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Titchfield's Historic Canal

Explore a fascinating disused canal, a superb wetland nature reserve and a scenic clifftop path along an unspoilt stretch of Hampshire's coast.

Distance 5 miles (8km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 114ft (38m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Canal tow path, clifftop path, tracks and field paths

Landscape Nature reserve water-meadows, coastline, open farmland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 119 Meon Valley & Portsmouth

Start/finish SU 540057

Dog friendliness Off lead by canal and along cliff top

Parking On-street parking and car park behind community centre

Public toilets Titchfield and Meon Shore

1 From the village square walk along Church Road (beside the Co-op) to the church and bear right beside the graveyard. Cross a footbridge over the old canal and turn right along the tow path (signposted 'Lower Meon Valley Trail'). Cross a road and keep to the tow path by the side of the canal, heading south for nearly 2 miles (3.2km). When you reach a gate, continue on towards the road to view the remnants of the sea lock.

2 Just before the lane, cross the stile on the left and follow the footpath through some trees. Soon you'll reach Meon Shore and the Titchfield Haven Nature Reserve. To visit the reserve follow the footpath to the left, close to the shore road, to the visitor centre. When you reach a County Council sign, bear right to the road. Turn right along the road, then left beside a gate and follow the public footpath between chalets to join the Solent Way path beside a drive to Cliff Cottage. Follow the path along the top of the cliffs and enjoy the lovely views across the Solent to the Isle of Wight and Calshot Castle on the far side of Southampton Water. In ½ mile (800m) or so, pass in front of Sea House and descend with the path down to the beach.

3 Just before a freshwater inlet, follow the path inland beside a barrier. Shortly merge with the drive to Sea House and continue walking inland. At Lower Brownwich Farm, bear right along the concrete road. Ignore the footpath beside the road and keep to the drive as far as a fork. Proceed ahead (marked by a yellow arrow) and pass cottages and barns on your left, the concrete soon giving way to an earth track. Pass a marker on a gate post, then in about 100yds (91m), take the public footpath right across the centre of a large field.

4 At a T-junction of paths, turn right along to a lane. Turn left and keep to the lane (which can be busy) for ¼ mile (400m) to a T-junction. Turn left, then right into St Margaret's Road and right again along West Street, following it downhill to the village square

Sleepy Titchfield, with its well preserved village centre and several old pubs, lies surrounded by water-meadows and woods just a few seconds away from the busy A27 and the sprawling suburbs of Fareham. Its hard to imagine today, but Titchfield was once an important market town and a busy port in the Middle Ages due to the prosperity of its Abbey, founded here in 1232, and its position beside the River Meon. By the early 17th century it was linked to the sea by a navigable channel, which allowed sea-going vessels to reach the heart of the village and trade. Whether the channel silted up or the trade decreased is not fully known but the 3rd Earl of Southampton built a dyke along the mouth of the river and in 1611 a canal was completed. Although never a success, Titchfield Canal, regarded as the second oldest artificial waterway in Britain, still exists and the tow path provides a splendid walk to the coast.

Trade is likely to have continued coming in to Titchfield from the sea as barges travelled up the canal via the sea lock, each vessel being pulled along by horses on the tow path. The canal may have declined due to the inability to maintain an opening to the sea at Meon Shore.

Building the dyke here turned the salt water estuary into a freshwater marsh and lush water-meadows, now known as Titchfield Haven. It shelters a rich variety of plants and wildlife, notably marsh marigolds, flowering rushes, wildfowl, waders and summer migrants.

The Titchfield Haven Nature Reserve is linked to the Hook-with-Warsash local nature reserve to the west by a stretch of coastline that has been owned by Hampshire County Council since the 1960s. It covers 1,200 acres (486ha) and is the largest area of coastal countryside between Southampton and Portsmouth.

While you're there take your binoculars and visit titchfield haven nature reserve. it covers over 300 acres (121ha) of reedbed, freshwater marsh and fen from the coast to titchfield and hides are accessible to view wintering wildfowl and waders. permits and visitor facilities are available from haven house along the coast road from meon shore. just north of titchfield are the impressive ruins of titchfield abbey, a medieval abbey that later became incorporated into a fine tudor mansion built on the site in 1528.

Where to eat and drink

There are several pubs in Titchfield for that post-walk drink or meal, notably the Bugle Hotel in The Square, the Queens Head in the High Street, and the unspoilt Wheatsheaf in East Street.

What to look for

Just before reaching Meon Shore you will pass what remains of the Earl of Southampton's sea lock built in 1611. It was part of an ambitious scheme to close the Meon estuary and replace the tidal channel with a canal. Access from the sea was by this simple lock and ships had to float in at high tides. Take a closer look at St Peter's Church in Titchfield. It may be the oldest in Hampshire and contains a fine tomb to the Earls of Southampton. The porch is said to date from the 7th century.

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