The Solent Way runs across southern Hampshire for 104 kilometres from Emsworth in the east to Milford-on-Sea in the west.
The path gets its name from the channel that has separated the Isle of Wight from the English mainland since the end of the last ice-age. Today, the Solent is a busy waterway giving access to the commercial port of Southampton, the naval port of Portsmouth and yachting centres such as Gosport, Cowes, Lymington, Yarmouth and Hamble-le-Rice.
The first half of the path closely follows the coast before heading along the eastern shore of Southampton Water to the city of Southampton then cutting across the southeastern corner of the New Forest to rejoin the coast at Lymington, following the coast again for the last section to Milford-on-Sea. Along the way, there are three ferry crossings, which are part of the official route and should not be considered cheating.
The Solent Way has a great variety of landscapes and scenery, including busy towns and cities, ancient fishing villages, isolated coastal lagoons, marshes and nature reserves, windswept shingle beaches, crumbling cliffs, wide expanses of grassy heathland roamed by wild ponies, quiet forest lanes and tracks, and many spectacular views across the Solent to the Isle of Wight. In recognition of the rich variety of bird life along the Solent Way, the official waymarkers (see above) depict the outline of a tern.
A journey along the Solent Way is also a journey through almost a thousand years of military and civilian history, from the time of the Norman Conquest to Bad King John, Henry VIII, the departure of the Pilgrim Fathers to North America, the English Civil War, wars with Spain and France, the Battle of Trafalgar, the Titanic, the D-Day landings and more. This history is bought to life in historic castles, fortresses, lighthouses, mills, churches, pubs, several interesting museums, and two of the most magnificent warships in British history.
While I completed the path in three and a half days, there are enough places along the way with good transport options that one could follow a more relaxed schedule of four or five days. There are also plenty of interesting things to see within a short distance of the path, so one could easily allow a week to ten days and still not see everything that the south coast of Hampshire has to offer.