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Things to see and do in Milford on Sea

PUBLISHED: 10:42 17 January 2017

Paddle boarding at sunset

Paddle boarding at sunset

New Forest Paddle Sport Company

This may be a small seaside village, but it is very big on activities, as Emma Caulton discovers

Morning

Bird watching. That’s what I’m doing. I’m sitting in Milford on Sea’s public bird hide (access free) overlooking the reed beds of Sturt Pond Nature Reserve. You’ll find it tucked behind what is now Raft Rocks bistro, where the beach ends and Hurst Spit starts. A local lends me his binoculars and points out a black swan coming in to land. There are guide books and helpful illustrations on the walls, a white board for writing up sightings, and a ‘bird watching for beginners’ session every Saturday (time varies depending on low-water). It’s rather relaxing. I could take to this.

Active families may prefer to get out into that landscape - perhaps enjoying good old-fashioned crabbing from one of the footbridges or new-fangled geocaching (www.geocaching.com/play). This modern day treasure hunt uses a free mobile app or GPS device and takes participants on a hide and seek adventure around sites that casual visitors wouldn’t discover. This means areas such as The Pleasure Grounds, Studland Common and Sharvells Copse, nature reserves of grassland, woodland and water meadow crossed by meandering paths.

For a leisurely stroll, head west along the clifftop, enjoying views of the Isle of Wight and The Needles, Christchurch Bay and Hengistbury Head with the Purbeck Hills in the distance. Or head east along The Solent Way, which starts in Milford on Sea, following Hurst Spit to Hurst Castle , built by Henry VIII (open daily April to October; weekends only November to March). Return along the spit and continue to Keyhaven through the saltmarshes.


Lunch

If you’ve walked to Keyhaven you could have lunch at The Gun, a traditional inn with beams and log fires that serves good local crab sandwiches. Or return to Milford on Sea to eat at aforementioned Raft Rocks, located in a distinctive Art Deco-style building curved like the prow of a ship and decorated in a luxe beachcomber style with palms, chandeliers and a bar of graffitied corrugated iron. Further along towards the village is another popular shorefront gaff: The Needles Eye Café. It has the most fabulous views across to The Needles and is particularly known for big breakfasts washed down with mugs of tea. It gets busy in summer, but out of season it’s a great end to a blowy walk along the shingle beach, and if kids have excess energy there’s a play area.

Milford on Sea has developed something of a foodie reputation; so much so that it hosts a biannual Food Festival. Round and about the village green you will find good traditional tea rooms for light lunches or coffee and cake, such as The Village Coffee Pot and Polly’s Tea Room. I overheard someone on their mobile, nose pressed against the window of Polly’s Tea Room, plaintively announcing, “I’m looking at the chocolate tiffin as we speak!” I, too, had a good look at it. And the carrot cake. The latest addition is Hurst on the Hill, a new café from Hurst Castle keeper Jason Crane.

If you want something more substantial the set lunch at La Perle is extraordinarily good value and comes with homemade breads to nibble and complimentary glass of wine.


Afternoon

You could take it easy and browse the shops – the likes of The Old Smithy, with decorative homeware, Jabulani gift shop and gallery exhibiting work by local artists, and Brocante’s quality antiques and costume jewellery.

Alternatively, what about challenging yourself to learn a new skill? New Forest Paddles Sports Company recently celebrated its first year in the village and offers kayaking and paddle boarding hire, tuition and activities year round. So, even though it’s winter, you can hire a wet suit, discover a new sport and explore this scenic coastline from the water. Perfect conditions for beginners are provided by Keyhaven’s sheltered waters. A weekly club (attracting people from as far away as Windsor) is free of charge if you bring your own equipment.

Owner Sean Scott says paddle boarding is the world’s fastest growing sport, due to its ease of use, and they have customers aged from six to 80, although mostly it’s 40 to 60 year-olds; apparently it all about learning to use your core rather than balancing.

If you’re more arty than sporty, turn your hand to pottery with a course at Vinegar Hill, a creative enterprise (two businesses in one) with B&B and pottery run by David Rogers and wife Lucy. Courses are taken by David, an acclaimed potter with a specialism in Raku firing. Pick from one or three day courses for £100 per day, with elevenses, lunch and souvenirs – your own fired and glazed pots. 


Eat & sleep

Feasting runs the gamut from popular chippy Mr Pinks to fine dining via The Cave - a “new concept” wine, craft beer and speciality spirits bar (and shop) with regular tasting events. The style is dark walls, benches and dramatic lighting, the food is tapas-style dishes and sharing platters.

Then perhaps to award-winning Verveine Fishmarket restaurant – its understated exterior belies the imaginative and sublime dishes chef/patron David Wykes creates. A choice of menus with tasting menus from £45. While at La Perle chef/parton Sam Hughes offers a la carte alongside ‘specials’ such as ‘lobster night’, ‘steak night’ ‘chef chooses night’ (inspired by Sam’s time working with Raymond Blanc) and ‘jazz Sundays’.

There’s a good choice of stay overs. The appropriately named The Beach House is yards from the beach. This Grade II listed Victorian mansion, designed by Arnold Mitchell and featuring stained glass art attributed to Pre-Raphaelite artist Oscar Peterson, is welcoming and cosy rather than grand; even the double-height galleried entrance hall, now a bar. To get even closer to the sea, try Marine House, above Raft Rocks and almost on the beach. Its luxurious rooms have west-facing sea views to make the most of spectacular sunsets. Or there’s Vinegar Hill – whether you’re taking a pottery course or not. Accommodation is delightfully quirky including a hayloft or Rosie, a restored 19th century showman’s caravan. Which sort of sums up Milford on Sea – charming, comforting and special.


Sam Hughes, Chef/Patron, La Perle

I spent most of my childhood living on the south coast, so it was only natural that I wanted to open my first restaurant in the area. I was delighted to make my dream a reality when I took over ownership of La Perle Restaurant in beautiful Milford on Sea in 2015.

This is a spectacular area and one of my favourite walks is along the spit to Hurst Castle. On a clear day it feels as though you could reach out and touch the Isle of Wight! If I fancy some peace and quiet, I head to Sturt Pond Nature Reserve which is well known to birdwatchers and has a grazing area for New Forest ponies.

There is a real community spirit in Milford on Sea and I get involved in village life whenever possible. La Perle looks out over the village green, which plays host to numerous events and we make the most of being in the hub of the village, like offering mulled wine and mince pies to the locals when they gather for Milford on Sea’s annual Carols on the Green event.

I couldn’t wish for a better place to live. I can thoroughly recommend a visit to Milford-on-Sea at any time of the year!


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