel a little too Downton Abbey for my comfort. The ultra-managed environment having the feel of an elite public school.
The first place of repose I found walking to Bucklers Hard was resting against a large beech tree in the forest. I’m reminded of Paul Theroux’s observation in Kingdom by the Sea that “quaint places in England looked both pretty and inhospitable”