8th July 2016
Langstone to Portsmouth – 19.76km (12.28 miles)
On the 20th March 2016 i started with my block of gold at the ‘Bank of England’ in the City of London on a journey to travel by foot and carry it to Portsmouth following the canals and channels known as ‘London’s Lost Route to the Sea’. Today is the last section of this walk reaching either the final port of call for the barges bringing the wages and arms to the navy at Portsmouth or the start of the Journey if heading to London. There has certainly been some adventures on the way.
Starting at Langstone it was PK and Cookie walking with me today and the treks wouldn’t be the same if there wasn’t some kind of dilemma and just as soon as we got out the car today’s crisis was soon to become apparent, i had remembered to pack some food and water for Cookie, i also remembered to bring Cookie but a critical thing i did forget was her lead. Some quick thinking and boy scout skills were to come into play as in my rucksack i had a spare pair of boot laces, which i knotted up and attached to her collar, i’m not too sure that Cookie, sporting her new look, was that impressed with this idea.
Langstone is the last village before Hayling Island which was only accessible at low tide by a causeway, this became impassable in 1820 when a channel was dredged out between the mainland and the island so that the barges could pass through, this also meant that they then had to build a bridge across for access to the island, the original wooden bridge was replaced with a concrete one in the 1950’s as there was a weight limit on the original, apparently if a bus was full and wanted to cross the bridge then some of the passengers would have to get out and walk so as not to break the weight limit. Running alongside the modern concrete bridge you can see the remains of the swing bridge that carried the ‘Hayling Billy’ across the water, this was a steam railway that used to run between Havant and South Hayling taking holiday makers in the summer months to the beach and their accommodation. This unfortunately stopped in 1965 when the bridge was deemed unsafe and beyond economic repair. Apart from the struts of the bridge, the only other building that remains is the Old Station Masters cottage sited on the main road, looking in a bit of disrepair and needing some TLC. The cottage borders the route of the old railway that is now a cycle path all the way to South Hayling.
From Langstone we cut down Mill Lane to the harbour edge and from here you could see virtually the entire walk around the harbour and in the far distance the area where the canal cut in at Milton, it looked miles away, in fact it was miles away, we joked that if we had a boat we could have got across in no time time at all. Its been a week since we walked from Bosham to Langstone and on that leg the tide was low and coming in, however for this stage we would be watching the tide go out as it was high as it could possibly get lapping at the edge of the harbour wall. We set off around Bridge Lake on the raised harbour wall that was holding back the water from spilling into the cattle fields behind. After a couple of kilometres following the waters edge we then headed inland around a small inlet where the barges would have pulled up to pick up corn and meal from Brockhampton Mill, there are no remains of this mill apart from a small tranquil stream running over a weir and into the harbour. The rest of this area has been built up with many industrial units, including a gravel merchants that stands on the site where the barges would have moored, at least this part of the harbour is still in commercial use. The quick detour around this inlet soon saw us back on the harbour and heading west and not before long you could start to hear the drone of the motorway by which we will be passing quite close. As we got nearer, the noise of the Friday rush hour and tyres speeding across the tarmac got louder with commuters heading home from work or families going away for the weekend.
Thankfully it was only a short walk beside the motorway as it was incredibly noisy, we left the rushing traffic behind and headed out to go around the peninsula of Farlington Marshes which is a nature reserve with coastal grazing and lagoons attracting many species of wild fowl. Several signs were displayed saying that Cookie would need to remain on the lead as cattle roam freely on the marshes, we had so far got away with not having her on the lead too much, however, i don’t think she liked her makeshift lead as she kept stopping suddenly and just looking at me with a face that just said….”Really!!, do i have to wear this”. Anyhow i persevered with the stop/start routine even though i knew that if i let her off she wouldn’t go any further away than my ankle, she certainly wouldn’t cross a ditch, fence and bushes that were between us and the cows. It’s a good job though that i did keep her on the lead as we were then to pass two wardens walking around the marshes too, occasionally looking through their binoculars at whatever bird caught their eye.
It was a longer walk out to the head of the peninsula than it was back to the motorway and at points the sea water was splashing over the harbour wall. Back at the motorway was a couple of car parks, this built PK’s hopes up of an ice cream, but unfortunately only cars were parked up there. The way into Portsmouth was down the busy Eastern Road with lots of people travelling out the city and queueing up as they approached the roundabout, how glad was i that i was not in that queue.
A lot of sea defence work is being carried out along this edge which meant that we had to walk further along the road than we wanted too. However we stopped off at the Great Salterns pub for a lime and soda over and sat on the balcony overlooking the Langstone harbour contemplating the distance that we had already travelled today. We decided not to eat here but to carry on, and further defence works meant that we had to cut through Milton Common rather than walk around the harbour, however we did find a cut through by the edge of the fence which albeit a little overgrown would lead us back to the harbour edge and near to the Milton Locks.
The tide had gone out considerably now which meant that we could walk into the old lock at Milton, there were no gates on it but remains of the old posts that held them can be seen coming out of the silt. It was a little squishy underfoot but great to get down and amongst this lock and see the enormity of the wall thickness. Today the lock and inlet here only goes in about 100 metres and is used to launch boats into the harbour. The canal would have gone much further than this into the city centre and was fed by the sea water at high tide, however this part of the canal was only operational for three years as the local residents complained that the water leaking from the canal was contaminating the wells used for drinking water and subsequently was shut down and rerouted around the north of Portsea Island to the docks. The pub was right on the edge of Lock Lake another inlet from the harbour and a steak pie soon recharged the batteries again.
The last few kilometres of the trek was now going to be through the built up suburbs of Portsmouth and ultimately into the city centre, quite different to the fields and harbours that we had been previously walking around. From here there is not much evidence of the canal apart from the road names and that the route of the canal which is now a footpath can clearly be seen at the backs of the houses in Locksway Avenue, this led us into Goldsmith Ave and along to Fratton.
At Fratton the canal route was now where the railway runs and when the canal was drained the railway used the beds as it’s route into the city. On approaching the city centre there were street names such as Canal View and Arundel Street which is the last road that led us to where the basin once was.
My preconceptions of the end was just a shopping precinct with ‘Debenhams’ the department store just standing on where the basin once was, however to my delight and i was so pleased to see that this area had had some regeneration with plagues giving information about the basin along with boulders scattered on the walkways that were taken from the docks and canal, a perfect photo opportunity with my (fake) block of gold that i have carried all the way in my rucksack. I was so impressed that this area had been revived, as this canal was a big part of history for the south coast and visitors to Portsmouth can see this while going about their shopping.
The route from London to the Sea may be lost but it certainly has not been forgotten; with many volunteers forming restoration societies along the way, giving up their time to bring these waterways back to life whereby enabling visitors to enjoy the canal both on and off the water.
Since the 20th March 2016 it has taken 13 days (62 hrs) to walk 228 km (142 miles) from the Bank of England in the City of London to Portsmouth burning a mere 17,226 calories which on many occasion were replaced by a pie of some sort. This whole journey has been so varied from city centres to remote woods, from navigable canals to ruins of locks but nonetheless a fantastic walk that i would recommend to anyone to do, even though i never got to see a kingfisher. Well that’s my D of E Platinum Challenge complete, what will be next?