Some of the best places to visit whilst sailing on the Solent
PUBLISHED: 11:22 20 August 2020 | UPDATED: 12:17 20 August 2020
We explore some of the finest beauty spots to discover on a day’s sailing in and around the Solent
One of the greatest things about taking to the water is the unique perspective it provides. You might happen upon secluded creeks abounding with wildlife, or ancient forts and shipwrecks lining the shore. What you might not expect to see, however, is a cricket match being played upon a quickly receding sandbank, completely surrounded by water, in one of Europe's busiest shipping lanes.
Yet every summer, arch rivals the Royal Southern Yacht Club and the Island Sailing Club are pitched against each other in the Bramble Bank Cricket Match - a bitter battle of wits, in which the winner has already been decided in advance… how very gentlemanly! Welcome to the Solent.
You don't need to be an expert sailor, or even own a boat, to enjoy the Solent's wonders. With charter companies operating out of all the major ports, getting out on the water really couldn't be simpler. So, here I've suggested some of our favourite spots to moor up or drop anchor for a scenic floating picnic - or perhaps even a waterside pub lunch.
1. The Beaulieu River
This river has a long and distinguished maritime history. Entering at the North Solent National Nature Reserve, the snaking river leads to Buckler's Hard, the ideal spot to take pause. Find a visitor's mooring, then row ashore and step back in time.
Once known as Montagu Town, after its owner, Buckler's Hard is famed for its Georgian redbrick riverside shipwrights' cottages. Three of Nelson's ships that fought at Trafalgar were built at this very yard.
Stop for a relaxed lunch at the Master Builder and an amble around the museum.
2. Newtown Creek, Isle of Wight
Arriving at Newtown, a tranquil nature reserve managed by the National Trust, you might be surprised to discover it was once a bustling Medieval centre. Today, it is a little sleepier, with nature gradually reclaiming the site.
Only the old town hall, with 13th century origins, provides a hint of its former glory. Its restoration is owed to a mysterious motley crew of masked women of the 1920s and '30s, known as 'Ferguson's Gang'. Look out for the salt lagoons, remnants of a thriving sea salt industry.
Today, Newtown has plenty of inhabitants of the wilder kind, so don't forget your binoculars and keep your eyes peeled. A 2017 survey found around 50 seals to be living in and around the Solent, and Newton is a favourite haunt.
3. The Hamble River
Hamble is recognised the world over as a major yachting centre. Meet a sailor anywhere, from Sydney to Antigua, and they've probably visited. The river itself is punctuated by marshy creeks, suitable only for smaller vessels but ripe for exploring. Look out for wrecks and hulks lining the shore, including Henry V's 15th century warships, Grace Dieu and Holigost, from the time of the Battle of Agincourt.
Take the river up to Old Bursledon to stop for lunch at the Jolly Sailor. Fans of 1980s soap Howards' Way may recognise the pub and adjoining Elephant Boatyard.
4. The Medina River, Isle of Wight
Cowes is one of the Solent's busiest centres, the base for much competitive racing. The world's oldest sporting competition, the America's Cup, originated here in 1851.
After an invigorating sail, you'll find a little more tranquility by venturing up the Medina. Continue up to Whippingham on the east bank, for lunch at the Folly Inn. With its own pontoon and nearby visitor moorings, this riverside pub has been the haunt of sailors for many years.
Venturing further upriver, you'll eventually reach Newport, home to the rusting hulk of PS Ryde, a beautiful old paddle steamer, which became a nightclub in the 1980s before gradually falling into disrepair. However, if you're travelling up on the tide, you'll have little time to go ashore as the tide changes.
Sailing to Keyhaven is a must and, like most Solent beauty spots, it's easily accessible from the main marinas. Like Newtown, the surrounding saltmarshes once supported a thriving saltmaking industry before being designated a nature reserve.
Look out for the lighthouse and neighbouring Hurst Castle, commissioned by Henry VIII, on a mile-long shingle spit. Charles I enjoyed a brief stay here before mounting the executioner's block.
Keyhaven Sailing Club is the perfect place to soak up fabulous views of the Needles.
6. Portchester Lake
Portsmouth is ideal for Isle of Wight day trips but it's equally rewarding to follow the coast eastwards, taking in Hayling Island, and the nature beauty surrounding Chichester and the West Sussex border.
A little closer to home, there are many beautiful, tranquil spots to picnic afloat around Portsmouth, away from the hustle and bustle of the main harbour. Many local sailors recommend taking anchorage at Portchester Lake, to enjoy fabulous views of the castle. From here, it's a short trip to Port Solent, offering a wide range of facilities and restaurants.
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