Exploring both sides of the yacht-filled Hamble estuary.
Distance 6 miles (9.7km)
Minimum time 3hrs
Ascent/gradient 164ft (50m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Riverside, field and woodland paths, some stretches of road
Landscape River estuary, farmland dotted with patches of woodland
Suggested map aqua3 OS Outdoor Leisure 22 New Forest
Start/finish SU 485067
Dog friendliness Keep dogs on lead
Parking Pay-and-display car park by Quay in Hamble
Public toilets Hamble
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1. From the quayside car park, walk to the pontoon and take the passenger ferry across the estuary to Warsash (weather permitting Monday-Friday 7am-5pm; Saturday, Sunday 9am-6pm). Turn left along the raised gravel path beside the estuary and mudflats. Cross a footbridge and continue to a gravelled parking area. During exceptionally high tides the path may flood, so walk through the car park and rejoin it by the marina.
2. At a boatyard, keep right of a boat shed. Bear left beyond, between the shed and TS Marina, and bear right in front of the Sales Office to rejoin the path. Reach a lane, turn left and pass Victory Cottages on your right. Continue by Moody's Boatyard to the A27.
3. Turn left and cross Bursledon Bridge. (Turn right before the bridge to visit Bursledon Brickworks). Pass beneath the railway and turn left, signed to 'the Station'. Turn left into Station Road, then left again into the station car park, following signs for the Jolly Sailor. Climb a steep path to the road. Turn left at the junction, then left again to reach the pub.
4. Return along the lane and fork left along the High Street into Old Bursledon. Pause at the excellent viewpoint at Hacketts Marsh, then bear left at the telephone box along the High Street. Pass the Vine Inn and Salterns Lane, then at a right bend, bear off left by Thatched Cottage along a footpath.
5. Join a metalled lane beside the drive to the Coach House then, as the lane curves right, keep ahead beside a house called Woodlands, following the bridleway downhill to a stream. Proceed uphill through woodland (Mallards Moor). At a junction of paths on the woodland fringe, bear left with the bridleway, then at a concrete road bear right, then left to join a fenced path.
6. Cross a railway bridge and soon pass a barrier to a road. Keep left round a sharp left-hand bend. Look out for a waymarked footpath on your right and follow this path behind houses for ½ mile (800m).
7. Join a metalled path and proceed past modern housing to a road. Follow this out to Hamble Lane and turn left to join the High Street. At the roundabout, bear right down Lower High Street back to the Quay and car park.
The tidal Hamble estuary between Bursledon and the Southampton Water is not only one of the longest in the county, it's also one of Britain's busiest. The river has a long history of human activity from the first Saxon settlers, who used it as a route to the fertile areas inland, to its current status as Britain's premier yachting centre. Today, this stretch of river is filled with yachts and pleasure craft, but between the 14th and the early 19th century both Hamble-le-Rice (its formal name) and Bursledon were major centres for naval shipbuilding.
The valley provided a rich supply of timber for the wooden warships, the ironworks at nearby Hungerford Bottom supplied essential fastenings and the bend in the river at Bursledon offered the necessary shelter for the Hamble to be ideal for this vital industry. At its peak during the Napoleonic Wars the Elephant Yard, next to the Jolly Sailor pub, built the 74-gun HMS Elephant, Nelson's flagship at the Battle of Copenhagen. Two great local shipbuilders were George Parsons, who built the Elephant, and Philemon Ewer, who died in 1750 and whose epitaph states 'during the late war with France and Spain built seven large ships of war'. The best known ship to be built at Hamble was the Grace Dieu for Henry V in the 15th century. It was at Hamble Common in 1545 that Henry VIII watched in horror as his famous flagship, the 91-gun Mary Rose, sank with the loss of 700 men just off the coast.
The six tiny Victory Cottages you pass in Lower Swanwick, just a stone's throw from the present-day Moody's yard, were built in the late 18th century to house shipyard workers during the Napoleonic Wars. The bustling marinas and yacht moorings at Bursledon, best viewed from the terrace of the Jolly Sailor, have only appeared in the last 70 years.
Today, the villages of Hamble and Old Bursledon are a delight to explore. Hamble has a twisting main street, lined with pretty Georgian buildings, leading down to the Quay with lovely river views. Old Bursledon has a High Street but no shops, just peaceful lanes dotted with interesting buildings, in particular the timber-framed Dolphin, a former pub, with a 16th-century porch. Tucked away on the slopes above the river and scattered along lanes leading nowhere, you'll find it a pleasure to stroll through, especially if you pause at the Hacketts Marsh viewpoint where a well-placed bench affords the chance to admire the view.
There's a range of pubs and tea rooms in Hamble, notably the Compass Point Café, Village Tea Rooms and the Bugle. Stop off at the Jolly Sailor in Bursledon for good ale and fine river views, or the quieter Vine in Old Bursledon.
Just before high tide you may see up to 12 species of waders, including dunlin, redshank, lapwing and curlew, and wildfowl - shelduck, teal and Brent geese (in winter) - feeding on the rich mudflats as you stroll the riverside path.
Visit Bursledon Brickworks. Restored by a trust in 1990, it is the last surviving example of a steam-driven brickworks in the country, with a working steam engine, exhibition on the history and development of brickmaking, hands-on activities and special events.